sculpture by the sea

For 2 weeks each year in Sydney the 2km coastal walk from Bondi beach to Tamarama beach is transformed during the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. This afternoon I checked it out, though so far I haven’t been able to see all the works – a return visit may be in order. I love this exhibition. So too does the rest of Sydney, judging by the crowds even in the late afternoon. Each year at this time the coastal walk becomes jammed with people enjoying the elegant, the quirky and sometimes the downright weird, all with a beautiful seaside view. I love the crowds for this reason: instead of festering in some whitewashed gallery art is out in the public space and people are getting out there and enjoying it. The only drawback of so many people being there at once is the effect on the relationship between the sculptures, the space they’re placed in and the viewer – where I feel sculpture’s power really lies. Finding a quiet time for a viewing has its benefits.

Still, there’s something I love about going with the rest of the world too. It raises a question for me: What is it with art and the public? Why do I have this perception of most people scorning art and yet when something like this is put on it seems half the city – young, old, families and singles – turns up? Is it just that people ‘just like to go to things’, as someone put it to me this week? That is, do they not really care about the art at all, but just go along to whatever’s ‘happening’ this weekend for something to do?

No doubt there are some. But I love the sort of thing I saw today. When a big name gets a show, like a Picasso or Rothko retrospective, I have a tendency, justified or not, to think a lot of people might be drawn just by the name, especially in Australia where the big names are displayed so rarely. But there are no big names in Bondi, yet people are really interested in the works. They take photographs, they laugh, they pick their favourites. They aren’t generally interested in the way we’re told interest in art is supposed to manifest itself: dispassionately deconstructing everything to find the deeper ‘meaning’ in the work. Sadly there is still a strong sense for people that that’s exactly the way art has to be appreciated and the completely obtuse and indecipherable works that follow this artistic philosophy themselves only serve to continue enforcing this sense by alienating the very people they’re supposed to be communicating with. The great legacy of modern art has been to drive a wedge in people’s thinking between their life and visual creativity. But after people have stood mutely and impassively in front of them for a few moments (myself included) they move on to the stuff that’s actually cool and connects with them and their experience in some way, and often quite simply. It’s obvious in the comparison between works which always have a crowd of snap happy and grinning people around them (again myself included) and those which are left sadly alone. The works people love explore and re-imagine the beauty of this world or the human experience of living itself. The works I’ve snapped here were some of my favourites which I felt did just that.

The incessantly elitist and deconstructing nature of so much modern and post modern art (and talk about it) in the west has cultural and philosophical roots reaching back a couple of centuries , but the creative impulse has spanned human existence across cultures and centuries and has elsewhere always been much more closely tied to the lived experience of a culture’s people and their relationship with the wider world around them. I’ve said this before here.  ‘Art’ wasn’t the intellectual domain of a specific subculture who were in the ‘know’. You didn’t need an ‘art appreciation course’ (spare me) to engage with it. It reflected and still reflects life. In future posts I’d like to explore further how contemporary art is trying to reflect and speak to how we in the west tend to view the world and our lives, for I think there’s much to be said. But I wouldn’t hold your breath if I was you.

For now though, let me say that I think there is a real desire in people’s hearts for beauty and truth in the world, and for people to engage with and express it through acts of creativity. And there is a joy when it’s done.

What do you think? Do people love good art or am I mistaken? Do you enjoy art, and if so, what do you love about it? 


i, artist

Have you ever commented to someone else on a work of art that you were viewing in a gallery? And was the artist standing behind you?

The other day I shared a post here which included a delightful little story about the artist Howard Arkley standing behind a couple of elderly women as they viewed one of his paintings. The story resonated with me because I had a similar experience in the one and only time I’ve exhibited a work. My ceramic sculpture class at university had a group showing in my second year at the local gallery. We were all there on the opening night, in an upstairs room of the gallery, all very chuffed. Quite a good turn out from the public too. People everywhere. At one point I saw 2 young, artsy bohemian-looking guys standing before my figurative work and I thought it’d be fun to stand behind them and hear what they said – the anonymous artist eavesdropper. Haha, they’d have no idea! What fun!

One of them turned to the other and said “Heh. Why didn’t he just write ‘Help me’ with his blood on the walls?”

Ok, so it wasn’t quite the same…

yayoi kusama: obsession, alienation and polka dots

Never underestimate the emotive power of the polka dot. No really. I wouldn’t have believed it either. But it’s true.

