The concept of New Epoch Art had been worked on by my father for 30 years, but with a sense of his own mortality came an appreciation that it would take the work of others to bridge the gap between the theory and the practice. Philip had worked with him closely for some years, and I was aware of their master / apprentice union, and found myself making the odd painting in a fashion. The full meaning behind the pictures was not important then, but the distinctive calligraphic appearance of New Epoch Art had made an impact. Upon my father’s death, Philip took on the mantel of custodian of the project, and threw himself into the task of adding the necessary grammar to the New Epoch language in order for it to be used by others. He had to feel his way, immersed in another’s vision and making it his own, leading to the creation of a handbook for New Epoch Art which was a massive feat, and one that ensured the teachings and theories of my father were preserved. This process involved a careful piecing together of notes and information gleaned through long discussions, some of which were recorded on tape cassette. Philip assisted him in the workshop regularly, and the intense conversations about New Epoch Art had a very profound and permanent effect on him. In this way my father’s belief and joy for the project was passed on – generation to generation and in a way that went beyond words, but was connected at the very heart of kinship. It was also a time when Philip sensing the need for urgency took on a role approaching more that of a journeyman than an apprentice to the New Epoch project and my father’s teachings. In an introductory pamphlet compiled by Philip later in 1988 he wrote:
“Knowing how little I knew and how delicate the situation, I tried my best to encourage, even persuade him to continue his enthusiasm for “Notation”, often failing miserably. But he began to read again about the physical nature of the universe and philosophy – a heartening sign of new growth. My father had always equated the scientist’s understanding of the universe with the artist’s. The one gathers facts and tests theories and arrives at a perspective; while the other has a more intuitive approach to awareness of his environment as he fine-tunes his senses. He read Fromm’s “The Anotomy of Human Destructiveness” and re-read Koestler’s “Act of Creation” with a child-like eagerness, calling me in to listen to passages and to hear him talk his way through problems. Sadly, he would reflect on how little I could understand of what he was saying. Sadly, I reflected on how true this was”.
Philip described the creation of the handbook as an exhausting project with the feeling of being swamped by the responsibility constantly hanging over him. The manuscript that emerged was as faithful to my father’s ideas as humanly possible. To achieve this Philip had to interpret his manuscripts, often written in a poetic and cryptic fashion, and fill in missing pieces that had been suggested in his teachings. By August 1987, a first draft of the handbook was complete and the language sufficiently developed to begin practical trials. Philip initially gathered a small group of friends from his time spent at R.M.I.T. and by the end of an evening of explanation and dreaming with a cask of red wine, a commitment had been made to commence practice sessions. Everyone at that meeting was generous enough to give Philip the support he required to make a start. My curiosity had also been peaked, and it was not long before I wanted a piece of the action as well. My enthusiasm for the project was perfectly timed, as the original group fell away and new personnel were needed to fill the breach.
The first performance I witnessed was in September 1987, “Landscape and Still Life” with Philip and Neil Chenery at the easel. My own new epoch commenced that day in our back garden, the sun filtering through the oak leaves mottling the lawn and covering everything in the warmth of the new season. The experience was something of a revelation and for a wide-eyed fourteen year old, a seminal moment in my movement toward maturing sensibilities, a sense of purpose and to some degree, the realisation of destiny. “Still Life and Landscape” was originally written by my father late in 1986. Philip had his canvases set up on the veranda and kept returning to the workshop at the bottom of our back yard to receive the next sheet of notation, written out between continuing his commercial photolithographic work. The paintings came together first using the act of composition as distinct from its performance; from composition to notation, from notation to performance, from performance to observation – a complete cycle. The painting’s details are made up of two elements, firstly the jugs, cups and bottles set out on a two toned grey picnic rug in contrast to the surrounding foliage representing the landscape. This was made clearer in subsequent performances that perfectly illustrate the interpretive nature of the language.
As I watched this first performance with Philip and Neil, I felt simultaneously in awe and yet completely comfortable and flooded with a mysterious harmony which matched the gestures of brush to canvas. Neil was a very astute and mature individual who lent credibility to the day’s proceedings and this impressed me greatly. The performance held at its heart all the seriousness and endeavour I had always associated with my father’s creative pursuit, and it was right here, right in front of me for the offering. Not a memory or a feeling that diminishes with every repeated conjuring. Although it was the last time Neil participated in a New Epoch rehearsal, I was certain that it marked my beginning, and I couldn’t wait to take my turn in front of the easel. Later I reconstructed the day’s events in the silence of the night, twinkling stars leaving the same play of light that tears can bring, and in tender anticipation, I contemplated a new idea of the life I intended to lead. For a long while I liked to revisit that night, neither remembering the detail, nor plotting the future, simply being; flooded with the secret joy of the feeling and its restorative power.
My first time painting was distinguished by a memorable atmosphere, which set my passion further ablaze. Using our colour man Jeff Purer’s, Hydrocryl brand, which had a tendency to leave smooth, bumps in place of the sharp peaks of oil paint impasto I found so appealing, my brushwork was clumsy resembling the stridencies of an angry signature. The brush was too thick and the paint too claggy to assert sensitivity over my lines, but it is a bad craftsman who blames his tools as Philip recounted the adage passed on by our grandfather amidst the wood shavings and half-completed violins of his own workshop in Hartwell. My enthusiasm at least accounted for my lack of finesse and I began to learn as much as my natural awkwardness would allow. That evening the Webber charcoaled snags on two sides and the blue bars of the newly acquired zapper executed mosquitoes under the canopy of the old oak that overhung the backyard. The feelings associated with these first performances remain very special. They permeated my imagination and forged my resolve to become a visual artist. The decision had been made earlier, but these events elevated my experience from drawing in a child’s sketchpad, to using the materials of an artist.
Preparation for a second retrospective exhibition of my father’s work, early in 1988, which was to feature New Epoch performances helped focus our efforts and hone our skills and the ‘Workshop’ soon became the scene of many hours learning to paint. The workshop was against the back fence line of our home in Canterbury. It had been where my father set up his lithographic business Photocraft Services, when he vacated the Queensbury Street premises in the late 70’s. In 1987 it still had the enormous camera, enlarger, arc light and light tables that had been the tools of his profession. The place had a pungent chemical aroma, the acidity of photographic developer, the damp earth of the burnt sienna opaque and the residue from the arc light after its blinding ultraviolet display. But gradually the environment was transformed. The intense plastic bouquet of artist quality acrylic colours and the odours of habitation – dirty linen and plates not returned to the kitchen, replaced these smells. Philip set up camp in the area that had been a make shift office, and the walls that had separated the darkroom came down to reveal a jigsaw of machinery and quickly accumulating paintings. Most of the large equipment was sold off and the transformation from ‘Workshop’ to ‘Studio” was complete. This was very much the engine room for New Epoch Art and our burgeoning performance art group.