Saturday, February 10, 2018

Blood Moon

'Bad omen for the markets' the old man said

Peering out betwixt the shutters mumbling dire prognostications

Ere his guests had fled.

'He had it coming or he knew it all along that President Trump

And 'twasn't Mary Marshall's cat 'Foreclosure'

-all she had left killed - balump balump

Dead as mutton as she crossed the street?'

'Hard times, so dry the soil blows away

Takes rain and growth to make it stay

And the sheep all hungry, squeezin' under fences 'fore they died.

As if. Stuff all here or on the other side.

Should have took those January prices

'Fore it hit the fan in Yarrawonga and all those other bloody crises.'

George Smiley

"It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." - Yogi Berra

This poem really was penned before the deluge, after a dinner party Wednesday in which we had looked out the window to see this once- in- a- lifetime astronomical blue/blood co-incidence.  The markets had looked very toppy and Yogi's problems are easily surmounted by careful selectivity. No-one will remember your mistakes for long. But you can put your successes out there interminably and so gain something of a reputation. 

It was no great personal success however, I didn't even bother to replenish my small put option portfolio that had twice expired after equally persuasive moments and 'third time lucky' is a superstition that didn't even cross my mind - if correct there would be better opportunities to come that aren't hamstrung by some ever-expiring contango.

Saturday, December 30, 2017


                                               HOMO (Hotel Mona)

 A not-so-fictional critique/pitch/story by George Smiley 

When you go into the MONA portal and click 'architecture' it's all there in the discussion – preserving the sense of place, use of unifying natural surfaces and materials. It's a residence and a vineyard on a peninsula on the beautiful Derwent. And now it is a museum and other things and it is awesome and monumental precisely because it isn't. Powerful structural details are featured instead of bare minimums hidden behind the usual plasterboard. And most of all it isn't tall or pretentious with acres of glass or coloured flammable styrofoam sandwich panels or crenellated with the obligatory dozens of identical concrete, glass and stainless steel balconies.

The floated HOMO idea (to be found 'in the works') uses similar language but it must have been conceived by someone else. At first glance the architect's Mark 1 concept especially looks like an old 'Fantasy and Science Fiction' cover and probably won't even stand up. Automatically the mind's eye sees bits of glass, concrete, handrails, and tiny tumbling bodies of silvertails hiving off from beneath. The name is unfortunate enough as to hint at hoaxer etiquette, which is always to give a clue to the in-crowd so they can share the joke; normally signing off their missiles with names like Terra Nullius or Mike H***. And this one is a hip statement that tries too hard; not even pretending to be good business like the 'Fragrance Tower'; which might resonate in close and bustling multibillion armpit Asia but here suggests industrial strength organic volatiles and little green cardboard Christmas trees, dangling from rear-view mirrors, probably exuding formaldehyde and sick-making for 15% of the population.

Initial reaction aside, HOMO is actually a very possible build. The powerful structural details are there for all to see. It's an inverted Sydney Harbour Bridge turned upside down on a pedestal, tied together across the top with all else nestled within or suspended from the arch. But as a revolutionary design it comes weighed down with technical difficulties. We build things like we do because it works and all the standard glitches are history. Beyond the horrendous cost overruns that are so much a part of statement- making, new designs are a nightmare for the people that have to build them. As well as mathematical difficulties fabricating curved design (remember the Opera House), revolutionary stuff is generally difficult to seal against weather without and corrosion within (remember the Russian revolution). But so much time and money and thought has obviously gone into it that it has to be more serious than a spoof for enticing sycophants, boosters or investors to pile aboard before it sinks like the name portends. Who will want to tell the kids, friends or neighbours they stayed there? Maybe they'll change the name but for 300 mil you still have to clear AFTER operating expenses....the back of the envelope says close to 100 thou per day BFITDA (before Interest,Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization, which is paying the principle back along with the Interest).  And really good business isn't making a statement, it's selling one for consumers to make – THEY are supposed to be the bunnies ponying up cash for the privilege.

Whether you are selling apartments or renting hotel suites it's a competitive game which begins with capital outlay and its usual baggage of interest rates. They are still pushing zero or below at central bank level over much of the globe after an unprecedented long and lame 10 year recovery from the last major disaster and recession that motivated central banks to provide working capital essentially free when corrected for inflation. That's fine for borrowers in theory but in practice it is a driver for over-investment in every field and the easy money is a leverage trap should rates normalize. At the same time no-one on a national level has any interest rate ammunition left to cut and so stimulate economies and thereby bail too-big-to- fail financial institutions. After having to bail them directly in 2008 it became obvious to a number of national governments that they too might be faced with failure next time. The ex- governor of the Bank of Canada later admitted that ALL the major Canadian banks had been technically insolvent. So Canada, the EU, and the USA have since legislated 'bail-in' provisions where bank depositors aka 'creditors' may well be shouldering much of the burden in some future replay of 2008 in return for shares in insolvent institutions.

