Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: Selected drawings available on Ebay. A different selection every month!
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Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography
- In this newsletter:
- *** Metropolis
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Things Cool People Do: Joan Baez in Concert
- *** Learning Media, Mons. Key, and the Principle of the State
Metropolis exhibition at Matchbox Studios, Wellington
The show at Matchbox Studios attracted a fair few people. The opening was positively crowded — though sometimes one does suspect that people just come for the free booze: it began to peter out as soon as the bottles of wine had run out. It was a really nice selection of artwork, I felt: even though it was a fairly random group of artists, there was a certain consistency to the work.
It turned out that my own contribution of a total of 10 paintings (four large scale, four medium sized, two very small ones) was more than plentiful — and I was given a plinth to display my portfolio of prints as well. Most of the others had fewer works in the show, though a few of them were really large scale. It was also nice to see that most everyone had a similar idea about how to price their work — my own ideas on that head fitted nicely into the spectrum.
The gallery also operates as a gift shop — selling craft items, clothing, artist greeting cards, prints, and zines, among other things — which is a good way to lure in people from the street, who then discover that there also is an art gallery out back. The shop and gallery have just moved premises, from the first floor to downstairs, which makes it even easier for people to just stroll in.
I dropped in a few times during the week, to watch people looking at the artwork. I find this instructive: when I used to perform on the stage, the feedback from the audience was always immediate. One can sense if an audience is captivated, or bored. As a painter, it is much harder to gauge how people react to one's work. I post it online, of course, and the amount of "likes" and comments I get is some sort of indicator if a painting goes down well, or leaves people cold. But it's not the same as actually watching someone staring intently at one of my paintings, or pointing and commenting. A few people did those things while I was watching, so I take that as a good sign.
News & Current Projects
When people ask if an exhibition was "a success", I guess they generally mean either, "did you sell stuff", or "did you get a good review". Well, I sold one print at the Matchbox show, and swapped another one for one of Brendan Grant's. But then no one else sold much: one painting, or a couple of less expensive pieces, was the best anyone did, as far as I could see. And I don't think we got a proper review in the paper, either.
But then, I didn't really expect either of these things. It is a step on the way: "building a track record", as the saying goes. Next time I exhibit somewhere, more people will know who I am and what I do. I have been asked to participate (or at least, to submit my work) for another group show at Matchbox, "Myths and Legends", coming up in November. That's a good enough outcome for me!
The Metropolis show wasn't the only exhibition I participated in this month. There was also the Big Wai Art Sale on the first weekend in September. I had booked a space, and put in my recent plein air oil paintings of things growing in my garden, plus a few of my pencil sketches.
If the show at Matchbox was at least encouraging, in that it seemed that some of the people who came through actually looked at and appreciated my work, then the Wai Art Sale was more of a demoralizing experience. People seemed to wander right past my wall, without hardly casting a glance. In the time that I was present at the show, not one person stopped and looked properly at my paintings. I did not sell a single thing — and found that, even though those paintings are really on the low-low end of the price scale for oil paintings, in the context of the show they still seemed pricey, given how cheaply some of the other artists peddle their work.
On the upside, it was a nice social occasion to hang out with the other artists working in the Wairarapa. Viv Walker was offering portrait sketching sessions, and she spontaneously did a free sketch for me — probably because I was looking a bit depressed! She has made me twenty years younger, of course, and she apologized profusely because she thought there was something wrong with my nose — but I look rather stubborn in the picture, I think _ so she did capture me well. :)
Once the show at Matchbox was up and running, and the Wai Art Sale over and done with, I suddenly found myself with a bit of downtime. To relax from all the hectic painting and promoting of the last couple of months, I did — a painting. I'd been pruning my peach tree, and put some of the cut-off branches in a vase, along with a couple of daffodils which the storm had broken off. When I had arranged them on my dinner table with the pink African tablecloth covered with Bulgarian lace, I really felt like doing another of those watercolour still lives I amuse myself with occasionally.
The yellow and orange of the daffodils in amidst the cool pinks and purples of the other items in the picture seemed to me an interesting colour choice: rather like what, in music, one would call a "dissonance", as it is not one of the accepted colour schemes they taught us in graphic design school. But hey, this is art. And I think it turned out quite well — at least if one likes loud, happy colours! :)
I have also, quite unexpectedly, started a bit of an art collection of my own. First, there was Viv's sketch. Then, one morning just when I was on my way into Wellington, I found a completely unexpected parcel in my inbox: my friend Iris Compiet, who has just had her debut at IlluXcon, sent me one of her watercolours from several years back, when we were both active on John Howe's internet forum: Oyster is an illustration for, of all things, a poem I had written, for one of the monthly art challenges. I remember it won, too — it is a beautiful little piece, and I am very proud and happy that she's wanted me to have it!
