The following images are a collection of random photographs by people posing in front of our recent Hosier Lane Mural in Melbourne.
The following images are a collection of random photographs by people posing in front of our recent Hosier Lane Mural in Melbourne.
I threw myself during the Christmas break, into the task of contributing new compositions that reflected advancement in my understanding of the tonality of colour and complex colour mixing. To form this link was becoming urgent in order for me to maintain a creative interest in New Epoch Art. The jazz paintings created through the year had made significant advancements in the complexity of our use of shape and colour, and had left behind to some degree the few scores still active with the exception of ‘life in the Garden’, which continued to be interpreted in surprising ways.
Philip, Baden and I attempted one group composition at this time, a score written simultaneously to an improvised studio performance in the workshop. For this venture we employed a greater emphasis on glazing, fading from dark to light, and targeted plane work that caused the pictures surface to swell with vibrant activity masked in colour and augmented by a complete avoidance of geometric form. These works were different to the visual jazz coordinated chaos that had been emerging for some months, in which brush marks seemed to pile up on each other, themes strengthened and sometimes lost in the web of gesture. Having the language, and its disciplined cohesive syntax in mind changed the decisions we were making, all be it in a subtle fashion. Being used to a more conservative approach to structure in our formal scored sets, the images like a landscape of storms and weather garnished in the fizzle of extreme temperatures were discarded as being an interesting experiment, not quite successful. We were still very much burdened with the fear of losing our selves to the expression of the moment, forgetting the unique manner in which the notation may capture it and transcend its butterfly life with a noble longevity. I look at these pictures now as most effectively catching our running speed, our changing through light and dark, failure to triumph and later I coined the title ‘Red River’ in recognition of the passions that forged Extended Vision and our artistic cohesion.
‘The Tempest’ was a more disciplined attempt to create a performance ready set, again written in unison to its formative performance as was the custom at that time. Again the scale of these initial studies created a bias or predisposition to those proportions. An artist’s sense of scale is always linked to a medium in this way, as a title seemed for me to frame the intended finishing point and overall concept. It is the rhythm and flow of the paintings progression that is so critical to a successful performance.
Following on from the ‘Summer Blaze’ composition of the previous year, ‘Transitions No.1’ shows a composition type focused more on the evolution of the paintings than a series of acts leading to a finished work. This makes seeing the performance in all its stages of equal importance to its conclusion and the memory can live on to enrich the viewing experience of the end result. This idea was brought to the fore during public performances, where you were constantly aware of being judged by the audience and having to justify the appearance of the paintings at every stage of their development. The most radical expression of this idea was the ‘Hidden Imagination’ score that I wrote born out of a conversation with Baden. On the final turn the paintings are completely obscured by white, nothing remaining except the memory of the performance.
“Hidden Imagination” – Single plain composition returning to white on last turn.
In composing ‘the tempest’ and ‘Transitions’ I found that the language was not equipped to handle these new instructions for colour mixing, and this became a new source of tension within the group. Deciphering the rough draft scores like bad shorthand, was difficult enough without the feeling that I had broken some unspoken rule, and intruded on the domain of ownership. The New Epoch Art colour system represents a significant shift in the way we perceive the relationship between hues. It was born out of a life-long study by my father into the nature of colour, its associated theories and his own practice in both his trade and his art. While traditional theories have seen colour as a continuous gradated phenomena, the NEA colour language treats colour as seven totally separate primary ‘instruments’: red, yellow, green, blue, brown, black and white. My father asserted that every mix of pigment reduces its strength and should be avoided. Philip held firm on this position, while I advocated the subtleties achieved through mixing pigments were an essential part of the artist’s intuitive language. I did not understand why any limitations needed to be placed on the way a composer can manipulate ‘instruments’. The need for information such as when to preserve a prepared colour for the purpose of mixing later in a performance for me exposed considerable deficiencies in the existing notations capacity, a position that Philip instinctively recoiled from in the belief that it undermined his work, and violated the teachings of our father. At our ‘Art Around Town’ workshop and exhibition at a vacant shop front in Temple Court in January 1993, we rehearsed ‘The Tempest’ and Transitions N0.1’, both scores which were beyond the parameters of the language at that time.
