Juan Sanz had first befriended Philip in 1985 at R.M.I.T, I remember him coming out to visit us and spending the evening talking art and Philosophy with our father, finishing with a translation of the wild banter captured in interval on an album of Traditional South American folk music (the ‘Flutes of the Andes’ had been a childhood favourite that remained on regular rotation well into youth). I used to dance to the tunes underneath my fathers painting ‘Kangaroo Paddock’ and make connections between the shapes in the painting and the twang of the instruments. Juan was a big physical presence in the room and wore a distinctive leather vest he had fashioned himself. He was a gentle man despite this, possessing a warm spirit and an infectious smile and his calmness juxtaposed with worldly tales made for a totally convincing character. We introduced Juan to New Epoch Painting through the medium of Visual Jazz, and we spent many evenings totally consumed in the creation of larger scale paintings on paper with titles such as ‘The Ship Who Sang’, ‘Gypsy kings’, ‘Private Joy’ and ‘The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe’. Juan’s rather strident approach, and strong emphasis on black line immediately introduced a new aspect into the work, and proved to be an interesting foil for the more controlled techniques Philip and I had evolved. After exhaustive sessions we would perch around a small fire and watch Juan finger the hot coals in fond reconstruction of childhood memories back in Spain.
Philip secured a contract to conduct 4 performances in the city square for that December, hired by a Government sponsored organisation called ‘Fantastic Entertainment in Public Places’. It was to be our biggest exposure to date and we set about giving Juan something of a crash course in New Epoch Art performance. His enthusiasm for the project was matched only by the need for urgency in preparing for the gig, and we finished the week with all hands on deck to build stretches and stretch nice clean white canvases. It was not unusual for preparations to take longer than the performance itself. We were in desperate need of new scores, having all but abandoned recent efforts to perfect ‘Sun Hi Midday’ and ‘Flower Piece’, both scores derived from works in my father’s archives, and brought to life by Philip using the language to channel the composers original intensions. Juan brought in the idea for a new score, ‘The Medicean Stars’, which proved to be a problematic work, and consumed many hours in correction and adjustment as we struggled to concoct a composition worthy of performance. We worked on adapting Juan’s original artwork, inspired by Galileo’s discovery of the four moons of Jupiter in the early 17th century. These celestial bodies were the first objects to be seen orbiting something other than the Earth or the Sun, and the process creating the trio score with pencils and A4 sheets, passed around as if the stuff of some antiquated ceremony, seemed to be a task of equally challenging proportions. The medium once again provided us with scant information about how the easel turns would translate to acrylic on canvas in front of an audience. The real challenge was to harness the spontaneity and energy of the Visual jazz works and not become shackled by the process and the pressure of needing another successful performance set that reflected our creative aesthetic at that time.
At the end of one long day in the city square under the sun and the pressure of constant surveillance, our feet ached with a persistent swell and the results of our day’s painting were less than inspiring. ‘The Medicean Stars’ were looking more like flannelette space invaders, and reduced by dread and shorn of the kind of confidence necessary to make the incomprehensible legible by the nature of its very existence, we commenced the pack up. ‘Each to their own poison’ was the parting remark from one be-suited, rotund pedestrian with eyes like wispy spears, designed to laugh and ridicule and dismiss, and we went home expecting the wheels to fall off the car at any moment. You can change a face, curl a smile in a suggestion of confidence, knit a brow to reflect a morbid conclusion, but one thing you can’t change are eyes. They reveal as much as they absorb. We should have felt brisker in the circumstances, but the weight of the climate coupled with this unending insecurity regarding the merits of the composition we were presenting crept in to ripen an uneasy malaise.
The performances in the city square were by no means a failure however. The exposure we gained was unprecedented and had we worked still harder at composing, we may have succeeded better. But at the same time, the performances lived a life of their own, detached from our figures casting busy shadows and the subjects they represented but never truly described. Without cowardice, we stood against a back drop of sky scrapers, eyes open upon the artefacts. Moments passed, with laughing faces and wide eyes, having found a new obsession all be-it briefly, then like huge colourful insects, disappearing into the street maze. One man’s contempt may leave one indifferent to the experience, but we also recognised countless profound resonances which brought artist and audience together in a meaningful way. We had taken to the street originally out of expediency, to uncover an audience and to forge an identity. But with the increasing prevalence of these paid gigs came the awareness that money was the surest and swiftest means of acquiring acceptance, and self belief.
