Four recent jobs

Soutine’s Chapel on the Pinnacle


A few years ago I visited for the first time, the new Musee d’Orsay.

Lots of nice enough things but what knocked me sideways was the room full of Soutines.

There was a refreshing irreverence in his stuff. Knocking houses way out of skew and tumbling them down hillsides; people looking insecure despite their demeanour of self importance, being harassed by red scarfs, towels, cloths. Still lifes of dangerous and scarcely ponderable objects, notably his Skate. Somehow he does this with wit, gentle humour, conviction and sincerity. He seems to be such a nice fun bloke.

Most artwriters perpetuate myths. In Soutine’s case its about his anxiety. Maybe he had the same anxiety that most of us artists have, but the tremors in his paintings are not from his supposed anxiety.

They speak of his vivid perception of the forces of nature. He had to make them visible by taking his subject and giving it a good kick and shake. The cold drizzly wind of so many of his landscapes is the omnipotent mother nature who not only makes everything in the universe function, but observes humans and may indeed punish bad behaviour. Like a certain character in a certain old testament.

Soutine does all this with cheeky good humour.

So I invited him to do something in a chapel on the pinnacle.

Not surprisingly he re-did his skate. The skate has been painted before, by Chardin, Ensor, so its a bit of a challenge to have a go at a skate. My grandchildren Issa and Mariama were happy to pose (briefly) as the two children who Soutine often inserted into his tremulous, shuddering landscapes.

Ploughing the Mallee

ploughing the mallee

I don’t often let my anger get into paintings. I try to be light-hearted about the destruction of so many beautiful things and maybe before too long now; the planet itself, (not to mention the human race) by capitalism and religion.

I’m sure mother nature is pondering some checks and balances, and yes, punishment, for the human race, and before too long she will show her hand; and maybe save some of the planet, and perhaps even a few thousand humans will be spared to enjoy the remaining beauty (if she can find that many non-capitalist, non-religious humans).

So I can be light-hearted.

I got this idea out near Hillston. Out there, there are meagre remnants of the mallee vegetation that once covered the whole area; just along the roadsides, a few metres wide. As we drove along, there was this farmer in his enormous air conditioned tractor pulling a very wide plough. It was dry and windy and he was creating an enormous cloud of dust.

It rose into the air on upward thermals and reminded me of something… ah yes,

The billowing smoke and dust when the twin towers collapsed.

All this was partly visible through the screen of the skerrick of roadside mallee.

Now there’s a painting.

Hillston Wattle

hillston wattle

On another trip out Hillston way on a grey day, a tiny hole opened in the clouds above admitting a beam of sunlight. It caught a wattle bush in full bloom. The rest of the landscape was grey dismal mallee remnant, backed by grey degraded manmade “grassland” to the horizon.

I found myself thinking of civilizations that had gone horribly wrong, like Easter Island…

Vermeer Returning Regent Honey-eaters into Big Bush


Back as far as I can remember there were art books which my mother, and maybe my father too, leafed through, showing me great paintings. Also framed reproductions on the walls at “Rosenthal”

One such was Vermeer’s Girl in a Red Hat. There was also the Servant Girl Pouring Milk; and several other girls, all inscrutable and fascinating to a very little boy. And big men like shearers in funny big hats, long coiffured hair and boots; chatting up the girls. And draughtboard floors.

Much later, when I was about 20, Arthur Murch brought home a Phaidon book on Vermeer. Excellent large reproductions in full colour. The book caught me at the precise moment when I was looking for guidance about composing with abstract areas of colour. Vermeer could make any colour sing by juxtaposition. I suddenly realised that a large part of creating/enjoying art was this.

Vermeer used household objects to create patches of colour where he wanted them; and when he wanted to have a fling he could put almost any strong colour and pattern he cared to concoct, and contrive them as tapestries and rugs that were strewn about…

Thereafter Vermeer was often invoked when I pondered objects in my paintings.

Endangered species: I am always looking and listening for Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters in Big Bush. They used to be here, but now only the odd Swifty; no more Regents. There is a program of breeding Regent honeyeaters in captivity and releasing them back into their former habitats. So I invited Vermeer to come to Big Bush and paint Regent Honeyeaters; breathe life into them and release them. He brought some of his girls.

Painting his girls into Big Bush was an eye opener. Seeing how he simplified his tonal areas yet kept absolute control of the modelling. My copies are only awe-stricken notes.

The top righthand corner is full of Big Bush shapes done in Delftware; and Vermeer’s household objects, including a scarcely disguised abstract tapestry; and the Lacemaker’s threads gone crazy, are strewn about Big Bush.

One response

  1. Around 2002 a friend then in his late 80s Pieter/Peter Lafeber/Lafebre – born in Den Helder in The Netherlands – gave me a Vemeer – his Vermeer – one of six copies of “The Girl with the Pearl Ear-ring” – the other five versions distributed among his five daughters. Peter taught art at Farrer Memorial Agricultural HS on the edge of Tamworth for many years. He became a potter – much influenced by the folk craft movement and the philosophy of Bernard LEACH. He and his writer wife Joanna retired from Tamworth (to which they had emigrated in the early 1950s) to Fingal Bay/Port Stephens. Both lived to their mid-90s – Joanna slightly less – Peter a little beyond. Friends I miss. The Vermeer lass is looking across her shoulder to me now as I write – while Joanna’s writing and the letters from her I still read bring her voice alive! All that from seeing that Vermeer girl above. Thanks!

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