The Artist in His Own Words

When you go to see an exhibition, especially one featuring a contemporary artist, you may find yourself having lots of conversations – both in your head and with the company you’re in. The first reaction to a work is spontaneous, as you approach. If it’s beautiful then it will engage you immediately. Will you walk closer? What if it’s original and beautiful? Does it inspire curiosity? And if it inspires curiosity is it because it has a mystery – its meaning?

Does it matter what the artist intends if it has inspired in the onlooker another state of emotion/being than that with which they walked into the space with? But if art is about the communication of ideas, the conveying of emotions, beliefs, thoughts, then shouldn’t the artist’s message be clear. And then, in a multicultural, pluralistic society are there enough common visual references to convey these ideas, emotions and beliefs without the written or spoken word? It’s a challenge, that’s for sure.

In my previous post I reviewed James McGrath‘s Luscus. I was unable to attend the talk he gave on it before I attended the Olsen Gallery. Here I’d like to share the Youtube AV of that talk.

Interview at Olsen Gallery with James Grath and Robbie Buck

James McGrath’s Luscus is showing at Olsen Gallery, 63 Jersey Rd, Woollahra, until May 29, 2021.

Art Interview: Haus of Pour

With the Covid-19 lockdown in Australia looking like easing, I’ve started to think about all of those things that I took for granted just a few short months ago – like bear hugs and bars, theatre and church (religious undertakings both, for me), going to an art exhibition or a restaurant.

Haus of Pour at 1908
Haus of Pour at 1908, a stylish, welcoming space for a colourful exhibition

All these gaps coalesce in memory and transport me back to February 20, 2020, and an art exhibition in a converted church –  just across the road from the Arts Theatre –  which is now an iconic restaurant and bar in Cronulla – 1908 with fabulous hors d’oeuvres and just the right ambiance.

Interview with Haus of Pour’s Costa Karas

@HausofPour on Instagram

Haus of Pour’s Costa Karas standing in front of his Hermes, acrylic on canvas, 90cm diameter
Opening 20, Feb, 2020, by the bar at 1908

The buzzing opening, heralded in Haus of Pour, Costa Karas’ debut showing.

Haus of Pour produces contemporary art that is joyful and abstract, organic and whimsical, non-figurative yet evocative. Liquid Art, each piece is unique and personal. Look closely at one and you will see an aerial landscape of the beach, but the viewer next to you may see a magnification of the patterning on a semi-precious stone in the rough – think turquoise or granite.

Golden Reef, (2018) acrylic on canvas, 101 x 75 cm.

Each canvas employs a limited palette of contrasting colours that has a story to tell. The story is different for every viewer. One may evoke the lyrical play of Kandinsky, while others the statements of Pollack and yet others a coastal Australian feel Fred Williams would indulge. Mapplethorpe is recalled in the petal formation of a rose.

90 cm diameter, acrylic on canvas

Joyful, fluid, unpredictable, the limited palette makes them a home decorators dream – it’s the kind of art that you will want to see hanging on your living room walls.

Problem is, which one to choose.

Has art always been a passion for you?

Yes, art has always been a passion of mine. In the past, it had materialised in many other different ways and in various forms.

How would you describe your work?

Flow Art which is also known as Paint Pouring or Liquid art. It’s a form of abstract art that uses acrylic paints with a fluid consistency.

Can you say which artists or movements you particularly like who may have influenced your style? What do you like about them?

I admire all forms of art, but I’m personally drawn to the Modern art era from 1860’s to the 1970’s and especially the whole Pop Art movement. Artists that I admire are the likes of Dali, Picasso, Kandinsky, Miro, Lichtenstein, and of course Andy Warhol. These artists were so forward thinking for their time that some of their art works are even beyond the present day -that excited me. In saying that, I have a huge admiration and love for street urban art as well. I find myself walking the streets of the Inner West regularly just to check out the latest pieces that have gone up. There are also a few Australian artists that I admire and whom do some very amazing art, artist such as Ben Frost, Anthony Lister and Nico (Nicoart) who is a friend, these guys have all inspired me in one way or another.

