The first was Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen, published by Doubleday. This book said it all in terms of identity and food. In this multi-ethnic saga of the collapse of the USSR, it is fascinating how food and the vernacular are intertwined. Food can be a distinctly local or a foreign influence creeping into societies. In Russia under Peter the Great and later Stalin, food and the State reached new levels of interconnection. The difference in food in the past between Moscow and Saint Petersburg with the later city coming to look to the West was marked. Under communism food was manipulated in complex, blatant and disastrous ways. Finally, difference is faced as the food writer and her mother, having emigrated, find massive change on their return to Putin’s celebrity-focused Moscow.
In effect this book gives you a passionate nostalgia, balanced by an eye for the conflict between unique local food and the vernacular versus the allure of the exotic that is now a worldwide phenomenon.
The second book I came to have was Coast, a New Zealand journey by Bruce Ansley and Jane Usher, published by Godwit. Strong photography, great compositions, romanticism, integrity on a level beyond the usual coffee table New Zealand variety, and a depth of searching into vernacular coastal mythology. It’s moody and rich and full of unique material. It’s also a fabrication in a way in terms of what is left out of changing Aotearoa but that’s okay. Identity almost appears timeless and impregnable.
Putting the two books side by side you may ponder the role of the state and global forces both in New Zealand and seemingly different Russia, but be appreciative of the individuals who treasure uniqueness, and record or write about it in dedicated ways – not just swept along in it all.
21st November 2013
12th November 2013
Painting is the use of a stick with hairs bound to the end. Painting is pigment which is made up of particles that reflect light in accordance with the spectrum. The particles are held together by a medium that also glues them to a support. The first supports were cave walls or stretched animal skins or bark or human flesh. Our first paintings used no paint and were gestures or marks in sand.
Today we have canvas or board or paper or whatever. We can still prepare it a bit to feel the space. This also can roughen or personalise the support. When we grip a brush we are able to use paint to realise space and feeling and ideas. We look and we interact with our hands, the materials, and our support that holds it all. We are our eyes and our minds.
After many years of practice we paint almost beyond consciousness but the results can still be surprising or disappointing depending on the day. All this mind over matter-focused creativity sits oddly with a contemporary information overload.
For me paintings at best can be organic and an intimate sharing. Thoughts and words are important to me in work both as triggers and as actual included elements. The integration of words is a challenge but properly used can add to the visual. Memory and stream of consciousness have become increasingly present in much of my work and equate with both the archetypal and highly complex situation of the present as well as conveying multiple levels of awareness in full. Painting can be changed utterly by the now but also be reassuring and familiar. Frames remind us our eyes sit in our skulls dictating and limiting our vision. The nature of what we see is determined by the boundaries in our head and in our society. Whether we frame or not, or even know how to look, paintings have ancient miraculous aspects always lurking.
13th September 2013
To Niue & Back
At the beginning of last month Sue and I were in Niue – a relaxing place to be. The principal artists I am aware of associated with the island are Mark Cross and John Pule. Still some fine weavers in evidence. Niue is run by an assembly of members from the villages. The most interesting stories there I came across were Laufoli leaping into his umu to renounce violence and a man with cancer wanting to watch whales every day while building a house with no hand rails on the path. Most inspiring and intense was attending a church service at Vaiea with decorated altar and glorious singing and then to be told half the congregation were from Tuvalu as refugees from sea rising associated with global warming.
Coming back to New Zealand the tension of the GCSB bill in its final stages made me think back to Nuie and wonder what it might be like to live in one of those villages looking out on the world of visitors passing by.
In Auckland I attended the launch of the publication ‘In Search of the Vernacular’ at the Depot in Devonport with Denys Trusell speaking. The evening was affirming and reassuring. The Depot has achieved a great deal.
Later after the Wellington earthquakes all the artists – Melvin Day, Gerda Leenards, John Walsh and myself – who feature in Peta Carey’s film ‘Waterfall’ had a group show at the Diversion gallery in Picton. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the opening, usually lively and fun.
During all this I was reading ‘Lillian Hellman’ by Carl Rollyson. This American playwright is a good example of a person who could’ve faced jail if email and its interception had existed back in the McCarthy era, but who basically was merely open minded and searching.
Most miraculous at Cosy, our two Sebastapol Geese laid their first egg and have become very bold and adventurous.
Niue Circle (2013) watercolour on paper, 297 x 420mm
Under Surveillance (2013) water colour & pencil on paper, 297 x 420mm
9th July 2013
These recent drawings in marker pen are designed to be shared online or as copies. I’ve done poster type drawings for photocopy for many years in relation to events. It tends to be separate from my work with more permanent artist’s materials.
The theme of these might be understanding the world from a vernacular point of view or simply an outpouring from the subconscious tied to myself as an individual. Most public monuments are the result of consultation and dialogue. These have no such restraint or logic. Perhaps they are pseudo monuments and a different one could be done every hour of the day. Identity can be closed down or open-ended.
20th May 2013
Road in Hollyford Valley with mists of Romanticism on the mountains (photo by Nigel)
Coleridge In The Now
Lately I’ve been thinking about Samuel Taylor Coleridge and other Romantic poets in relation to life in contemporary New Zealand. I’ve realised that if the French Revolution had crossed the English Channel New Zealand society would be different from what it is. But what interests when I read much of their work is how its Englishness doesn’t relate to my identity as a New Zealander, yet it highlights the contrast. If I draw parallels with indigenous cultures such as Maori and Pacific peoples then I should go back to British history to find my culture. But this doesn’t happen comfortably, perhaps because I think of myself as far removed from Britain and evolved in a new context.
What I have found surprising in my research on the Romantic poets is how radical they actually were, beyond the odes I was fed as a schoolboy. Also, I find their passion, especially for nature and how they express that, quite a marked contrast to the language of now.
Looking at Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner I see a long poem very relevant to what’s happening environmentally now. Revisiting Romanticism for me is unexpected in terms of identity and I find stimulus and much to learn from its ardour and idealism.
Nigel: “I worry that New Zealand is losing ecological values through shifts in government policy. A lot of good work can be undone quickly. So much forest has been cleared already. In my art I attempt to explore the human relationship to land and nature or even to reinvent it. There should I feel be an emphasis on “the great simplicities” and by that I mean our relationship to the basics: sun, moon, creatures, plants.”
For his new suite of works, Invented Lives, Nigel Brown has taken as a starting point Picasso’s 1937 painting Portrait of Dora Maar. As the title of the exhibition suggests, Brown’s portraits are not of family, friends, or acquaintances; they depict individuals the artist has created from an amalgam of his own experiences, diverse visual styles, and re-figured memories. Portraiture seeks to define the ‘essence’ of the sitter that lies beneath their physical surface. With these paintings Brown turns this on its head: the essence of the person is already formed in Brown’s imagination and he must depict its physical manifestation. – Milford Galleries