Relations reached a new low on the first morning at Temple Court, and as tempers flared it became clear to me that this phase for ‘Extended Vision’ was coming to a conclusion, despite Baden’s enthusiasm to continue working. We had forgotten the keys to the shop, so it was charged to me to find someone in the office block who could help out. The elevator was larger than necessary, its buttons still gleaming from factory polish. It opened on to a grey corridor lined with easy clean carpets the texture of a clothes brush. This lead toward a world so foreign to me that I almost felt I needed a map and an English to office translator to proceed with confidence. There was a slight absurdity in my presence, and my reflection in tinted glass and burnished silver could have been any hobo out of time. A secretary quizzed me with a vague disregard. She was young, only a year or so my senior, and pretty in an air brushed magazine sought of way. She was dressed with a crisp clean style and with a walk that owned the carpet and the walls that were conspicuous in their lack of adornment. Her reflection in the high sheen was all that was necessary to complete the picture. Those few minutes away from the conflict waiting down stairs was enough to bring me to my senses. I didn’t want to be that person, fighting his brother. There was too much pain and it seemed so divorced from this other reality. We could hardly assemble the change for the parking metre through the day, our resources were low, our energy dissipated, and with just a dribble of passersby mostly from within those strange offices, the feeling of absurdity flourished into a full-blown melancholy trapped behind glass like a bizarre exhibit, my first taste of claustrophobia.
It was at this time that I began to feel that the language was too rigid, too restrictive to give rise to further innovation. The personal quagmire needed to find form in an intellectual argument. I remember feeling that we had put more energy into ‘the performance’ than we did composition, and I wanted to take it back to a more fluid state, and reinvestigate the motivation behind the symbols. Recapturing a spirit of experimentation was at odds with the public performance agenda of ‘Extended Vision’. Philip was justifiably protective of the language and adopted at times an authoritarian stance in its defence, frustrated by my needing to break the rules. There was not a specific moment that we made a decision to cease performances, it just occurred as a natural consequence of moving on with our lives. We remained locked down in our respective positions and for a long while Philip and I found even simple communication difficult, let alone complex negotiation.
What appealed to me was the experiment, failed or otherwise – keeping it in a state of evolution. This was akin to the assertion that art school was a place where you paint bad pictures; where you can make your failures free from the preciousness inherent in grasping for a success. The danger then is you end up recreating an elusive achievement, duplicating technique in a contrived fashion in pursuit of another favourable communication. Critical opinion only serves then to heighten ones self-consciousness of achieving worthiness. Painting is a private world, even when conducted amongst the challenges of a public place, where a clown may identify you as a target around which his whole act may be constructed.
A new score “Day After Day” contributed by Baden during the Christmas period of 1992 further illustrated the divergence in each of our approaches to painting, and seems to present more as a visual argument than harmonious collaboration, with the canvas predominantly worked on by Baden holding the melodic centre ground. This was an interesting composition holding much potential which did not get a chance to be reinterpreted repeatedly. The studio had a calmness this day, and shows Extended Vision at its peak working through new material and continuing to incorporate the “jazz” aesthetic into composed sets.
Extended Vision ventured forth once again to the Canterbury Jazz festival on the 28th of February 1993, with a new member Bernard Stahr taking centre stage in his first public participation. The performance got off to a less than ideal beginning, essential equipment having been forgotten and an extra journey home needing to be made to enable us to proceed. Tempers boiled over briefly before we settled in to a good days painting. The clouds were threatening on and off and eventually brought proceedings in a premature conclusion, but the event went some way toward restoring the enthusiasm and excitement of earlier performances. I fashioned a brush out of a fallen twig to make my themes appear more organic and scratchy, but reverted to a more traditional means after finding I was behind Baden and Bernard in getting through my turns.