Set Day 115
Balwyn North Swimming Pool, public performance (27 January 1991)
“The Medicean Stars” (Performance No. 4) composed by Juan Sanz.
Performed by: Euan Graham, Juan Sanz and Philip Graham
Set Day 116
Camberwell Swimming Pool, public performance (17 February 1991)
“The Medicean Stars” (Performance No. 5) composed by Juan Sanz.
Performed by: Euan Graham, Juan Sanz and Philip Graham
Duration: 4.5 Hours.
Set Day 117
Canterbury Jazz Festival, public performance (24 February 1991)
“Leavings” (Performance No. 14) composed by Peter Graham
Performed by: Euan Graham, Juan Sanz and Philip Graham
Duration: 6 Hours.
These were greatly anticipated days, the end of school. I had imagined it for so long, living by a new rhythm, and the indulgence in caprice that comes with the idea of freedom. Beyond the avoidance of an end of exams bash in favour of a quiet evening of drawing in my bedroom, I soon found myself caught up in new pressures, a first kiss, a car accident a week out from receiving my P plates, and of course all this frenetic ambition centred around the workshop. I was consumed by an internal limbo, or at least the threat of one, as university rejection letters filtered in. The birds were louder, less entertaining than before, and the sky awash with early morning colours above the grid of power lines and wet branches seemed to frame my fears for the future perfectly.
A new composition at this time was ‘Dance of The Hours’, derived from my painting ‘Moonlight Banter’ which had existed as an idea and sustained a sense of freedom while preoccupied by the work load of year 12 studies. Various sketches of the work would appear in the pages between essays, and on lists of ideas yet to find form. It reflects this growing confusion as to what to paint, the conflict being resolved in the somewhat awkward union between the figurative subject and a non-figurative approach. The first Gulf War was all over the news, and my imagination infused with scud missiles, and eminent nuclear threat evoked a sense of flashlights and flak above Bagdad. It was a complicated trio which ultimately proved to be too demanding for public performance. Central to its failings was a critical imbalance in the quantity of thematic structure added to each basic plain. This led to one artist waiting around while the other two struggled to catch up. This does create an opportunity for additional tasks to be carried out or multiple turns to be completed, but at the time with our very rudimentary performance capabilities, it simply led to an awkward hiatus. These were the first paintings in which I tried to introduce an easily recognisable subject.
In March 1991, I began my Bachelor of Fine Art at the Caulfield campus of Monash University. I was a B letter entrant, which was hardly a ringing endorsement, but I got in and was determined to make the most of it. All of a sudden I was being exposed to traditional painting techniques and exercises including appropriation and painting from life. Brush technique, colour mixing and formal composition were an alien language to me, and through the course of my studies, the challenge was as much about unlearning the New Epoch approach, as assimilating the wealth of new knowledge I was faced with. I was the first in my class to set up an easel and start painting, all be it in the corner of the large studio, with the physical presence of walls to brace my tentative beginning. This was perhaps an indicator of my experience in pushing on regardless of the circumstances, while others loitered uneasily in a group, getting to know each other with soft self conscious voices as if in a library. I had packed a square of canvas and a stretcher, which was set upon by the lecturer Roger Byrt who saw an opportunity to engage in a ‘how to’ demonstration. He slammed the pieces of the stretcher against the wall to emulate a right angle, but even the naked eye could see a fat diamond appear. At home I had to re-stretch my urban environment with its border of thematic wallpaper fighting a factory scene out of the window, a miss matched work that Roger found perplexing though ambitious. One of my class mates asked me if I was a graffiti artist, my response being coyly in the negative, remembering my considerable experience painting in public places, though never wielding a spray can.
