First Public Performance

21/11/1987 First public performance at Theatre Place in Canterbury Melbourne.
21/11/1987 First public performance at Theatre Place in Canterbury Melbourne.

We only had a few compositions in our repertoire to begin with. ‘Dance of Life’, Leavings’ and ‘Landscape and Still Life’ all worked on by my father the previous year. Despite having only a few rehearsals under my belt, conducted in the privacy of the Workshop, I promoted the idea of getting out there, going public, of testing ourselves in a true performance environment. This decision to take to the streets can be in part attributed to youthful bravado; however, in hindsight, the notion that the evolution of a performance art should rely on studio practice alone seems ill-conceived. It is all the factors of painting in public, the environment, time constraints, the speed at which paint dries and of course, the reaction of the transitory audience that need to be accounted for. Incidental learning occurs through planned and repeated exposure to those environments open to public view, and this became a significant shaping force on the type of compositions we resolved to favour. This agenda to realise public performances, was established much earlier by my father, when in an interview recorded in 1977 he stated:

“My ambition is to see notation performed – the first public performance or perhaps a number of performances if possible. I think that will be the quickest way to push the notation forward, to find out its inadequacies by performing it in front of people and find its audience…I suppose the first principle of any innovative idea is to believe in it as an idea first and second is to put it to every test that it is possible to conceive. Finally the idea must be cultivated and given depth and substance.”

21-11-1987L&S 1

So we took our miss matched easels down to Maling road, the local shopping precinct, over- looked by the platform of Canterbury station and the commuters on the Belgrave and Lilydale lines. Theatre Place was still a sleepy bastion of entrenched proprietors and heritage listed shop fronts. We made a quiet entrance into the world of performance art there, and given my somewhat shy disposition, I couldn’t have imagined it any other way. The street simply became an extension of our studio environment, though the first performances were not without their dramatic moments – a sudden gush of wind that sent our papers flying down the street and an easel like a sodden drunk, toppling, catching Philip square in the cheekbone. At the cost of time and patience, an image emerges; the artist’s growing increasingly preoccupied with internal workings. This was a process Philip often related to the notion of time travel, in as much as the passage of time seems temporarily suspended in its consequence, subordinate to the necessity of the act of creation.

The local shop keepers were slightly bewildered by our presence at first, and pedestrians were slow to intrude, but warmed to our low-key intrusion in time. I wrote the score for ‘Fan Fare’ the night before our third public outing; a simple exercise that at least moved away from the hammer and sickle connotation of ‘Dance of Life’, which did not go unnoticed by the Canterbury natives. The day was very hot, and we had our first ‘big crowd’. Some took shelter under the eaves and watched intently these strange abstract apparitions take shape, all the more unusual set amongst Christmas tinsel and young pines strapped to posts. I remember the paint almost drying on my brush in the time it took to reach the canvas. These first public outings were significant in that they gave us an important boost to our confidence – we now knew that we could do it.

Performance of "Dance of Life" 12/12/1987
Performance of “Dance of Life” 12/12/1987
"Dance of Life" pastel on Paper
“Dance of Life” pastel on Paper
"Fanfare" 19/12/1987 Theatre Place
“Fanfare” 19/12/1987 Theatre Place

FAN FARE 1FAN FARE 2

“Fanfare” 1987

My first attempts at "Thematic" composition with a theme derived from a light bulb. November 1987
My first attempts at “Thematic” composition with a theme derived from a light bulb. November 1987

Another new Peter Graham score came to life that December, ‘Self Portrait – Portrait of a Square Split’, orchestrated for performance by Philip, the original notation having been written in 1976 by my father, but never painted. This was significant in that it became a key focus of my later notation exercises, to interpret the disparate collection of prototype scores left by my father. Philip also made numerous attempts to create workable scores out of the paintings and notations on scraps of paper, ‘Sun Hi Midday’, ‘Flower Piece’ and ‘Square Primary Exercise’ to name a few.

17-12-1988 117-12-1988 2

“Self Portrait – Portrait of a Square split” Acrylic on canvas

I continued making my own drawings enjoying the silky glide of oil pastels in particular. Sticking to the guide lines of ‘taking a line for a walk’, my own ‘Linear Extensions’ quickly became more inventive and more confident in there execution. However, confidence was never an abundant trait and I remained shackled by a sense of doubt as to my own ability. My father always said that he was never the most talented student, but made up for this by working hard. This assertion belies that of one of his fellow students at the National Gallery Art School in the 1940’s, Helen Brack who recently said “we all thought he was the one to watch”. In comparison I guess I felt I needed to work doubly hard. When Philip referred to me as someone who could create accomplished works of art using the Notation and yet couldn’t draw a tree to save myself, I felt embarrassed and incensed. I wanted to be a visual artist, and for me that meant embracing and with practise, mastering different aspects of visual expression. In time I gradually introduced more conventional approaches to observing and drawing from life, but I began with the drawing of a line, imbuing it with character, and using that line to build a composition in conjunction with shape and colour. These simple principles formed the core of my first years of picture making. In this way, my learning to draw was back to front. Instead of starting with a representation and moving away from that with time and experience, I started with a purely non-representational form and slowly introduced a subject. Because of this, I’ve always felt more at ease working with flat spaces, forming depth by use of layering rather than perspective. Even my most stridently figurative works have this connection to abstract shape and line.

A selection of my oil pastel drawings from 1987
A selection of my oil pastel drawings from 1987

 

More important at this time was the embedding of arts practice in my daily routine. Picture making subdued the roar of the playground, the rowdy classroom and basketball court. Everything else imposed itself on my senses, but drawing in the privacy of my bedroom restored me to my own being. It was there that the intensity of feelings could find an outlet and I would screw myself up, spring loaded, to start a new work. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t draw. The practice had attached itself to my spirit, as necessary as food and drink, and a continuity of ideas began to emerge, each new picture containing the seed of the next. At school I was becoming known for my strange drawings, not always receiving favourable attention. Then I would give a nervous laugh to disguise my disdain, which served to prompt me to bury my interest further. When I was much younger, I drew a colourful creature on a piece of card, inscribed “Duck by Euan”. When my mother saw the picture, she exclaimed with delight at my creation, and I promptly tore it into pieces. My reaction in 1988, when a friend nominated me as suitable to participate in the creation of stage set for a school play, because I was ‘someone who can draw’, I felt a similar reaction over whelm me revealed in my stark denial of ability. I was so under confident and sure that it needed to stay in a safe place shielded from judgement for a while longer. At the end of the school day, the journey home was always a welcomed relief from my peopled life, and I would be careful to keep good distance between others on route to Auburn train station. With the afternoon light beginning to deepen, I enjoyed kicking my way through the spiky seedpods of London plane trees and then deciphering graffiti along the miles of shunting line. Sometimes the tangled words seemed reminiscent of the extended themes of a New Epoch set.

Author: crowcries

Euan Benjamin Graham I decided to become an artist when I was 14 years old in 1987. I have pursued my vocation with dedication and a complete single mindedness. Pictures are like people, they have their own life. I have embraced the streets recently as a venue because pictures need a lover, and artists become intolerably frustrated without an audience.

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