Other artists

A few weeks ago I showed an interior wall photo of my home that displayed three works of art. The smallest of the three pieces was ‘Waratah I’ by photographic artist Lucia Rossi.

I have this in my home because it serves to act as a religious icon of the sacredness of the human body and is as deserving of admiration and prayer as any Russian icon of a favorite saint.

Many of my blog entries are about the importance of understanding how we humans are inextricably linked to the great web of life that is this earth; that the human animal — whether through DNA sequencing or evolutionary traits — is connected intimately, biologically, emotionally and spiritually to everything; that our bodies are nothing if not a walking sacredness.

Our human body is as full of mystery and magic as is any life form. Its complex machinery deserves our collective awe, respect and gratitude for functioning as it does over the course of many years.

On Sunday I returned from a hospital stay of four nights for surgery to help me keep functioning for a few years to come. The details aren’t important. What is, though, is the visceral experience I had that made me even more appreciative of my physicality even as this animal body of mine expressed its limitations through a bit of pain.

While recovering in hospital, instead of a beautiful, red waratah flower protruding from my pudendum as in the Rossi photograph, I had a three-way catheter connected to a penis that bled. Both, however, are majestic works of art and science. Both are mythic and symbolic as they each expressed an aspect of life in a truthful manner.

Hidden in language, though, is a disturbing issue because the common medical term for the female and male external genital area is “pudendum” (plural, pudenda) and comes from the Latin pudere — be ashamed. What does this say of our culture when its medical terminology links the genital area with a place of shame? (The ‘um’ part of pudendum means place; as in gymnasium, planetarium.)

With our mythical Biblic account of Adam and Eve leaving the garden of Eden covering their genitals, is it any wonder that sexual dysfunction is entrenched in the Judaeo/Christian/Islamist religious institutions?

In contrast to the written word, what I found very wonderful — and hopeful — about the experience of being in hospital was the way the female nurses treated “my” pudendum with respect and compassion; certainly not shame. In their handling of me, there was never a hint of embarrassment or sense of repugnance. In the bed where I was looked after, the idea of “original sin” was replaced by “original blessing”.

Courbet’s “Origin of the World” is a very powerful testament of how art can portray an aspect of our physicality not shrouded in guilt or hidden from view.

We have all entered this world through the portal of the vagina. There is nothing shameful about this. It should be celebrated.

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Re-enchanting the world

August 1, 2011

“Raised on the classic myths,
I see the drift nets of latitude
and longitude on the night sky
inhabited by beasts and gods.”
— from ‘Cities of Mind’, by Chase Twichell

In my living room, sandwiched between two other celestial bodies — the large oil painting ‘Celestial Kaleidoscope’ by Sally Horne and the smaller photographic artwork ‘Waratah I’ by Lucia Rossi — is another work of Rossi’s: her contemporary interpretation of the classic myth Daphne.

Daphne, the beautiful goddess so relentlessly pursued by Apollo that when she asks for help from her earth mother Gaia, the help comes through the transformation of her human mortal body into the eternal, ever flowering laurel tree.

I chose to place this art work in my home because I wanted to engage people, whenever they visit, in a conversation on the importance of taking the classical myths of Homer and the Greeks and looking to them to provide some sort of portal into re-enchanting our connection to and love of Earth; and in particular, the importance of understanding that to undertake this re-enchantment is to undertake the re-establishment of the feminine into our cultural mores of daily behavior.

I’m not arguing for a return to the metaphysical belief systems of the ancients in order to hold the world in constant wonder. Rather, we need to familiarize ourselves with the vast archetypal imagery that waits patiently in the storehouse of our collective psyches to help guide us to an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling life.

The power of any art work found inside the house is to move us to the outside of the house for a more phenomenological re-enchantment of the world.

And what better way than to get one’s hands dirty.

My shadowed figure, on the side of one of the six, slit like four foot tall raised garden beds, is engaged in an act of active prayer. With raised arms of gratitude they lift aloft, grasping like a chalice the earth’s dark breast of nourishment, and in so doing, propitiate and honour her secret mysteries.

Today, 100 garlic shoots are sprouting from the joint efforts of the earth’s fecund body, and, the fingering of my hand in the planting of these bulbs within her body.

To garden is to grow into an experiential awareness of the sacred eros of all life; of all beings; of all bodies.

Erotic Energy

Don’t tell me we’re not like plants
sending out a shoot when we need to,
or spikes, poisonous oils, or flowers.

