Art

While having a residency at Windgrove, what does an artist do the majority of their time ?

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Good question. But the most obvious answer — make art —is not the correct one.

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On the Windgrove letterhead is the strap line: “Refuge for learning”.

It does not say: “Refuge for doing.

Or, more specifically, a requirement to continuously make art while tucked away in a studio with or without other like minded artists busily being artists.

Usually, when artists are given a residency, they’re required to exhibit a body of work at the end of their residency. In most cases, this works well for both the artist and the facility that offers the residency, because it’s a given understood by all and easily followed.

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At Windgrove, however, other than helping to share in meal preparation and an hour or two in the garden, I like to push the notion of allowing the artist complete freedom from obligation.

If one is to be in a residency and come away with new ideas and a renewed passion for life and one’s life work, a nurturing gestation period of contemplative walks and observation is, in my view, not only a better way to stimulate the muse, but a necessity.

A necessity few artists, let alone the general population, are able to access.

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Windgrove is no Club Med. More like a Zen retreat for the creative spirit.

For that reason, I have no photos to show “the art work” that American furniture designer/sculptor Miriam Carpenter did while staying here for five weeks; just photos of her more meandering times.

If interested, Google Miriam for a look at her professional capabilities.

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What I can offer, though, is one section of an email she wrote from New Zealand after leaving Windgrove. The poem Atavism she refers to is printed below.

It will take me a while to process everything I have gathered from Windgrove and my time with you, but for now I can offer up the initial bits and pieces.  As I read Atavism to myself time and time again, and to others (as I did throughout CollaboratioNZ), I feel an ever increasing resonance.  I have done my best to see, and am aware that the world has and is happening a third time in all I suspect I will never be able to see.  Standing at the foot of Tane Mahuta, I felt my whiskers wider than my mind, away out over everything… and the strength and vibration of the forest stroking my fur.  My perception and seeing has shifted as anthropocentric thoughts dissolve into viewing life as an integral part of Pachamama. 

Windgrove is alive and thinking.  Consciousness is the land, not from it.  Your vision is sharp and I have deep respect and gratitude for your ever increasing tenacity in cultivating a rich opportunity for emotional, physical, mental and spiritual enlightenment.   I am honored to be the Maiden – for I have three more phases on this journey, and I am rich, content and inspired beyond my wildest dreams.   

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Atavism

1
Sometimes in the open you look up
where birds go by, or just nothing,
and wait. A dim feeling comes
you were like this once, there was air,
and quiet; it was by a lake, or
maybe a river you were alert
as an otter and were suddenly born
like the evening star into wide
still worlds like this one you have found
again, for a moment, in the open.

2
Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
shadow lead away; a branch waves;
a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
path. A withheld presence almost
speaks, but then retreats, rustles
a patch of brush. You can feel
the centuries ripple generations
of wandering, discovering, being lost
and found, eating, dying, being born.
A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
down a forest aisle is a strange, long
plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
wider than your mind, away out over everything.

William Stafford

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Filming at Windgrove

April 20, 2015

A couple of months ago a swarm of media people descended upon Windgrove to film a short video of “what-the-hell-is-happening-here!” for Tourism Tasmania.

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It’s always flattering to be noticed, but what really excited me about this nine hour long process that included up to ten people, was the professional expertise of each individual person working together as a whole — seamlessly.

I don’t normally get involved with artistic “collaborations”, so it was a beautiful reminder of the creative power of “the group”.

A longer version is being made, but in the meantime, here is a little peek into how 5 hours of film footage is distilled into one minute of video.

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I’ve given up.

Too many times my chisels have fallen to the dirt floor beneath my carving bench and shattered when hitting the soft dirt.

Too many times I’ve felt confined in my studio working behind “windowless walls” wanting desperately to take my art out into the great outdoors.

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Therefore, I’ve — literally and figuratively — buried my carving tools. Never again will my bare feet be in danger.

Three dimensional sculpture is so last century.

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Instead, I shall become an “en plein air” artist working — not under the protection of some wimpy studio roof — but directly with the elements; with whatever the great earth goddess and sky god decide to throw at me.

And I shall be using paints just like the great artists do. Artists who are not mere sculptors.

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_DSC7250To this end, the above photo demonstrates the seriousness of my investigations into how human manufactured colours blend, interact with, dissolve into and supplement the “natural” colours of their surrounds.