The Canterbury Jazz Festival had been a staple of our public performance calendar and always seemed to lift our spirits as it was a happy occasion, and the audience was particularly accepting of our presence. It was a fitting venue to be our last public outing as “extended Vision” for many years to come, although we were by no means aware that this would be the case.
Philip continued to pursue the idea of establishing regular workshop sessions and Sporadic performances continued in the back garden at Canterbury through 1993. Philip was particularly interested in investigating the educational potential of the New Epoch language as so many of our participants in the community were of a younger age. A number of these events were very successful and provided valuable knowledge in relation to how to adapt New Epoch Art to an Education setting. We talked about making this a career, a living and Philip espoused passionately the possibility that we should make this our future direction. I was not sure I wanted to pursue the path he was illuminating, and Baden was still very much wanting to push the public performance in a theatrical direction.
New Epoch Workshop Proposal – by Philip Graham
Maximum size of class 17. Duration: one day camp. Two meals will need to be provided. Ideal location for workshop is a shaded outdoor area or a large well lit hall. Workshop environment is passively exotic, providing a non threatening but profound distraction from emotional and interpersonal baggage of the participants. it is a low stress environment, where participants can establish their own pace. it is relentless, slow burning, interactive, egalitarian and cooperative. Workshop activities Unpacking and assembling of equipment (one hour) Learning a new language (Half hour) Painting and drawing with acrylic paint on stretched canvas. Sharing and cooperating with other participants in the creating of complex images on different canvases. (four to six hours) Clean up (half Hour) Pack up of equipment (Half Hour) Comparative analysis and discussion. (Half hour)
Strengths of New Epoch Action Painting
It allows anyone to paint a picture even if do not know how or ‘where’ to start. Children as young as 7 have anticipated the meaning and purpose of notation structure. Demands social interaction and thereby over rides student rivalry. All of the composition advantages of the literary and musical arts become available to the visual and plastic arts (arts involving the manipulation of physical materials). A child can learn enough to start painting like an adult in an hour. The child can complete a mature, fully resolved painting in a day. A student can absorb the empirical knowledge necessary for ongoing study in a day. Depending on the individual, public performance is feasible with a few months of regular work. Mastery takes a life time. Workshops structure will quietly demand the following from the participants: Full physical mobility and flexibility, physical and mental endurance, rapid acquisition of new skills in the field, s concentration over an extended period, Advanced colour recognition advanced hand-eye coordination intimate but mostly non-verbal cooperation and goodwill between participants over an extend period, Expected outcomes. Participants will be exposed to a challenging creative experience with a guaranteed positive outcome. They will come away exhausted and dazed, but with a profound sense of accomplishment and physical proof of that accomplishment.
The value of the public performances conducted by ‘Extended Vision’ cannot be underestimated, even though they probably are to date a pale representation of what a properly orchestrated performance could be like. There is no doubt that we always tried to assimilate the spirit of the moment, even if I sometimes found the performance to be at a distance – to be edited at a later date. In this case the idiosyncrasies presented themselves to me in snapshots or dazzling snatches of memory. I was soon left with a vague notion, a numb glow bearing witness to my participation. Now the real snapshots seem lifeless fragments, not at all correlating with my memory feelings. The deeper immersion was always hidden within the words passed out to onlookers. We were throwing ourselves out there making the parks and streets our studio exposing our considerable vulnerabilities; but with all the skin deep confidence that comes with youthful exuberance. We could feed off a positive reaction, be buoyed by enthusiastic banter, be amused by puzzlement and be clipped by disregard. My father once said that the worst thing that could happen to New Epoch Art was that it be ignored. Whether or not we achieved ‘success’ in our endeavours is then secondary to the fact that we were visible and noticed by many and our extensive archives bear witness to the fact.
