I like to set up a table and do a dozen or so in one session that lasts several weeks. I have about three boards going at once; when I fix one and put it out to dry I resume work on another already-fixed job. Each work has gone through about four or five fixes by the time I deem it “finished”. Quite frenetic and exhausting.
Each pastel takes about three days; then I put it away and forget it. Later I am amazed to see them again. I really do forget doing (some of) them.
They are an opportunity to try out ideas and techniques quickly in a devil-may-care frame of mind. I can easily destroy fizzers and nobody will know; but in practice I mostly keep working on the would-be fizzers and get them looking OK, eventually. You can fix and rework a pastel surface about five times before it goes unreceptive (Even then you can cover the bad bit with pastel primer and start again)
Pastels are good for juxtapositions of seemingly incompatible objects, textures, colours, ideas. They can be about physical or mental juxtapositions. They are never studies for paintings although sometimes they begin as an exercise in drawing which develops a skill that ends up in a painting.
(eg “How can I draw the upwelling motion of cumulus clouds?”)
Sometimes I see something that cries out: “Do me in pastels!”
The action of dragging a stick of colour over paper and leaving a trail pregnant with possibilities; and then embellishing that trail until it accumulates into a readable image is very compelling and intriguing. I can do it for several weeks or months without getting bored.
When I finally go back to painting after a spell at pastels I’m a slightly different person.
This began with the orange cloud. How orange can I get it? I had photographed the katydid intending to do it up in pastel somewhere. As I fitted them together I decided to turn the page on its side and the horizon spilled off the edge somewhere which was amusing…thus began the end-of-the-world idea.
The katydid was waiting for the humans to wipe out themselves and most of the others; then it would repopulate the planet.
Leucoxylon and Storm
Another juxtaposition. I just threw them together and they sorted themselves out pretty well. Which just goes to show…
An exercise in juxtaposing contrasting forms: One filamentous and one blockybark.
Xanthorrhoeas never get boring. Its hard to walk by one without pausing to caress, admire, converse, wonder. Doing them in pastels is an adventure; I end up drawing each filament leaf not once, but many times, caressing in the changes in direction, colour. To get fine lines I turn the pastel sticks over and over to keep a sharp edge. Sometimes I use pastel pencils.
These orchids are exquisite transparent/translucent happenings like periscopes from some subterranean
spirit world, and I wanted to do one up big in pastels. I wanted to construct a kind of pavilion around it to amplify, resonate, celebrate it.
Ptero, Bark and Cumulus
This was a threesome of contrived improbables. I worked on it for a long time and nearly used up all my five chances in many places. As a result it has an impasto look about it normally only achievable with oils or acrylic paints.
Mid day, mid summer.
The light straight overhead. Not flattering for most objects but grey box trunks open up and reveal something. It is as if this is the moment they are in touch with transcendent forces. By two pm they are resuming their chalky inarticulate secrecy.
What can I say? I am quite besotted/besozzled by butterflies. They are messengers from another universe. I did three trips to the Amazon to enjoy them. I filmed many hours of video of Amazon butterflies, about which more another time.
A sweet mysterious little tree frog that is quite common in Big Bush, even away from water; Littoria peronii.
Equally mysterious and tantalysing is this orchid Caladenia alba that some years appears suddenly in great numbers. I use magnification to scrutinize them but all I see is their exquisite detail, not their real secrets.
When I was a little and not so little boy I was fascinated by certain works by Elioth Gruner. He could paint light and atmosphere like magic. Especially when looking towards the light. His Spring Frost at the AGNSW used to (and still does) attract me spellbound. There is fanatical dedication in his work that was a beacon to me. He too, was an alcoholic, who alas, never found AAs.
In this pastel I was thinking of him. Keeping the light source behind the trunk; revealing itself only by extending tentacles around the corners.
An Amazon job. About the loveliest phenomenon to be encountered in the Amazon is vines tumbling down into little streams. Especially when its raining and sunlight breaking through…a bit kitschy? Sometimes with lovely phenomena this has to be lived with.
Sometimes I find myself working with patches of abstract paint that originate with visible textures of bark, twigs against their shadows, leaves against sky, leaf litter, shines going behind dark objects, etc etc.
They decree their own colours.
Lines and volumes begin to extend in all directions. The origin is soon forgotten and the white stallion of reckless adventure sweeps me away.
Theme and variation games ignite.
A matrix spreads; pregnant with possible images.
This stuff gets reworked and I play with the embryonic images.
If they intrigue me enough I delineate them a bit clearer; regardless of relevance or logic or context, yet with reckless confidence.
Even if the white stallion wanders into another paddock.
(Who’s painting this stuff? Me or God?)
In Cerulia my original intention was to take a tiny native terrestrial orchid Caladenia cerulia and magnify it; looking deeply into it.