The play between the various actors on this stage is subtle, yet so enriching to the engaged mind willing to look at art in a non-judgemental, mature way where chaos is brought into sublime harmony with the forces of light and dark, the moon and sun, or, even with eagles flying overhead whose shadows dance fleetingly across the land.

With time, nocturnal animals, such as the possum or feral cat, will leave imprints on the still wet paint and re-define the notion of “Who is the real artist”, or, “Can art be whatever sells?”

Future intentions are to get a solo exhibition of this cutting edge canned art at a national gallery in order to bring to city folk a deeper appreciation of how nature willingly accepts whatever we humans spill out onto it.

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John Smith

March 1, 2015

This is a tribute for my friend and colleague John Smith who passed away last week.

John Smith

It was late autumn (northern hemisphere) 1984 and I was in Hawaii with my partner Linda for a week’s vacation before heading back to North Carolina where I worked as a designer-maker of sculptural furniture. On a whim, I called my home phone to see what business messages might have been left. After listening to this strangely accented voice asking whether or not I would like to come to Tasmania and lecture at the School of Art on a two year contract, I hung up, turned to Linda and said: “Where is Tasmania?”

Two weeks ago I celebrated the 30th anniversary of having arrived in Tasmania in February 1985.

The person with the “strangely accented” voice was British born John Smith. Considering the history (think 1776) between America and England, I am culturally inclined to not speak favourably of anything English; especially, the monarchy.

But without the slightest hesitancy or phoney smile, I can unreservedly say that John Smith, and John Smith alone, gave me the golden ring that would spell out the deeper meaning and purpose of my adult life.

Yes, I, myself, had to grab that gold ring when proffered, but the hand that extended it has to be acknowledged. The hand that shook my hand at the airport upon my arrival thirty years ago has to be acknowledged and that acknowledgement has to be both heartfelt and full of gratitude. Which it is.

Without a doubt, the shaping of my adult life, the deep ecological perspective of my art work, the eco-feminist nature of my home Windgrove, and, the fulsomeness of my creative life could only have happened by John placing that original phone call. For this I will be forever in debt to John’s physical existence on this earth.

And herein lies the strength and legacy of John Smith. Without his determined vision to create a world class design-in-wood department at the School of Art, there would hardly be a ripple of designer-makers in Tasmania making their living out of their craft. Just like Claudio Alcorso had the vision to create a vibrant wine industry in Tasmania — against the “perceived wisdom” of the day — John Smith stuck to his belief that Tasmania could educate and foster the talents of many people.

Like all artists and people of vision, John had his critics. And, at times, this would include me. But underlining every engagement with John, whether in agreement or disagreement, the look in his eyes spoke of a steely determination to achieve his dream. This, surely, must be admired.

Today, just as there are over 250 vineyards springing up across all of Tasmania, designer-makers are also springing up across this small state. In both cases, my guess is that most people will not know who laid the foundation stones for their respective careers to survive and flourish. They should, though, know this history.

I’m not suggesting that we build a statue of John in front of the School of Art. However, a simple plaque carved in huon pine and then cast in white fibreglass polished to the highest shine — this, now, would be symbolic and appropriate.

….The above photo of John was from the 1980’s when I arrived in Tasmania.

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Wasting artistic time?

November 3, 2014

“When you’re up to your ass in crocodiles it’s hard to think about draining the swamp.”

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Can you see in the middle of the above photo the notched bit of wood that is my next sculpture ‘Belly Buttons’? If so, I’m glad you can because I haven’t seen it in several months.

Littered across the front of the sculpture is the detritus of the many other jobs that have taken me out of the studio.

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And still to come (as visible in this photo): #1 — reworking the Denmark sculpture ‘Buddha Beads’ presently under a large grey tarp in order to install it somewhere on the land. #2 — two stacks of wood delivered last week for two separate projects: posts for the Gaia Walk and boards to replace rotting decks, and, #3 in the foreground, over 100 star pickets and enough fencing material (300 meters) to surround the three dams that comprise the Peace Garden as required for public liability insurance.

My friend Paulus chided me a few months ago by saying, after I told him about the Middle Garden Project I was constructing, “Why aren’t you making art?”

Yes, indeed. But the question could be asked: “Is the making of art necessarily confined to one’s studio?”.

