Tag Archive | art

The Importance of an Artist Date

It’s twenty years since I first read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – a book that I believe led directly to my becoming a writer. My process wasn’t a fast one, but the book awakened an unspoken ambition that had lived within me since childhood: the creation of worlds in the imagination, and making up stories for other people to read.

There are two key points about doing The Artist’s Way. (Yes, it’s not just a book that you read; it is a 12-week course in which you uncover the artist within you, layer by layer, chapter by chapter, week by week, and start to bloom into the artist you were meant to be.)

The first of these key points is a thing called Morning Pages – a stream of consciousness writing of three handwritten A4 pages every single morning when you wake up, before the world intrudes.

The second is a weekly Artist Date – a treat that you give the artist child hiding within your jaded adult self. This usually takes the form of going somewhere special on your own, to soak up or explore something wondrous and adventurous. It needs to be something that lifts your spirits, fills the creative well inside you, and inspires you to continue your art with renewed passion.

I’ve been doing morning pages for twenty years now, and they are still as valuable as ever, even though I made the switch to doing them on my laptop five years ago. But the Artist Dates? I’m not sure when I realised they had dropped off my radar. Sometimes, when I am on leave, I spend a day doing something different, all by myself, and I remember again how much fun it is to take myself on an Artist Date. But I only ever seem to do that once every three months or so.

Yesterday, however, I went on an exceptional Artist Date.

Three days ago I googled the Museum of Modern Art because a Facebook friend in America had written about it. I was surprised when Google showed me another Museum of Modern Art – one in my hometown in Australia, and a place about which I had never even heard. If not for the similarity of the name with the American one, I might never have found it, and that would have been such a pity.

The Heide Museum of Modern Art is in north-eastern Melbourne, almost an hour’s drive from where I live. It is set in 16 acres of beautiful parkland which used to be a dairy farm a hundred years ago, in an area called Heidelberg. In the 1930s it was bought by John and Sunday Reed, who borrowed and shortened the suburb’s name to call their home Heide.

They had two cows which John milked every morning. Sunday planted a kitchen garden in which she grew everything they needed to eat, and they threw open their modest farmhouse (see below) to many, many artist friends.

Before long, it became an artist colony: the Heide Circle. Those who stayed there helped with either the milking or the gardening, in exchange for a space in which to grow their art.

In time, the farmhouse became too small for all the art, so the Reeds commissioned another building on the same property – one in which they would be able to live, and which could later be turned into a second gallery. They moved into it in the 1960s, and called it Heide II – see the picture on the left. Their old cottage was now affectionately known as Heide I.

Twenty years later, by the time John’s health began to fail, they turned Heide II into the gallery it was meant to be, and moved themselves back into Heide I.

Heide II officially opened as a gallery in November 1981. John died a few weeks later, and Sunday followed ten days after him, unable to bear life without John.

The legacy they left is enormous.

There is now a third, larger and more modern, gallery called – what else? – Heide III. See photo at right.

The whole complex is known as the Heide Museum of Modern Art, and all three buildings are in constant use as gallery space. In addition to the three galleries, there is a café, a gift shop, and the entire garden is a sculpture park.

 

The park is used for other things too, and it was one of these activities that drew me to it. On Thursday mornings they have Tai Chi in the park, under the trees. When I googled it on Tuesday, and saw that I could join the class, I decided to make a day of it.

What a wonderful day it was too!

Our Tai Chi class was held beneath the huge tree on the left of the picture alongside, watched over by several sculpted cows, reflecting the property’s original purpose as a dairy farm.

After the class, I wandered about the grounds, looking at other sculptures, as well as the two kitchen gardens planted by Sunday, which today provide everything that is required to equip the café with its excellent lunch menu.

As the heat of the day set in, I found myself closest to Heide II, so I started my indoor exploration there. To be honest, I was far more fascinated by the actual building than the exhibition in it. I walked through, imagining the Reeds living in this cool white space – their bedroom, study, cosy conversation pit, and a sunken lounge downstairs with enormous glass walls revealing more sculpture courtyards shaded by ancient trees.