Come to me but only when I say,
that’s how plants announce

the rules of propagation.
Even children know this. You can
see them imitating all the moves

with their bright plastic toys.
So that, years later, at the moment

the girl’s body finally says yes
to the end of childhood,
a green pail with an orange shovel

will appear in her mind like a tropical
blossom she has never seen before.

Chase Twichell


A weekend Tribe

March 21, 2011

Four beautiful people.

Myself, painter Jerzy Michalski, print-maker Mandy Renard and Douglas Webster (Windgrove writer-in-residence)

We came together this past weekend for a serious and convivial, light-hearted and deeply intellectual probing of Sufi and similarly inspired spiritual/earth based poetry. Our focused intent was to discuss how poetry influenced and directed each of us in our work as artists, in our personal relationships, and, in our development of self.

We read aloud to each other passages from Rumi, Hafiz, Zbigniew Herbert, Billy Collins, Kabir, Kahlil Gibran and Bibi Hayati as well as several poems from fellow participant Douglas.

We prepared and served each other food and drink, sweet and savory delicacies, love, wonderment and hugh admiration.

We walked the property and marveled as one at the flux and interplay of the sacred and profane.

This small gathering of like-minded artists was also very important as it was the first gathering of people at Windgrove with a set agenda for several years and, therefore, marked the beginning of the re-emergence of Windgrove as a refuge for learning. The intention is to continue on with small workshops and retreats that deal with the fusion of spirit, art and ecology.

Along with Windgrove, once again, becoming a place for group retreats, the arrival two weeks ago of long time friend and colleague Douglas Webster for a month long stay announced the re-start of the residency program.

The photo shows the recently re-modeled and re-furnished sleeping and working area for the visiting Windgrove resident. Small and compact, but warm, friendly and conducive to creative work.

There are now two living spaces for residents that are relatively private and separated from the main house. I am trying to summon up the energy to proceed with the creation of a third resident house.


Several times over the past few months I have stopped into the studio of Jerry Michalski to both visit with my friend and, importantly, see the steady process of his painting. Important, because I would be opening the exhibition of this new work and I wanted to familarize myself as best I could with the paintings and Jerry’s painting of them before writing my introductory remarks.

The opening happened last Friday evening at the Colville Gallery in Hobart to a small, yet appreciative crowd of between 50 to 60 people. Afterwards, at a local restaurant with friends, we celebrated the fact that on opening night red dots were placed beneath five paintings (for any artist, always a welcome sight).

For the most part, the speech I had prepared was spoken, more or less, as written:

Jerzy Michalski A few words about a decent man.

Let me preface this opening address with a qualifier; a quote from the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Works of art belong immeasurably to themselves, and are accessible least of all to criticism. Always trust your own feeling, rather than others’ discussions, interpretations, and arguments.”

In other words, know that whatever I say is totally subjective.


How many people here, when you hear the latest spin coming out of the mouths of politicians, or their multitude of advisors, just want to puke? Or when you read the latest press release on the biggest, most ever important event to be happening in the world; i.e. the birth of twins or a royal marriage, you just want to crawl into a hole and surround yourself with a few good books and a few good paintings in order to give yourself some tangible sense of depth or meaning?

Let me read something I came across recently that acknowledges that even in the art world, art speak these days tends to be a wank of dumbed down speech.

“There seems to be a reconfiguring of values here as to what we want to know about the arts. It’s not their critical value and redemptive power, it’s simply when, where and how much? A connection might be made here between this and broader cultural shifts that have seen the arts become a popular and trendy inner-city leisure activity.

The arts are now less of an intellectual pastime and more of an aspirational weekend pursuit that you can shop for like everything else.”

I say all this because if their is anything about the paintings in this exhibition, it is that they demand to be viewed with both an intellectual curiosity and a responsive, feeling heart. Jerry Michalski’s paintings are the antithesis of this smarmy, dumbing down of the arts.

So, when you crawl into your hole to avoid the banality of our world, take a Jerry Michalski painting with you.

In the many years I’ve known Jerry, I have watched how his paintings have, not gotten better — as they have always been masterly works — but gotten deeper. Like a miner who slowly through the years with his pick chips away, searching in the darkness for veins of silver, Jerry, with his paintbrush has searched the mysterious dark of creation for veins of light, of inspiration, of a means to express what the pounding is in his heart.

Simon Schama: ‘The Power of Art’:
“If art can make you happy, can it also make you good? If it can move you to ecstasy or tears, should it also move you to be a stand-up citizen? Can modern secular painting have the conversionary power of Christian masterpieces: the power to save souls, not from sin, but from selfishness. Ought the power of art lend itself to the art of power?”

