Friday, December 23, 2011

With friends like this who needs enemas?

This morning I was repairing my wind chimes, reattaching the chimes where the cheap cotton thread had worn away; my chimes were no longer chiming! I have two of them - there used to be three but number three had a fatal demise and was beyond repair. I'm contemplating a replacement, one of those huge big tuned wooden ones.

Thinking about big loud wooden chimes got me thinking about one of my friends, who I shall for blog purposes name Whingy. Whingy hates wind chimes. My mother has a nice one on her balcony, and when Whingy and her husband, Mr Whingy (known collectively as The Whingies) visited a couple of years ago the beautiful tinkling noise the chimes were making as the pleasant north east wind swirled and twirled them drove Whingy mad.

"I HATE wind chimes!" she grumbled. "I'm going to take down those chimes and throw them in the bin!"

Whingy, it is worth adding here, seems to suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, she has many of the symptoms. Whereever she goes she expects people to bow to her wishes, a self-appointed Queen of Everything She Surveys.

Mum, whose mildness conceals an iron fist in a velvet glove, said politely, "I like my wind chimes." There was the steady gaze that said, "This is MY house and you are NOT touching my wind chimes."

Whingy continued to grumble about the wind chimes all evening and I was glad when the wind dropped. Mr Whingy said nothing. Sometimes he has sense. Other times he backs her up.

Whingy, you see, has delicate hearing, attuned only to notes that are in tune. She has studied classical piano at a conservatorium. She KNOWS. She loves Music. The slightest bum note can send her into orbit, and our wind chimes sound just great to me, but I'm a bit tone deaf.

This delicate hearing extends beyond music. When the Whingies moved into their house nearly twenty years ago their next door neighbour had an aviary. The neighbour was an older man with his adult son living with him, along with about twenty birds, two of which were big white cockatoos.

I love cockies. I love their character, their screeches, the way their sulphur-coloured crests rise cheekily. These two cockies were of the cheerful, chatty, screechy variety, happy to yell at passing birds or wolf-whistle when the old man came out of the back door.

Whingy, naturally, hated them. She hated them so much, and wrote so many nasty letters to her neighbour, that he ended up getting rid of the cockies and finding them new owners.

Whingy was jubilant. I was disgusted. The poor bloody neighbours had had the birds for years before Madam moved next door.

That was the first of their neighbour issues. The old man moved into a home and the aviary was gone in its entirety, to be replaced by a family with small and noisy children. Then the neighbours next door to that changed and there was a kid who used to bounce a basketball (deliberately loudly I'm sure) on concrete outside the Whingies' living room. Five houses back onto one side of the Whingies' property, and they have had issues with nearly all the neighbours over the years, predominantly about noise. Kids jumping, shrieking, into swimming pools on a summer's day has annoyed them to the point where The Whingies would shout swear words at the top of their lungs, knowing the parents would hear and bring the kids inside away from the rude neighbours. Most of their neighbours have received a solicitor's letter about some misdemeanour or other.

The latest escapade is a shocker.

Last week one of her neighbours - new ones who are only now discovering what it's like to live next door to her - threw an afternoon BBQ for some mates. They have a small backyard and the grown up men starting playing ball games. A couple of tennis balls flew into Whingy's garden. Then - and she probably guessed it was coming - a soccer ball thumped over the fence. By now she was foaming at the mouth because the neighbours were making NOISE.

She stabbed the soccer ball with a knitting needle and gleefully watched it deflate.

A short time later the gate intercom rang and two burly blokes were waiting at the gate, presumably to get the ball back. She ignored the buzzer and, lo! two minutes later they'd climbed over the fence on the other side of her property and were wandering up the drive in search of the ball. She read them the riot act and told them they were trespassing; they said she should have at least acknowledged their buzzer if she was home or handed the ball back herself.

Later that night the new neighbour rang the intercom. A heated conversation between the Whingies and the new neighbour ensued. Turns out the soccer ball was brand new and cost $90. Whingy screamed on about trespassing and got mad at Mr Whingy because he was being wimpy and not standing up for her enough. "Can't we talk nicely about this?" pleaded the new neighbour. No, apparently not.