When did you start taking it more seriously?

I started to take it seriously about 3 years ago when some of my closest family and friends saw my art and really got it, and loved it – this made me understand that it was not just me who sees what I see in my own art.

You create by pouring, how much control do you have over your art?

Paint or a combination of paints are poured onto a canvas or art board. Then you manipulate the canvas by moving the canvas around until you get the design you want or when you are happy at what has materialised in front of you. So there is limited control in this art form which makes it all that more exciting.

I’ve seen the video of your work created on a turntable, do you use any conventional methods at all- Do you use brushes?

Although I don’t use a turntable (oops! – ed.), but this is something that I have contemplated. I mainly move the canvas around on angles to get the desired effect, sometimes I’m happy with the result and sometimes I just need to scrape the canvas and start again. I don’t use brushes at all – a paint spatula here and there but mostly it’s the paint, the canvas and me.

Blue Rose, acrylic on canvas, 60 cm diameter

You have posted video of the way you have created some of these wonderfully evocative pieces on Instagram, are you conscious of performing the art- would you consider your action of creating a performance?

Well videos are not my favourite thing to post on social media, but a lot of people have commented on how they get a great enjoyment and satisfaction in watching them. In saying that, I video all the pieces I made as this helps me fine tune my technique. But yes, I can see how it can be seen as a performance art as you watch something beautiful and magical develop in front of your eyes.

Your works are abstract – some look like aerial landscapes is there a definite direction to them? Has anyone ever had the audacity to ask you to turn them around?

Yes, my art is very abstract. I normally go in with a vision and most cases I get want I want but then sometimes I get more that what I expected – which is so wonderful. I always will see something in my art and that will determine the way I would like it to be hung. But the extraordinary thing about my artwork is when some people see something completely different and they may choose to hang it differently, and that it absolutely fine with me. A friend bought a piece of mine for her daughter’s birthday which looked like 2 flowers to me but to the 6-year-old: she saw 2 Unicorns – so art is subjective to even a 6 year old

Do you have a favourite piece and why?

My favourite piece to date is a piece I did for my partner. It’s a magical piece that it’s not only made with love but it captures the colours of the ocean and the beach on which he lives on. It’s a piece that is so mesmerising that you don’t get bored of looking because every time you look at it, you see something different.

Thank you, Costa.

You can view and purchase more of these gorgeous canvases @HausofPour on Instagram.

Twin Flames – Two Lovers, acrylic on canvas
On Sale – Price on Application

Ancient Art, Education, Stencils and Ceramics


I recently researched my first article for Classical Wisdom Weekly. True to form, I experienced difficultly in keeping under the word limit and the article was published in 2 parts. What was so fascinating I couldn’t stop gushing about it? Ancient Greek vases, actually, more accurately ceramic tableware – there were ancient mugs, jugs, goblets and perfume bottles in the mix.

You can read Part One and Part Two of the article, The Marvellous Avengers, Ancient Greek Style on these links. 

This Mycenaean Krater was found in Cyprus in an Enkomi tomb and is illustrated with two griffins on one side and two sphinxes on the other, 13th-12th C BCE
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

As I read, questions kept needling me. Looking at the devolvement of style from the Mycenaean period with their cartoonlike depictions of soldiers, sea creatures and mythological creatures, into the endless patterning of the Geometric period associated with the Dorians, before re-emerging with the Orientalising style in Corinth, I had to question the oft repeated assertion that the Orientalising style came from the East. I have to ask why it’s stated so confidently, when the Mycenaeans also painted their ceramics with similar themes and, Corinth is the gateway into Mycenaean territory? Is it generally assumed that the Mycenaeans disappeared with the coming of the Dorians – that they were there for a time, and simply dematerialised? Couldn’t they have remained, devolved to the level of the incoming people from the north but retained visual access to the tableware that was created in the land around them, by their own, in centuries past?

