Sunday, April 30, 2017

Return To Self

I set up the tripod at the edge of my neighbour's pool, flipped the timer on my digital camera and walked to the deep end. I dove in as the shutter sounded and swam the length underwater. Surfaced, stepped out of the pool, checked the shot. Repeated the process. Over and over. Some photographs are of me mid air, others are of the splash as my body entered the water.

Dripping wet, I carried the tripod (with camera still attached) to the backyard of my mother's house. There, I stripped off my bikini, flipped the timer on my camera and lay on a plastic banana lounge in front of overgrown trees, a raised vegetable garden bed and oversized pots of herbs. I let myself linger in the midday sun, got up to re-set the timer again, lay down slowly – repeating the succession of movements until they formed a rhythm.

I wasn't thinking of composition or light or what might make a good photograph. I thought about using my body as a life model for painting again; of movements I want to draw; of capturing the moments when I am relaxed and unselfconscious, in motion or sunbathing naked alone in the afternoons; of David Hockney's photo collages and swimming pool paintings and the way time is captured differently in photographs and paintings. Then I turned the camera off and lay down again, focussing only on the sensation of warmth and water evaporating from my bare skin.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Girl Friend

On a visit to my childhood friend, Olivia, she gave me a small stack of letters. They were my sporadic correspondence to her from when I was around eleven years old to fifteen or sixteen. I stopped writing when life became too tumultuous for me to explain. Here are two of them – a glimpse into who I was (in private, girlish conversation) and a friendship that has remained. Click each letter for a larger version.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Remembering I Can Swim

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"...The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about." David Foster Wallace, Kenyon Commencement Address, 21 May, 2005.

For the last few days I've been laid low with an inflammation in my abdomen. The pain was so acute it made me faint. My GP prescribed a course of antibiotics and told me to come back if the pain didn't go away. I asked what would happen if it didn't and he said, "Surgery."

I panicked at the thought of losing more time to illness. But the antibiotics are working and the pain is gradually subsiding. Mostly, I slept. When awake I ran small errands, hung out with my family, told myself it would be ok. And it is ok.

Normalcy is still foreign to me. I am re-learning that most problems are small and easily resolved; most illnesses are minor and fleeting. I guess this is what life feels like after surviving a perfect storm and learning to manage a complex psychological condition: it takes a while to trust that that the next wave won't be a violent wipeout after all. And in the unlikely event that it is, I've proven I can make it through anyway.

Above: Walking before sunset at Collaroy Beach, Sydney, 2017.

Friday, April 07, 2017

The Evolution of Dooney Pink

When I first used pink in my art I hated the colour. I chose it for over-the-top girlishness, seduction and as a lewd reference to 'pink bits' (slang for female genitalia). I preferred the hottest, brightest, most intense shades – for paint and panties. Back then, my favourite was Elsa Schiaparelli's Shocking Pink. I liked the idea of the colour more than the colour itself.

Over the years, pink became a signature colour in my work. I refined it in 2008, adding white and a little yellow. I had grown tired of the purely conceptual. I wanted to look at the colour and feel pleasure. To me, at least, the current version of Dooney Pink is sensual and gentle:

Last time I saw my framer, she asked if I knew about Baker-Miller Pink (below). She said it reminded her of mine. I looked it up when I got home. I was amused to discover it's close to the pink I mixed for myself and was made with a similar intention – to create a pleasant feeling. Baker-Miller Pink was named by Alexander Schauss in the late 60s. He claimed the colour reduced hostile, violent or aggressive behavior. In the early 70s it was used to paint several prison and psychiatric facilities with the hope that it might soothe inmates' behaviour. Early results were positive but later results indicated an increase in violence. A report in 1998, titled The Effects of Baker-Miller Pink on Biological, Physical and Cognitive Behaviour, revealed conflicting results. Personally, it reminds me of musk sticks; a sickly sweet confection made of sugar, gelatine and musk oil flavour.
The idea of being imprisoned in a room painted in either pink makes me feel nauseous. I don't have much interest or faith in colour psychology these days. And yet I still find the very particular shade I mixed for Dooney Pink pleasing – and pleasurable.

Top: Self-portrait in pink panties, video study for my Lake Eyre series.
Dooney Pink, since around 2008.
Baker-Miller Pink.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

In Memory of Sighthounds

My whippet passed away last year. So did his brother – my father's dog. They were each seventeen, two more years than the breed is supposed to live.

They died several months apart but in the same way. Each came to me, weak and seeking affection. After watching my father die I can recognise the signs of a body shutting down. I let them sleep in my room and hand-fed them little balls of mince. Removed their collars, petted them for hours at a time. Carried them outside to pee. When they became too weak to eat anymore I called our vet, Gillian. She came to my mother's house to euthanise them. Each died peacefully in my lap while I stroked their sleek fur and held back my tears until they were gone.

Whippets were my father's choice of dog, long before either of us knew that artists favoured them. He trained these two. They still remembered the odd ways he spoiled them, like letting them eat the last piece of banana. After they died another trace of my father was gone. But I am thankful for the time I had with them and the comfort they gave me.

When Gillian retired recently I drew our whippets for her. I sketched from a photo, fast, so I could finish before I started to cry. Then I delivered it by hand to her surgery. Gillian knew the link between the whippets and my father – and I know they lived so long because of her care. Drawing them as a gift seemed like the most meaningful way I could thank her.

Cairo and Jim, 1999 - 2016. Lead pencil on watercolour paper.