Now they have their pet solicitor - a good friend - writing a nasty letter to the new neighbours about trespass. Jeez!

A couple of years ago the house on the other side of theirs was up for sale and the Whingies urged us to try and buy it, principally so it wouldn't go to 'nasty' neighbours. We said, with sad faces, that there was no way we could afford it. What we were really thinking, apart from being financially downmarket, was the hell we'd go through with our choice of music trickling through open windows, our dog barking at birds or people knocking on the door, throwing a party and having to invite them or they'd be pissed off... and of course our selection of wind chimes.

I wonder if those big wooden ones will be cheaper in the Boxing Day sales? Heh heh heh.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Painting the new year in. I hope.

What a looong year it has been - but how quickly it has gone by! Looong in the sense that we haven't really taken any holidays this year. We have had a long weekend in Adelaide, all of three days, and another in Melbourne almost a year ago. Aside from that our fingers have been glued to the computer keyboards, but now we both have a break coming up.

This Christmas I'm determined to start drawing and painting again. You know, the stuff you do by hand, where you get pastel dust on everything and the dining table becomes a makeshift studio. I have been drawing on my iPad a lot this year and while it's been fun it also makes me lazy. If I make a mistake I can erase it, or undo it. Putting pen to paper (or pastel or paint to paper) is more unforgiving.

I stopped at my favourite art supply shop last week and as usual succumbed to a technique book, this one on drawing successful drapery, something I haven't mastered as well as I'd like.

Six years ago I was painting daily. I was invigorated, up sometimes until midnight during the week, when all was quiet and I the only one awake. I was very prolific, and these are some of my favourite images from that time.
This is the one I'm most proud of. It won a Highly Commended at an art show. I called it Carry On Up The Vineyards.

This is me in 'realistic' mode - Gladesville Bridge at sunset. I cheated and painted from one of my own photos. It really was that colour. Deep sunset pinks and peaches.

Probably the first image I painted when I decided to try out pastels. My style is funky/modern usually. This is a whimsical image of the cat I had in my life then, Hamish MacFlea.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Coaly panties and freed willy

Reconnecting recently with an old friend whom I've known since we were both in primary school has brought some childhood memories flooding back. I hated school - but I hated high school more than primary. Teenage girls can be bitches; in primary school the teasing or bullying wasn't so nasty (apart from one of the teachers!).

I had been sent to kindergarten with the firm instruction to Do What I Was Told. Being an only child and not having gone to pre-school, I was a bit under-socialised with other kids apart from the neighbours' kids and my older cousins. Mum feared I might get a bit stroppy with the teachers too I think.

I took this directive very seriously.

So seriously in fact that when a little monster called Mark told me to put coal in my underpants one lunchtime, I did.

Mark was the sort of kid who'd play Fathers and Mothers and try to do the deed. Like many small boys he was intrigued in the differences between boys and girls. I suspect he took me to the coal heap and watched my pull down my panties and load them with coal to see if he could get a glimpse of what they'd been covering up. The coal heap was behind two of the buildings, out of sight; I'm not sure what the coal was used for but there was plenty of it, black and shiny and sharp.

Back in class Mrs B noticed me wriggling awkwardly on my seat and may have even heard crunchy noises. You can imagine her thought: If this kid has crapped in her pants what the hell has she been eating?

She drew me aside and asked a few questions. I don't know how she kept a straight face when I told her that Mark had made me put coal in my panties. I bet she roared with laughter once we kids had gone home and probably had hysterical giggling fits with her husband that night.

I don't remember what punishment Mark got, but I know Mrs B told my Mum what had happened when she came to collect me that afternoon.  Mum then revised her instructions, realising I had taken them very literally: Do What The Teachers Tell You To Do, Not What Anyone Else Tells You.