It appears now that we caused many small explosions of interest, evident in wide-eyed participants, and those respectful of a new idea, with little to no outside help. We operated with limited resources stoked by our enthusiasm and commitment. We presented a uniquely inclusive art experience and although we never advocated a subversive stance against prevailing trends in the art avant guard, in effect we represented a substantial alternative. In the early 1990’s, Postmodernism in art had reached an impasse, and with the catalyst of the stock market crash of 1990, enthusiasm for the movement had evaporated rapidly around the world. The precepts of appropriation, simulation, parody and pastiche, were now widely viewed as synonymous with plagiarism and cynicism. In this vacuum, a new acceptance of street art has emerged, but once again, art as commodity has sabotaged its merit. An image intended for the exposed bricks below a billboard advertisement or railway overpass, divorced from that context and placed in an expensive frame in a prestigious gallery seems to lose its soul. The new heroes of ‘Street Art’, Banksy foremost among them, have now been taken up by galleries and collectors scrambling for a piece, but there is a growing discontent within the ranks of the street art community with the blatant disparity between this success and the spirit that gave life to the art form in the first instance. New Epoch Notation Painting in comparison adds a new tool to an artist’s stable. It is not meant as an attack or affront on other forms of visual art, or as a replacement for traditional modes. In the words of my father, it represents “an attempt to project into the future, to formalise ideas and concepts that will inspire future generations to express their thoughts and feelings about the wonderful, complex experience called life”. It can be provocative, it can be avant-garde, and it can be closely aligned to traditional forms of visual art, depending on the composer’s intent.
Street art has emerged in recent decades as a significant force in contemporary art expression. A movement defined by its embrace of hybridism rather than by its adherence to prescribed boundaries. The urban environment then becomes integrated in the conception, purpose and display of the art works – it becomes the new canvas. Museum and gallery art has become largely about preservation of the art object, as something to admire and value. Street art attacks this idea, born of a need for artists to engage with the emotions of the audience in a direct and powerful way, uncluttered by art theory and esoteric conceptual frameworks. It is this desire for accessibility that drives its conception. While street art is identified as being ephemeral with scant consideration for the durability and longevity of the piece, it still relies on the artefact to carry its message. New Epoch art can contain all these same ingredients. By becoming part of an environment by sheer force of proximity and through the raw experience of seeing the marks go on the canvas, it achieves an accessibility that goes beyond the understanding or appreciation of any single static art object. The art of Banksy at least on the surface seems to derive its strength from the post modern preoccupation with obtaining meaning through critique of the patterns of authority and mainstream values in the visual arts. Now some of the buildings he worked on are heritage protected forcing housing prices up in suburbs where traditional residents are no longer able to buy into their place of origin, replaced instead by the new chic. Extended Vision aimed to share the experience of creation in an honest and heart-felt manner with the score acting as a measure and as the subject, not in a clandestine fashion or as an act of defiance or rebellion. Yet its potential to break open the debate about what constitutes good art and bad art is unparalleled in the modern era. The performance fades away, the canvases re-primed, but the score remains ready to be interpreted, and re-assessed again and again. In this way New Epoch Art is truly timeless.
That July, Philip noticed a promo in the front window display at the Regent Theatre for an exhibition at ‘The Hutt Gallery’ by Baden Johnson. The concept of ‘Reversal Art’, was in part inspired by the idea of revealing the process of the painting and making that the subject. Philip sensing a kindred spirit rang the gallery that afternoon and spoke to Baden who remembered us from our brief encounter at ‘The Hut’ Gallery performance back in 1988. Baden felt that he instantly knew, this was something he wanted to learn more about and become involved in. Baden’s presence injected a new energy into Extended Vision that saw us refine our performance technique and expand into a more diverse and professional arena. We donned white one piece suits that reflected a more workman like approach and embarked on a series of public performances that were to represent the pinnacle of Extended Vision’s achievement in visual presentation. Baden felt that we were like a rock band doing it tough, hard work rewarded by the sense of being part of something significant. We were a group, but not in the way that a rock band sets out to conquer the charts. There was no precedent for what we were trying to achieve, no established audience, just the shock of the new, time and time again on a grass roots community level. Unlike mainstream street art forms, where stencils and spray cans are employed to transfer traditional imagery to a new surface, New Epoch art was entirely original, in its concept and in its presentation. As a result of this we were received in every possible manner conceivable, from wide-eyed amazement, to a blink of dismissal.
