Thursday, 31 May 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

I turn 56 today, having been born in 1956.  I hope that's a good omen of sorts, not that I'm into numerology or anything.  That said, I did decide long ago that five was my lucky number:  born in the fifth month, wearing size five shoes and having a size five ring finger (shoe and ring size shared with my mother).  What other number could I choose?

We're going to dinner to Avanti in Jesmond to celebrate.  Bill bought me an overlock sewing machine (serger), something I've been wanting for years but couldn't quite work up the nerve to buy.  It's not something I need, but just wanted...the perfect sort of birthday gift, I think!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Fifteen Fingers

I'm not that wild about most aboriginal art.  I think I can do dots pretty well, though I could be mistaken.  So why go to an Australian art gallery? We went to the free art gallery in Sydney on our last trip over and found it had wonderful things to look at.  This Victoria National Gallery in Melbourne was also free and wonderful. 

Silly me, I forgot that photography was allowed in Sydney or I would have asked sooner.  I didn't have my notebook with me so I was frantically listing items to remember on my fingers (Brack, rock, Jackson, chairs...I figured I might just about manage 20) when I saw someone quite openly square up a camera with a painting.  I went in search of a guard to ask and then dragged a willing Bill all the way back to the beginning to capture our favourite pieces (without a flash).

So, I can share with you my Fifteen Fingers...and a few more.  I hope you like some of them.  Suggestion:  look at the pictures.  If you like them, read about them.  If not, walk on past...

John Brack:

Two Typists

Collins Street, 5pm

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The Bar

Jon Campbell

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So you wanna be a rock n roll star

Stephen Bush

Rainbow Parrot Costume

Jackson names many of her dresses, but the lighting didn't allow me to catch many of the names.

The Cricketers
One of Australia's most famous paintings.  I thought it quite eerie, but then there is a lot about Australia that strikes me that way, particularly the natural beauty.  This picture "...of 'cricketers' under leaden skies in the wide open spaces of burning sands dramatises the 'outback'..."

Three chairs.

I don't know who made/designed them.

I just liked them.

Pioneer of skincare Helena Rubinstein was one of the greatest female entrepreneurs of her time. Born in Poland she immigrated to Australia as a young woman and opened her first beauty salon in Melbounre in 1902, the beginning of her international beauty empire. She later became a voracious collector of jewellery and modern art of which she said 'I am a business woman, I am used to buying in bulk.' Dobell painter Rubinstein during her last visit to Australia in 1957 wearing a Balenciaga gown and magnificant jewels. Dobell's portrait emphasises Rubinstein's presence and dynamic personality which belied her tiny stature of four feet ten inches.
Helena Rubinstein, who told us 
"There are no ugly women, only lazy ones."

William Frater

The Red Hat
a portrait of Lina Bryans - see next artist

Lina Bryans

The Babe is Wise
portrait of Jean Campbell, author of then recent
novel by the same title.

Rupert Bunny  I not only liked this man's paintings, I loved his name.  A long time ago my friend Vivien told me about having an artist do a piece reminiscent of Rupert Bear, a children's comic strip character, for her brother Rupert's birthday.  Somehow Rupert Bunny just hopped up and twitched his furry nose at me. 

Shrimp Fishers at St. Georges, c. 1910 Paris

Bunny tended to use his former art student wife, Jeanne Morel, as his model and he apparently developed a liking for painting women next to water. 

Such images of predominantly female figures engaged in leisurely pursuits, Bunny captured the elegance of the Edwardian age that was shattered by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

circa 1910, Melbourne

The Pioneer

This painting is considered one of the masterpieces of Australian art.  We both stood long in front of it, trying to read the story it tells.  I was struck by how much the pioneer theme echoed for me as an American in spite of the fact that the colours in this painting seem very Australian.  It was apparently not uncommon - as I learned at the Immigration Museum - for women to be reluctant to leave Britain (or perhaps other homes as well) to immigrate to Australia.  It was more a man's dream than a woman's.  I guessed that in the first picture the woman is homesick.  In the middle picture she has a child in her arms and their is a homestead in the distance instead of a tent.  In the third, the man is visiting a grave, presumably her's.  Bill noticed the town has grown up in the distance.  This was painted three years followed the Federation of Australia in 1901.

It was this woman that initially caught my eye, and then the phrase 'quiet refinement and strength'.  There is an aspirational phrase if I ever met one.

Madame Pfund

Elise Pfund was the proprietor of Oberwyl, an exclusive girls' school in St. Kilda.  A reviewer of Tom Roberts' painting of her refers to it's 'completely beautiful modelling and colour and its quiet refinement and strength.'    I can't help but wonder if the latter qualities belonged to the painting because of the skill of the artist or because of the character of his subject.

There was an entire room of gold and silver artifacts, commissioned around the time of the gold rush by incredibly wealthy people...with perhaps questionable taste.  Bill walked straight through but, magpie that I am, I had to at least look at a few.  This one was pretty amazing.  No idea what it was for - other than to proclaim the owner's wealth. 

The sculptures around the base included an Aboriginal man,

a gold miner

and a shepherd.  These pieces reminded me vaguely of all the gold nugget jewellery that was so popular (along with ostrich skin cowboy boots) in Oklahoma during the 1980's oil boom.

R.H. Rocke & Co, Manufacturer, John Mather, Decorator

This cabinet caused a stir at the 1880-1
Melbourne International Exhibition. 

Ugo Catani

Lovers' Walk, Mount Macedon

Emma Minnie BoydCorner of a Drawing Room.  Did you ever stand in front of a painting so wonderful that you wanted to move in and live in it?  Where do I buy the decorating book that explained how this room got so cozy?

Circe gets me every time.

This is a larger version of the one we saw (and I snapped)
in Sydney.