It was some time later - that year? the year after? - when Mark bailed me up outside the loos, a stinky little block for the kids up to age 8. It was never really clean as little kids peed on the floor or missed the bowl completely, and I sometimes used to hang on all day rather than go in there to pee.

Mark proudly unzipped his fly and showed me his willy. I had never seen one before. I didn't gasp with horror or shock, or show amazement or delight. I didn't give him any reaction he wanted. I laughed. I know now with hindsight he'd been circumcised, but his willy looked for all the world like a pencil with an rubber (eraser) on top, one of those rubbers that were popular at the time, little pyramids with a round top. It was even much the same colour. His willy was a pencil with a rubber. I pointed and laughed.

These days I would probably have received counselling had I told anyone, and Mark would have been monitored for signs of sexualisation and therefore perhaps sexual abuse. His parents would have received A Visit From The Authorities.

Instead Mark crossly zipped himself up and didn't, that I recall, speak to me again unless the teacher made us work together. He did yell taunts at me a couple of years later when I started riding my bicycle to school and made fun of me and my purple bike. He made it a point to yell rude comments along the 'Fatso!" lines and jeer at the colour of my bike. I did, I think, try to ride at him once and run him over (as you do when you're 8) but he ran too fast and made more fun of me when I couldn't catch him.

I doubt I was the only girl he tried to expose himself to; most of the girls steered clear of him on reflection.

After I left to go to high school I didn't see him again, except once. I would have been about twenty or so and chatting with a girlfriend beside my car, Herbie. A couple of young guys clattered past in another old VW, this one hand-painted, clumsily, red. "I see red, I see red, I see red!" one of them sang out the window at me - it was a hit by Split Enz at the time.  "Ugly car! Paint it red!" he continued. They drove back and forth a couple of times before dak-dakking into the distance, shouting at me about painting my car red and I looked at my friend Sarah, who seemed to know them.

"Who was THAT?"

"Mark W -, I think," she replied.

It made sense. I don't know if he recognised me or was still, frankly, the kid who made girls put coals in their panties and anyone was fair game.

What's he doing these days? No idea, but I suspect his destiny was to be a merchant banker.

Rhyming slang, folks, rhyming slang.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I grump therefore I am

Is it ridiculous to be unexplainably grumpy? And a bit blue as well? For no reason? The sun has come out after a cloudy day, and I know there are people in this world let alone my own world who have good reasons to be grumpy and blue. I have my health, a roof over my head, food on the table and an income, sporadic as it may be. There should be no cause for the way I've felt today. I should be counting my blessings, which are manifold.

Human nature is such that we, of course, are the centre of our own universe, and we are, after all, animals. Self-centred grumpiness is pure animal behaviour.  Neither of my cats would contemplate the greater world if they were in a bad mood. They'd probably narrow their eyes and grumble at me. They wouldn't consider poor little starving cats hanging around the docks in Piraeus Harbour or the cats facing death row at the RSPCA, for example, to bring their own minor or non-existent problems into perspective.

Part of today's grumpiness has been software-induced, fighting with a misbehaving menu in WordPress that won't do what I ask it no matter what. I found myself shouting at the computer (don't we all?) and before I embarked on some self-harm (a good hard bite of my own wrist eases my bouts of anger, I'm ashamed to say, and has done since I was a toddler) I emailed the theme developer instead. Another client had some major changes to a site under development, so that put my plans for the morning on the back burner while I sorted out those issues.

Part too has been the grey skies. I find as the years go on I feel happier on sunny days. When I was younger it didn't matter. Today started out gloriously sunny but as the clouds covered the sky during the course of the morning they covered my psyche as well.

I gave up on work at five and took the dog for a walk in the fresh air, with the chilly north-easter blowing in our faces. I think a lot of my grumpiness today is lack of exercise. I woke blearily at six this morning, thought I'd close my eyes for a moment and suddenly it was 7.30, too late to head out walking really as the email and phone pestering usually starts around 8.30. This time of year, coming on summer, I have broken sleep too; waking hot one moment, throwing off a blanket and then waking up cold an hour later.