I was hoping I could make it emit life forces and astound me.
I wanted lots of sky, to try to suggest some sort of kinship or origin for the blue of the orchid. Also I wanted to suggest the season of early spring.
What else is happening in Big Bush at this time?
While I was working we were visited by quite a lot of Swift Parrots, so they were included.
(They migrate every winter from Tasmania feeding on nectar and pollen from the eucalyptus blossoms. Swift Parrots are very rare these days. They breed in Tasmania, and their breeding habitat is being destroyed by Tasmania’s forest industries.)
click here to read how Swift Parrots ruined my life http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter-nsf/Attachments/LJEM-6MHVGE/$FILE/2005%20Swift%20Parrot%20Newsletter.pdf
The owls and the shinglebacks insinuated themselves. A lot of the painting is that matrix stuff done with thin paint and shabby, streaky, dotty, slitherydithery brushwork. I began organizing the blue sky into rivers and canyons…
Another job where I was hoping to create a moment of awakening by contemplating an object. This was an unhung Wynne Competition entry, about 2000.
(In my early days I was hung in the Wynne Competition every time….about 12 times, even after I left Sydney and my decline accelerated.)
So it began with a large Cecropia leaf I picked up on a track and brought back to my studio in the Amazon. It was nearly a metre across. I had the notion of it falling, about to alight.
Eventually it seemed to have fallen into a stream and was settling on the bottom. Birdlike orchids, lichenlike fishes took up residence and a throatlike sunset happened.
It became a landscape of organlike entities. Very Amazonian. I worked on this one for many frenetic months.
This was something that started well but we became becalmed. The white stallion had become a donkey.
Years later I brought it out and began frigging around with it. I allowed, nay encouraged images to suggest themselves. They seemed to begin as body parts thrown together. A grasstree becomes a waterfall; the rear end of a bull reverses into view; lanterns and cages dangle themselves. And one morning there she was, her little teeth gnashing as she marshaled her invasive tresses.
I was very happy to preside over this apparently uncontrolled/choreographed fiasco of unhingedness.
Quandongs are a feature of Big Bush (where I live).
Dabs of violent red in the dusky dusty greybrowngreen chalkiness.
Another close scrutiny seemed called for.
This job went through several “finishes”, none of them quite happy. It’s really three or four paintings on top of each other; but the big quandong is still there. Eventually it became an astral traveling machine landing near the portal of the great Lutfullah mosque of Isfahan.
This first post is a “sticky post” and stays at the top
To see my most recent post please scroll down to the bottom of this post. (or click the top one to the right here)
“Why bother?” I ask myself.
This website is for:
family and friends,
people who own my paintings,
people who still remember me,
people who don’t know me,
For self promotion (reluctantly)
To tell my story
and explain my absence from the art scene for all those years.
To attempt to explain my paintings,
To update what I’m working on (using video?)
To air my beliefs…
When required I have been calling my painting style “Ecological surrealism”
The notion that I have to have a “Style”, or that it has to have a name is simplistic and journalistic.
Every painting creates its own path as I work on it.
One of the motivations that drives me is avoiding repetition, cliches.
Boredom is my best helper. If I am getting bored its probably unoriginal, unimaginative; I have to stretch my ideas to the brink of absurdity, impossibility, otherwise I am squandering my precious time.
Mostly I begin with an idea; sometimes just a shape that will fill or grow inside the canvas. Sometimes (mostly) its the colours and tones of a place, which may exist in my mind, or perhaps out there. These colours usually find shapes for themselves, or even allow me to draw them. I like to have something happening; and lately I like it to be implausible, with prospects of being taken as an allegory or analogy. I would like to create a pseudomyth with the painting. Eventually an image begins to happen and sometimes it wants to be quite realistic. Sometimes the idea prefers to remain ambiguous and vague
Just lately I like to be not too serious.
I like to do fairly big paintings…anything smaller than 3′ by 4′ isn’t worth the effort. About 4′ by 5′ is spacious and about right, but anything up to about 6′ by 9′ is fine.
I spend several months on each painting. Its always hard work. I love to push my imagination, technical skills, endurance and perfectionism to extremes. Anything less would kill me with boredom.
My History; very briefly.
Born 1942 in Temora District hospital. I had a brother aged two, and nine years later along came a sister.
We lived on a farm. My father; the author E.O. Schlunke (Eric) preferred to be seen as a grazier and never overcropped his land. He was probably manic depressive. Had despotic mood swings.
My mother (Olga) came from a rural background, went to Presbyterian Ladies College and passionately loved/hated the farm. (She was bipolar too) She wrote poetry, and was published.
Classical music was always playing in the home: On 78s when I was little, and LPs when I was about 7 or 8.
Eric and Olga hated sport, popular music, commercial radio stations, vulgar people, drunks (!!?!!)