Wherever we are in the business cycle, principles are the same. First a developer needs connections in local government where others with similar interests are sure to be found. They take turns recusing themselves from votes pertaining to their own financial interests which are then seamlessly passed in their absence. Contrary to popular belief these are not men of taste and vision; and the POTUS himself is proof positive. The first step is to latch on to a property 'steal' and the easiest way is by tying up what you want in a conditional contract subject to zoning changes. When your superior connections and the architect's sales pitch wangles the impossible that priced your bargain-basement acquisition of Boardwalk, the project is a guaranteed winner regardless of cost blow-outs, local rage and fruitless opposition as the owners of lovely homes in quiet suburbs find themselves viewless, sunless, and pressed over rates, traffic and parking. So your average developer doesn't hire an architect for his design skills, rather his ability to hype and get some piece of crap through the hurdles. Aside from the rationale about jobs, development and prestige, projects are designed specifically to maximize the return per $ invested. And the best way to do that is stack cheap and nasty little rabbit hutches on top of each other as high as you can go; hype them with the architect's name in lights, and build to maximum size on minimal space to minimal standards.

How do I know all this? Unlike other critics such as Prince Charles and Paul Keating I am eminently qualified, having built a lot of it over my life; most recently scuttling around with the other dumb-dumbs hanging doors and installing joinery all over the city during Sydney's great Olympic building boom, starting with the Raffles Tower above Grace Bros. Believe this. None of those boys will ever stay there but expect to be back in ten years ripping out and replacing all the fittings in major renovations. And in relative terms they weren't that cheap, just that they aren't good enough to maintain grace and ambience with age or be worth repairing. Nor were we hourly employees as dumb as we looked. Every subcontractor I worked for was LOSING money even at the height of the boom. General contractors are also subject to the laws of competition and they get several quotes from each trade for every stage of every project. It is inevitable that amongst the queue of estimators, some wild optimist will make a mistake and his employer is stuck with the job. Some try to recover their losses by pushing the limits of legality; on one of my jobs a subcontractor beat the system by packing imported Korean stonemasons like sardines into low-cost rented accommodation. They were ill-fed and underpaid; kept in the dark on wage entitlements and slated to be sent home before they wised up, thanks to our enlightened foreign worker legislation. Although they would never or could never speak to you, the CFMEU found out anyway and they got their wages in the end.

It happened to everyone. My boss on the same project tried to stiff us on our hourly wage by putting us on ridiculously low contract rates. I and two Irish guys had a word on the legality of this with the union steward while the biggest of our supervisor's three English drinking buddies who he called his 'Main Men', stood behind the shop steward.  He must have been especially assigned to follow the steward around and he stared fiercely and meaningfully at us, making throat-cutting gestures. Within minutes our phones rang and we found ourselves carpeted in the basement. We were exiled out to the far-western suburbs for the duration, fixing up a gutted pub with no beer, floors or doors. Out there people couldn't keep their mouths shut either, and the publican's man, a newly-wed, besotted young Lebanese or Greek insisted on sharing his wonderful revelation about giving oral sex. The normally loquacious Irishmen and myself, who had spent days rehashing the entire history of English perfidy from the Battle of the Boyne to Pyrmont Cove were dumbstruck and embarrassed. Union intervention is only frowned upon by management and while rough language is everywhere on site, the topic of love is strictly forbidden.

After our re-education we were brought back for the end of the next phase, a lower-rise Italianate wonder almost beneath the bridge. Under might have been better as all the ornate exterior cornices and general gingerbread were made of yellow plastic foam and slated to be destroyed by UV in the long term or the next major hailstorm. We were almost immediately carpeted (again) when our Judas went crying to the boss that we wouldn't speak to him. We were split up and I spent a day gluing incongruous white melamine craftwood shoe stands in the vast walk-in wardrobes of Renzo Piano's Macquarie St. masterpiece. At quitting time I walked out through the endless, ugly yellow timber- panelled lobby and passed Renzo's uniquely contemptuous snook at local authorities, customers and poseurs; a pair of giant, perfect white marble testicles, each the size of an ambulance. I had damaged my own a few weeks earlier during an awkward lift, while my offsider broke his wrist simultaneously by falling into an empty swimming pool; in separate incidents it should be noted. The union got us both patched up satisfactorily, he with a cast and I was stitched up internally with something like an onion bag and went to work elsewhere.