A migraine has been slowly building all day which doesn't help; whether it was induced by grumpiness/blueness/anger or whether it's the cause of same I'm not sure.

At least I have one thing I have accomplished today - all the Christmas cards and interstate/overseas presents are now in the hands of Australia Post.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Bah Humbuggery of Christmas - in image form

I can't resist using 'humbuggery' as a word. There's something very satisfying about 'bugger' as a curse; it can be plosive and very expressive, more so I think than the conventional four-letter words we hear most often.

When I was a child language in our house was very proper. There was no swearing, or very little. If something really upset my Mum, she'd exclaim "Buggery!" and that was the worst she'd utter. It had to be something worth swearing over, such as if she hit her finger with a hammer (with Dad long gone from our lives Mum took on the role of household maintainer and carpenter).

But I digress.

This post is a short one, and it's about the Christmas card I drew yesterday for a friend of mine who has a black Persian cat, and is currently quite unwell. She won't want a cheerful "Merry Christmas!" emblazoned across her card as this year won't be merry for her. She can't even enjoy her customary glass of bubbly on Christmas Day. The odds are she will recover well next year, but in the meantime, I think this will make her smile:

My four wheeled history - a retrospective

I've talked about my old bikes in earlier posts and these days I have two bikes, a new loop frame Pashley and a vintage Raleigh. While I use bikes for local transportation, for exercise and for the simple bloody pleasure of cycling, I'm also a sucker for four-wheeled transport. Cycling purists and advocates probably can't understand me. I have a foot firmly planted on both a bike pedal and an accelerator. Given my work locations and commitment, and my clients, not to mention visiting my elderly Mum, a car is a necessity in my life.

In late October I got a new second-hand car, my first 'new' car in 16 years. She's small, economical and exciting, and you'll meet her soon. But first, a travel through time and bad 80s hair.

This is Herbie, my first car. My Mum received him as a Christmas present in 1963, when he was brand new. I took him over on his 21st birthday in 1984. I learned to drive on Herbie, as well as on a 6 cylinder automatic Ford Falcon - two more different cars you couldn't imagine. Herbie is still going strong. I sold him to a mate ten years ago as he had a lot of rust and I couldn't afford to get it fixed. My plumber friend, a whiz with oxy-acetelene, virtually rebuilt the little chap and he looks lovely these days. As nice as new. 

The Ford years. 1980 to 1989. The Ford on the left is the one I learned on. At that stage I had a horse and trailer, and needed a big car to pull the trailer. I could go into a long story here about divorced parents and a guilty Dad sending a cheque for birthdays and Christmas. The short story is that I saved up those cheques to buy the car and trailer when I was old enough to have a licence. So that's the white Ford. In 1982 I got a job at a Ford dealership and when the pretty silver one on the right was traded in, I nabbed it. It was swish: a Fairmont Ghia with all the bells and whistles you'd expect in a 1984 car. I sold the white Ford to my uncle, who had it for years then sold it to his stepson. I think it's long gone to the car graveyard now.
This is my fave pic of the Fairmont, taken at Palm Beach. By then I was dating a rev head, a Ford fanatic who had convinced me to lower the car and fit extractors. It went very well after that, shall we say. 
Once I'd stopped taking my horses to shows - I had two horses over the years, and sold my ex-racehorse on to someone who could handle him better than I, but that's another blog post - I had no need of a thirsty big car or the trailer. I sold the trailer and traded the car on a second-hand yuppie delight, a car described by Wheels magazine as 'the executive rocket': a 1983 BMW 323i coupe. With, as you can see, sunroof. I was also tired of automatic transmission cars as I much prefer manual, and the Bimmer was a 5 speed as all my cars have been from then on. At this point in time - late 1989 -  I was still dating the rev head and also doing OK in the corporate world. I convinced myself I could afford the car. Buying it wasn't too much of a problem, but it had some mechanical issues as time went on. For example, the driver's seat. The previous owner must have been a biiiiiig man - the driver's seat was buggered from, presumably, a fat arse plonking itself heavily onto it for the first six years of its life before I bought it. Within a year I had to drive with two bricks under it to hold it up and finally relented and bought a new one. Not cheap. I had the Bimmer for eight gloriously fun years until the engine blew up. 

