Mr Cheeky the frill necked lizard lives in our garden and it is a delight to see him scampering about doing all sorts of lizard business. At night fruit bats squabble and during the day cockatoos screech above us while I patienty wait for paw paw (papaya) fruit to grow larger. Finally the un-humid dry season has arrived in Broome. That means superb weather for the next five months. Yippee! is the correct response right here especially after six months of BIG heat and BIG humidity. The town is very quiet now due to travel restrictions nationally and internationally so no tourists in a tourist town. This will be a very complicated year for many.
I continue my normal business of making art even if all my exhibitions are cancelled, galleries are closed, art lovers busy with complicated lives, social events shut down and strict social distancing behaviour now all make physical proximity to tactile art not possible. Artists are rather adaptable and most are very familiar with an income graph that looks like a roller-coaster or often sadly a dead flat-lined horizon line but we all keep at it for a thousand assorted reasons. Most of those reasons for making art are very positive so in the studio I be. Being positive… most of the time.
INSECT SKYSCRAPERS, 4000 YEAR OLD TREES AND A MINI BAR … is an online exhibition presenting new mixed media works, works on paper and a few pearl shells from my tropical studio in semi lockdown. Please visit this link for a peek.
2020 has so far gone in a manner that has been a little unexpected but the possibility of a pandemic sweeping the planet was actually always on the cards and certainly those in the medical world were very much expecting such an event. Covid19 has caused total havoc and death for some and for all it has caused pain or fear or stress. Some nations have fared and/or prepared better than others and I must say that the concept of nations in itself has not really helped this battle against the virus. In a world that operates on so many trans-national ways utilising massive and interconnected global networks and connections it seems simply old fashioned to wave any emotive national flags that represent a chunk of land recently and artificially constructed due to wars, royal marriages, colonisation events, drunk cartographers, business deals or religious fables. Humanity plods along and our success at certain things is indeed astronomical but these gains are balanced out sadly by a whole mess of horrid and insane dumb-fuckery.
All of us are making it up as we go forward and it is all work in progress. I can only hope for progress but when I observe some individuals who proudly display greed, stupidity and zero empathy then I am not too concerned if a large asteroid one day erases all our species from existence. “So it goes” as Kurt Vonnegut said. Back to the drawing board Universe and perhaps evolve a better life form. A friendly life-form with good survival skills that is not scared of others, one with extra portions of empathy, intelligence and ample humour which is of course a favourite and highly under-rated human trait.
I can imagine two aliens closely observing Earth while sitting at a bar many light years from here drinking some flouro-red toxic liquid while laughing and screaming to each other silly crude interstellar xenophobic jokes –
“knock knock? who there? 9 billion humans… !”
“what’s the difference between a human and a …”
“how many humans does it take to change a light bulb ?…”
“why did the human cross the road ?...”
“two humans walk into a bar…”
Cheers to all !
I shall start with something positive. We are growing Thai basil, tomatoes, aubergines and paw paw (papaya) here in Broome. Very soon the fruit will be ready for consumption. Fresh ripe paw paw with lime juice is probably the best breakfast in the universe with coffee of course.
Life in Broome-time has been hot and toasty due to the five months of constant humidity and high temperatures but we sweat thought it somehow. We also survived a few attempted house invasions. Luckily the little rascals did not gain access to the inside of the house nor were they able to steal the two bicycles that are our only form of transportation. They did steal our ashtray full of cigarette butts which puts this mess somehow in perspective. Desperation, poverty, drugs, family mess, cultural collapse and lack of education all chewed together and spat out. Unfortunately this mixture of gooey mess can land on anyone and it is tiresome to wipe off and very difficult to mend.
Another bit of chaos happened over the dry Wet season but this time inside the house in the kitchen. I was cooking up a big pot of dumplings for dinner and accidentally dropped many litres of boiling water on my right hand. This was not a great idea at all. 2nd degree burns, blisters, swelling, loss of dexterity and the pain was right up there on #10. Note to self - “Do not spill boiling water on body ever.”
Things subsequently slowed down the past months and that included physical movement, social galavanting, studio production, communications, cooking and a considerable chunk of brain activity all shrank in size and quality. This is the typical slow pace of the Wet season in the tropics. A bit like winter in the cold climes. People just hibernate due to the weather as it is either too cold or here it is too hot. The dry season should invite a broad range of activities back into the list of things to do and one hopes that the list will grow. New chores added to the sloppily scribbled To-do list, stuff done then the list is updated. Well that was the plan but then things went very bizarre and dangerous on a global level.
This Covid19 virus is one nasty beastie. Extremely small but what a punch is packs. Everyone on the planet must prepare, scrub and somehow stay away from this bug. We can hide in the studio and work which is basically the same as the self-isolation required to combat this virus. 2020 is looking very messy indeed. The fatality numbers will be shocking. This year will be navigated slowly and only one week at a time. Plans must be aborted and everyone has added a number of problems to their normal list of problems. Massive adaption will be required. We can only hope that everyone can be safe and smart. If you are lucky to have a home - Stay at home. This will be a rough period without a doubt.