My new employer was Sydney's most venerable joinery company. As I was installing their custom factory -made units at a small bar/club casino redevelopment there were waiting times and to avoid censure the lead hand and I were always seen hard at work – with the help of occasional 'foreigners' (piecework jobs for others) I had sourced  which means you double your money AND appear to be keeping busy; so much better than the pokies that were yet to be installed. We finished the Concordia Club job about the time the last races were run. Sydney died then and I was let go. Several years later the joinery firm was itself wound up after a century in business. The Concordia in Stanmore was abandoned too, after surviving numerous ups and downs since its inception during WW1 by local Germans hoping to be seen as Aussie patriots and general good guys. Then came more marvels, like raising the roof on the Leichardt Cathedral, right on busy Norton Street to fit new soundproofing at government expense for the change in Sydney Airport flight paths. The century -old centimetre thick black dust layer in the attic had been analyzed and remarkably pronounced free of asbestos and lead. Sound proofing was done for everyone along the flight path along with double glazing too, and the Tasmanian government should take note, it will be relatively cheap to do this for the folks at Sorell.

So that's construction, the second rate, down and dirty underbelly of agent and architectural hype and it ultimately may not be the driver of general economic growth and good fortune it's cracked up to be. Will or can HOMO be the salvation of Berriedale and Glenorchy? Of course the boosters will climb on board – any growth feels like a plus for local business. For a few months the young apprentices on the project buy their meals of Red Bull and Dagwood Dogs at the local milkbar but everyone else packs a lunch. There is no actual reason to stay there other than going to Mona, which is always worth a day but Hobart is where everything else is and a better place to spend a night. If the misspent part of my youth hadn't flown just as surely as the responsible and meritorious bits and I were once again eighteen years old and the proud owner of a worn but hot twin carby Datsun 180b I wouldn't even stoop to doing blockies in Berriedale. Not even on warm summer nights when you hang your arm out the window and absent-mindedly thump the door panel with your thumb when passing a pretty girl so she might notice your tattoo and how the motor will rev. But any time of the day or night it would be hard to resist a look in the lobby of a new hotel if there was something fabulous to see; like a beautiful rotary stainless steel on white nylon machine that cuts the heads off chickens; sequenced after they have been killed and auto-plucked which is unfortunate for art but  it simplifies the project considerably.

That is a serious offer. I acquired it on a whim; it was gorgeous, an absolute bargain but far too big and heavy for my living room. With a simple 'sixties industrial' fabricated stainless steel support structure and safety grill, stretchy silicone rubber chicken corpses and drive mechanisms there would hardly be room for the sofa. And even 'as is' my wife thinks it has some unsuitable 'je ne sais quoi' which means she hates it but doesn't want to hurt my feelings. But there is room overhead for a matching chandelier of detritus from the same process line, with cast lead crystal birds suspended by their legs.

There is something wrong with humanity. This stuff not only passes for art but is sought after, at least to look at. For a practitioner the process is a gas - there are endless technical and aesthetic decisions to make, and at the end it has to work every way in 3 dimensions. But weeks or months of hard labour are consumed by voyeurs in an instant. Ho hum and we move on to the next cheap thrill, our chicken- killing virginity assaulted, erased and neither better nor worse for it. The average middle-class urbanite was clueless about the industrial life and mechanized death of their $8 piping hot barbecue paprika chickens and now is not.  In offering a passing frisson from some banal revelation, the idea of modern art acquires a significance in our lives not matched by the work itself, competing as it does with endless soundbites and magic toys. 

Squirrel monkeys in captivity have been observed making arrangements of sticks.  When a lively intelligence is deprived of the immediacy of danger and competition it has to do something for stimulation and it needn't be significant. And for plodding, domesticated homo sap. everything is temporal now, today's I-phone is tomorrow's fishing weight.  But we aren't yet devoid of our inborn, ageless intuitions: frivolity, amusement, and diversion have always been the only reasonable pursuits in plague years. Flying share markets via free money and even digital money madness proliferates while garbage kills the seas and continent wide land-clearing kills the koalas, which are sort of cute and interesting but not especially likeable. Nor would it help them if they were. They are the vanguard in the planetary march to oblivion, being followed, not so obviously as yet by us, who can be similarly described.

