Toward the end of my studies that year, I researched the Dada movement for a presentation for my tutorial group, which included a spirited rendition of a Kurt Schwitters ‘Sound poem’. I marvelled at the diverse nature of the events held at the Cabaret Voltaire, a Mecca for young artists in Zurich during the first world war, wishing to challenge the status quo and combine the exposition of new art with a political agenda. The Cabaret Voltaire proved to be pivotal in the propagation of those art ideas that served to challenge existing conventions. They presented themselves as a progressive zeitgeist as the world raged around them in murderous combat, featuring artists working across a diverse range, with an experimental spirit, many of whom went on to redefine the nature of their discipline. I envisioned our own happenings taking place, being uniquely inclusive events offering a smorgasbord of artistic enterprise and a holistic approach to art presentation. I had imagined the audience entering via a sonic web of ‘sound Extensions’ with strategic lighting inviting visual insights into a larger universe of invention.
I set about rallying Philip and Baden to the cause of emulating these ventures over the Christmas break. The idea was to facilitate a gathering of like minds and supporters, an ambition we had always sought to pursue, but in a more concentrated fashion under the banner of ‘A New Epoch Experience’, conducted on the 5th of December 1992. Our ambition flew us into action, picture rails with a rough bevel adorned the ‘Green room’ and the whole house was transformed into a suburban gallery for a time. No one could find fault with our energy and commitment, though our presentation was a far coo wee from polished and our exuberant ambition a malaise of the young. My rather difficult atonal audio experiments were eventually replaced by cool jazz, and the billed appearance of composer Sonny Chua replace by an apologetic absence. No such event would be complete without a manifesto, and the ceremony of its signing was then conducted by the light of the same orange lamp that had illuminated children’s skits beyond the French doors in a previous time. My main regret was not having the courage, or theatricality to launch into my own abstract poems assembled with random words cut from a newspaper.
We launched ourselves into a second large jazz canvas approaching the proportions of the Canterbury mural and taking its lead from that composition. This created a false wall between the kitchen and dining room. The Jazz painting was built around balancing diagonal tensions, which provided a structure upon which details clung like debris around a drain hole. The rhythmical, abstract composition continued to assert a Jackson Pollock influence, particularly the linear contours of his earlier totem paintings before the more overt architectural qualities of his work were replaced by the signature free-flowing ‘drip’ technique.
Philip’s contribution to the exhibition was a selection from his ‘yellow period’ paintings merging non objective exercises in thematic complexity with the emotive values belonging to the instrument yellow. These included a large canvas ‘Yellow Death’ which tried to resemble an imaginative idea of the form of a cancerous growth. It was aiming to depict a morbid subject using a colour traditionally perceived as bright and cheerful. This painting relates to a fine drawing of the same subject that had impressed me greatly which was worked on during the time immediately prior to our father’s passing. My display included one wall full of the garden pictures of the previous summer, and the other given to my ‘Soliloquy’ paintings that Philip dubbed naive figurative. Baden showed a number of canvases relating to his reversal art ideas that were the basis of his first one man show earlier in the year. When you look at a painting, all you see is the end result of a complex process. Reversal art involved the exploration of the whole visual experience of creating a work of art, from its beginning, to its end. With this in mind, Baden reversed the techniques of his painting in order to analyse that process. Of particular interest was his concept for a self-portrait, where the score allows characteristics of the performer to be incorporated, ensuring that the self portrait is always of the performer, rather than the composer.
We put together a second ‘Experience’ exhibition staged on February 13th 1993 buoyed by the reaction our first venture received. It was a smaller turn out which aided a truly interactive performance of “Life in the Garden”. We set up an easel in each main room of the house and completed single basic plain scores without shifting between turns. It was a good day resembling more a master class than a public performance.
We struggled to ignite the same enthusiasm for the exhibition in the following weeks, however I did manage to sell five works, ‘Bamboo’, a painting from my Garden series hung for the first ‘Experience’ exhibit, and four small drawings from a set that were based on a vivid dream sequence involving magical resistance fighters, strange transformations, courtship and romance. People in the dream had been transformed into colourful creatures, gardens into aggravated havens of ‘witchful’ danger, the sequence progressing rapidly and without clear explanation. Essential to the working of these images was keeping colour selection, and form creation, as spontaneous as the dream had been. At the conclusion of the exhibition, I swapped a small canvas ‘Forrest Glade’ for an electric guitar owned by Baden. This added another sound and texture to the recordings that followed, and coupled with a borrowed Dx9 Yamaha keyboard, I embarked on a new collection of musical experiments later titled ‘The Sculpture Garden’, initially intended as a sound track for a third “experience” exhibition, and achieving a more harmonious and ethereal quality.
We didn’t have huge crowds at these events, but we did have a core group who continued to support us by their reliable appearance, the most dedicated of these being Linton Mcfadzean. Linton represented a link to an earlier time, having been involved with a small set of recordings made of my father in 1978 talking in front of his retrospective exhibition at his Queensbury St Gallery. The small production company known as ‘Stringybark’ was headed by playwright Paul Davies and the grainy super 8 footage was intended as the beginning of a larger essay. Linton was a character wedded to the art opening, with a perennial wit caught between insight, irreverent fun and intoxication. Dark tragedies were hinted in his eyes and were temporarily resolved in the bustle of the party crowd. His arrival was always a welcome omen, as if festivities or commiserations could only then truly commence. I often wondered what part a frustrated artist had played in his making. His laughing voice seemed to uncover amusements in even the dowdiest of gatherings and greyest of weather. His unheard compositions and theories were in-turned and so forsaken in casual conversation sparkling with bubbly – the opulent music of the soul.