Next I visited Heide III, and lost myself in the Albert & Barbara Tucker gallery, where I saw many paintings and photographs from Tucker’s life when he toured Europe in a home-made caravan in the 1950s. His letters back to John and Sunday were also on display, documenting his progress as a painter, along with his gradual, somewhat reluctant, return to his Australian roots after many years on the road.

On my way to Heide I, I passed John Reed’s old milking shed – see the photo on the right – which is next on the list for restoration.

Finally, I reached Heide I. Somehow I had sensed that this would be the place I would enjoy the most. This little house, now beautifully restored, encapsulated the history of the people who lived there and did so much for Australian art and artists.

It is a gallery, but it is also a museum, preserving something of the lives of its former inhabitants. It contains many poignant remnants of its colourful past.

For example, the small library – the window on the right of the photo below – is exactly as it used to be in the days when displaced Russian painter Danila Vassilieff used it as his painting space, and he later died in that room while on a visit.

Artist Sidney Nolan began his series of now-famous Ned Kelly paintings on the Reeds’ dining table. Artist Mary Perceval hand-painted 22 small tiles with different pictures of cats, and presented them to Sunday Reed to decorate her kitchen, because she knew how much Sunday loved cats. The tiles are still there above the fireplace in the kitchen.

Walking through the spaces where Sunday used to hold informal afternoon tea parties, looking at the photographs all over the walls, and admiring the beautiful cat tiles in the kitchen, I felt an affinity with this place that nurtured artists and provided them with both the space and the inspiration to do their best work. I do believe that some hint of their combined artistic presence still lingers there amongst the framed paintings, photographs, letters and sculptures.

It wasn’t until I sat in the café at 2:00 pm that I realised I was actually on a full-length Artist Date. And I never wanted it to end. I don’t paint and I don’t do sculpture, but I became completely wrapped up in the story of the Reeds and their artist companions, the photography and stories on display, the wonderful history of the place, including the actual buildings. So much so, that I now feel inspired to return to my own chosen art – that of writing. I have neglected this of late, but I vowed yesterday that I will make time to continue my passion for writing, and I will definitely finish that novel…

Watch this space!

Wonder-Filled Inspiration

As a teenager I dreamed of overseas travel, yearning to see not only the scenery, but the artworks and architecture of the world.

I was fourteen when television started in our country, and one of my most vivid memories is of watching Lord Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. The series was almost ten years old by then, but it didn’t matter. Each episode fascinated me, and there was plenty of time to mull it over before the next because they were broadcast every alternate Sunday evening. During the weeks between, I searched the school library, looking up the artists and the buildings, hoping to see colour pictures, because our television was – of course – black-and-white!

Yes, if you’re wondering how I was able to appreciate such things on an ancient monochrome television (of if you’re baffled by why I took the trouble to page through actual dusty books to see tiny reproductions), let me assure you, it wasn’t a chore!

Six months after I graduated from university with my arts degree, I went to Europe with my boyfriend – a man I met soon after graduation, and with whom I shared a passion for theatre, art, literature, old churches, galleries, castles and in fact, anything of historical interest. We did the whole Grand Tour, just like the Victorians but in different clothing (and in slightly more modern transport). We also fought a lot, but the good memories outweigh the bad…

Anyway, back to the art. We walked around Michelangelo’s magnificent David, saw his Pieta from a distance across the crowd, and were able to get up close and personal with his Moses on that first trip. Together we stood beneath Juliet’s balcony in Verona, took a gondola ride through Venice and watched the glass blowers on the island of Murano. We picked our way across the stones of the Acropolis, gawped up at the Parthenon and saw a modern day performance in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus. Later, in the Louvre, we craned our necks to see the Mona Lisa and walked unimpeded around the Venus de Milo. We crammed a lot into six weeks!

A few years ago when I found Lord Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series on DVD, I bought it immediately. Didn’t even check the price. I took it home and wallowed in the luxury of the entire thing once again – bit by bit, usually on a Sunday night, and with my own collection of art books and overseas photographs to hand. It’s a toss-up as to whether the most striking thing was the ability to rewind, pause, zoom and relive the best bits, or the fact that I could now see it all in glorious colour, and on a bigger, clearer screen!