Baden had developed an association with Margaret Stewart, the well-known collector and benefactor for acquisitions for the NGV. His Mother provided her with a house cleaning service, and Baden would help out on weekends and during school holidays. Margaret Stewart had taken Baden under her wing because he wanted to be an artist, and had showed him her vast collection including all the ‘big’ names, and introduced him to leading Gallery directors. She gave him art books, catalogues and financial support to purchase materials. When Baden had completed his first duet with Philip, ‘summer Blaze’, the tradition was always to give the finished works to the debutant. Baden took the works straight to show Margaret Stewart as she had promised to buy a painting from his first show. As Baden recounted, she loved the works and immediately agreed to buy them producing the money from an ample leather satchel. However the notes were soon put away again upon learning how the paintings had been created. She warned him to stay away from the Graham’s and told him that Peter Graham had a bad reputation in the art industry, as someone set on assailing the status of the individual, and that he was trying to destroy gallery art.
The first public outing with our new line up was as part of the Melbourne Fringe festival parade, which was to be followed by a performance, cancelled due to persistent drizzle. We had draped all our freshly painted drop sheets over the old blue station wagon, and with the easel secured to the roof racks we took our place meandering down Brunswick Street to the cry of ‘here come the artists’. Baden, embracing the moment, then jumped up on the car, and proceeded to rotate the canvases set up on the easel. This spontaneous act showed the very spirit we had been lacking, and was an unequivocal affirmation of Baden’s whole hearted engagement in the project. From the corner of my eye I could see faces change, and dressed in a power that arose out of the expectation of a colourful story to tell, I could hold my head up and fully embrace the moment. With the gentle mocking voices quietened, and strangers finding pleasing snapshots in our display, the day found new strength in pride, and we excitedly caught our selves fleetingly on the 6:30 news, as if we needed to see that to be sure we were really there.
In the Great Hall at The National Gallery of Victoria as part of the ‘Hidden Imagination’ festival of performing arts, we then unveiled our full regalia with drop sheets, table skirts and score stands built by Philip replacing the old metal music stands that blew over too easily in the wind. The auditorium was crowded that day, with stalls and presentations lining the grey walls beneath the enormous Roger Kemp tapestries. We ran through in good time ‘Life in The Garden’, its seventh performance, which was well-received and provided an interesting juxtaposition against the geometric stained glass ceiling. It should have been more intimidating, but the comfort of the cultured, air-conditioned venue was a reward after many seasons braving the elements. At the conclusion, we spun the tri-easel around in continuous motion, a gesture that came to signal performance end.
There were numerous performance artists roving around the grounds of the gallery. A group dressed in hospital blue adorned with shower caps, each one clutching a brick. Periodically they would cry out ‘BRICK!’ which made more than one visitor jump for their life, and created a disturbing tension in the room. Other acts roamed around dressed in outfits and stilts resembling characters from the ‘Dark Crystal’ and I gained a heightened consciousness of our own manner of performance. I was aware that the range of movements behind gestural marks contributed to the character and inventiveness of those marks. I noticed Philip adopting a bird like jerkiness in approaching the canvas, almost in emulation of the theme. The body conducts these movements that are swift, rhythmical and accurate, a dance at the easel in unison to the evolving nexus of lines enlivening structure on the picture plane. In a different setting the wind can cut right through you tearing into streamers your resolve, and then your snowman limbs might make spiky, clumsy marks hastened by the promise of a safe return to comfort. It could be argued that nothing exquisite can be created in a hurry. But freed from the rigours of perpetual invention, the artist can move with confidence from step to step, channelling facility in brush work and gaining this rhythmical approach to the easel.
