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.
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.
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.
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.