 Black figure jug with ibex, lion and other animals. Probably Corinthian, c. 600 BC. Archaeological Museum of Syracuse.

Zde [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Another one has me stumped. Leaving the Mycenaeans and looking at the progression of styles from the Dorian Geometric period down to the black figured painting I kept asking myself, when did they become conscious of the fact that they were creating art? Lots of black ceramics have survived from ancient times. Ceramics without decoration – ceramics with a strictly utile purpose – to store grain or liquid for the table, the temple or the grave. The ones that make the art books are the illustrated examples and are fewer in number. With that in mind I wonder whether the potter and the painter were two separate craftsmen/women?

 Frieze detail, Dipylon Amphora, c. 755-750 B.C.E.
Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/profzucker/12797622963/

Looking at the naiveté of the geometric designs, it’s easy to imagine the potter fulfilling the role of the painter as well. The designs don’t require the skillset of the artist. The pottery, when illustrated served a public function, in funerary rites during this early period. However, once progress is made into the black figure style and the function of the ceramics broadens to use in symposiums and more secular settings I have to question whether they became conscious that they were creating art. This is when the illustrations became more lifelike.

terracotta Panathenaic prize Amphora c.530BCE, created by the Euphiletos Painter http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en By Creator:Euphiletos Painter - This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Terracotta Panathenaic prize Amphora c.530BCE, created by the Euphiletos Painter http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en By Creator:Euphiletos Painter – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 Once they became conscious of creating art, did they begin employing artists to in the potter’s workshops to decorate the pots? It’s said that mural painting influences vase painting with its themes, presentation and perspective. Where artists employed by workshops to work with the potters as they glazed and refired their vases? Didn’t these artist get in the way, unless they were the potters themselves?

What if the artists and potters were two specialised occupations? Did they have the same level of education? How could ceramic decoration fall from the heights of the Hellenistic Period to the naivete of the Byzantine middle ages? What prompts these specific questions?The writing on the vases for one, and the idea that both Hellenistic and Byzantine ceramics were created in a process of firing, glazing and refiring, but regardless, the Byzantine examples show an incapability of producing the same draughtsmanship and precise detail of the earlier Age.

Byzantine sportswoman playing Erasmus' globorum?

Byzantine sportswoman playing Erasmus’ globorum?

http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/cyprus/BarnabusBowlFigure1.JPG

On some vases the ancient labelling is written backwards, sometimes forwards, and sometimes there are examples of forwards writing and backwards on the same vase. It got me to thinking that the potters weren’t the artists. That the artists were better educated than the potters and were more capable of reading. That the artists perhaps used some kind of vellum/parchment or papyrus to design the illustrations and get them perfect and then traced them onto a hardy, translucent stencil – of vellum perhaps which was used by the potter to transfer the design onto the pot at the exact time it was needed in the firing and refiring process. I imagine that the figures were incised straight onto the vase through the stencil and then the potter could paint within the outlines and discard the stencil.

Okay, so this isn’t how we are told it happened. We are told the black figured ceramics were influenced by the techniques of metalwork.

I just can’t help wondering. If the potters weren’t as educated as their artist designers, it would account for the backward writing, if the stencils were placed back-to-front on the vase when the tracing/incising happened.

Perhaps the Byzantines weren’t using stencils and had to incise their illustrations quickly into a fast drying slip? Could stencils be the answer?   

 

Tea with Cavafy and a Brontosaurus called Bard

I never had you, nor do I suppose will I ever have you.
A few words, an approach,
As in the bar yesterday, and nothing more.
It is undeniably a pity
But we who serve Art sometimes with the mind’s intensity can create pleasure which is almost physical.
But, of course, only for a short time . . .

extract from the poem, Half an Hour* by C.P.Cavafy

Cavafy’s poem, Half an Hour, spoke to me in my twenties more than any other poem. It summed up my yearning for and unrequited love. It was powerful. It was self aware. The poet knew that he was entertaining a fantasy. His muse knew how he felt and allowed him his fantasy, but no more. Instantaneously I felt that this was my poem. Incredibly I knew that somehow, Cavafy wrote it for me and about me. Immediately I felt that we shared a common experience. Reading the poem in its entirety, I all but understood that all of his sentiments I had experienced. Almost all. But I knew that Cavafy was a gay man. He was a gay man, a Greek man, an Orthodox Christian living in Egyptian Alexandria in the early 20th Century. This added other levels of meaning to his words, hidden meanings that once unearthed subsumed the meaning the poem had for me. I stopped empathising and sympathised instead.

