In the early months of 1988, we set about the task of making a purpose built easel for performance. Philip based his design on an easel built by my father in the 1940’s with a forward slope to allow drips to fall away from the canvas. The Tri-easel would rotate on a central disc as well as each of the three uprights spinning independently. This was critical to the visual impact of the performances, as well as allowing a more natural collaboration between the artists without their having to shift stations. Philip then designed and built a bi-easel to further add versatility to our performance capabilities. These easels formed the core of our presentation, unique in their character and purpose, and eye-catching even amongst the most colourful and elaborate of settings.
‘Construction’ was a score I based on the tools and processes involved in the building of this first Tri-easel. One theme was derived from a saw, the other from a drill. The duet was inspired in part by some of the incidents and accidents that occurred during assembly – a drill bit catching my thumb on its way through the round base disk, and a backward motion of the saw that carved a neat gash in my thigh. The title was prematurely listed on the performance program of the large Peter Graham retrospective exhibition held at the Roar 2 Studios in April 1988. Despite several attempts to complete the composition and bring it up to performance pitch, in remained a work in progress, better left for the trial and error of studio practise. Better works along the same lines were amongst my early oil pastel drawings. These were simple exercises with a sparing palette and sensibility for line colour cording that was reminiscent of the frame within a building, the bones of a structure.
Later that year, we performed for the first time a new composition by Philip called ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ at Theatre Place, which further served to illustrate the importance of studio rehearsals as a necessary act in the process of developing a performance ready score. The paintings were based on small coloured ink drawings that did not translate to a larger format and the different materials being used, in this case acrylic on paper. This raises the issue of scale and how the notation can allow for maximum interpretive input from the performer. If a small scale has been chosen, (time signatures for thematic information may need to be adjusted accordingly). Also when choosing a large scale, ingredients may need to be increased as in a recipe catering for double the dinner guests. At this time we still remained faithful to the intensions my father held when outlining his concepts for composed art. He asserted that the composer determines the proportion of a work, but the actual scale of performance is up to the artist/performer. He wrote:
“The size of the work is a subjective value judgement, part of the inner concept of the composer but very much the outer display of the performer. It is the composer’s role to stimulate the sense of scale in the performer, and it is the performer’s role to perform the work in a way that enhances the composer’s concept. Scale, however, is subject to practical considerations. While it is wonderful to become involved in a mammoth performance, or in the delicate skills of minute manipulation, the performer has to be practical and the composer able to temper ideas to the physical limits of performance…”
For our first trial with the Tri-Easel, we chose our veranda to set up. Crammed in with an old armchair, another relic from my grandparents’ house, its weathered leather now resembling the scales of an extinct reptile, ripped and bald, where the dog curled up, and a Ping Pong table of wood chip also entering a state of decay – it was hard going. We had recruited Joyce Yuen, a Second-generation Australian/Chinese lady with slight proportions who was the mother of a school buddy, Derek. I had originally asked Derek to join us. We shared a lot in common, violin, a love of basketball and older siblings with an almost identical record collection. Derek would draw sports shoes and logos in his workbooks with a precision that foreshadowed his career as a head designer for a leading sports shoe company. He later told me that those school boy doodles had become his most important resource. However it was his mother Joyce, with some family history of artistic pursuit who came on board with apparent alacrity. Joyce contributed the idea of replacing the polystyrene cups we used to hold our paint during performance, with Chinese tea cups, the former being little better than confetti when caught by a strong gust. The veranda proved too difficult a venue, so we returned to the shelter of the workshop where rehearsals continued on the first trio performance piece ‘Leavings’ in preparation for the approaching exhibition of my father’s work.