As the seas rise and the Derwent Estuary grows to a broad and stormy harbour, the Tasman Bridge will submerge for much of its length, and perhaps drowned Sandy Bays will re-establish higher on the slopes of Berriedale and Glenorchy. Rising ever higher, storm waves smash long- abandoned remnants of walls and windows while salt water strips the rebar from rotting concrete foundations. And on some stormy night the HOMO palace itself will tip from its ruined pedestal into the sea and float - an ark, devoid of guidance, hubris, self-indulgence or sexed pairs of wannabe survivors. If it doesn't founder on the rocky bluffs of the Botanic Gardens it will float out to sea with the tide, past the crumbling sea- stack of the Fragrance Tower where the little handfish grope in the deep dark below. These will survive further upstream, breathing the oxygenated river water. Having backbones too, they are way ahead of bivalves or lobsters in the race to slither up from the ooze one day and begin their long journey to take our place. Out to sea in slower, deeper waters the shales begin to be laid down from silt and topsoil scoured from the blistering land by swollen rivers, augmented by algal hydrocarbons drifting down like snow, unconsumed through the suffocating murk.                                                                                                            

It happened before in the truly great extinction 150 million years before the asteroid. Much of the Tarkine forest grows on those greasy black pyrite-rich shales and after the trees have been stripped off or died we may yet turn it to our advantage by strip mining the stones themselves, grinding and cooking it in giant retorts to win the precious hydrocarbons.  If the usual millions of dollars of public money are forthcoming to make it viable it will be the a jobs bonanza, twenty maybe which will be enough to carry Circular Head electorally.

And one day under the red sun a crawler with a hydraulic breaker will be mining the shale slopes of the Derwent Uplift. Sunlight glints in the operator's eyes from the quiet and distant sea and the smoking retorts stand behind him. It's boring repetitious work that makes a complex mind wander and he almost misses something nearby, poking out from the uniquely poisonous bottom layer that defines the orebody. He pulls it gingerly out with the big arm, rattles it gently with his breaker and the stone falls away in layers. Whatever it is, it is vaguely cylindrical and shines in the sun and for a moment he is transported by its mystery and complexity, but his mind is swiftly reclaimed by the practical demands of the moment.

Cripes, that'll be worth a quid or two. But the boss will bloody want it.”

Flummoxed, he scratches thoughtfully around his vestigial caudal fin, and then his opposite index finger pokes the air triumphantly. He climbs back in the machine with a clear plan and with the long arm he scrapes dirt over whatever it was for future retrieval; surreptitiously, maybe on the weekend.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Colin Suggett, Arthur Boyd and Others

When in London I make a point of going to the Courtauld. Which is a grand way of referring to a sleep-deprived nightmare in cattle class on the way to see your extended family for two or three more visits before you die. The Courtauld is a palace along the Thames embankment and you can take it in in an hour or two. It's the legacy of a fabulously wealthy industrialist who enriched his life with the very best. One day Mssr. Courtauld's agent informed him that Gauguin's finest work had become available and he should have it. It's Te Raireoa (The Dream), and I go to stand in front of it and weep like you're supposed to do in front of a Rothko. Nothing else of his (Gauguin or Courtauld) quite does that and especially not Rothko who you can see elsewhere augmented by dimensions, lighting and lavish elbow room in prestigious space; none of which are enough (for me) to wet a tie-dyed hanky; mine or Mark's.

On those odd occasions we proles get to see the best there is but sometimes it isn't. Wyeth's 'Christina's World' at the Museum of Modern Art in New York looks like a $10 Wal-Mart print in harvest tones. Somehow it falls disappointingly short on the glowing pink dress that makes it happen in the reproductions. It might be lighting, the flatness of egg tempera, persistence of memory or the genius of uncelebrated printers or fraudsters who know exactly how to make the tiny corrections that a major 'Water Lilies' or an extra 'Irises' require to really make them sing. Well, painting is a bitch. Even if you can recognise a masterpiece it doesn't mean you can paint one. It's not as forgiving as the monkeys with the typewriters doing Webster's Dictionary in the life of the universe: once you are committed you can't go back to repair the composition or the colour harmonies even if you could divine what it needs during those standing - back appraisals towards the end.

During the pre-olympic millenial boom I was working on construction on the Sydney high rises, spending weekends organizing an exhibition, and circulating around the art market and world to schmooze and learn whatever I could. And in consequence I acquired an agent; Stephen Hersh. He was a little Jewish guy in his eighties, secular, irreverent, energetic; a five foot two or four Hollywood cliché of wise cracks and panache who would go around the galleries with his portfolios making a nuisance of himself on our behalf. He liked me and my style; and worked like a drover's dog representing 20 artists for a stinking 3% commission. He must have been living on his pension and savings because our sales wouldn't have paid the rent on his parking space. But then he hit the relative jackpot. Macquarie University art maven Di Yerbury discovered Peter Griffin who was taken on by Wagner Galleries. Peter's work was Kandinskyish, reliably modern, repetitive and the flip side required for serious collections; always identifiable as his own. Of course the first thing that happened was either Wagner's or Peter decided Stephen should be cut out.