SELF ISOLATION - A micro film for amusement - https://vimeo.com/401530807
Here is an article looking at the wonderful world of creating art within studios which on occasion does seem a bit like working way down in a mine.
OFF COLOURED CANARIES
I have been out of sight way down below diligently digging with a sharp palette knife and a selection of pointy brushes looking for nuggets of stimulating raw art. I scratch away through coloured earth for months on end with my little instruments. I can only nudge forward bit by bit. In fact I have been toiling underground for years as this task is a passion which I cannot stop.
I try as an individual to cultivate with technicolour muddy goo or any other resources that take my fancy. Chipping away with questions shaped like sickles, explosive thoughts, bright designs and a bag full of abrasive abstractions. It is all about the exploration as that form of intoxication never wears down. “Exciting career prospects in the seeking of slippery scenic stuff in strange places sector.” could be the job description along-side “Applicants must display a strong calling, ample life experiences, technical skills and an interest in instability." I often wonder if such behaviour is actually a proper job?
‘Primary production’ is one economic term used to describe my excavation practice which makes it clear that I am up against the elements and everything is tricky for so-called “special professionals”. Fossicking at a high altitude, gouging on a flat white plain or scraping away below the horizon line is certainly risky business but a gem is a gem and “someones gotta do it.”
Besides being a passion this activity is an addiction, a dance, an experiment and also rather difficult. Mega-tons of dumb dirt surrounds each elusive precious deposit so I find myself busy executing an exhausting and life-long craft offering no assurance nor insurance. Lashings of self discipline must be generated, truck loads of patience plus piles of planning are all required before any of the heavy delving begins. A direct help-line to all deities would be nice as support to hold up a few wonky beams in collapsing tunnels but that’s just silly. Sometimes I feel like I have been framed by myself especially when my head is in the clouds and I am suddenly mugged by down to earth reality. I seem to paint a dark picture of this artful under-world but the spoils can be fine and the freedom to get delightfully lost, self absorbed, grotty, wonderfully deranged and potentially, totally cuckoo are all oddly seductive.
While mining for inspiring stuff I wear an old uniform that is not very stylish but it has functional pockets to secure all the tools I need. No embroidered multi-national logo depicting any cute mole-like creature is stamped upon my sweat saturated over-alls. Just stains, tiny burn marks, darned tears and a spectrum of splashes. Fashion cannot survive at the coal face which is no matter as fashion always arrives fashionably later. Not that many people see my well-worn costume, my equipment, my mining methods nor the finished products eventually displayed on show-room walls but some do. Visual performances and communication via exhibitions are pleasing but complex and surprising as the white show-rooms are light-years away from the dark mines.
When down in the hole wearing protective earmuffs it is hard to hear feedback from the surface and impossible to notice what is yelled from those show-room galleries on mountain tops. One can only hope that some of the noises are positive and beneficial.
It is pretty dark underground so I also occasionally wear a head-lamp in order to see where the hell each passage leads to. Without some light there’s much stumbling, bashing into walls and dead-ends are discovered. Darkness is not always bad as the ‘happy accident” lives there and these can be extraordinary at times, nevertheless it is smart to carry a torch as I know many who have become spooked or discombobulated or led astray down pitch black burrows. Some sadly ending up bitter, burnt-out or even buried.
Subterranean environments are sketchy to navigate and they do smell dank but a trace of that thought-provoking musky aroma is always embedded there. It is the hint of life soon to be. Earthy, innate, unique and so bad that it is good or is it so good that it is bad? I am never sure which way to portray it but it does smell highly funky.
No holidays are observed at all in this line of work so once again I crawl back under the surface to the textured underground. Into the pit with implements, my soft grey bucket and illumination. Back down in the mine I go to dredge up ideas and pump out a few contrasting themes. Safely lines are drawn, traced, erased and re-drawn. I plug in and tone the imagination while turning on the machinations. My feet firmly grounded below ground. I mark the fore-ground, pan the peripheral areas then plant my back in the background so all is set to drill a few concepts. Composition turns to dust as I compose, scan for proportion and chisel away. In this shadowy maze there are long periods of probing, travail and repetition with not much joy but sometimes special chunks of sparkle are suddenly visualised.
More ploughing, a blast of picking and finally I hurl some elements of interest into my personal hungry grey vessel. Inside the brain-bucket I wash, sift and sort. What is it that I pine for as I pan? Something precious of course. Annoyingly scrawled somewhere within the brain-bucket in red ochre is my answer - “Everything is precious” “Shit”… I curse and go back to digging. What to do? More manoeuvring and more matter is collected.
I hunt for more rare chunks of impulse down other dark shafts, spotting them, laboriously plucking them from bloody veins, mixing, adapting, tempering and lacquering in my messy organic bucket and finally gingerly cutting each piece individually into a plethora of exact but unknown desired shapes.
Not an easy chore to continually exhibit gritty, absurd, optimism while using just a few fragile tools, surrounded by hot air and listening to off-coloured canaries warning me to escape but who knows what could be unearthed down in those unfathomable inky art mines.