I couldn’t ignore his biography. It wasn’t just the state of my mind but there was a physical barrier when I tried to access his poetry as well. At the time, to read Cavafy in English I had to look for him in anthologies of gay poetry. A special section in some bookstores. His writing although not explicitly gay was relegated to a marginalised audience because of his biography. Was that necessary?

When considering somone’s art, is their life story really necessary? When emotions are communicated from an anonymous pen don’t we have a freer license to feel? To feel without prejudging? Doesn’t the power of art assert itself in its ability to break us out of our existential prisons and deliver us into the arms of abstract, communal experience?

A Tunisian Sepulchre with a marked resemblence to  the architecture of the earliest Renaissance stage in Italy (15th C.)

A Tunisian Sepulchre with a marked resemblence to a 1490’s staging of Terence in Italy

When I consider Shakespeare as a man and as an actor, poet, playwright, poacher, pennypincher, theatre entrepreneur, grain merchant, gentrified farmer, father, I’m pleased. His is a skeletal biography, a structure without flesh, a structure indicative not particular. Not quite anonymous, but almost. Regardless, the bones of his story indicate that he had his faults and his virtues. The good outweighs the bad. Reading his works and enjoying them on stage and screen has given me a lot of pleasure, as it does for many people, past and present. I can ignore some big inconsistencies in his biography. History is full of inconsistencies. They drive further enquiry. But then there’s this:

Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten:
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’erread;
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all of the breather’s of this world are dead;
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen),
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Sonnet 81, by Shakespeare

The sonnet is telling us something. It seems the great poet was great via the work of another. This other’s penmanship will be forgotten once his contemporaries have passed away. He is resigned to it. There is a lot of yearning in this poem. He yearns for it to be another way.

It’s eerie too. The, “eyes not yet created, ” that’s us. He is off-loading on us. It almost feels like a challenge. Will we see through the fascade? He is too defeated to even hope.

So what are we going to do? This poet who gave the English language and stage pride and credibilty is languishing, entombed in obscurity or infamy. Do we do anything? Do we owe him anything? The poet is dead. Does it matter? What about the truth? Should it be pursued when the status quo is easier? If we uncover the poet’s secrets, unmask his real identity, will we lose the potency of his words? Should the emotional truth that spirals up from his pages, concertina down again to serve a historical, biographical interpretation? What if he or she has done something we couldn’t equate with our expectations for our literary hero? What if we find behind the mask an adulterer or a paedophile or a matron or a Catholic, bricklayer, bisexual, spy or a tyrant?

Biographies complicate matters. How much should we expect the life to reflect the art?

In looking through Shakespeare’s skelton closet will we find another Brontosaurus ? Have the specialists known about its existence and for how long ? Is it taboo? Could there be a reason for history to carefully guard this burial? Are we not approaching history’s sepulchre attired in the correct robes? When this metaphoric tomb is opened what will lie there? Will the hand that held Shakespeare’s pen disappoint us?

A recurrent theme in Shakespeare’s plays is the importance of honour. It’s a virtue more read about these days than upheld. Reading Shakespeare has nostalgia value. His world is one of honour, chivalry and grace, antiquated notions today. Embarrassing even. How do we honour the poet if we ignore this plea? Are we beyond chivalry, honour and grace?

* The translation of Cavafy’s poem is from the murky depths of my memory. Cavafy draws inspiration from personal moments in the lives of Byzantine personalities. 

Photo Credit – Sepulchre in Tunisia
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/