For good luck, and as a souvenir of my first proper gallery show, I bought one of Christie Wright's smaller pieces at the Matchbox show (also, of course, because I really liked it):
Art collection: Eye Candy, an A4 size piece on paper, which just about didn't break my budget. What goes around, comes around, is what I think — and it will look very nice on my living room wall, too.
ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: this month, I have selected three life drawing poses. Female nudes, to be precise: one standing, one sitting, one lying down. They are from the set of paintings I had at the very short lived Blueberry Gallery in Carterton a year or two ago — they're A3 size pencil sketches, mounted on slightly larger, cream coloured cardboard. They'll need to be shipped flat, which is marginally more expensive, but I can dismount them and ship them in a roll if the buyer so wishes. Click on the individual thumbnail images to find the Ebay auctions, or view my Ebay listings here.
On Amazing Stories, I've ruthlessly taken advantage of my position as Dedicated Arts Blogger, to do a bit of shameless self promotion — introducing some of the pieces I had at the Metropolis show at Matchbox. The other post this month was the first in a two part essay about Witches: Old Woman witches. Of the which it was conspicuously difficult to find a sufficient amount to fill a blog post with!
Work has been proceeding apace on the third volume of the Huete dances. I'll send out a separate notification when they will be available. For those who have asked: what with working for the exhibition, and all the computer troubles I have had, I have not gotten around to making an image selection for the 2014 Middle Earth New Zealand calendars yet. I hope to do so next week, and will notify people separately. It will be pre-orders only this year, and the production will depend on getting a sufficient number of subscriptions. If I don't get round to it next week, I will scrap the production this year: the year is already fairly far advanced, and I have other projects in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, feel free to have a browse in my online shop: Harp music CDs can be bought here, or downloaded from CD Baby, iTunes, or Amazon. Make sure to check out my art prints and greeting cards in my Etsy store! And don't forget that most of those artworks I have posted above, are also for sale. Please email me if you wish to know more!
I have not yet found a buyer for my Martin Haycock Gothic harp. The harp is suitable for medieval and renaissance repertory, or anything else anyone may want to play on it, which requires a range of 3 1/2 octaves, G - c'''. Asking price: € 1990 / US$ 2550 / NZ$ 3000, or best offer. Please Email me for more information. And tell your harp playing friends! It might make a nice Christmas present for someone.
Spring has come in the garden: everything is blossoming, and there is a heavy scent of orchard in bloom wafting all over Featherston. My almond, plum and prune trees, the new sour cherry and the old peach, have all taken their turn. The pear and the ancient flowering cherry in front of the house are in full swing, and next up are the apple and apricot trees. The hazelnuts have been putting out fresh leaves, and the citrus are showing first signs of healthy spring growth. The fig trees and grapewine have been tentatively putting out young leaves, and I have high hopes that my feijoa trees will soon reach the height of the fence.
Sadly, my sweet cherry tree appears to have died. But I have already investigated replacements, so unless some cherry tree miracle (brought on by the balmy spring weather and rain) still happens in the next few days, I will ruthlessly tear it up and plant another. This was the first of the fruit trees I've planted, and I was attached to it. Though I realize in retrospect that it was a particularly immature tree, and I should probably not have bought it in the first place! The one I spotted at the nursery is a few years further on, so at least I won't lose out on growing time.
The vegetables are coming along now: there's spinach nearly ready for picking, the first round of broad beans should be getting there in a few weeks, and I have sown and planted numerous peas, red beet, cauliflower, kale, as well as various spring lettuces. I've been assiduously trying to grow corn lettuce for the past several years: one of my favourite greens, and supposedly really easy to grow, but perhaps someone has put a corn lettuce curse on me: yet again, the lot I sowed some weeks ago seems to have fallen flat and died. Well, nothing for it: try again.
Things Cool People Do: Joan Baez in Concert
About Joan Baez's performance here in Wellington, well what can I say. It felt a bit unreal. Correction: it felt totally , utterly unreal. One of the songs she did was "Swing low, sweet chariot". An a capella performance, like the one she had done in Woodstock. If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to step through a window in time, well, here you go.
The music business is notoriously short-lived: stars rise and shine, and then a few years later one never hears about them again. Joan Baez has been doing this for the past fifty years. She was already an international star when I was born, and she is still capable of packing out the Michael Fowler centre half a century later.
And if you thought that her performance at age 70 might be just a nostalgic shadow of former glory: not so. It was, hands down, one of the greatest music performances I have ever witnessed (and I have witnessed a fair few). Her voice may have lost some of the high notes, but it has lost nothing of its magic. I only knew it from recordings, of course, but being in the actual presence of it is something else again. Driving out those bad spirits, it was.