I have fun memories of fast country drives and my friend Phil standing up in the passenger seat one Chinese New Year, sticking up through the sunroof and shouting Gung Hei Fat Choy at startled motorists and passers-by on Burns Bay Road. Happy days!
Looking down the barrel of maintaining an ageing Bimmer and its increasingly expensive parts made me think it was time to buy something new from the showroom floor which would give me several years of relatively cheap trouble-free motoring. Bimmer never went terribly well after the necessary engine rebuild, so while I was still in corporate land and earning okay money I bought Gisela the Golf in 1996. She was the 'poverty pack', the base model and all I could realistically afford as I didn't want to go through finance (I got a bank loan for some, and borrowed from the Ford-owning uncle for some more). I DID miss the sunroof!  I was going to put one in Gisela but, trying to save to buy a house, never got around to it.

Gisela wasn't as fast as the Bimmer, she didn't handle as well and even though she was more economical the particular type of fuel injection she was fitted with was prone to throwing out stinky unburnt fuel. My first love was a VW though and I'd hankered on and off for a Golf since they came to Australia in 1976.  So 1996 to 2011 were the Golf years. I did many country trips in her: monthly trips to Canberra for work for four years, up to Mudgee at least half a dozen times and down the south coast of NSW an equal number or more. Gissy's air-conditioning broke five years ago - the compressor failed - and now I was earning much less than the corporate days, I couldn't afford to fix it. I boiled in summer, especially in peak hour driving when I couldn't go fast enough to get a decent breeze through the windows. Other pricey parts of her anatomy were starting to show their age, too.

Enter the Mid Life Crisis car. Meet Minerva. My husband has recently landed a fulltime job with decent money (glad one of us is earning a proper salary!) and insisted that I replace Gisela with something newer and more reliable. I tossed up between another Golf (cheapish to maintain) or a new MINI (not so cheap to maintain as they are built by BMW but hell, they are just gorgeous!). I test drove this five year old MINI and within five minutes it felt like I was driving my old Bimmer again, with so much nippiness under my foot and handling that was dead flat around tight bends. Not to mention the huge sunroof. I was in love. We did the sums and I have bought Minerva in my business name on hire purchase with affordable monthly payments. The tax breaks are superb. She is also very economical and much kinder on the environment than Gisela. 

Amusingly, all my transport now is British-made: the Pashley, the Raleigh and now the MINI. All beautifully designed, too, and each fulfils its need for a mix of transport and pleasure. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Bah Humbuggery of Christmas

I have a friend who carries misery in her handbag. She doles some out to people who are happier than she, so woe betide you if you have good news to tell her and she's in a crabby mood. Best to shut your mouth. Being childless - and not for want of trying - she's never a Christmassy person at the best of times.

Every other year, if they are not doing something more interesting, my friend and her husband come to our place - well, my Mum's actually - for Christmas lunch. They invite themselves most years, or make it so that it seems rude NOT to invite them. They even comment on what they'd like to have for lunch and one year demanded prior to the day cranberry sauce to go with the turkey - the bread sauce and gravy we had planned were apparently not enough. They came last year and we had seafood, which luckily delighted everyone.

This year they have family visiting them from interstate, so it - happy sigh - will be a quiet and very relaxed Christmas lunch with just my Mum and my husband.

But like most recent years I'm having a hard time summoning up the goodwill-to-all-men-and-women, deck the halls with boughs of holly spirit. This is because the shopping centres start putting up Christmas decorations in October and playing carols on the loudspeakers from November. By December, I've stopped noticing or caring. In fact I'm usually cursing the trees the local shopping centre puts up smack bang in the middle of the walkways, as I have to duck and weave around them to get past the morbidly obese people waddling along two abreast pushing trolleys laden with junk food.