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Much of the series I had forgotten in the intervening thirty years so I was able to feast on its delights anew, but I also realised just how much had remained in my subconscious during that first trip to Europe, guiding me through the Uffizi gallery and the Louvre, up the leaning tower of Pisa, and past Michelangelo’s timeless works.

Six years after that first trip, I took a second one and I’m not ashamed to say that I revisited many of the same places with my three travelling companions – even managed to drag two of them up Pisa’s leaning tower, back in the days when one could still go up it and stand in front of the huge bells on the top. Something about those incredible, old places fired me up and inspired in me all sorts of romantic and creative dreams. It was as if I couldn’t get enough of the roots of western civilisation. In retrospect it was just as well that I stored all the memories up inside me because I’ve never since been able to afford to go back.

After twenty years of not venturing beyond the borders of my own continent, my family’s circumstances changed a few years back. I’ve now been to Australia three times. On my first visit I feasted on Shakespeare under the Stars, drank in Melbourne’s unique architecture, mosaics, domes, arcades and bridges, and shed tears at the Shrine of Remembrance. In Federation Square I visited Melbourne’s monument to film: the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), and later sampled the culinary arts of Lygon Street.

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I gazed at bronze and marble sculptures all over the city, contemporary graffiti in the lanes and sand sculptures in Frankston.

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On my second visit to Melbourne two years later I listened to local pianists tinkering on the keys of brightly decorated pianos left out in the open for an initiative called “Play me, I’m Yours.” IMG_0999

I drifted around the Tyabb Packing House with its acres of antiques, wore down my shoe soles in the Melbourne Museum and both venues of the National Gallery of Victoria. In the larger of these, I found myself gazing in wonder at Impressionist paintings, as well as sculptures by Rodin and Henry Moore. Two visits to this gallery weren’t enough to see everything so two days after arriving back in Melbourne on my third trip, I legged it down St Kilda Road in the pelting rain for another drool!

So what does this have to do with writing? Nothing on the surface, but it has everything to do with inspiration. I am well aware that not everyone shares my passion for European history or western civilisation (or whatever other name you choose to call it, particularly in my home country where anything western is now regarded as the work of colonial devils) but it has always been – and will always be – a part of my long-ago heritage, my current mental make-up, and my inspiration for the novels I write.

History evolves as fast as it’s created, but some things linger longer in our subconscious than others. Certain stories resonate or touch us more than others. My great triggers are the Trojan War, related tales by Homer and the Greek playwrights, ancient Rome, the bittersweet romance of Romeo and Juliet, Renaissance art, the First World War and absolutely anything to do with theatre.

The list is long and should provide me with plenty of ammunition to conjure up stories to write for the rest of my writing career, but for anyone out there whose triggers are gratuitous violence and destruction, chemistry or science, corporate banking or politics, the wonders of accounting, mathematical skills, motherhood, babies or courtroom drama – well, I think you’ve probably guessed by now how I feel about those. Everyone has their own favourite corridors in the library of life, so you won’t find too many of those subjects in my book bag.

If everyone loved the same things I do, I’d be a better-selling author by now because more readers would be as enthralled with my subject matter as I am. I’m old enough to know and accept that this will never be the case, and I don’t write the type of high adventure favoured by Dan Brown, John Grisham and James Patterson so my mysteries are more whimsical, more romantic and consequently a lot less popular.

For those loyal readers who worry that I might change my style and jump on bandwagons that include fifty shades of erotica, sci-fi or fantasy, police procedurals or vampires, fear not! I will always be here with my own peculiar brand of history-soaked, romantic mysteries.

Following hot on the heels of my three previous works (the stories of a South African set designer and a Greek inspector of antiquities; a World War I letter writer and the two soldiers in her life; an art teacher and an Italian sculptor) comes the story of a romance in Melbourne between a travel agent and a Lygon Street pianist.

Watch this space…