At Baden’s urging we then moved into a different scene, with two performances for ‘The Lounge’ nightclub in Swanston Street which had an arty flavour and some exhibiting space. Both Baden and Philip were veterans of this world, intoxicated by the pumping beat and pulsing lights and offered me, a nightclub virgin, a parody of concern for my stoic nonchalance. We trialled a set of single easels created for linear performance designed and constructed by Philip to enable greater flexibility, and painted deep into the night finishing up with the rising of the sun. I held a conversation with one reveller, capturing an occasional syllable between sub-harmonic base licks and techno machine guns. His eyes seemed to express some sought of admiration though separated from his mouth illuminated in five second intervals by a strobe. The rest of the evening was spent struggling with a head full of noise, and eyes straining to comprehend the canvas in front of me which was pulsing in and out of darkness. The paintings were surprisingly competent, yet more evidence of the resilience of the ‘Life in the Garden’ score, and we ended the evening improvising additional turns as we had again made good time. Baden later felt disappointed that we didn’t explore this scene further, and I guess the side show amidst a sea of flailing arms was one pursuit that could have captured cult status in time.
Our next outing was at the prestigious Mornington Peninsular Art Centre, originally established by Alan McCulloch who had followed the career of my father in printed review, starting from his first one man show at ‘Gallery A’ in Melbourne in 1960. A large drawing of ‘roo skinners’ had been donated to the art centre in 1987, in keeping with my father’s wishes. The night of the performance was filled with ominous cloud formations herded by a racing windy sky. My stomach was threatened by a hastily consumed burger and I had lavishly applied deodorant in preparation. Packing the equipment was never a smooth process, often left to hurried minutes, invariably missing something important. The boot of the station wagon was laid with the easel uprights, tables and paint pots. The large circular particleboard base, strapped to the roof racks. Philip would often fly into a panic, hair hanging down giving the appearance of a grizzled monkey. I would hold my anxiety differently, letting it tense my face into a granite like grimace. Civilities would often dissolve in the bustle and allow rodent voices to take over. There was time fortunately to patch up the damage, an hour and a half drive, time also for other fears to be uncovered. The performance outing was becoming increasingly toxic, stirring up the same dark feelings that my last stage concert with violin had induced. In its aftermath, I sat smouldering; my fingers buried deeply in the marzipan flesh of my palms, leaving deep red imprints where the ghosts of nails may continue to grow. I could have melted the ice on the surrounding branches with my radiant heat, and caused the audience to peel layers and fan themselves with self conscious vigour. I felt immobile bearing the monolithic calm of a Rodin catching sunlight in my bronzed creases.
With only an a.m. radio challenged for reception as a distraction and the shock jocks gloating over the latest political misdemeanour, it was a long journey serving only to heighten a sense of foreboding. I was glad of ‘Life in The Garden’ as a score, it was easy to talk about leaves in their million shapely postures and hues, although my mind dwelled on a Caulfield conversation, in which Andrew Sibly had talked about the stylised shapes created by the extended leaf theme with a sour expression, as if overcome by a disagreeable odour. In defence I conjured the kinds of brush marks that can only add interest and promote inventiveness. With paint the texture of pan cake mix, and a neatly kept water colour brush, lines could be delicate and flowing, thin to thick in a single motion, evoking branches shattering the sky into a mosaic of shapes each one perfectly related to the idea of foliage.
As it turned out, it was an ill conceived plan as we had brought the carousel easel in anticipation of setting up in an open space. We were relocated to make way for the hoards and a parade and so the new lineal set up would have been more appropriate, braced against the glass walls as if the port hole of a goldfish bowl. The heavens then opened with precision timing while I watched helplessly, the car keys dangling in the ignition behind locked doors. Coming to my senses, recriminations resurfaced and a total melt down was only narrowly avoided by some friendly assistance by an astute bystander, possibly basking in the unlikely appreciation of his much-maligned skills. The venue was filled to capacity that evening, the audience jovial in their cups and their sincere interest hardly left us to complete a turn without enthusiastic question and answer. The lady folk all dressed up for the occasion, hanging with silver bling, the waft of perfume corralled by silk wings and filigree lace only slightly tainted by red wine and nibbles. The men were adorned in dinner wear, with an artistic swagger and an occasional peroxide mane and orange birds nest sprouting above a chic leather jacket.