These questions posed by Simon Schama are, indeed, answered in the affirmative by Jerry. Behind his masterly, technical competence, oozes a hidden redemptive search. His paintings are a powerful statement on the power of position and wealth in our society. They are, however, depending on the viewer, ambiguous in translation as to whether what lies within these elegant ordered structures is good or bad, useful or destructive.

To help us decipher these paintings, Jerry has written on the back of several of them selected poems from the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert.

One wouldn’t know it when walking into Jerry’s studio — where the visual impact of finished paintings, half finished paintings, tubes of paint and numbers of brushes make a hugh visual impact — that Jerry is a heavy reader of poetry.

When I asked him whether a particular painting was the result of an inspired image from a poem, or, whether the poem was chosen to fit the painting after the fact, Jerry couldn’t separate the two out. He constantly reads his beloved poets, and he constantly paints. These two worlds are fused. And it doesn’t matter if the chicken came before the egg, the addition of poetry allows for a further articulation of each painting.

I offer a few excerpts:

On the back of the painting ‘White Interior’ the enigmatic lines from the poem ‘Study of the object’ reads, in part:

“The most beautiful is the object which does not exist…”

“it is the pre-world
a white paradise
of all possibilities
you may enter there
cry out
perpendicular lightning
strikes the naked horizon”

For the painting ‘Dorm’ these lines:

“those who paint interiors…
the severe brush of the hunched master

so they penetrate the interiors of tenement houses
and peer into the heart as into a bag of silver
and see only a blind man who is counting pearls
a dishonoured girl beaten deceived people
dark weeping below…
the clear water of fresh floods
is requested by the brush”

In the painting ‘The Edge’, Jerry has copied a miniature version of David’s ‘The Oath of the Horatii’. What is this about?, you might ask. The answer is partly provided with his selection of the poem ‘Why the Classics”. Again, selected lines:

“generals of the most recent wars..
whine on their knees before posterity
praise their heroism and innocence

they accuse their subordinates
envious colleagues
unfavourable winds”

As in the painting ‘The Edge’ there are others that include classic masterpieces.There is the inclusion of Francisco Goya’s ‘The Colossus’; Ferdinand Keller’s ‘Bocklin’s Tomb’; and, Caravaggio’s ‘Beheading of St. John the Baptist’. All have significance, but the meaning, as mentioned before, is subjective to the viewer. Is it about a valiant heroism? or, a suicidal oath of blind stupidity to patriarchy?


In the Rilke quote I used earlier, he further writes that “only love can grasp [the poem or the painting] and hold them and respond to them fairly.” Therefore, if love is the arbiter of any discussion of art, I think Jerry’s paintings are asking each of us “How shall we love when we have lost everything.”

Your superannuation gets decimated in the Global Financial Crisis or some Ponzi scheme. Your lover runs off with your best friend? Maybe your body is slowly deteriorating and most mornings are a mixture of pills and coffee to get you going. You see your house ravaged by floods or bush fires, the seas depleted of fish and coral reefs.

Most of the paintings here speak, if not loudly, than insistently about loss. Especially, loss caused by living in an increasingly lonely, detached, isolated and barren world even though we are surrounded by the “markings of success”: expensive clothes, home, children in private schools, second home at

Like great theatrical stage sets, where western consumerism is laid bare and all the world struts around stripped of meaning, these paintings are exquisitely presented yet stuffed with suffering. They are an elegant, sophisticated, rich tapestry of contemporary life.

How “shall” we live in a broken world?

Look carefully. Look deeply. Look compassionately. The answer lies somewhere between the oiled and layered image on the canvas and the thin wall of denial around each of our hearts.

Jerry would ask that you the viewer, look at your addictive consumerist behavioral patterns and see how trapped we all are. Myself included. We need to see that this world is, and always has been and will be, a world of complex intricacies where darkness and light, the profane and the spiritual, mingle and dance a galactic spiral of yen and yang. We need to see that what ultimately is most important is community and a sense of belonging to place.

These are not depressing paintings. Yes, they present a depressing aspect of living in today’s world, but with observation comes awareness. And a tool, a key, a path, a means of gathering within our psyches the strength and ability to walk our laments with praise, to find joy in the charred remains of a crumbling world.

Jerry is not asking you to be a viewer in the normal sense of remaining outside the frame of reference. Rather, you are asked to engage and join in with the emotional reality of what is being presented. Jerry wants us to see ourselves in these paintings. The viewer needs to merge with both the beauty and the sorrow depicted. We, of the western consumerist world, are placed firmly within his paintings. Embedded within our cultural values, along with the incredible wealth of goodies brought to us by our “high” standard of living, is a long shadow of disconnect with the natural world, our animality.