The first part of the show consisted of a selection of folk songs, and a Bob Dylan song or two, from her repertory in the 1960's — mixed with songs by younger songwriters (prominently including Steve Earle), from her more recent albums. Lucky for me, she did one of my absolute favourites, "Lily of the West" (which contains the immortal line "I love my faithless Clara") , and her rendering of Dylan's "It's all over now, Baby Blue" has got to be the best I ever heard (including several recorded versions).
The audience in Wellington — predominantly greying pakeha, with a sprinkling of younger faces, many of them part of the thriving local folk music scene, I imagine — was fairly enthusiastic to begin with. Then the band launched into a Maori action song (reading the unfamiliar words from a sheet, and apologizing in advance for any shortcomings), and from that point it was mutual love declarations all the way. It was the last concert of her Australia/New Zealand tour: Joan Baez seemed relaxed and at ease on the stage, and she remarked on the fact that a responsive audience like this made her job really easy.
Joan Baez would not be Joan Baez if what she did on stage was just a brilliant music performance. It is a whole act: she makes a point of setting an example of how she thinks people should treat each other. Her band consisted of her son, Gabriel Harris, on percussion, and Dirk Powell on banjo, accordion, and a few other things — plus, as it turned out, her stage technician, Grace Stumberg, who at first seemed to be there only to hand her a freshly tuned guitar after every song, but eventually joined in to sing harmony, and by the end of the evening did a short solo number, which outed her as a gifted singer with a great voice in her own right (and earned her some deserved applause). That's a lesson in respecting people and their unique talents, of which the couple of New Zealand bloggers who wrote reviews for Joan Baez's concerts and who couldn't be bothered to look up the young lady and spell her name correctly, could cut themselves a slice.
She finished the official part of the concert with the obligatory "Diamonds and Rust", and I lost it a bit and cheered loudly (possibly to the annoyance of my seat neighbours, but then I'm quite used to people thinking I am a bit weird) — when she got to "fifty years ago, I bought you some cufflinks". I had so hoped to live to hear her update that line.
Then she launched into a generous string of encores, covering some of her "greatest hits", and since it is Joan Baez we are talking here, of course the thing turned into a general sing-along. Imagine all the people, singing along with Joan Baez! U-uuuuh-u-u-uh.
I can't help thinking about a video clip I have seen of a very young Joan Baez, stating earnestly on television that "the passivity of the people" is what the problem is with the world. She's found her very own unique way to do something about that: no one stays passive in one of her concerts. I suspect that's what the sing-along thing is really all about.
And when I walked out of the concert hall afterwards, and saw all those shining, emotional faces — I met my old landlord Robin, whom I regularly meet at events like these, and he practically had tears in his eyes — I do think it changes people, if ever such a little bit. It makes us believe, if for ever such a short while, that a better world, where there is beauty, and people all get along in peace, is entirely possible really. It is such a simple thing: a woman, a voice, a guitar.
Learning Media, Mons. Key, and the Principle of the State
One of the items on my to-do list has been, for the last several years, "submit your illustrations at Learning Media". The New Zealand publishing market is slim enough when it comes to opportunities to publish illustrations. Learning Media has been one of the few publishers — perhaps the only publisher here in New Zealand — who explicitly invited unsolicited submissions from authors and illustrators. I had their submission guidelines in a folder, and periodically would look at the sheet and think "I really ought to do this". But never feeling quite ready yet.
Now, I can save myself the trouble. A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the state owned publisher of school text books and learning materials was to close, "because they do not have a viable business". I expect that next, our current government will start closing the schools, because they are not generating a profit. Then the hospitals. Though personally, I begin to think it is high time someone shuts that particular government down.
Perhaps it is time someone explained to Monsieur Key et alii, how a *state* is supposed to work, as opposed to a *business*. It's like this: a group of people, usually defined by inhabiting a certain geographical area, band together and share resources. Money is collected in the form of taxes, which are allocated depending on the income of each inhabitant. Wealthier people contribute more, poorer people contribute less, at least that's the theory.
The taxes collected from the inhabitants are then used to pay for public services: roads, schools, hospitals, police, courts of law, public amenities, you have it. They are not *supposed* to make a profit. The government is accountable for how the money is spent, and that not more is spent than what has been collected, but *profitability*, in the money in, money out sense of the word, is not the criterion here. On the contrary: the whole purpose, the reason of being for this whole setup, is that it makes it possible to provide services and build structures that CANNOT BE FEASIBLY RUN as a private, profit-generating business.
Public services create an infrastructure and an environment that enables businesses to operate efficiently: education provides skilled people to do skilled work, hospitals keep people healthy so they can work, a good network of roads ensures things can get from here to there, police and the judicial system try to protect everyone from being screwed over. Public amenities ensure that people like to live where they live, and don't wander off.