The Canterbury mural had evolved out of a sign-writing job Philip had secured with the local ‘Maling Pharmacy’. A younger generation had taken the reigns and wanted to ‘funk up’ the joint, despite the strict style codes enforced by the Camberwell council. We took down our weird music and our overalls and ruled the side walk for a weekend, just a block on from Theatre Place where it had all begun. We promoted the mural as a homage to local artist Peter Graham, a sentiment that held little significance to others it seemed. The painting seemed to attract a great deal of interest from residents and some small degree of acceptance from the neighbourhood graffiti writers. The only incursion on its immense surface was in the form of a neatly penned quip in a bubble of ochre ‘John Howard’s brain scan’. Shortly after, it was scraped away by disgruntled council officials, indignant at the perplexing intrusion on the precious heritage aesthetics of the shopping precinct. It was a shame because the painting was probably the finest example of jazz composition and collaboration. But in keeping with a true performance spirit, the significance resided in the process, rather than the finished work with all its semi ritualistic devices employed to gain a confidence of surface that matched an idea of completeness. The same arguments surfaced when I added my sombre washes to nullify the sunniness of earlier passages, much to Philip’s annoyance. Spectrum hues greyed off to resemble a sun shadow or backyard burn off. All those little joy-notes like birdsongs on north wind were in my mind a necessary sacrifice, subject to the transformative process, through which the method becomes buried in successive layers. In losing and finding a painting, you can be certain of some shapes, like familiar furniture owning the corner of a room, largely invisible but none the less necessary. Change, then, is a necessary embellishment for the evolution and nourishment of art ideas.
Around this time, Philip was asked to judge the Warrandyte youth Arts award, by the Warrandyte Arts and Education Trust. He awarded the prize to peter Daverington, an emerging star on the graffiti scene, who also displayed considerable accomplishment in more traditional forms of painting. A friendship emerged and Peter came out to our home in Canterbury before long, to find out what New Epoch Art was all about. Despite Peter’s interest, he did not pursue performances with us, but this occasion did give us the opportunity to stage the first quartet performance in the workshop, using an adapted score of ‘Portrait of a Square Split’. Philip, now with the assistance of Baden had continued constructing easels, the ‘quad’ being the latest edition utilising the base from the original tri-easel. Three new Tri-easels with a more compact circumference had also been completed in anticipation of future group workshops. We were poised ready to expand our operation, and ideas of developing a new performance group with a more upbeat focus were kicked about. Its name was to be ‘Diamond Plus X’ in reference to the notation symbols, and all we needed was the right personnel or at least the right alter-egos clad in suitably provocative dress to take to the streets.
All that I thought I knew about painting again came under scrutiny with my return to Monash University to commence 2nd year studies in 1992. The sense of achievement, which came with the garden series, could not hold forever; it had to burst open from all that had collected inside and pour out like swill on the stained tiles at Caulfield. But the colours that represented life now were plunged into disrepute as one lecturer after another analysed to death my inability to recognise colour in a tonal sense. I abandoned my theme, and embarked on a set of works that bounced around wildly until I settled on the topic of inhibition, isolation, the private body and self-defence mechanisms, overwhelming feelings abounding at this time. I rebuilt my method, my brush strokes, and my subject matter and embraced more keenly, influences at the insistence of Paul Partos. He had wanted me to abandon original composition altogether, repeatedly telling me to find a good art book and just copy the pictures, but this went against everything I believed. The conceptual side of painting had to be developed in line with technique; I felt that one without the other was an empty exercise. The denial of habit in painting can be as much about style as the elimination of undesirable elements, and my repertoire in technique was sadly exposed as a series of bad habits. I reduced my palette substantially, preferring earth tones, mixing a set of blues or a set of reds but using yellow ochre or raw sienna as a base pigment. I used these tones to depict abstract thought or a soliloquy surrounding figures, like an aura ranging through burnt orange to terra-cotta and beyond to a murky purple describing a bruised ego. The full spectrum could be explored this way, though muted, without once exposing raw pigments to clatter against the eye. The vibrant clashing colours of earlier pictures soon became hard to live with as my sensibilities moved toward a more controlled understanding of tonal relationships.