Flannel Flowers

In the 18 inch seam, State Coal Mine, Wonthaggi

The Cough...stone dust

Counihan's work grabbed me because of the subject, my maternal ancestors having been miners.

Kapunda Mines

The stark nature of this reminds me of a book my parents had.  It was a collection of ironic comics full of skinny naked people in hell.  I thought it scary and sad, but I think my parents though it funny.  I've no idea who it was by but I've always remembered it and though it gave a clue about my parents' life experience and outlook that I never quite understood.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief tour and that it will encourage you to go look at art more often, if you don't already.  My photography in no way does these works justice.  If you wish, I'm sure you can find most of them by artist and title in Google images.  And you won't even need fifteen fingers to do that...

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Art of Smelly Jeans

This is one of those things where you have to be there to actually take it all in.  After all, modern technology hasn't mastered sharing smells over the internet.  In most cases I'd say this is probably a blessing.

I never used to have much interest in art galleries or museums.  It wasn't really until Bill came into my life that I learned to appreciate them.  I'm happy to look at and think about a lot more things than I used to be. 

Just the term 'art' can be the source of quite a bit of dispute.  I think it should be added to the list:  religion, politics, sex, art.  I particularly remember a run back in the days when Bill and I routinely met with friends in Killingworth and did a two hour run most Sunday mornings.  Ben's wife was taking classes in art appreciation and so Ben now had opinions to express.  Bob took exception to some of the - I agree they were rather pretentious - statements made, even though Bob made no claims to an expertise about art.  He still had opinions and I thought he expressed himself eloquently. The running pace heated up along with the disagreement. It was no longer Long Slow Distance, however I learned a lot about art and running that morning. 

I look at some things put forward as art with a bit of skepticism, but if it makes me think or feel, catches and holds my attention, I generally concede that it may well be art.  Of course some things are art for some people but not for others.  There are many pieces in galleries and museums that do nothing for me, technically expert as they may be.  Others I could happily sit and admire for quite some time and return to it again and again.   

Reminds me of Quentin Crisp's observation about not doing housework: 
after about four years it doesn't get any dirtier. 
So, this particular exhibit was olfactory as well as the visual.  Viewers were invited to sniff.  Apparently this is the sort of research done when pursuing a master of philosophy.  Thirty-two people ranging from teens to middle-aged were persuaded to wear their jeans for three months without washing.  Their jeans were then 'artfully' arranged on the wall along with quotations from the subjects.  The point was to question social norms about cleanliness and to re-consider the impact of excessive washing on the environment.

In the spirit of open-mindedness I did carefully smell two pairs of stinky jeans.  With the first I could report to Bill that it smelled of denim, but also of human.  With the second I could say that it smelled of a different human.  That was all the smelling I did.  I'd achieved my mission.  It wasn't horrible, but I wouldn't say it was wonderfully pleasant either.

The experiment seemed to be aimed at our over-washing of clothes, something I stopped long ago.  My clothes go in the laundry basket if they have a stain or fail a sniff test; otherwise they go back in the closet.   I do this in the name of frugality as well as saving time, effort and the environment.

Something the researcher didn't mention that I recall is that this experiment also seemed to encourage the wearing of a uniform.  The jeans wearers remarked that they didn't have to figure out what to wear.  Most of us who grew up living in jeans in our teens would have already known that.  Finally, there seemed to be some idea that grew around having more affinity with one's jeans once they were well and truly saturated with one's own smell.  Not sure I want to go that far myself. 

I thought I did really good just having a couple of sniffs...

Friday, 25 May 2012

The 'Paris End' of Collins Street

Bill and I walked the length of Collins Street several times on our way to various other places. 

Meet Bill's best friend, Larry LaTrobe

We sort of wondered what and why part of it was referred to as 'the Paris end'.  Bill thought it might have been because of the rows of trees planted along the sidewalks, but didn't think it was that big a deal. 

However, having read this phrase so many times, we put it on our list of things to do - to 'do' Collins Street properly. 

I haven't mastered Terri's trick of putting loads of photos into a Youtube video, sadly. 

As often happens, I wasn't able to capture the whole of some of the magnificent buildings because the streets were too narrow or my camera inadequate. 

Suffice it to say that part of Collins Street was once the banking district.  From our walking tours in Chicago we learned that it was customary to have clients walk into banks and up some stairs to the counters and offices, as though going up to an altar to worship their money and its managers. 

We saw several examples of this. 

I also noticed, as in Double Bay near Sydney, many of the young women in Collins Street were exceptionally glossy.  I wouldn't likely recognise designer clothing on sight without some really obvious clues, but the perfect way in which they presented themselves made me certain there were some extremely expensive labels next to the bones and the youthful skin. 

Some of them even managed to walk in ridiculous shoes.   My overall impression was that they were all about serious business. 

Looking that good is hard work I'm sure.    

I'm guessing the main reason it's called 'the Paris end' is because of the concentration of expensive shops, which also accounts for the presence of glossy girls. 

Many of the former bank buildings are apparently now designer premises, which somehow seems fitting.  

I thought of Frugal Scholar when I saw this scarf.
You can read more about Collins Street and see the list of flagship stores in this Wikipedia entry.

Bill and I did the tourist thing, wearing casual clothes, having little polish and snapping photos everywhere.  I loved the glitzy displays of what I think is silly stuff.  It was like visiting yet another culture. 

Some of the places we found on Collins Street, like the Manchester Unity Building and Block Arcade, deserve their own posts. 

Or, you could visit
Walking Melbourne, enter Collins Street in the search box on the left and see it all for yourself. (I don't recommend searching by post code, as I got hung up in a glitch there). 

Manchester Unity Building

I feel certain I've not done Collins Street justice.  I'm thinking some things just have to be seen in person.  Still, perhaps you get the general idea.