Extended Vision

25-11-1989 (1)
Set Day 83
Surrey Day, Public Performance (25 November1989)
“Landscape and Still Life, Still Life and landscape” (performance 11) composed by Peter Graham
Performed by: Euan Graham and Philip Graham
Duration: 7 hours
Acrylic on Canvas (85 x 111 cm).

Our first regular paid performances, employed by the Camberwell city Council commenced in November 1989, set in Parks and Gardens in the South Eastern suburbs where a series of community festivals were held annually during the warmer months. Summer would cram the public places with noise and colourful fashions on festival day, food vendors adding the reek of hot oil to grass clippings and asphalt turning soft under the sun. Children gravitated toward soft drinks and ice blocks, and performers on stilts would create interest with face paint and lollies, weaving in and out of the crowds and catching the leaping light in the sequins of their costume. When they were close, their silhouette would suddenly be divided between land and sky, and perspiration could then be detected, for even holding a smile can be taxing on muscles only intended to be used some of the time.

We achieved a significant advancement in our interaction with an audience at these performances, and they established a new benchmark for us to aspire to. Doors were opening by degrees each performance. Martin Foote the Council Arts officer sporting a distinctive Karl Marx beard became both a supporter and mentor in a professional sense. He wanted a name for advertisements, prompting renewed discussions as to what we should call ourselves. Philip had coined the name ‘The Originals’ in 1987, something I always felt uncomfortable with due to my perception that it sounded a bit juvenile and pretentious. After a think tank of around 30 minutes, ‘Extended Vision’ was officially adopted, and a new era had begun.

Scan 14

Set Day 86

Canterbury gardens, Public Performance (25 February 1990)

“Portrait of a Square Split” (Performance No. 10) composed by Peter Graham.

Performed by: Euan Graham and Philip Graham

Duration: 5.5 hours

Acrylic on Canvas (103 x 103 cm).

Comment: A very successful day with great audience response. The weather was perfect and we were situated on an ideal patch of lawn close to the car park, over looked by the Canterbury station. We brought down Philip’s large yellow canvas ‘Gloriana’ and the recently completed Jazz painting ‘The Red Crescent’, to supplement the information on display boards. These served to create a lot of interest throughout the day. Philip had spent a marathon 11 hours the previous day preparing for this performance.

Our standard fee was $80 later adjusted to $100; a token amount prompting repeated apology by Martin for what usually represented 6 hours on the job not inclusive of preparation and disassembly. Our exposure to a broader audience base was of more significance and created new opportunities to engage with people and bring them into the performance. At the Canterbury Jazz festival, the lawns became a patchwork of picnic rugs and Tupper ware, and people ensconced for a good long while, settled in for an afternoon of repose and listening enjoyment. The paintings we worked on became part of that environment, and part of the experience of the day. Ownership of that experience was evident in people’s willingness to engage us, to participate in the performance and acknowledge the gradual and persistent evolution of the art works before them. We found a niche that was not jarring but remained unique in its quiet participation in the day’s events. A performance at a private party around this time, also served to illustrate the benefits of an act unfolding over many hours unobtrusively. People came and went between glasses and conversation. They had a go, only to return half an hour later to find a whole new prospect before them. The potential in performing in this type of situation remains largely unexplored, though always featured highly on our literature concerning ‘Extended Visions’ professional engagements.

At the Markham Avenue Reserve in Ashburton, we were swamped at times by children as young as five who could barely contain their excitement when offered a paint brush. One young boy working with Philip on his canvas spent four hours totally engrossed in his careful instruction and painstaking brushwork. His father later remarked that he had never seen him so determined and so focused. He was reportedly a ‘difficult child’ whose concentration span generally did not exceed a Looney tunes skit. Philip was a patient and kindly teacher whom children liked, and he would generously share his time and knowledge with anyone willing to participate. In comparison, I felt a little awkward, but I did develop techniques to handle the situation with time and experience. These performances became impromptu workshops where tutoring in painting technique and explanation of the notation became of equal importance to the quality of the final result. It was the process of the performance that held attention and engaged the imagination of our audience. Yet as testament to the strength of the compositions, rarely did we end up with a disaster that couldn’t be resolved with some careful handling and deft touches. The score represented a set of rules that could be taught quickly, demonstrated easily, and effectively reined in those who had a tendency to participle with a little too much enthusiasm.

Philip at Markam  avenue 08/04/1990
Philip at Markham avenue 08/04/1990

Scan 11

Set Day 89

Markham Avenue Reserve, Public Performance (8 April 1990)

“Passing Leaves” (Performance No. 3) composed by Philip Graham.

Performed by: Euan Graham and Philip Graham

Duration: 5 hours

Acrylic on Canvas (99 x 129 cm).

Comment: Excellent audience response throughout the day. Two ten year old boys, Damian and Matthew painted with us for the better part of 4 hours, much to the astonishment of their parents. There was a huge rush of kids toward the end wanting to paint, the net result being the near obliteration of the canvas I had spent most time on during the day. It took all our effort to keep the situation under control, and it was hard not to see the funny side of things. The attention we received again did not go unnoticed by Martin Foote, and he expressed his pleasure at our contribution to his festivals, referring to us as his ‘star attraction’. Before the kids stole the performance, Jan Martin had turned up with Campbell Robertson Swan, who was extremely impressed with us, hinting at future job prospects.

