A few weeks ago I saw and heard the wonderful Rory Mcleod in Yackandandah. A teller of stories collected from all round the world, from conversations with strangers, small moments and big events. With a tireless voice and a collection of instruments he caught us up til nearly midnight.

RoryMcleod@Yack

Checking out his website I realised again how travel is a great educator. The only time I’ve managed to leave this country was to visit my family in the Netherlands a dozen years ago. It was the stories that affected me most, and I made work about them for the next 2 years. Many of the artworks are back over there on loungeroom walls.

bells

dad's hands cropped

A few years ago I lost the nerve for performance. On a whim, and with no practice, I sang a few songs in public, badly. I hadn’t sung for a year or so – and didn’t for another four. I swore never to sing alone again. And indeed I went off music altogether. But slowly slowly I’m being drawn back, by friends and opportunities.

The art that my parents gave me was music. We all had music lessons, all nine of us. This was considered essential for a meaningful life. My parents had come from southern Netherlands where everyone was in a choir. Mum sang contralto. Dad sang solo baritone, and when he came to Australia he formed choirs and directed them. All through my childhood he went out two nights a week to draw out dozens of voices and weave them into beautiful pictures.

So when I’m away from it all for too long it feels like something’s wrong.

Copy of Belle Musette 1

Tonight I saw and heard some gorgeous music by Belle Musette, a Melbourne band who play all kinds of French music.

Copy of Belle Musette 2

Each time I hear something good, I’ll let you know.

 

A time for tesserae

January 31, 2011

Mosaics have long been on my ‘learn to do’ list. Images of amazing walls and floors in Roman and Moorish and many other buildings, and Gaudi’s wondrous works in Spain have fed my longing to travel to places far away from here.

When I was in my teens, Dad made a large table for the verandah. It was a triangle, equilateral, and it weighed a ton – he always made things to last. It was a bit high to sit at – I recall having to stretch up to lean on my elbows. (Perhaps that was before the growth spurt that grew me into maybe the tallest girl in my class.)

The top of this table was to be covered with ceramic tiles, so a design had to be developed and I was called in to help. These were my favorite times with Dad – creative collaboration. We also chose the wallpaper for the house, a dubious claim to fame despite the gameness of the choice – it was the seventies.

Several possibilities were drawn up – geometry at its finest – coloured pencil triangles on thin white paper.

triangles group of 5 smalltriangles 5 6 smalltriangles 12 smalltriangles 3 4 small

And finally we chose one of them.

triangles 7 small

It had the required symmetry, it had intrigue, and it was enough of a challenge to warrant the work ahead. I don’t remember helping with the actual construction however – Dad was a perfectionist.

So, a couple of months ago when my friend invited me to a mosaic workshop, I became very excited, and found 2 small books that I bought many years ago, and read them again, this time knowing that I would actually be applying what I read. Here’s what happened last week. I’ve yet to apply the grout and I’m hoping it’ll be beetroot red.

Copy of mosaic Jan11 ungrouted

It has the required degree of wonkiness, no intrigue, and for a first attempt it was just challenging enough to be fun.

A question of distance

November 8, 2010

I’ve been crumpling used envelopes. Crumpling and straightening out, crumpling and straightening out again. Some with a crackling window and some without, and my name and address in a neat or florid hand. I think of Mum and of my dear friend Olive long ago passed away, and of the many letters by many people, sent to me.

And through this filter of words on paper, the thought that stays is DISTANCE – the space between the writer and the recipient. I’ve always lived far away from people and places I love. And then there’s migration – a whole other level of distance, and again I think of my parents.

When I left Gippsland many years ago, I missed green.

Gippsland1980

So here’s my question to you – What do you miss when you’re far away? I would really like to know. It will grace one of my envelopes, and join over voices. A song of longings.

88 years

July 31, 2010

Last Wednesday, Mum turned 88. She was happy. Said she feels well enough to live another 10. Good genes, moderation, yoga, learning, letting go, self-protection (what I’ve worked out so far). We giggled over the silliest things, had a simple dinner, ate full cream milky porridge for breakfast next morning and went out for coffee. She told stories again of her courtship with Dad 70 years ago. I never tire of hearing them.

I’m halfway through a full size portrait of her. Each morning as I enter my studio I say, hi mum, and proceed to bring a little more of her into the room. It’s a mix of her physical self and my perceptions and projections. She lives far away so I work from drawings and photos and memory.