Take Germany: to this day, one of the strongest economies in the world, despite the economical troubles Europe is currently having. You can say about Germany what you may, but as a culture, it has a very strong belief in the value of education — and that education should be available to those with brains and talent, not those with stacks of money. University education used to be for free, until only a decade or so ago, and what fees have been introduced since, are small compared with Anglo-Saxon countries. There is a lot of support, and funding, for the arts, there is huge tradition of publishing books and things — Gutenberg, after all, was a German.
For centuries, Germany has exported learned people to all corners of the world. Read any Russian 19th century novel, the doctor and the school teacher will likely have a German family name. James Cook, when he did his trip around the world and alighted in New Zealand, had two Germans on board: Georg Forster senior and junior, who were in charge of scientific recording.
In New Zealand, on the other hand, "smart" seems to be used as a derogative term. As an artist, the thing most people commonly remark when they are confronted with my work, is "aren't you clever". That's what you say to a child, or a dog who can do a trick. It often seems to me there is no genuine respect for intellectual or artistic activities at all. And that is the country which wishes to profile itself as this cool hub of creative activity centered around the local film industry? Where people dream about having a pint of beer at the local pub with the famous movie director? And discuss rugby, I assume?
Every event I ever go to in support of the "New Zealand arts scene", seems to be always exclusively concerned with "how do artists make money". Perhaps it was time someone started talking about "how do artists make art"? Where I grew up, freewheeling brainstorming sessions among friends were an almost daily occurrence. Since I have come to live here, I can count the occasions on my fingers when I've had an intellectual discussion just for the sake of it.
This current government has been happy — indeed enthusiastically over-eager — to allow businesses from overseas (I'm thinking, for instance, a major Hollywood film studio) to make use of the infrastructure — including the skilled workforce — paid for by New Zealand tax payers, without requiring these overseas businesses to make an appropriate financial contribution for this privilege (read: they've been offered major tax breaks).
User pays? In New Zealand, this principle is vociferously defended in certain quarters when it comes to Jane Doe needing medical assistance, but when a large international corporation proposes to make use of what the New Zealand tax dollar has paid for, but thinks they should not have to pay a fair share themselves, suddenly those same people wag their tails and pee themselves in their excitement, so happy that big brother from overseas pays them some attention.
Learning Media, on the other hand, is just an old Kiwi institution. So boring. Just like grandma's cooking, eh? Doesn't provide cool photo ops with suntanned Hollywood celebrities that make Mon. Key feel like he's an international superstar.
What Learning Media does — or did — provide, was school books and picture books for children in New Zealand. Books that were written and illustrated by people who know the environment these kids grow up in: from the trees and animals that are specific to New Zealand, and won't show up in a British or American children's book, to the peculiarities of a society composed of Maori tangata whenua, Pakeha immigrants, and various waves of more recent immigrants including large numbers of Asians and Polynesians. Books that might foster a love of learning, a curiosity about the natural and social environment, and yes, a love of looking at and making pictures, at an early age.
While I would be the last person to make a case for narrow-minded provincialism, and "only New Zealand content", if possible by (Aryan certified) "real New Zealanders", I do recognize the importance of this for the children growing up in this country. I was a rather bookish child myself, and my whole world view has been in quite a substantial measure shaped by the books I read and looked at as a young child. I do think New Zealand kids should learn about Kupe, and kahikatea trees, and what it is that makes this place special.
Not because I'm a fan of "I'm proud to be a Kiwi" nationalism, but because I think a young person has a right to learn to love the place they come from. I myself have, for the longest time, seen the place I grew up in only as a place to run away from, and I would not wish that on anyone. What emotional attachment I have to the nook of the world I grew up in, is very strongly flavoured by the local stories and myths I read as a child.
Sometimes I would wish that it was more widely recognized here in New Zealand, that kids also need to learn about ancient Greece and Egypt and India and China, modern Asia and Africa and Europe and America: about how other children in other places of the world live, and what they experience.
I grew up in post-fascist Germany, and the children's books I was given made a conscious point of providing that sort of information, and schooling our empathy for other people living very different kinds of lives. It is a far better starting point than photo ops with celebrities, if one or other of these children does want to become an international superstar. A bit of knowledge of the rest of the world really helps, if one wants to venture "out there" and make one's way in the world!
But shutting down the one publisher of children's books and educational materials who had a mandate to provide books tailored to the needs of children in New Zealand, is most emphatically not the way to go. Coming on top of the totally unnecessary funding cuts for adult education a few years ago, the message this current government is sending is ultra clear: New Zealand has nothing to offer by way of brains, and all the cool stuff happens overseas anyway.
Not surprisingly, there has been an outcry in the small community of writers and illustrators here in New Zealand. Here is a collection of blog posts in reaction to the announcement of the Learning Media closure:
Arohanui, from Asni