I had taken a full complement of my father’s brushes and even some of his ridiculously expensive tubes to the large room in D block. One tube of brilliant turquoise seemed to glow on the canvas in contrast to its neighbouring inferior student colours. The brushes were all worn, and despite the best efforts of my lecturers, I was reluctant to part with them, as I felt they validated my being there. I took my father for a model for all he was, allowing for the large space left inside which needed to be filled. I tried to see in my lecturers, mentors, people who conjured motivation as easily as spinning a yarn or a look of discernment that could communicate in a flash. Roger Byrt in contrast presented as rather nervous and awkward. He had a kind of boyish charm that was diminished in the presence of more senior colleagues. He did remain present for a large part of the class, unlike others who would only be seen at the beginning and then toward the end of the day, so Roger became my primary point of contact for a large part of the year. In the holidays I would embrace once more the thematic imagery that welled inside, now augmented by scumbling effects and a desire to convey an art student’s passion in my marks. Much to Philip’s annoyance, I became buried in my studies, and despite pockets of resistance within me, I alloyed the new teaching to permeate my whole creative approach. I felt more allied to Juan in doing this, as he did not perceive it as a threat, or an act of betrayal, as Philip laboured under the perception that I had withdrawn from my commitment to Extended Vision and New Epoch Art.
Juan was employed behind the scenes in a workshop in South Melbourne, part of the Playbox Theatre, a major outfit at the Malthouse, and had gained an appreciation for the drama and presentation of theatrical performance. The flames were in our eyes and in our minds as we considered ways to incorporate Juan’s preoccupation. One idea was to automate the rotating of the easel using a small motor Juan had salvaged from a garage sale. And he was quite right; we needed to improve the visual impact of our performance. It was fine for us to have managed to fit into a day of Jazz in the Canterbury Gardens as an unobtrusive side act, but to become the main event required the rigorous pursuit of a new agenda. Philip had never wanted us to look like a bunch of ordinary guys. The idea of wearing the ‘Monoform’ was to set us apart, establish a theatrical presence and evoke our identity as performing artists. We set about this task by firstly creating jazz paintings that fitted around the card tables we used to hold our paint and brushes, like skirts. Tepees that could be placed as calling cards or silent spruikers strategically placed to entice a wandering audience in our direction followed these, and we also tried to paint a large market umbrella, which proved a sapping preoccupation, the course, un-primed canvas causing the paint to bead upon application, unless rubbed in with vigorous brush movement or zealous fingers.
These days were vibrant though fraught with an emerging uneasiness, fuelled by vacillating emotions, colourful anecdotes and what I came to feel as being a disingenuous regard for others contributions, harboured by Philip. Juan became someone with whom I could discuss my own experiences at art school, divorced from the rather bleak pragmatism Philip had cultivated. I was captivated one time when Juan hit his stride and began using a rag as a makeshift palate to mix a set of green greys. His brushwork became more aggressive and I recognised that same far away expression that my father had possessed, without the feeling that it was put on for the camera. I liked the earthiness of this approach and the assertion that you haven’t really been painting until you’ve got it on your face. I would come home from University after spending the day drawing from life, the creases in my fingers embedded with charcoal and my retinas still preoccupied with the difficult angles of limbs and the geography of skin, only to engage once again in long hours of painting with Philip and Juan. These sessions were not always harmonious, either in terms of personal relations, or in the art works they yielded. Debate was often heated as to future directions, and Juan’s rather robust technique at times seemed to clash with the more precise and sedate approach Philip favoured. In one work titled ‘The Ship Who Sang’, all seemed lost, until Juan applied a uniform series of black lines (his signature move) bolstering the painting’s sprawling detail. At once the work seemed to be resolved, resonating with a playfulness that belied the angst that had characterised and contributed to its creation.
Philip was always conscious of posterity and with a keen sense for the dramatic, postulated the potentially historical significance of any seemingly benign event. That what was being done was going to outlive the limits of our own interest. The running joke would become tiresome when not used as a smoke screen for genuine expectation and in the words of my senior Art School lecturer at that time Andrew Sibley, ‘you can bore the rest of the world all you like, it is when you bore yourself that the real problem commences’. Emancipated from the limitations I perceived, imposed by Philip, and encouraged by Juan’s contribution, I began trying to loosen up my approach, paint with feeling or at least let a feeling guide my instinct in the theatre of the moment. But the different ways our contributions took shape was becoming a seat of contention. Philip believed he bore the brunt of responsibility for ‘Extended Vision’, but I had other commitments, other facets of life that demanded my complete attention. I didn’t know enough to contradict him, I just had a feeling that something must eventually break.