I love having a car. It could be any car really, although I’ve loved a couple of them more than the others. I can still feel the thrill of that first drive alone. The potential to go anywhere I want, as far as I want, without relying on anyone but myself.

The yellow pop-top Kombi was my favorite. Pull out the back seat and it became a portable studio or art transporter or removal van. After a family trip I could just sweep it out. And in summer it was cool and airy.

We called it Kate and made up bedtime stories about her and her friends. But the engine died and I sold it to my neighbour. It sat in his back yard for a long time.
Copy of DSC08347

I want a van again. You’ve got to be able to sleep in your car. Sedans just aren’t the same. I had a station wagon in between – an old Toyota Cressida. Pretty easy and comfy, until the suspension fell out and the seats fell in. She ended up in my mechanic’s back yard, and then at the wreckers. Poor old girl.

Mum is one of those lovely people who are funny without even meaning to be. She loves her car too. Soon after she bought a Suzuki Baleno someone asked her what type of car it is. She answered, after some thought, “I think it’s a Mitsubishi Baloni.”

Filter

April 21, 2010

Having returned a few days ago from my trip to Melbourne and Gippsland feeling satisfied with the many short visits I made to family and friends, I lay down with a migraine. It crept up on me after the long hours of driving and the long hours of email catchup the next day.

A few years ago I discovered that if a migraine isn’t too severe, the only thing I can do to use some of the many unproductive hours is draw. I set myself up in a dark room, paper and materials at my fingertips. With eyes closed I begin making marks with movements that cause me the least pain. Sometimes the drawing becomes a frustrated explosion of coloured crayon, but mostly they are quiet odes to pain, but not to suffering.

migraine4Dad was a migraine sufferer. We often had to creep around the house, just as my children have so graciously done for me.

migraine5It’s a complex business. Stress, diet, hormones, sleep, coffee, air pressure, genetics, posture. Many years ago when alternative medicine was rare here, Dad found a doctor who taught him self-hypnosis, to help manage his stress levels. I remember his gratitude for a little help. It was a kind of filter, a thin shield between heart and life.

Time and distance

April 13, 2010

I’m off to visit Mum tomorrow. When I stay for a few days we settle into an easy companionship, having slipped through the time and distance that hardens like wax between us.

Copy of wax vases 1I’ll draw some more objects from her life. And maybe some quiet moments from her face, hands, movements – as I’ve done before. And record stories as she tells them.

mumwatchinginsprex1(Is there a recording somewhere out there of Dad singing?) It’s good to have these stories from Mum – the sound of her contralto voice and girlish laugh while she remembers.

Holding it together

April 11, 2010

An osteopath once told me that the tension I carry is mostly in the fascia, or connective tissue, that holds everything in place. This tissue surrounds, separates, protects, stabilizes and generally holds everything together. It’s all about control. It does this whether I try to help it or not. It does its job. I’m grateful for that.

A few years back I asked Mum what was the most significant thing she has learned in her life. She said, “to let go”.

Don'tHesitate

Soft steady rain

April 6, 2010

In Dutch there are many words for rain. The cousin who told me that, didn’t tell me what they are, so I’m left to imagine. Rain, shower, sheet, drips, plips, drumming, rushing, drift, spots, curtain, wet, buckets. In English,  ‘rain’ is added to the end of a description – driving rain, pouring rain, heavy rain, soft rain, soaking rain.

My father’s birthday has just passed. It’s raining, as it did when he was buried. When I first began work in my current studio, he came to mind – my first creative ally. I made a series of small drawings in watercolour – quietly weaving patterns like the ones he wove on the loom that he made.

Copy of dot weave 2It was the seventies. Mum was a spinner and she knitted and crocheted. Still does. Dad loved the sheep, the wool, the shearing. Together they went searching for plants and bark to boil up dyes and then made things with the freshly spun and dyed wool.

Hands ought to be productive. And if beautiful things come from it, all the better for the world.

Sensory input

April 4, 2010

My father was a musician. My earliest memory is of lying against his chest feeling comforted by the vibration of his voice – warm baritone hum. I also remember his voice when it filled the house and either thrilled or scared me. And the long hours I spent immersed in the smells and sounds of his wood-work shed.

My mother worked long each day to run the household. I remember the fabric of her coats, her apron, the doilies we crocheted together, the vegemite toast she brought me when I was home from school with my annual cold, and the smell of pea and ham soup. And I can see her reading and writing, pulled between the English of her second life and the Dutch of her first.

And many many other things come back as I write.

coats in diary