Today I visited the work of Yayoi Kusama at the Goma, an artist I’ve never really heard of before (although I think I’ve seen photos of her work around). It was pretty cool stuff, pretty trippy. And it had polka dots. Two works in particular stuck in mind, Dots Obsession 2011 and Flowers that Bloom at Midnight.

Dots Obsession 2011

It’s amazing what you can do to a place with just a few mirrors, some oversized bulbous objects, lots of red, and polka dots. Those 4 elements make up Dots Obsession and with them Kusama transforms a small room into an hallucinatory sensory explosion. She uses the mirrors to infinitise the repetition of organic forms and dots, and this illusion contrasted by the in fact claustrophobic dimensions of the room, heightened by the inflatable blobs, clash to create an overwhelming intrusion of space. The red helps, of course. Kusama uses colour and form well to bring the reality of the space you’re in to bear powerfully on your senses. It’s fun and loud but also oppressive and dislocating. You’re in the space but not of it. This bringing together of contrasting dichotomies seems to be a favourite theme of hers. It appears in her other works as well. I couldn’t stay long in that room. In fact I need a bit of a lie down now.

Flowers that Bloom at Midnight

This work was cool. Trippy, but cool. 4 of these big, pudgy looking flowers are arranged around the room, apparently to form a kind of grove. More were needed for that effect to really work, but I still got into this work. Again Kusama manages to get a bunch of dichotomies together in these things – they’re at once familiar (reminiscent of pop culture sci-fi and fantasy images) and for that reason also alien, organic and artificial, childlike and aggressive, playful and menacing. Again i felt like an outsider – I felt like I was on an alien planet, like I didn’t belong. Although my immediate impression was one of fun, almost girly, cartoony oversized flowers, there was a real sinister and unsettling sense about them. Those eyes – cold, baleful, emotionless – I was very much other. There was a subtle complexity to these monsters or whatever you think of them which it took me a while to grasp.

After viewing these sculptures I read that both flowers and polka dots are common motifs in Kusama’s work because they belonged to a series of hallucinations she suffered as a child. It helps to explain the room to know she saw her environment covered in dots. And if, as she said, these hallucinations occurred due to tense family dynamics or circumstances, perhaps I wasn’t simply reading that sense of being overwhelmed by the space, feeling dislocated and an outsider into the works.

It helped me to appreciate something about contemporary art a lot of us can miss when we stare blankly at some absolutely bizarre concoction and think ‘I don’t get it’. The ability to bypass a ‘message’ and instead create something that touches and draws out the sometimes complex, sometimes unsettling experience of living. In this case touching on the subtle dichotomies and clashing emotive associations residing in so much of our everyday experience.

And I’ll never see the harmless polka dot the same way again.

writing out my soul


What does it mean to be a writer, and what does it take? I’m only in the very early stages of dabbling in writing, still finding my feet – or finding my voice, I should say. Posts come haphazardly because I don’t yet know how to throw something meaningful and well crafted out with anything like either frequency or regularity. I heard someone say recently that the best kind of writing is talking about the best bits of yourself. It expresses you, but the very best version of you and your voice that you can imagine. If that’s true, what do I want to say to people? And why in my everyday conversation do I not really think about that?

When I think about my art (which is about all I ever do with it these days) I realise that I’m motivated to express something profound about the act, the fact, of living. Of being human. That’s the very reason I started this blog too. In my introverted, reflective nature my art is a fundamental part of my speech. It’s how I seek to connect with others and express myself in a way I struggle with in everyday conversation. I’ve only begun to realise this recently – that I think I’m wired to articulate myself in creative ways and if I’m not doing that people are going to see me as being closed off  from others. Clearly I need to bring it back into my life, including this writing, in a big way. Perhaps that’s why I hold back from investing myself in art – when I invest myself in it and put it on display, I put myself on display. And now that the thought’s occurred to me, I know it’s absolutely foolish. We all long for connection, long to open ourselves up, to know and be known. If we can’t let ourselves be vulnerable, we can’t know love.

And so I write. And hopefully sculpt. I’d be very happy for you to come along for the ride, if you can forgive the bad writing as I figure it out on the fly.

How do you connect with and open yourself up to others? And if you’re a writer, or any kind of artist, what does it mean to you? What motivates you?