At the risk of sounding like my Mum or Nan, back in my day when I was a kid Christmas started a whole lot later. I don't remember seeing much in the way of public decoration until December, and frankly, I'd love to see a return to that. We never put up our tree and other decorations in our house until early to mid-December. In my childhood putting up and decorating the tree was almost as exciting as Christmas Day itself and call me a sentimental sook but it still feels a bit magical - and very nostalgic - doing the tree even now. Even though we don't have kids the cats and the dog make Christmas fun. The cats particularly like to knock the balls off and bat them around the room, and the dog helps us open presents with her teeth.

The need to grab the retail dollar nice and early in the Christmas shopping spree has a knock on effect with families. Another friend of mine, Sue, has a daughter who is nine years old but has a mental age of five. This kid is mad about Christmas. She's been talking about Christmas and Santa Claus since the beginning of October. She's been making cards, invitations to non-existent Christmas parties, learning Christmas carols albeit with the wrong lyrics and generally driving her parents nuts. I bet this isn't the only family wishing the shopping centres would stick their Christmas trees where the sun don't shine.

Every year I take Sue and her two daughters to church on Christmas Eve. Her husband won't drive her and she can't drive. He's not interested in the church service. I'm agnostic but hey, if I want to get into the Christmas spirit - and by then, Bah! Humbug! is on the tip of my tongue - the carol service makes me sit back and think about what Christmas is all about as a celebration. Not that Jesus was born on 25 December, but the Christians decided that taking over the midwinter pagan celebrations seemed like a good idea to pull the crowds - and hey, it worked! It's a feel good atmosphere and the nine-year-old adores it, even though she doesn't grasp the Jesus aspect and thinks Christmas is simply about Santa.

From being a religious celebration, Christmas has become a retail free for all, with families putting themselves into debt for the next few months or beyond to buy their kids stuff they can't afford and with which the kids will probably be bored by New Year's Day. The number of catalogues we pull out of our letterbox has trebled in the last few weeks, with electronic gadgets, toys and other expensive goodies being pushed at us. Buy, buy, buy! If all those spendaholics bought their kids one less present and instead gave the amount they'd spend on it to charity to help people who literally have nothing, they'd be making someone's Christmas very merry indeed.

I'm giving some money this year to a local charity, Christian Community Aid, who help people in the Ryde area: refugees who don't have furniture or food, struggling families. CCA gives out food parcels at Christmas to these folk, and if I can help one struggling family have a good Christmas Day, I won't feel so Bah! Humbug! about the overdecorated shopping centres, the tinsel in my face everywhere I go, the awful rock renditions of traditional carols. It's not that I'm rolling in money, far from it, but my family will be enjoying a seafood lunch this Christmas Day, so if we can afford that we can afford to help others.

Until then, it's Bah Humbuggery!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Contemplating the Yarts

A weekend in Canberra in early summer - crisp nights, bright sunny smogless days. Lovely! Despite Canberra having a reputation as a soulless place a town is really the people you know in it, and we have good friends there which makes Canberra for us an enjoyable and interesting place to visit. We stayed with one of them on Saturday night, as we'd been promising to catch up with he and his wife for ages.

It's been a bit of an arty week for us - Picasso on Wednesday, and on Saturday we visited the Canberra Glassworks and watched glassblowers making - or in one case breaking - glass ornaments and paperweights. I hadn't been to the Glassworks before; it's in Kingston, next to the markets, another favourite haunt of mine when I'm in town at the weekends.

Sunday morning we all looked at each other: what to do, what to do?  We hadn't brought decent walking/hiking shoes with us so a march up the hill behind our friend James' house wasn't in order. It's apparently quite a nice bush walk but our shoes weren't made for scrambling over rocks.

The boys muttered something about the War Memorial but given they have both had time serving their countries it's the kind of place they'll spend hours at, talking at length about each item. (My husband spent 3 years as in the Territorial Army in the UK and you'd think it was a lifetime's service. He bangs on about it like Gavin in the UK sitcom The Office. James spent almost 30 years in the RAN and Royal Navy and cynical doesn't begin to describe him.) I visited the War Memorial with t'Other Half last year and enjoyed it, as it does have some fantastic and heartbreaking exhibits, but that two hours was enough to last me for, oh, five years, say.