Some time later I was half of a two man exhibition in Sydney he had organized and lived at the gallery on the north shore for the duration. One night I attended one of Jane Bennett's openings with my patron of the moment and Jane informed me that Stephen (and by extension his stable including me) had been blacklisted across the local art world. It seems my poor old agent was a very bad man, a liar and fraud who was billing himself as an ex-trustee of the Art Gallery of N.S.W. when he had actually been only a tour guide.

'The horror, the horror!' as Joseph Conrad once wrote and it worked in darkest Africa but fell flat somehow in 'Apocalypse Now' and more so in Sydney 2003. But then I was born in America where everyone is still a relic of the Great Depression, locked in a dreamworld myth about 'making good'. Stephen's brother Morris did arrive and became a patron of the arts, immortalized in a modernist portrait hanging in the Ian Potter Gallery at Federation Square.

Either Stephen's purported fraud or simple anti-semitism explained the Wagner Gallery affair. Arts in the big city was uglier yet far more righteous than I had imagined; a kind of greyhound racing with aplomb- where sociopaths and scumballs transition to 'colourful identities' after which they get away with almost anything. It's the Gucci effect where being shamelessly and publicly fleeced and seen to enjoy it is a big part of social bluff for the nouveaus. There's a wink and nod to these takers but not to you or I or a little Jewish immigrant who escaped the ovens, trying to claw his way up from the bottom, unbroken, still knocking on doors unto the end of life with all the heart in the world. His breach was imaginative and I was impressed – being allowed on a premises to do volunteer work implies trust even if they don't let you take a flutter on the dogs.

But my old agent is here because he had a story. He probably invited himself, but he went to see Arthur Boyd at Bundanon, and Arthur showed him around the studio where he had a slew of similar canvases lined up like some kind of assembly line. “This is for the dealers,” he said. And in another room he had something else going; “and this is for me.”
I believe it now because a friend who was leaving to try and reconcile with his wife and family in Melbourne gave me a heavy box; many years worth of auction house catalogues, beautiful thick glossy art books and I thought I had hit the jackpot. But going through them was embarrassing; each one across so many sellers and years and auctioneers was almost identical. Always a burning Tim Storrier rope or hay bale on a dark ocean beach, a white Arthur Boyd 'Bride' floating over a sullen aboriginal, a dark and banal rat-faced Dickerson charcoal portrait of no-one in particular and so on. I gave all the books to the polytechnic; they could be distributed around the art class and everyone could have it all, just like in Point Piper and Rose Bay. So the spirit of Henry Ford lives on in the most unexpected places, and this is why you should always stop at MONA whenever you are in Hobart; because Boyd's 'Melbourne Burning' is always there whatever else pot luck might offer. He painted it for himself and you'll never see it or anything better of his again although it has lost elbow room recently and consequently something more.

There must be quite a number of unknown masterpieces out there that should belong to the world and everyone who stays with it long enough may well produce one in their lifetime if only by accident. Sometimes it is enough to make a reputation, but without a providential name or agent and another confirming triumph it probably disappears in the market or gets worked or painted over or ends up hanging anonymously on some suburban wall. If it remains unsold it must eventually get hauled out with the other trash at the behest of some distraught or relieved widow. Widowers are more sentimental, more often patron than victim they resignedly and affectionately stack her crap on ceiling joists in the garage.

I had seen another masterpiece; just made for MONA and not long ago I phoned the artist, Colin Suggett, curious to find out where it was. He lives south of Melbourne, retired like me and at some stage you start considering posterity.

What's going to happen to your children?” I asked.

Colin is a very literal man. “I don't have any kids.”

Of course I meant his flawless constructions in mixed glass, wood, metal, plastic, fibreglass and electronics– super imaginative though often (to me) a bit light on and amusing but there was one piece especially. It is deceptively simple; a plate glass (Belgian bronze) box like a fish tank; in the middle of a dark, empty room. The bottom consists of a diorama of a new and unsold building block in Werribee. In near darkness, it is newly fenced, curbed and guttered. There is a small do-it-yourself galvanised iron toolshed by the driveway and a realtor's sign fixed to the fence. It is lit by a single streetlight on a tapered, curving standard with a shaded diode at the top. The attention to detail is incredible; even to an airbrushed fluorescing fuzzball of light centred directly beneath the streetlight; diminishing perfectly as it illuminates more distant parts of the street, verge, gutter and fence with a ghastly yellowish- green glow. It is the coldest and emptiest thing ever. Edward Hopper was a comparative Piker and in all directions you see an infinite regression; hundreds, thousands of identical empty blocks marching off into the horizon. It's all there; tomorrow's 'Jobs and Growth', financially doomed young families sucked into the Australian dream of forever capital gains on the housing ladder with super low- interest mortgages, the bustle of trucks and tradies and then nothing; just an extended scrag end of town with few amenities, bored desperate housewives and their kids experimenting with sex and drugs and alcohol; unemployment and a clamour for compensating exponentially-increasing new projects; ever more suburbs or coal mines from the Latrobe Valley to central Queensland.
Latrobe Regional Gallery has the lot and are housing and looking after it all,” he explained.

