School holidays are almost over and the Art Student will soon gone back to her normal routine. It has been lovely having her about the place, but it will be a relief when the holidays are over.
We’ve been up to quite a lot:
• We visited Michael Callaghan’s exhibition The Torture Memo at the Damien Minto Gallery. Text – phrases from the ‘war on terror’, a mediaeval Arabic poem – side by side in English and Arabic, combine with images to powerful effect: realistic water pours from a plastic bottle down the middle of the canvas with text on water boarding on either side, and a blown up woodprint showing that form of torture being carried out in the Spanish Inquisition; a hooded figure with vulnerable looking hands the only visible parts of his body against a background of text and splattered blood. Michael’s political posters have been around for at least four decades – it’s great to see this new work in a gallery, as intelligently provocative, and beautiful, as ever. Some of the large works have been bought by the Australian War Memorial.
• We got out of town for a couple of nights, stayed at Bundanoon, the small town on the southern highlands that was celebrating the first anniversary of its decision to no longer sell bottled water. It was wet and bitterly cold (by Sydney standards – I realise that 0oC is balmy to Alaskans and others), and though the town’s Mid-winter Festival was in full swing, we mainly played Scrabble beside a wood fire, dining at the local Chinese restaurant and the Suffolk Forest pub bistro. We drove the extra ks to Canberra on our full day, to visit the National Portrait Gallery (how a newborn baby must feel, fascinated by human faces, but surrounded by far too many of them to process comfortably) and the Hans Heysen exhibition at the National Art Gallery. It turns out I can’t get enough gum trees, though the Art Student grew weary after the first hundred of so. We both loved the later, stark Flinders Ranges landscapes.
• We popped in on an Elisabeth Cummings exhibition and narrowly avoided buying a small etching – I’m not sure why we avoided it, as we both loved the painting and both thought it was probably a wise investment. And on the same trip to East Sydney we had a look at Euan Macleod’s riveting Antarctic landscapes.
• We strolled around some fetching Victoriana at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, because the A-S had to write an essay about two of the paintings. While we were there we paid good money to see Paths to Abstraction, which included any number of wonderful 19th and 20th century paintings but left me no wiser about abstraction. Between the Nabis and the Cubists, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for 30 years – and given that I have a bit of a reputation for vagueness I’m glad to report that I recognised her. We gratified each other by knowing bits of recent news about each other’s family. This alone made the exhibition worth the price of admission.
• I nearly forgot to mention that on the way back from Bundanoon we made a detour down Bong Bong Road at Mittagong to visit what is now The Hermitage but for three and a half years in the mid 1960s was my home when I was in training to be a Marist Brother. We’d intended to drive around the buildings and be on our way, but we bumped into one of my coevals, still a member of the order, who turns out to be Guestmaster (a church title, as he said) of what is now a retreat centre there. He showed us over the place, which of course bears no resemblance at all to the drab, chilblain inducing environment of our youth. Given that most mentions of the Marist Brothers in the mainstream media these days are to do with sexual abuse, it was a real shot in the arm to be spend time with my old friend Paddy, getting a sense of what he and the others who have stayed in the order have been up to. The place is full of ghosts, some of them still living (one of them in a tiny personal hermitage in the middle of a cow paddock), almost all of them benign.
On the home front, the Art Student’s studio has invaded the sitting room: an easels, a cheap mirrors (for self-portayal purposes), linocut gear, scanned images, scraps of paper, tubes of paint, the occasional fellow artist.
Life is good.