We added the table skirts to the ensemble when we ventured out to Melbourne’s Moomba festival that March, where our most lucrative contract was played out. The crowds were generally not as tuned-in to the art experience as those in the city, however there were a few occasions when children in particular, needing little encouragement to participate would crowd around and vie for a turn. We were situated toward the outskirts of the main zone, an area designated for younger children’s entertainment, and seemed to encounter mostly tired revellers wanting to make a quick get away after exhaustive fun; or those, urged on by kids champing at the bit to reach the main attraction, the rides, games and lolly bags. We were very disheartened by the whole experience, and the momentum gained through the new season’s Canterbury Jazz Festival that again created enormous interest, was substituted for the need to take stock. At Canterbury we had a captive audience, and we had established an acceptance of a kind. It was a magnificent day, flowers everywhere and the low hanging oaks provided ideal shelter for hampers and thirsty children. I picked up a nicely gnarled stick and proceeded to state my themes with this improvised scribe, not a good choice given the circumstance and the audience’s apparent appreciation of skilful brushwork.
Set Day 123
Collingwood Town Hall, public performance (17 March 1991)
“Dance of the Hours” (Performance No. 3) composed by Euan Graham.
Performed by: Euan Graham, Juan Sanz and Philip Graham
Duration: 5 Hours.
Acrylic on Canvas
This was a multi cultural festival held in the inner city Melbourne suburb of Collingwood. We found the audience a lot more sympathetic than the hostile reaction we received at Moomba; however there was limited interaction with audience strangely. The sun was again our worst enemy, and at one point Philip looked like he was about to pass out, red as a beetroot or one of the many clowns and performers around us in make up and fancy dress.
We set about preparing for another exhibition at this time, to be held at Jan Martin’s Lyttleton Gallery, made up of the visual Jazz collaborations alongside solo works by Philip and myself. We spent the better part of a month framing these works in the half light of evening, an up turned circular saw to cut the rebate, and drop saw for the angle cuts that reverberated like a jumbo jet in a toilet block, until the neighbours complained. Using reclaimed timber, collected from the nature strip during the weeks preceding the hard rubbish collection, the frames were undeniably rustic, and in their unpainted state were an ill fit for the vibrant tones in the art works. Tensions were raised and arguments prevailed, Philip labouring under the assertion that he was doing the Lions share. He was to all intents and purposes acting as manager, promoter, salesman and team leader, but again bringing the art out of the kitchen was a challenge that frequently defeated us. The exhibition was to coincide with a two-day workshop held at the National Gallery of Victoria as part of the Gallery Society’s workshop itinerary. At the very time that we were making these giant steps professionally, personally, cracks were beginning to resemble inextricable chasms. At once, the presence of Juan could transform the dynamic, where we had argued, now we listened, but the novelty was wearing thin, and disagreements were increasing in frequency.
‘Temple of the Winds’ was my most successful work from that exhibition, taking the flight motif a step further and immersing it in the environment of the sky with other ethereal elements normally hidden from sight. Its title was taken from a rather robust and plain structure in the botanical gardens, in no way related to the floating forms of my creation. Although I am rarely comfortable leaving so much presence of the thin washes of colour that precede thicker paint, they seemed to be in keeping with the paintings spirit in this instance. This was the last time I allowed myself the freedom of indulging my old approach to painting – before the influence of art school. It could be seen as a letting go of that young spirit so taken with the idea of becoming an artist (a status only really bestowed upon one by others), in emulation of my father and brother before me. Of my new works containing all the grubby imperfections of student muddle headedness, only ‘Disco Boy’ attracted definite praise. A painting that stands apart from everything previously attempted, and for this reason always feels like a reticent dabbling in a foreign aesthetic.
The exhibition in which ‘Temple of The Winds’ was shown, was not exactly a failure, as it did score us an article in The Age ‘The Art of Painting in Numbers’ by Rebecca Lancashire, again driven by a human-interest perspective. In the course of the interview, I was at pains to point out that I didn’t practice New Epoch Art at the exclusion of other modes of expression. In fact the one feeds off the other in a symbiotic fashion. The photographer became obsessed with the challenge of capturing all three of us at the easel, the cramped condition of the workshop foiling his every strategy including tricks with mirrors. Eventually he relented and placed our smiling mugs against the market umbrella, a shot that never made it to print.