Oh. I have a son who says he wants it all, so my stuff is going back to him in Canada, which also gives me a trouble-and- humiliation -free pension. If they don't give a s** about it here while I am alive and need the money they can f** themselves when I am dead,” I answered. He must be a man of huge social conscience on top of his many talents because it fell on a flat silence.

Stephen Hersh once called me something in yiddish meaning a loser who busts his backside working for other people. That's not an accolade in Brooklyn's Williamstown or Tel Aviv or anywhere but it ought to be. The fact is, that's life for most people. It isn't stupid outside the 'making good' dreamworld; the statistics on small businesses are abysmal and the visual arts must be at the bottom. (Writers are even further down). Stephen should have learned something from his own long struggle; that wages are always better than uncertain enterprises, most especially indentured unpaid labour for a gallery. Of course you die in the end regardless and there's nothing to lose bequeathing your work to posterity, but that would make sense only if you respect the taste and good will of your fellow man AND there might still be some of those in the world in another century, maybe even with time on their hands for aesthetic interests.

I thought I had a masterpiece once and put up $100 for the entry fee and a roll of Kodachrome 2 to enter the City of Hobart Art Prize (Sculpture). It didn't make selection which was unremarkable except they flew some 'name' in at great expense from London to humiliate the city and everyone involved; the winning entry from an impressive offering was a mismatched pair of piano trolleys; two little rectangles of carpet-covered plywood on casters. Four years later when they had worked through the media and came back around to sculpture, Hobart did it again. The winning entry was a board purporting to be from Scott's hut with dog kibble glued to it. Perhaps it was a circuitous reference to the deaths of Scott and Oates by vitamin poisoning because they ate their dogs' livers when they should have eaten the dogs' rations instead. And so little Tasmania's jewel in the crown struts proudly in the modernist vanguard along with so many other great cities of the world, but if the judges/selectors had done that to Courtauld he would have had them strangled. 
Incomprehensible is popularly conflated with depth by non-practitioners; necessarily because everything is poisoned by comfortably- paid functionaries' brazen contempt for the bourgeois concept of merit and their pursuit of the 'controversial' adjective for their own CV's. They too are aiming for the moon. You could laugh –but it doesn't do much to attract public appreciation and support for the arts in general. Most people don't care much anyway,  like an under-unemployed dozer operator who has actually seen real crushed fingers and endless vistas of Cradle Mountain as he smashed his way towards it 40 hours a week and formless black puddles when he changed the oil. But it's also destroying those talented and serious wide-eyed kids loading themselves with debt to get on the ladder; imagining there is nothing to it.  It begins in grade 7; socially and academically challenged left- handers enamored of cute pussycats or horses they could knock out from ten years old; encouraged by parents and teachers towards an apparently attractive option. But the numbers say nearly everyone must fall by the wayside, the earlier the better so they can get real jobs. And it reaches all the way to the dux of the class too. A friend of my son's came up with an untouched shtick; bundles of bent and otherwise damaged aluminium irrigation pipes with holes blown through all over with an oxy torch.

If I'm not famous before I'm 25, I'll just take over running the farm,” he said.

No prizes for the million dollar question. Maybe he had or hadn't heard of Clement Meadmore (Australian) who started designing Ikea type modern furniture and during the dreamtime of my son's farming friend had brought a collection of perfectly rendered umbrella stand to monument- sized soggy bronze french fries (sticking out of a plinth in vertical bundles) back to Sydney before he died. They were all over this gallery garden; starting at $30 thousand; US currency only thank you and touted to be almost exactly like a piece one of the actual Rockefellers has down along his own garden path somewhere in the Hamptons and you too......

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Washington DC

Wash. D.C. in sum is gorgeous beyond words compared to say New York but then its a heck of a lot smaller with a lot more per capita dollars.  So its no surprise it can have a wealthier average demographic.   The best part is that all the attractions here are free, compliments of Uncle.  Not that the local grinches notice, who have seen it all and sport license plate messages 'taxation without representation' meaning to say they feel cheated because as a non-state they don't have crooked congressman and senators to plead their regional cause.  Actually they don't pay any more than anybody else, which is less in terms of D.C.s well- kept infrastructure, unlike what everyone else has to wear by which I mean the visitors that are all you see this time of year, meandering by the thousands up and down the mall.  Groups of school kids in blazers and grandparents wander aimlessly, in awe of the grandeur of their nation and its glorious history as reflected in dotted monuments to the glorious dead who have died  for freedom and democracy.  For which everyone alive here pays at least a token price on a day to day basis of precisely prescribed thought, word, and deed on signage everywhere in the the silent thunder of the monuments while daily motorcades of darkened black limousines preceded by a procession of cops on flashing, warbling and  thundering Harleys who commandeer each intersection on the route. This is the only sign that there really is an executive branch  and an underlying point to everything. 

