If art is your life

August 17, 2015

To Millie

And to all young artists who are at the beginning of their hopefully long, most times rewarding yet sometimes torturous, career in the arts ……. some hints.

For the young who want to

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Marge Piercy

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Speaking of love, you must love your art as dearly as towards a person.

In my home, next to the dining table where I can view it daily, is nestled a tiny, fairly faded post card reproduction of ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’ by French sculptor Jean Leon Gerome. I keep it as a reminder of the power of artistic intention.

Basically, the painting is of an ancient myth where the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with his own artistic creation. This love is so strongly felt that the sculpture literally comes to life.

My personal interpretation of this story is that, as artists, you and I have to love our work with such an intensity that what we create becomes embodied with a life that is as viscerally connected to us as with our own children.

To be frank, most people will have no understanding of what this means and they will continually, from ignorance, refer to our works as though they were just objects or things. Certainly, nothing imbued with heart or soul.

But be kind to these people, as they know not what they talk about.

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Lastly, you should familiarise yourself with “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke. Beautifully descriptive and insightful, here’s a taste:

“As you unfold as an artist, just keep on, quietly and earnestly, growing through all that happens to you. You cannot disrupt this process more violently than by looking outside yourself for answers that may only be found by attending to your innermost feeling.”

“Allow your judgments their own undisturbed development, which, like any unfolding, must come from within and can by nothing be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birth. To allow each impression and each embryo of a feeling to complete itself in the dark, in the unsayable, the not-knowing, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and humbly and patiently to await the dawning of a new clarity: that alone is the way of the artist — in understanding as in creating.”

Stay true to the muse that resides within you. A great life awaits.

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I totally admire and hold up as heroes and heroines those people that constantly leave their comfort zones and bravely head out into the public arena as social or environmental activists.

Why? Because activism carries a price tag that can be costly on one’s mental and physical health. Along with the good one does (or, seems to do), there are others who will view your actions with distain and seek to punish.

It is definitely easier to remain hidden from public scrutiny and carry on with one’s own private work. Therefore, I can understand why people might choose the safer option.

Basically, we’re a world of cowards, full of fatigue of one sort or another. Myself included. For the past few years I can describe myself as a “lapsed activist” as I found it easier to stay in the more comforting confines of my own backyard rather than poking my opinion publically into the underbelly stench of our political system.

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Two weeks ago today I was up in Sydney attending the funeral service and celebratory (Irish inspired) wake of Neil Lawrence. On the morning following, I flew back to Tasmania with one objective: to find a way to keep Neil’s legacy of social activism alive by contributing — even if only in a tiny way — what I could as a re-invigorated social and/or environmental activist.

What had happened was this. By rubbing shoulders with the open, grieving, articulate stories of the “alive ones” and their connection, through eulogy, to the dead one Neil Lawrence and what he stood for, my activist door, though shut, reopened.

A good eulogy not only honours the dead, but can bring hope and inspiration and motivated action to the living.

It did for me. And upon my return I “stuck my foot in my mouth” yet again, and wrote an opinion piece for the state’s main newspaper The Mercury on logging within World Heritage Areas.

The article got published on Saturday (see below)

As a form of ritual, I burned a copy of the article yesterday beneath the tree I planted in honour of Neil when hearing of his death. I hope the smokey words waft through his nostrils and sends a clear signal that we’re all in this together, doing all or what little we can, to make the world a better place.

The pacifist William Stafford wrote a poetic dedication to a book of his. I include it here to help explain why it was important for me to build a little fire under Neil’s tree.

Smoke Signals
-a dedication-

There are people on a parallel way. We do not
see them often, or even think of them often,
but it is precious to us that they are sharing
the world. Something about how they have accepted
their lives, or how the sunlight happens to them,
helps us to hold the strange, enigmatic days
in line for our own living. It is important
that these people know this recognition, but
it is also important that no purpose or obligation
related to this be intruded into their lives.

This book intends to be for anyone, but especially
for those on that parallel way: here is a smoke
signal, unmistakable but unobtrusive — we are
following what comes, going through the world,
knowing each other, building our little fires.

William Stafford

Click here for the online copy of the letter to the newspaper

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For the past few weeks I had been attempting to write about the necessity of the activist artist to continually push ahead with their vision regardless of the many setbacks incurred along the way.

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The photo I wanted to use as a visual analogy was a pair of glasses (see above) that had been accidentally poked off my head when I was cutting and burning shrubbery in preparation for the installation of a sculpture marking the end of the Gaia Evolution Walk.

I somehow managed to keep working throughout the day without realising what had happened and it was only that evening back at the house after a cleansing shower that, when looking for my glasses, I realised they were missing. The next morning, while getting ready to continue with the burning off of the shrubbery, I saw them in the embers of the previous day’s fire.

How does one continue with their life’s work when accidents/tragedy/misfortune knocks the clear vision off our heads?

Is it possible to continue? Is it possible to re-group? Is it even worth the effort to continue on half blind?

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My friend Neil Lawrence died tragically this past week, suffering a heart attack while surfing with his son Tom in the Maldives.