The Art of Painting in Numbers – Rebecca Lancashire discovers a new method of painting that puts art into partnership. The Age Saturday 25 May 1991.
Imagine a new language that allows anyone to create a professional-looking painting simply by following the instructions.
The language is like a musical score; the artist “plays” a notational code that is a guide to colour, form and structure and the result can be a visual symphony. The score also allows for individual interpretation, so each completed work reflects the artist’s own style. And as in a symphony, a whole orchestra of painters can collaborate on one work.
This was the late Melbourne artist Peter graham’s dream and life’s work. “He wanted to counteract the solitariness and elitism of life as a painter, to interact with other painters.” Said his widow, Cynthia Graham. “He dearly wanted people who were not trained in the arts to be able to produce a picture, to experience the joy of creating a painting.” It was also a search for a formalised approach to non-representational painting, to create a language of art so that anyone could look at a painting and understand it, she says.
To watch the “New-epoch” art movement at work is to see a performance. Three “paintists”, Philip and Euan Graham (sons of Peter) and Juan Sanz, stand by their canvases, which are joined to form a triangle. They are wearing brightly painted garments known as “monoforms”, and their scores, a complex looking matrix of instructions for the painting, are propped up on music-stands. Each artist is responsible for painting a particular colour and the shapes they create, looking at first like Japanese calligraphy, are known as themes. The shapes change as the score progresses and are enlarged or reduced, repeated and positioned on the canvas according to instructions given in the score. Suddenly the canvas is rotated and the work approached from a different angle. At intervals in the score, the “paintists” swivel the triangular easel and start work on each other’s canvasses.
The work they are performing tonight is “Leavings”, inspired by the fall of leaves in autumn. The shapes reflect the theme, hinting of this movement of leaves. Peter Graham aimed to represent the essence of his subject in the lines he chose for a score. “The piece shows the fall and decay of leaves in autumn. Finally it all decays before your eyes. In the end you cut across the work, destroying pieces of it”, says Philip Graham. As the work is performed, the meaning of the score becomes clear.
Euan Graham also paints in the conventional way and describes the New Epoch system as easy to learn but hard to keep in his head while performing. “It’s a completely different art-form to normal painting; the entire mental processes are different. When you are painting by yourself the act of composition takes up all your time and energy. With this, all your focus can go into how you are doing it. It’s very good in terms of refining your technique.”
Philip Graham says…”My father believed this was the best way of tapping the unconscious. Most painters have the terrible doubt about how a work will turn out; this way you don’t have to worry about it. You have a relationship with the thematic form. You bounce off it; it’s like a companion.”
Also, because the composition and actual production of an art-work can be separated, an artist can analyse these two aspects of the work in the same way that music or theatre is studied, he says.
New epoch art has endless possibilities. It can be performed simultaneously by a large group of any age or it can be a solo effort. “Paintists” can produce solo works using the thematic structures without the score. Nor does the medium have to be paint and canvas: a stained-glass window, for example, could be created according to a score…Most importantly, New Epoch painting is fun, says Cynthia Graham. “It’s a very humanising, sensitising thing to create; it’s so enjoyable and peaceful.”
Works by Philip Graham, Euan Graham and Juan Sanz are at the Lyttleton Gallery, 2A Curran St, North Melbourne until 2 June.
After the show at Jan’s gallery was hung and the low key opening followed by a dinner better resembling a wake, the exhibition hung silently for the duration then was taken down with solemn ceremony. Whether we think of the possibilities as a well spring or not, the same little dramas always emerge surrounding the public presentation of art work. In the studio, I-ness has emerged and the process remains internal – the need to resolve a form according to personal necessity. This sense of aloneness can only be cured by the physical presence of others – and audience and their engagement. When you are not actually in the gallery for most of the life of an exhibition, that sense of fulfilment fails to materialise in any substantive way. The idea remains abstract, the physical artefacts still attached by an umbilical stretch, can’t exist as a separate thing, and this separation is the source of an intense anxiety. It is a deep need to overcome this separateness that plays an important role in motivating one to exhibit in the first place. It saddens me to think that only things that earn prestige and money are valued and those things that profit the soul are viewed as a luxury of the misguided, or just a self indulgence.