Within the vastness of these human edifices that Jerry has painted, you are compelled to walk the streets or inhabit the offices and apartments and museums that are deliberately devoid of a single leaf or other indication of a human connection to a greener, natural world, animal world.


LIndsay Tuffin writing about the opening of MONA said:
“this Museum celebrates our animality ..
… if you deny your animality and your fundamentals of Darwinian struggle, you are already dead …”

The implication is that we have to bring the primal monkey and the tree it inhabits back into our everyday world. Jerry does this, but not by portraying just the debauched, nihilistic animal world, that beheads or goes off to war and gets drunk at openings and behaves outrageously. But, equally, by emphasizing, the sacred, feminine Gaian aspects of this world where the soulful virtues of heart, feeling, sensitivity and compassion are embraced; where the right side of our animal brain gains the ascendency over the left.

These paintings are not puerile, nor sensationalist. The underlying thread invisibly woven throughout all of them is the call to live a forgiving love. It is our great task to find a way to love this broken world of ours while we are losing everything and not succumb to apathy, ennui or a wasting hedonistic life style of adult Disneyland proportions.

Rilke would sum up this exhibition with:
“Whatever image you take within you deeply,
even for a moment in a lifetime of pain,
see how it reveals the whole — the great tapestry.”

Jerry Michalski would warn:

if art for its subject
will have a broken jar
a small broken soul
with a great self-pity

what will remain after us
will be like lovers’ weeping
in a small dirty hotel
when wallpaper dawns”


Divine inspiration

February 1, 2011

The very aesthetic power shown in the thundercell over the plains of America is a photo taken by S.Heavey and one that I lifted off the internet several weeks ago and have been waiting before using it until there was an appropriate Windgrove connection.

I also lifted off the internet a detail of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel where he has painted the Birth of Adam and placed it below the thundercell in order to make a visual comparison between the two.

I would ask the reader to ponder this juxtaposition. Michelangelo’s God emerges from a whirling brain like pinkish cell similar in shape to the whirling storm cloud. The green cloth of lightning adds to the effect.

The question I like to ask is whether or not Michelangelo was as astute an observer of nature as his older contemporary Leonardo da Vinci? Did Michelangelo’s depiction of God as a powerful sky figure embedded in a vortex of cyclonic fabric emerge from his study of thunder clouds and, thereby, give him the divine inspiration to represent his God in this manner?

Paintings don’t just happen. Art originates from a source. This past week, as I looked up into a swirling mass of cloud, I definitely saw a charged fingertip exchange of energy between two clouds. If I were a painter, how would I represent this?


The importance of Daphne

October 11, 2010

Our Oldest Friends

Our oldest friends — the great gods
who never tried to woo us —
shall we reject them because our tools of steel
do not need them? Or shall we seek them on a map?

Those powerful friends, who receive our dead,
play no part in our wheels and gears.
We have moved our banquets far from them,
and pass their messengers with such speed

we can’t hear what they say. Lonelier now,
having no one but each other, not knowing each other,
we no longer meander on curving paths, but race straight ahead.

Only in the mills do the once sacred fires still burn,
lifting ever heavier hammers, while we
diminish in strength, like swimmers at sea.

Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus I, 24

As Rilke suggests, our contemporary world culture — so fixated on scientific, mechanistic reductionism and linear thinking — might benefit by re-earthing society into the ancient Greek myths; myths so replete with tales of interconnections of Gods and Goddesses with all things Earth.

Peneus was a river God. Creusa was a naiad (from the Greek “running water”) and daughter of Gaia. Together they had a daughter Daphne who, because of her beauty, was pursued relentlessly by Apollo whose infatuation was caused by an arrow from Eros. In desperation she prays — in different versions to either the river god Peneus or the earth Goddess Gaia — and is transformed into a laurel tree.

“a heavy numbness seized her limbs, thin bark closed over her breast, her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches, her feet so swift a moment ago stuck fast in slow-growing roots, her face was lost in the canopy. Only her shining beauty was left.”
Ovid, Metamorphoses

To me, the essence of artwork, and its contemporary importance, is to remind us humans in a very visceral way of our intimate connection to earth, water, air and fire.

We are star dust. We are inextricably linked to all the elements of the cosmos.

The love beating out of our human hearts is but a minor heart of the great Heart.