 Tony Abbott was here a few days ago, darling of Canada's Stephen Harper and the local Tea Party.  Maybe he was given one of these, maybe he even had a couple of the empty decoy limos that all important personages require in the wild west where everyman has the right to bear arms and a lot of them are fruitcakes.  Not your harmless up-front garden variety ones with signage, but crazed and vicious loners who live with their  mothers and polish their automatic weapons, dreaming of the apocalypse.

Even in the capitol building there isn't a single mover or shaker to be seen hurrying  to his tasks, only a circle of dead heroes immortalized in bronze beneath the rotunda.  Recent arrivals are Gerald Ford and Ron Reagan who our guide tells us won the cold war and stands on actual rubble from same. 
"Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev, " he said and it happened and so  we may say "this was his finest hour."  Of course the Germans were left to actually pick up the pieces after the fall nor did I see so much as a recognizable crumb of concrete. 

But it is here, in front of the building that I found my own patron saint.  A self- taught artist, Henry Schrady entered a contest and  won the commission to build the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial.  All the stonework of and surrounding including the huge reflecting pool is in sawn and polished blinding white marble.  Atop the central plinth stands a grand equestrian statue in bronze of General Grant (4th largest of such things in the world) above with a bronze bas relief plaque on each side of the plinth commemorating the infantry.  These are similar and almost comparable to St. Gauden's  masterpiece about the black 53rd Regiment that took him 15 years to complete.   Surrounding Grant are four smaller plinths, with identical, sadly laconic resting lions.  But the best parts are the wings.  On Grant's left the artillery; a team of horses struggles to drag a gun crew with cannon across a battlefield.  All the details are perfect; Schrady studied and researched for years to get it right.  On the  right is a dramatic cavalry charge.   One of the upraised sabres has been souvenired along with the barrel of a Spencer carbine which has been replaced by a length of rusting rolled steel round.  Well, this has been here for a long time, and the artist himself is still present, almost obscured by his cloak and struggling to extricate himself from beneath his fallen steed which is exactly how he felt because this endeavour consumed his entire life. He died of overwork barely 50 years old two weeks before the work was dedicated and the infantry panels had to be built from his sketches by someone else.

All over this city is the handiwork of countless thousands of mostly nameless journeymen who worked their entire lives to build something grand that millions still can believe in  and struggle for right or wrong and they come from all over in their matching T-shirts lest someone get attached to the wrong tour and never be seen again.  They visit the JFK grave at Arlington, and at the simple black retaining wall of the Vietnam memorial you can locate names of dead friends and family via provided lists.  This would otherwise be a Herculean haystack- needle search; for they are listed as they fell.  This was 'Peace with Honour' and somehow California never got around to providing a Nixon statue for the capitol rotunda.  He was the main reason my father left the States after the election in 1952 or I might have been listed there myself.  I was pretty slow


at that age and will never forget the look of rage and contempt on my father's face in '66 after  graduation when I had mentioned the war as a possibility in a throw-away line.  Well, that's how it is with kids - searching desperately for a respectable persona.  He had come back all shot-up and bemedalled so why shouldn't I?  But dumb didn't cut it with my dad.

And you can go to the Herschorn and Freer -all free- and the National Gallery where there is the biggest collection of impressionists outside the Louvre and you can weep in front of a Gaugin or on the lower floor in a roomful of the most beautiful bronzes ever -the art deco/nouveau work of Paul Manship;  like you are supposed to do in front of Mark Rothko.  Who can be seen there too, but along with the attendant Calders and Pollocks and Serras and Stellas and Warhols would be relatively less than NOTHING if they weren't fabled, most of all American and imbued with inarguable respectability; figuring as they do in the stinkfinger games of the idle rich where the utterly worthless and banal is the ultimate display of net worth.   Sycophantic curators and city fathers grease the wheels of this juggernaut but nation states still revere their actual treasures.

The Capitol Building tries to please too many as well as having undergone war and renovation.  But the Library of Congress is splendid.  It holds a marble staircase, carved by French immigrant Philip Martiny, who was very well known at the time and whose workshop also produced a lot of the details on New York's finest buildings. How much of his life was thereby consumed, or even his name doesn't matter, he's long dead and can never appear on Oprah.  Better yet he has left something extraordinary and still only a mote amongst a cityfull  of  wonders that will never be some forgotten anachronism or de-accessioned or contemptuously thrown on a barricade.