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All I have to do is look at a page out of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks to feel assured that I’m being creative. I mean, Leonardo had several ideas/projects going on at once and no one ever chided him for rarely finishing anything other than a few wonderful paintings. No one ever thought he was wasting his time on irrelevant projects.

To Leonardo, everything — no matter how mundane — could be looked upon with an artistic eye and scientific curiosity.

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The artist’s chief role is to shift people to a deeper understanding and appreciation of their place in this world. And, if needed, work to change their perceptions of it if those perceptions become abusive to the greater good. In other words, the artist’s main role is political, not decorative.

I defend this role with the ferocity of a mother wolf protecting her cubs.

Nearly half a century ago, as a young man recently graduated from Harvard, I worked for two years in Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer. The wrinkled, nearly toothless grandmother of the house where I lived questioned me once about a photo she saw in a magazine that depicted the many people attending Woodstock.

“Why are they barefoot?” she questioned. “Are they poor?”.

Thus started my life long quest to look at the individual and societal “unexamined assumptions” about place, culture, religion and — in the mix of all this — language.

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For the grandmother back then, just recently coming out of peasant poverty, anyone without shoes was certainly poor.

For me today, seeing a woman wearing a burka or other total facial covering connotes “oppression of the female in a patriarchal world”.

Who’s right? Whose wrong? What’s in a word? What’s in an image?

We should all be ardent believers in understanding our evolution. Not only in the physical evolution of this world and how/why our “humanness” evolved from the first cellular constructs of the ocean over 1,000,000,000 years ago, but, as importantly, we should seek to understand the evolution of our cultural norms, religions and the etymology of language.

Why? Because it is important to consider the deep origins of why we say what we say, do what we do, and, believe in what we believe.

It is not good enough to say: “I believe this because it says so in the Bible” (Koran or any other religious texts). Why? Because all present religious texts evolved out of earlier religious texts and it behoves everyone to go back to the earliest sources to glean why things might be as they are today. Are they better or worse and for whom?

Who is in control. Follow the power.

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To get to the point of this blog, does Gustave Courbet’s painting ‘Origin of the World’ — with it’s in-your-face depiction of the vulva — seem shocking, confrontational, vulgar? Or, perhaps, a brilliant representation of the reality of exactly where all humans come from?

On FaceBook this past week, I shared a quote on the origin of the word “cunt”.

It stated: ‘Cunt’ derives from ‘Kunda’ or ‘Cunti, the Oriental Great Goddess’. She was the Great Yoni (vagina) of the Universe, where all life came from and to where all life returned for renewal.

From this same name are derived the words “country”, “kin” and “kind”. So why, in the English language today is the word “Cunt” seen as a vile, obscene and vulgar swear word?

After posting the above quote on FaceBook, the public comments were positive. I did, though, receive a private email reply from overseas that read in part:

Dear P

You know I’ll query why you persist in posting on Facebook a word that is now impolite. Hundreds of words have changed their meaning in English. It’s no revelation. Awful used to mean in awe now is negative. Hundreds of words have evolved and altered.

I know you may be intentionally provocative and it’s all part of your philosophy but it saddens me as I think it could be why some of your older friends turn away.

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My intention — always — is not to be provocative just for the sake of shocking someone; rather, I want to open up doors of understanding into rooms of evolutionary usage.

My preference is for people to not just stand at the door and say: “This is the way it is today, so accept it as given.” Or, “I vote this way because I’ve always voted Labor/Liberal/Republican/Green/Tory.”

These sort of responses are, to me, a tad lazy and lack intellectual rigour; a too easy acceptance of the status quo.

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I want people — especially those of us brought up in the Judaeo/Christian/Islamist view of the world — who do view a woman’s cunt as vulgar to ask: Why?

In India the yoni is seen as sacred. In Chinese, the vernacular term is translated as “jade gate”.

However, in our western medical schools, the vagina is listed as pudendum: latin for “place of shame”.

Why the difference?

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I try to create art that is both beautiful and pregnant with questions.

I’m an optimist. I believe in a future that is socially just, spiritually fulfilling and environmentally thriving. I equally believe, though, that to get to the future we have to go way back into our past to understand our present circumstances in order to change what needs to be changed.

shadow

I stand barefoot
in “cunt-try”
not poor but rich
planting trees of hope
proud and knowing
fully the deep
origins of my birth.

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