Extraction does occur from frequently visited pits or sometimes from brand new tunnels and if lucky I go to the next step of finding the ladder to take the goodies above ground where careful polishing can begin. Is it time to show this lump of hard earned creation to others or perhaps not?
Up I climb out of the mine with my mind stuffed full. I frame my thoughts and scrub from my grubby hands shades of raw umber, jade, opal, canary yellow, sapphire blue, gold and charcoal. I watch a tainted rainbow swirl down the drain as I perform my ablutions and I try to imagine the big picture from different perspectives. Eventually something unusual floats to the surface and a glimmer of glitter can be seen in the brain-bucket. I probe then focus on my findings. A possible jewel? A warm and fuzzy cerebral feeling appears and it all somehow seems worthwhile.
It has rained as Cyclone Blake formed somewhere out there in the Timor sea and then kindly dumped a considerable amount of water on this dry part of Australia. Gusty winds from the storm made bicycle riding a bit interesting but we had to venture out and relocate Sonny the pet parrot belonging to a friend who was out of town. A safe spot during the blowy period made Sonny much more happy. The red Pindan dirt begins to turn green with vegetation about now as everyone talks about no rain, more rain, when it rains, how much rain, clouds and heat and cyclones.
I have survived this draining sticky hot time by nibbling on a Vietnamese treat I buy at the local “Fongs” corner store. They stock many treats from Asia and it is a store that I have used for years. I devour a lot of these cakes that are made from - mung bean, taro and durian. They all taste funny, smell funny and look a bit funny but I adore them. Carolina refuses to indulge which is great as that means more exotic cakes for me. Carolina keeps busy waiting for more rain…
The "Bristlecone" works are coming along in the studio as I have been sewing and painting these mixed media trees for some weeks now. This series began in USA where I first saw these ancient pine trees but I still have some ways to go before they are completed. On the other studio desk I have created a large series of 42 mixed media works on passport paper. Some kind of working title is scribbled on some paper somewhere somehow someday someplace but thats something else to mention some other time. Yes it is all a bit vague I know but it is difficult to be decisive once humidity levels climb over 70% and I must say that prancing about in the studio is not recommended either. Is it time to nibble on a durian cake?
It is the year of the metal rat in the Chinese Lunar Horoscope world so I do hope it is a cute, positive and friendly little robot rodent as opposed to a filthy rabid critter running about with a leaking toxic battery. We shall see. I do wish everyone a good 2020/Rat year. I am sure it will be as unpredictable and as tricky as ever no matter how many detailed and informative horoscopes are published. My recent horoscope mentioned something about - “… searching for money on Wednesday morning and also some romantic planet is soon to align with a star that will induce heated feelings in a foreign city where fruit grows creatively…” As an artist one gets used to adaptability, instability and especially a fluctuating wage but as the decades slink along it would be nice to have other sorts of feelings besides my ongoing optimistic fuzzy hopefulness. A bit less frustration and assorted woe would be just fine. “We all have our ups and downs as they say.” or “Thats life!” There is nothing much to do except to “keep on rowing the boat” as my Dutch father who spent most of his working life on ships tells me. Heave, ho, heave, ho, one, two, one, two, one, two….
I must of course be generally pleased as I am one very lucky fellow considering I have health and warm connections both near and far. I have also been able to see an enormous chunk of the planet so I cannot complain too much.
A commitment to the creative life with abilities to focus, plan and visualise have all shaped my life and somehow helped me to make many things, see many lands and meet many people. A great deal of “rowing” has been necessary that is for sure.
Over the years, on a variety of vessels I have performed all sorts of rowing. Through cold monstrous waves, over lukewarm sunlit ripples and sometimes I have been stuck in the doldrums for a bit longer than desired but I continued to paddle onwards. Knowing that the forecast always changes and nothing stays still, ever anywhere.
On some days I have toiled and pumped those oars like a frantic maritime hoon going around in circles or a like a hyperactive rower in a drunken dragon-boat race. Other days it has been more like a mellow dinky paddle across a serene lake in a tiny pinky dingy made to look like a swan on holidays. Then there are the days when I embrace the doldrums and just drift about in the water. Putting the oars aside like now as it is really far too hot to expend any energy rowing or to even think about rowing. It is time to simply float. Slowly drifting, contemplating and sweating out a few zen or perhaps zombified flavoured thoughts. Is it durian cake snack time yet?
In this slow motion suspended mind-set I can acknowledge all those fabulous little things all around everywhere that make up my world. A zephyr hits my elbow, the smell of seaweed, faint thunder rumblings, the colours on a birds tail feathers and the taste of sweat. They all make sense to my senses and that is all.
As I suck up all those itsy-bitsy sensations like a blubbery whale sucking up a big krill breakfast I cannot totally forget the very BIG picture as well but that is far too gigantic for me to make much sense of. Especially in this heat. But the big picture is there and we are all in the middle of it. So “Stay cool!” I say and just paddle on.