We all decided finally on the National Gallery. We hadn't been there since March last year and I always enjoy the ground floor, with its paintings that range from impressionist through fauvism to post-impressionist, pop art and modern. It's free, too.

But I hadn't really truly factored in James. James is great, but he's very opinionated, and a lot of those opinions are negative, or at least negative balanced by what he'd do to set the ACT/Australia/The World to rights.

James and Modern Art don't mix.

I began to see it was a mistake once we'd wandered through the fauves and found our way to postimpressionist. There were Picasso and Braque drawings side by side, from their cubism phases. "This is shit," James declared quietly, and moved on.
Nexus II by Morris Louis, painted in 1959. According to the NGA,  "'Nexus' means connection or link. The painting, made in 1959, marks the transition between two series of important paintings by Morris Louis, who created a new style of Abstract Expressionism in the last five years of his short life". According to James, 'shit'. You decide.

"This is shit," was applied by James to almost every painting after that. His response to Blue Poles was unprintable.

But I had to agree with him on some of it. We all pondered, whilst looking at a diptych of two huge white canvases with nothing on them except a carefully painted narrow black and green border around the edges, who was being taken for a ride. The canvases were titled "Untitled" by Jo Baer. Apparently it is a classic example of 1960s minimalist art. The Government had kindly purchased this work on the taxpayers' behalf, undoubtedly guided by a very expert critic.

The art world is full of bluff, fluff and wankerism. Who decides that a blank canvas with a thin border is art? Expensive art, more to the point. Are we all being conned?

To view the diptych we had to carefully avoid treading on an installation on the floor. A 2 metre by 2 metre white painted board with a dollop of brown foam on top. It looked like something my dog Rosie would shit out if I feed her something a bit too rich for her digestion. Unsurprisingly it too was 'untitled'.

I'm guessing there are people who know a lot more about art than I do who will rave about the Gallery's acquisition of these pieces and explain why they are so important in the world of The Yarts. I'd like to meet them so they can enlighten me and I too can gasp in delight and nod knowingly, and look sadly on people like James who call these works shit. But could it be a case of The Emperor's New Clothes?

We had a moment of levity with Yoko Ono's arse though. Or arses. There's a massive - and I do mean massive - image by Yoko which consists of photos of somebody's bare bum repeated over and over. It's called Bottoms. My husband peered a bit too closely at it trying to ascertain if it was the same arse repeated or a number of arses in the same pose, and his face, close to the arses, triggered the alarm.

He apologised to the nearby guard, and I came out with one of those one-liners you always long for just at the right time. 'Come away from there, it's not scratch and sniff!'

His roar of laughter must have echoed into the next three galleries.

After that we went upstairs, James was soothed by more traditional stuff and I was still pondering who would find real appreciation in the white canvases and the dog shit in one hundred year's time. I guess the public pondered the same about Van Gogh, Picasso, Klimt and Matisse when they first started showing their work and experimenting. Those outside the world of art and artists, the conventional people like my grandparents or great grandparents would have shaken their heads and muttered, 'Ooh, give me a nice Rembrandt any day. Nobody's going to appreciate YOUR work.'

Oh heck. I'm starting to sound like James!

Friday, December 2, 2011

You've got mail - oh wait, it's only newsletters

I’ve had the same email address since I started my business in 2001, and over the years I’ve signed up for this or that newsletter. I used to get excited when they’d pop into the inbox – interesting stuff to read or click on, useful information and tips.

Last week I realised that newsletters, be they daily, weekly or monthly, seem to make up more than 50% of the email I receive on a typical morning. I had got to the point where I selected them in bulk every morning and sent them to the trash can without even reading them. No excitement – just annoyance at turning the Mac on and seeing it load 48 new messages that had come in overnight, with half of them being from people trying to flog me stuff via their newsletters.