 

 

1990 was my final year at high school, and as a result, a desire for isolation, late night radio and dream canvases preyed on me to the extent that my feelings grew out of a dichotomy of purpose. Achieving at school was so very important, and though New Epoch Art was at times distracting, it also existed as a source of hope and a place to indulge my passion. Painting had become an integral part of my life, a challenge, a joy and a source of personal growth. The works I painted that year were largely about feelings. Their subject, born of an evocative title, and encompassing the evolution of the painting and then its final appearance. In works such as ‘Midnight Bloom’, ‘Flight of Fancy’ and ‘Summer Lightning’, I tried to evoke an almost childlike response to natural phenomena, a subject that was to continue to sustain my interest; a bolt from the dark that delivers an instinctive shiver of excitement, as if experienced for the first time. Painting offered the opportunity to sink into myself and search for these joy moments, easing the pressure of pending exams. Like the music of light uncovering a vista, only of the mind with all its dark spirals and fluttering language.

"Flight of Fancy" 1990 pastel on paper 90 x 70 cm
“Flight of Fancy” 1990 pastel on paper 90 x 70 cm
"Midnight Bloom" 1990 Acrylic on canvas 70 x 90 cm
“Midnight Bloom” 1990 Acrylic on canvas 70 x 90 cm
"Summer Lightening" 1990 Acrylic on canvas 160 x 100 cm
“Summer Lightening” 1990 Acrylic on canvas 160 x 100 cm

The final work for my year 12 portfolio demanded a larger canvas which I approached with some degree of trepidation. Philip helped me build the stretcher, designed to last a thousand years as was his pen-chant for engineering. ‘Monument’ as it became known was a strange hybrid, favouring a predetermined shape containing the paintings detail. This was also true for the ‘Flight of Fancy’ drawing with its colourful ascendance skyward. I was interested in portraying a static rendition of movement and I identified the large shape as a theme in itself. My school ‘Preshil, The Margaret Little Memorial School’ was interested in purchasing the work for display in the old peeling white hallways of ‘Black Hall’. I asked $1000 for the canvas, a price too steep that was indicative my reluctance to part with it, more than my interest in making money. This tendency still plagues me today, though now having accumulated so many pictures, the challenge of storing them gives greater credence to the idea that the pictures are better off out there, hopefully being enjoyed by someone. During the year I had let my hair grow, it was my way of asserting my personality as finally separate from my school peer group from who I felt increasingly isolated. It was as if the more I exposed myself in pictures, the more I felt the urge to cover up my person and a beard was soon to follow.

Preshil played a valued role in my art education, in that my teachers were happy to leave me to my own devices; an approach that would not and did not work for everyone, but seemed to be perfectly suited to my temperament. It was a time during the 1980’s where curriculum leant toward encouraging freedom of expression, uncluttered by pedagogical bias, in contrast to the rather mannered and utilitarian approach of the current era. To this day the school still places great emphasis on traditional alternative learning practices, through which children are encouraged to explore and experiment to find their own meaning and to develop an independent voice.

It would appear that not a whole lot has changed since I last attended this school in 1990. Information and Communication Technology is mentioned in the website only once in comparison to its nearest neighbour Carey Baptist Grammar School, where ICT is promoted as being fully integrated into the classroom environment, and all the latest technological advances are readily available. There was always a kind of uneasy relationship and rivalry between the two schools. ‘Carey’ being the prim and proper institute with dress code and state of the art resources tailored to crafting our ‘future elite’, and Preshil supposedly being the bunch of wild things devoid of discipline and coherent structure. Well that was the reputation anyway, the reality was quite different. We didn’t have ‘organised sport’ for example. The school placed great attention on the fact that everyone develops at a different rate and was reticent to place artificial measures on performance. However, I remember being one of a group of students who approached the sports-master at Carey, in order to arrange basketball matches with our esteemed rivals. Our ragtag team took great pride in the fact that we creamed them on their own grounds, despite their ‘discipline’, smart team uniforms and immaculate facilities! It was this kind of initiative that was encouraged and promoted.

These first paintings were a mystery to me, pieced together using the knowledge gleaned from performances and my own bedroom meanderings. I was left to my own devices at school, my teacher not wishing to intrude and so these pre-apprentice visions escaped meaningful dissection. They were unlike anything else that was being produced in the art room, and so were awarded the distinction of being unique and original. I new they belonged to a broader continuum, a method that I was yet to emerge from – the thought of which existed as proof of limits. I understood that painting was a process, not something so predetermined. It had to be brought forward from a meaningful place, even if that meaning becomes obscured in the layers and devices of picture making. I worked on ‘Monument’ over a period of two months and the sight of the workshop was welcome relief from the bustle of the school art room. I could recognise the need to create heroic occasions, and the painting took shape segment by segment, sometimes intoxicated by the moment, springing into existence by force of will and at other times just happening as naturally as grasping for a new tub of phthalo blue. Imagination and pluck were needed in equal quantity, and all this existed in my most secret life.

"monument" 1990 Acrylic on canvas 130 x 160 cm
“monument” 1990 Acrylic on canvas 130 x 160 cm

Construction

The first "Tri-Easel" constructed in January 1988
The first “Tri-Easel” constructed in January 1988

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.

Early versions of my composition "construction " based on the tols and process involved in building the "Tri-Easel".
Early versions of my composition “construction ” based on the tols and process involved in building the “Tri-Easel”.

‘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.

Pastel drawings from the first months of 1988.
Pastel drawings from the first months of 1988.1988_003 CONSTRUCTION 2.

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…”

Philip painting "Leavings" in the workshop, February 1988
Philip painting “Leavings” in the workshop, February 1988
14/02/1988
14/02/1988

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.

Philip and I with new recruit Joyce Yuen February 1988
Philip and I with new recruit Joyce Yuen February 1988

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.