They loved Nature, scintillating conversation, the arts, elegance.
Eric wanted me to go to university, mostly because his father (who died before I was born, and seems to have been a religious zealot who abused the Bible to manipulate/terrorise his kids) wouldn’t let Eric go to Unversity. I started at University of New England and dropped out at the beginning of term 2 because of harassment from certain other students.
I went to stay with Arthur Murch and family, and stayed for about seven years.
Arthur took me on as a kind of apprentice. His wife Ria showed incredible forbearance and kindness.
Arthur got the contract to do the Mural in the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay and I was one of his helpers (Along with Helga Lanzendorfer and Julian Halls) Helga and I were allowed to paint bits of it, but poor Julian was not.
I began exhibiting and in 1963 won the Rural Bank Art Prize at the Royal Easter Show. I was 21.
Naturally at that age I became convinced that I knew it all and there began subtly, my decline.
I want to write more about my past, my parents, my mistakes…
OK, here are some of my pickies, with comments…
“George Lambert and Arthur Murch and me”
This was my unhung entry to this years Archibald.
It began as a fantasy wherein George and Arthur are in Big Bush (where I live) working on projects. Arthur had a large block of sandstone, into which he was carving a thirty foot high jumping spider.
George was doing some kind of environmental sculpture; using bush materials.
As the painting proceeded Arthur’s spider became the fibreglass arthropod he had often wished he could do and I had him sandpapering its leg in preparation for gluing on hairs, of which he had a tangled bundle. George’s bark and petal sculpture acquired a praying mantis. As work proceeded Arthur’s spider legs and George’s petals insinuated themselves into the entire big bush background. Arthur’s plaster cast teaching aids (he was a passionate teacher) came along to keep us company.
My reason for doing the painting became clearer as work proceeded. At first it was just the fact that Arthur was an assistant to George, and I was an assistant to Arthur. (This first idea was suggested to me by my dear friend Jeanette.)
Quite soon I began wondering how my life works compared to those of A and G. So I gave myself some insects too, but not very big, but probably live, not sculptures. Eventually I took the look of embarrassment off my face and tried to make it say: “Hey aren’t we having a jolly time being creative…”
“…And The Rainforest Will Return to the Desert…”
This was a finalist in the Essential Energy Art prize, called “Countryscapes” and now terminated.
I wanted to do another painting about the Chewings Range. Maybe I drove past them on the way to Hermansburg Mission way back in 1962. I didn’t stop for any drawings or photos because the person I was traveling with was having a mini nervous breakdown. I used the grey dry corrugated landforms with violet shadows in a previous painting, “Western Macs circa 2084”.
But this time it had to be more than just a view.
(I feel views are dreary and unjustifiable these days for me. Boring too. A good folio of photos or a video pan, or best still, visiting the place and looking at it is the best thing you can do with a view.)
So I put something implausible in the foreground; a clump of rainforest trees, and more rainforest beginning to grow over the corrugated hills. Some of the bluegreyviolet hills were growing a green canopy. The idea excited me, but upon reflection I realised that most people would not understand.
The painting needed some kind of explanation, and that had to go into the title, like a caption. This was one time when I really wanted the painting to be readily understood. Not enigmatic this time.
I could not call it Chewings Range, nor even Western Macs, nor even Western Macdonnell Ranges because virtually nobody knows where they are, and that they are very dry and could not support rainforest.
I don’t often make concessions for people’s ignorance, but I had to change the wording to “Desert”, and then it sounded biblical, (Revelations) so I prefixed the “…And” and set it in the future.
I enjoyed creating a kind of Mosque dome with bright lights in the big fig tree; and a storm coming across the rainforest. Very Romantic. It was a very difficult painting, but not for a minute unenjoyable. I love extremely hard work.
“An Eiffel Tower in Big Bush”
Juxtaposing preposterous ideas.
Its one of the ingredients of surrealism.
The ideas have to be very personal for me to generate any enthusiasm. We had recently been to Paris. Big Bush is where I live.
The tower seemed to fit best upside down. Most of the time on this painting was intuitive frigging around. Not much intellect in this one. It was fun and not terribly difficult. I don’t care if people can see the Eiffel tower or not. It looks intriguing, and thats all I wanted.
Near Port Macquarie is a little patch of rainforest that runs down to the beach, called Sea Acres. There are many palm trees that have shed their fronds and they get caught up in the trees below, looking like sculptures. And there you have it. Once I had the concept that some or all of what I am depicting here is sculptures placed in a garden setting the thing galloped away on a white stallion… Shortly the earth and sky became part of the sculpture. By then I was not depicting an imaginary scene, but dragging rough ideas from my frenetic brain. I want to do more of these. I love to gallop away on the white stallion of extremes.