Really, it was giving me the most horrible start to the working day, knowing there were nearly 50 messages every morning, each one nagging “Read me, read ME!”. Some of them are work-related and client stuff and therefore a valid pull on my time and brainpower. The rest – heaven only knows why I subscribed in the first place and in some cases I doubt that I ever pushed the big red button, people had simply found me.

It was time to take action. Instead of simply trashing all of them I reviewed each one by one and opened the ones I never read even when I have the time and went through the unsubscribe process.

It’s going to take a few weeks to get the newsletter load down to those I may actually have time to read, as different newsletters come in on different cycles. But taking the time to unsub from some of them has felt like a little load shifting gently off my shoulders.

What about you? Are you suffering from a Read ME! overload as well?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sneaking a day with Picasso

When I told my Mum I was taking a day off and heading to the Picasso exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, she was less than impressed.

"Don't like Picasso. Those weird paintings he did ... he must have been on drugs."

Mum is 86. She has led a very conservative life and her taste in art runs to the chocolate box and/or realism. She likes landscapes to look like landscapes, people to look like people. The Impressionists are about as avant-garde as her tastes go. She enjoyed the Renoir exhibition we went to years ago, but doesn't share my love for Matisse or Van Gogh. Picasso - well, she wouldn't waste her money.

My husband and I spent rather than wasted ours yesterday on ten rooms full of paintings and sculptures that covered Picasso's life from around 1905 to 1972, and loved it.

While Mum might snort that Picasso's work was weird scribbles, the guy was a fantastic draughtsman. He could draw beautifully, and if he chose to paint cubist men with guitars, or women with eyes in strange places (Mum's ultimate detestation of his work), he did it because he knew what he wanted to achieve and set about achieving it.

This post isn't going to be a critique of Picasso's work; I'm no art critic or expert. But I'd like to share some paintings that I loved.

Firstly, The Bathers, painted in 1918. Annoyingly the postcards you can buy at the gallery don't do the depth of colour in this painting justice; reproduced, the colours are muted. The purple bathing suit on the right in real life is a knockout magenta. The entire painting is full of jewel-like colours and very delicate detail. It's only small, 27x22cm. You can see every eyelash on the woman on the left. If the figures are captured in oddly distorted poses, so what? There's movement and grace and colour and an timelessness about this for me. 

The Reader, painted in 1932. Sort of reminds me of me, sat there with a book on her lap :-). A friend refers to me in her blog as The Reader, so I couldn't resist popping this image in. I do genuinely like it in its own right, too. Again in real life the colours are more bolshy. The lilac skin of the Reader is much brighter, the green on the chair greener. Could I live with this in my house? Oh yes. Yes. The subject of this portrait is Marie-Therese Walter, a young woman with whom Picasso was having a clandestine affair.

Large still-life on a pedestal table was painted in 1931 and is so vibrant in the flesh, so to speak, you just want to gaze and gaze at it. If the colours are similar to that of The Reader - that superb lilac which I just love jumps out from both paintings, linking them - it's because Picasso used this as a "disguised portrait" of Marie-Therese Walter. Again, that clandestine stuff. 

This is Two Women running on the beach (the race), painted in 1922.  Another small jewel of a painting, 35x41cm, with knockout colours, lovely forms and a timelessness about it. That head thrown back on the woman on the left is a very similar pose to that in The Bathers, and again the detail in her face is just beautiful.  I love the contrast between the delicate brushwork on the woman's face, the little cross-hatching on both bodies, and the lack of detail in the sky and rocks, as if this is a photo and the running women are captured at 1/1000 of a second with the rest all a bit of a blur. 

Lastly, A Portrait of Dora Maar. Picasso's mistress in the 1930s. This one's all hard angles and pointy shapes - I wonder what that says about their relationship? 

So that was my day - a sense of freedom, of escaping from clients, computers and phones for a day; an uplifting visit to see some fabulous paintings and being inspired by such a creative mind. 

I told my Mum it was fantastic. She still doesn't believe me.