Most Australians would know of Neil as the mastermind of the Kevin 07 election campaign.

I knew Neil, not so much through his creative genius as an advertising guru, but through his — behind the scenes — passionate environmental and social concerns for a better world. He once volunteered himself to the Greens to work pro bono on a federal election campaign, but was turned down because he wasn’t in the “inner circle”.

It was Neil who got the Recognise film crew to come to Windgrove a month or so back.

Go on-line to find more of his achievements.

Right now I just want to focus on how we deal with loss, especially big losses. And how we need to find a way to re-focus — get new glasses; possibly with a better prescription — in order to honour and carry on the work of those who have departed.

Not easy, for sure.

embers again

Just beyond where my broken glasses lay, a pile of ash and burnt wood looked dead and cold.

A little wind came up, however, and fanned a few embers back to life. They poked their red, burning desires through the greyness.

In no small way, seeing this little bit of glowing potential wanting desperately to burst into life again, helped me to carry on with the completion of the job at hand.

Find the love, find the courage, find the little spark to keep your environmental/social/artistic dreams active and progressing.

As hard as it might seem, we need to continually brave the cold waters and surf of this world.

We owe it to all those who have come before.

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Monday work blues?

June 29, 2015

I would imagine that most people when heading off to work on a Monday morning would rather be home or, at least, not stuck in traffic.

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My drive to work this morning was out towards the Point and the Wombat Circle; about a half kilometre, three minute drive. I would have walked, but the car had tools, drinking water, etc.

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With heavy duty shears, for the past few weeks I have been cutting back and burning native currant bushes to create a large circle whose centre will mark the ending of the 1.2 kilometre Gaia Evolution Walk.

Yes, the work is exhausting and by the end of the day I want nothing more than a cold beer as any decent construction worker would want.

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But while on the job and needing a bit of a rest, I just push through the gate to the Wombat Circle and rest with a cup of cold water and a packet of potato chips.

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If the view gets too boring, I can take a short walk further south to the Point to refresh myself there.

All in all, not a bad place to spend a day working. And don’t think for a moment that I’m all alone. There are delights everywhere from eagles soaring overhead to seals frolicking in the water. And on the ground, countless droppings of wombat poo.

I receive a lot of visitors at Windgrove, but this past weekend was extra special.

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Most notably were the Tasmanian singer/songwriter Dewayne Everettsmith and a Sydney film crew of five come to shoot a Recognise Campaign ad for Australian TV audiences.

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For those people outside of Australia there is a major push here to include the first people’s of Australia into this country’s constitution — a constitution that implicitly begins Australia’s national story only from the time of British arrival and not the arrival of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people some 40,000 years ago.

A correction is needed.

So it was a real joy to be able to help out with this campaign by offering the use of Windgrove.

Such a delight to first share coffee and muffins and conversation in the house and to then walk the land with everyone.

I felt truly gifted by the presence and singing of Dewayne and the jovial camaraderie of the film crew. Yes, there’s always a bit of buzz meeting a celebrity, but another buzz came from feeling that the land I’ve been living on for 23 years is being recognised for its beauty and inherent power.

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A power and beauty that was captured on the following day in a most extraordinary photo of Roaring Beach that included the Drop Stone Bench — the very bench seen in the above photo just below the image of Dewayne.

It was taken by James McIver as he walked along the Gaia Evolution Walk with his three friends Kiata, Crystal and Emily.

I, myself, have taken hundreds of photos of the Drop Stone Bench, but nothing compares with the mystical quality that this photo captures. There is something very special about the three women sitting huddled together looking out across the windswept waters of Roaring Beach while the she-oak tree’s branches to their left are wildly being blown around. Pure magic.

I can’t stop looking at it.

James McIver Drop Stone

Gaia Walk update

June 1, 2015

Every afternoon after carving for most of the day, I leave my studio around 3PM and head out to the Point or other parts of the Gaia Evolution Walk to put in a couple of hours of work before the sun goes down.

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The first photo shows my studio with the sculpture ‘Present Time’ on the work bench. It’s about nine foot long and will (one day) stand tall like a totem pole. In front and on the sawhorses are 22 sand blasted wooden posts that are to be installed along the Gaia Walk as soon as they are prepped — holes for steel posts and a bit of sanding.

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I found this squashed creature along the Walk this past week and it somehow seems fitting to rest it on the stack of sandblasted posts.

Of the eventual 80 posts, to date forty have been placed along the 1.2 kilometre path.

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The “20” signifies 20 million years ago. I, myself, find it interesting that for most of the history of Earth, there wasn’t the melodious voice of any bird to welcome in or close down the day.

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Most of the 13 illustrative panels have been placed along the path as single units. The last three, however, representing the Cenezoic Era (65 million years ago to present day) have been placed together.

And, flat on the ground like all the others. Level, too. With a slight slope for drainage. And branches to deter wombats. Length is 3.6 meters or 12 feet.

I like the concept of ancient time buried in the earth, yet visible.

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My shadow gives a sense of scale.

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