The National Gallery Society Workshops were of greater importance. Walking through the hallowed back rooms I couldn’t help feeling like an imposter, and when to my great shock, an older student from my painting class at Caulfield was one of the paid up participants, the illusion was complete. I had been careful not to mention my extra-curricular activities whilst at Art school. When I was there, I was just another student. This separation was perplexing to my colleague, but it was very necessary to protect from scrutiny those aspects of my art practice that remained sacred. Everything else was fair game for analysis, but New Epoch art was bigger than me, and I was not its ambassador. Ideas revealed prematurely, laid out like a bleeding foetus risk irreparable damage. At a time of great change in my personal life, I needed more than ever that other place to fall back on, like a rich inner life that glistens with untouched promise or a pristine lake, each new idea sending out a ripple across its placid mirror.
The classes were a great success, two days of intense work-shopping with two tri-easels and our bi-easel catering for 8 participants in total. I did get the impression that my university colleague was less than impressed however. The way he lavishly applied the white at the final turn of ‘Leavings’ had an air of arrogance, mocking my instruction to remain faithful to the thematic structure. Needless to say his work was the least successful of the group. One other Rita, working with Philip continued working on her painting at home. She came to visit us some weeks later having entered and won a competition with the canvas. She had gone on to create several other works emulating the success that gradually brought in representational elements over-riding the dependence on theme. The works were an interesting hybrid and for a while we thought we had a promising recruit, until she announced her intention to join another workshop, this time in portraiture. She had ‘done’ New Epoch Art’ and was ready for the next adventure.
At the conclusion of the gallery society workshops we were running against the clock. The security staff were due to knock off, and we were told that the responsibility of paying over time fell to us. We hastened to the loading bay lift with all our equipment only to find it out of operation. The only alternative was to exit via a lift taking us to the main atrium behind the great water wall. Under close scrutiny from security staff not a little peaked at our intrusion, we hauled our easels out the main exit to our blue falcon waiting in the place a gelato van usually stands, raising more than one eye brow in the process.
That July we continued working on props for the performance, having abandoned the idea of the cones, we set about making ‘star bursts’ triangles of canvas painted with jazz designs that were to fan out from the base of the easel. It was during work on the third ‘star burst’ that Juan told us that he needed not to spend so much time with us. He explained that he was moving house and that renovations beckoned, but we took this as a resignation, and the session imploded when Philip threw his arms in the air and walked off. The exhaustive hours were putting pressure on Juan’s personal life, and there was this feeling that maybe we had gone as far as we could. It was a major set-back, especially for Philip who remained unhappy with my increasing absorption in my studies. I was feeling frustrated that my new knowledge was not being reflected in the New Epoch works we were creating. On a few occasions, a more expressive approach to applying the paint on canvas had been trialled, but this caused disharmony within the group as we were at cross purposes, resulting in a visual argument on canvas. The best part then was turning out the lights and letting the mess on the drawing board remain shrouded in a sleepy dark fashion. Then from behind the shutter eyes, flamboyance might creep in pouring out a crimson remembrance of better moments. The performance was like a dance, and the intrusion of personalities developed deviously, along cobbled bricks, and through cork corridors, always moving away from the memories draped in Hessian that created hidey-holes around the walls of my father’s Queensbury Street Gallery. Our shared history became distorted, new versions of the truth splashed around like the first washes of a fresh painting. The harsh words always returning to the assertion that one did all, while the minions hovered meekly.
A few weeks later when Juan dropped by for the last time, we took the conversation down to the local pub at peak hour on Camberwell road; the sort of place where the past meets the future in an uninhibited fashion. The jovial chink of glasses and lively after work banter seemed to sustain pleasantries, and we mused over a possible future, but we had already moved on. Juan kept reflecting about always doing something artistic, even with grand children on his knee, framing his ambition as well short of grandeur and recognition. Philip kept on throwing off about how he himself had now assumed the role of long haired bohemian art rebel, while Juan’s life was inexorably plunging toward the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage. I just clung to the still fresh novelty of a frothy pot with a clean bitter tang, and was pleased to be a more camouflaged accessory to the awkwardness of the circumstance. I went home smelling like an ash tray, in fond remembrance of the Juan Sanz era.