Friday, June 27, 2014

New York Modern

I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by neural plaques, the calculus of self- interest and unfettered omega 5's consuming, casual addicts at the golden arches......  OK I am in New York and thought I might sort out some kind of sight-seeing itinerary starting with Ginsberg's 'Howl' but sixty years plus after the fact of that and my own birth, self- imposed/important urban victimhood has foundered on the rocks of deja vu.  And you can jump on the down escalator anywhere -it's just somehow a bit more romantic than in Tasmania where there isn't such a big choice of has-beens or wannabees to party along with. 

So off I went to Chelsea to see where the art market is really at these days and only the featured artists have changed from last time.  Or not, you would be unlikely to remember, there are no touchstones or even architecture here except the plastic bollards; interminable tearing up the streets and traffic patterns.  The gallery girls and guys stare silent behind their computer screens ignoring browsers and everyone else; its the Gucci routine and they know you aren't a customer or a 'name.'
And if you were they would still treat you like sh**  'cause that's the schtick.

"This is the 5th Avenue of the art market, try Brooklyn maybe."  Maybe Ginsberg could have said it better:

Down metaphorical 5th from the Met primped and powdered nail-salon baba yagas; claws paralytic extended as to predate Aryan babes- in- the- wood; peppering on- the- street cafes and each with little white lap dogs sharing bagels, lox or pastrami and carefully- engineered pickles so each goddamn bite tastes the same.  Far as possible from freaking un-ever-forgettable Hester Street where my family got its start too; interminable arse-busting back-breaking unto deathusdepart and nobody goofed off until the REAL thing and no-one made good either.  Argh!

And on  23rd Street heavy impasto is in, paint on polyurethane foam, penis photos in the next gallery where looker's eyes drop briefly to your own crotch Jesus I am 65 years in this desperate world; next gallery raging sophomoric feminist boozhwah-bait:  traditional reclining nudes splashed red pudenda -Ooh this is scandal; the modernist REAL THING.

Further uptown competence manifests, some of these people can actually paint.   But they are indentured labour; stuck doing the same trademark crap forever to make a living.  Its an investment where the rent is finally paid after dedicating years to the all-important CV and dealer who has also invested lotsa and collectors who hope they are riding winners so heirs might even see valuations cover the dealer's mark-up. For there are many who hear the call and as many who fall by the wayside.  Glory be to his name and provenance. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

New Press Finally Finished

This has been a bigger project than I thought it would be.  Intended to be a full size studio press it has shrunk due to costs - most of the components cost next to nothing from the recycler but the platen was the problem - to get a seasoned cast iron plate AND have it milled made it completely uneconomic.  And my back would have been in no condition to handle it.  So it was reduced to fit an available offcut of fiberglass re-enforced phenolic switchboard panel supplied by Stephen Twohig at Fitzroy Etching Presses & Printmakers, the only place of many I tried where they didn't want(even as far as India) to take me for a ride; like $1000 plus.

Having had shoulder surgery I didn't want a big wheel to hang from (remember the cross Rose Lindsay had to bear, editioning for Norman) and so it has a nice heavy steel flywheel and that drives directly through the little green 8:1 planetary gearbox from an old industrial electric motor.  There is a 1:1 chain drive to the lower roll on the other side of the press, D=145 mm.  The rolls are heavy tubes from a large scrap hydraulic cylinder, 650mm long.  This was too long for my lathe even with a steady and bearing replacing the tailstock.  So it had to be reversed to true it up.  I made a mandrel to set the tail up at the headstock, realigned the lathe before I started and like a fool tried welding up some deep damage on the cylinder and thereby spent a lot of time on it with a mill file.  Should have simply selected better sections, it was a very long cylinder.  But using a four-jaw chuck and run-out gauge the cuts met perfectly in the middle.  The platen is 1240mm. long, the little support rollers sit on 16mm round and are made of nylon with a bronze bush pressed in at each end, pressed in and reamed to fit after the millscale was filed off the rods.  The pressure adjustment handles are only 150 mm long all up in case I or some other idiot - if I lend it in a moment of madness - is less likely to overload and thereby jam the system when it hits the plate at full throttle with that heavy flywheel.
Other features are shelves under the table which has adjustable feet to maintain alignment

 And here are my most recent prints, these are available by emailing me.

Fukushima: The Evacuation of Tokyo with details,  44 x 60 cm,  copper plate etching,  edition of 20

Bandicoot and Magnolia

My wife is the most fabulous person in the world.  For me I mean.  Who else would have put up with this specimen on the dining room table for a week while I was creating the plate?

Edition of 20, 22x30 cm, intaglio from copper plate.