The Art of Australia

The Gathering - Sidney NolanThe BBC recently broadcast The Art of Australia, presented by Edmund Capon, a former Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I knew nothing about Australian art, not even the names of any artists, so I watched the documentary to see what I was missing. A whole world, apparently – I was blown away by the energy, bravura, and sheer diversity of Australia’s artistic output.

The BBC series has packed up its tents and the programs are no longer available. Fortunately, the series is still being broadcast by ABC for Australian viewers, and their website still has the first two episodes online. The last won’t be broadcast till November 5.

As a taster, here’s the video of a talk in the Art Gallery of NSW about Sidney Nolan, one of the most interesting of the modernist painters featured in the series. He’s well-known for his iconic portrayals of Ned Kelly, as shown above in The Gathering.

In Praise of Seasons

First this painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who worked a niche market in the 16th century. His specialty was portrait heads “made entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books.” This one is Vertumnus, Roman god of seasonal change, as personified by Arcimboldo’s subject the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II.

Rudolf II as VertumnusJohn Keats invokes the god of seasonal change in his poem To Autumn. Here is the great actor, Ralph Richardson, reading it on the Russell Harty Show.

And finally, an acoustic performance by Dando Shaft of September Wine.

A very happy Autumn to you all.

Seen Through A Glass Darkly

Seen Through A Glass DarklyThis is the 3rd version of The View from yesterday, which started life as Windows, and is now once more renamed. I decided not try a different tint for each panel, since I wanted the vegetation at the bottom not to be overwhelmed as a visual element. And it’s difficult – I don’t have the skill yet to do it well. So I went for an HDR effect, something I don’t often use because it feels too gimmicky, but in this case it brings out the inherent colour and detail without adding anything extra. I also took out the text in the 2nd iteration and used it, slightly altered, as the title. I felt that the verticals should be as uncluttered as possible, and text would distract from the details revealed by the HDR.

I like this latest version. It has a Van Goghian starry starry nights feel to it. Right, I’m putting this down now and doing something else. I get so absorbed in playing with photographs that hours pass without my noticing.

Little Birds

The Robing of the Bride (Max Ernst)

I like this sly, surreal poem by Lewis Carroll. It’s nonsense, of course, but there’s a hint of meaning in the lines. Like an itch I can’t quite get at for a proper scratch. You have to wonder what was going through his mind as he wrote it. I’m guessing the birds playing bagpipes on the shore refer to the persistent attentions of  itinerant musicians. And I like the suggestion of secrets, particularly in the “crimes in carpet-bags.” There’s some dirty work at the crossroads going on here.

Little Birds

Little Birds are dining
Warily and well,
Hid in mossy cell:
Hid, I say, by waiters
Gorgeous in their gaiters –
I’ve a Tale to tell.

Little Birds are feeding
Justices with jam,
Rich in frizzled ham:
Rich, I say, in oysters
Haunting shady cloisters –
That is what I am.

Little Birds are teaching
Tigresses to smile,
Innocent of guile:
Smile, I say, not smirkle –
Mouth a semicircle,
That’s the proper style!

Little Birds are sleeping
All among the pins,
Where the loser wins:
Where, I say, he sneezes
When and how he pleases –
So the Tale begins.

Little Birds are writing
Interesting books,
To be read by cooks:
Read, I say, not roasted –
Letterpress, when toasted,
Loses its good looks.

Little Birds are playing
Bagpipes on the shore,
Where the tourists snore:
“Thanks!” they cry. “‘Tis thrilling!
Take, oh take this shilling!
Let us have no more!”

Little Birds are bathing
Crocodiles in cream,
Like a happy dream:
Like, but not so lasting –
Crocodiles, when fasting,
Are not all they seem!

Little Birds are choking
Baronets with bun,
Taught to fire a gun:
Taught, I say, to splinter
Salmon in the winter –
Merely for the fun.

Little Birds are hiding
Crimes in carpet-bags,
Blessed by happy stags:
Blessed, I say, though beaten –
Since our friends are eaten
When the memory flags.

Little Birds are tasting
Gratitude and gold,
Pale with sudden cold:
Pale, I say, and wrinkled –
When the bells have tinkled,
And the Tale is told.

– Lewis Carroll

Here Be Dragons

Dragon Killing St. George

Today is Saint George’s Day, when the English celebrate the killing of exotic mega-fauna on the dubious theological grounds that they represent Satan and all his Works. Or, for the political Right, the non-white hordes sweeping in like a tsunami to steal our jobs and housing. I’ve no idea if the gentleman below feels the same way, but if you crave a tattoo like this, then you have strong feelings about being English.

George and the Dragon Tattoo

Saint George is reputed to be a Roman centurion from Greece, tortured and executed by Diocletian in the last great persecution of Christianity. The legend states that the Empress Alexandra and a pagan priest, Athanasius, were so impressed they converted on the spot and were also martyred. Crusaders brought the legend back to Europe, along with a story drawn from Greek Orthodox iconography, which portrays George slaying Satan, represented by the Dragon.

So all the elements were there for the standard artistic iconography. George is of course a knight, mounted on a rearing horse, stabbing downwards with his lance at the cowering beast. Who isn’t very big. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like a fair fight. The captive Maiden represents Alexandra, but Athanasius doesn’t get a look in. Here’s Paolo Uccello’s portrayal, in which the inherent unfairness is highlighted by the Maiden seeming to lead the Dragon on a leash. Far from being under threat, she is actually inviting Saint George to stab her pet through the eye.

St  George and the Dragon Paolo_Uccello

There was always the possibility of romantic involvement in this scenario, and it took the sentimental Victorians to bring that into the art. Here is Edward Burne-Jones’ take on the situation. The Maiden is clearly besotted by her Hero.

Saint George and the Dragon Edward Burne-Jones 1600

It took those filthy-minded Surrealists, and a Johnny Foreigner, to really open up the can of worms lurking inside the symbolism. Giorgio de Chirico’s Maiden is naked and lusting after her saviour. There are even waves crashing on the shore to go with the whole lance thing.

Saint George and Dragon Giorgio de Chirico

But is she? Could it be a look of apprehension at being caught up once more in the Patriarchy, after a blissful respite with the Dragon? Here is Silvia Pastore on the benefits of an absence of George.

The Absence of George

The legend of Saint George and the Dragon carries a lot of interpretations. For me, the Dragon represents every wild and natural thing in this world, a world with no place or tolerance for anything unregulated, unprofitable, or without an official purpose. We’re the monsters, and the Dragons are defenceless against us.