This process was facilitated by criticisms. During one class when paintings were displayed in the atrium of a neighbouring building containing the lecture theatres and cafeteria, I waited for a verdict as my class was invited to make comment, one work at a time. As the lecturer moved ever closer to my small depiction of inhibition with a languid determination, I could see the whole scene played out in slow motion in fear of the disaster I anticipated. The line of my mouth must have been a give away, and I felt a heat pouring down my neck into my melting feet. Finally in front of my small canvas with its inner glow caged and surrounded by an olive gloom, one of the group laughingly described ‘a football in space’, provoking hearty laughter amongst the others. The words were achingly carved into my skin and having drifted instinctively toward the outer, my feet now took me away with a shoplifters reverence for timing. What made the situation more embarrassing was attempting to leave through a solid glass panel adjoining the true exit pausing briefly urging it to open as if in sympathy. Then, wanting all my parts to disassemble to make me less noticeable, I piggy backed on a small meandering group who had the right location to part the glass and I did not look back. In the hideous aftermath, I hardened my resolve to fight back, and the next time I faced a similar situation I became assertive to the point of appearing aggressive thus earning my label afforded by Wendy Stavrianos, as the most intense student she had encountered. In a performance situation, snide remarks are blunted by the sense of being part of a group. It didn’t have to be so personal and fragile. Theoretical explanation is a useful medium to erect as a guard, and answers to questions were well rehearsed which made one less vulnerable.
Like wanting or needing to let down a Veil, I drove myself further inward. On the train I became strangely addicted to the odd non-personal relationship commuters share by force of their proximity. Passing the time, following parallel lines and casting assuming glances, fancy looks, eyes in windows always ready to shift looking for brief recognition. Hurtling through the darkness, then the city lights explode before you as the train emerges from a tunnel each carriage, segments of a great metal beast; brief cases, crime novels, shaggy newspapers flicked erect with little regard to neighbours, a school bag in the walkway, and a walkman loud enough to almost distinguish the tune resembling a gramophone or early crystal set. A million shades of body language thrown together at random in a game of wink murder, compelled to spy, but comfortable in the privacy behind their eyes peeping at next door’s headlines – in your face. For me it is often these little observations of seemingly obscure or insignificant events that lead to the best ideas being formulated and expressed. I realised that being an artist is a lifetime’s work, not something that can really ever be finished. It is as much about growing as a person as about making progress on canvas. It requires a complete dedication, obsession even and I embraced this and learnt to appreciate being a student and all the agonies of failure laid bare.
I was attracted to the semi figurative imagery of Jackson Pollock, and its sense of turmoil, introverted energy and violence. My paintings remained primarily abstract, preferring a shallow space created through layering, rather than illusionistic description. I became conscious of the strength in painting across the surface rather than departmentalising and working within the shape; and trying to work out the composition with thin layers before progressing to thicker paint – against my instinct. These influences flowed into the collaborative New Epoch paintings coming out of ‘The workshop’ at that time. Our efforts turned to adding large jazz ‘drop sheets’ to be placed between the star bursts on the ground surrounding the tri-easel. For these works we enlisted a new recruit Torqual Neilson, who in turn brought friends to the day long sessions, where paintings emerged out of a haze of hair and progressive rock ambience. Torqual promised much but never advanced to perform with us publically. He opted to pursue a career in the dramatic arts and has accumulated an impressive list of acting credits. In these paintings there is a distinct shift in the hue and composition of the paintings. The principles of the colour mixing I was employing at Caulfield had gradually infiltrated the Extended Vision palette, and my preoccupation with resolving compositions by use of diagonal tensions led to paintings with a new dynamism encouraged by a more inventive approach to mark making.
The Soliloquy pictures were an attempt to merge a delineated figure with an abstract ground. I took this one step further with the’ water spirit’ images, starting with a definite realisation of figure, then taking the essential lines to build a thematic interpretation. Eventually the subject was lost altogether in a watery flow of lines. An imagined goddess fashioned from a photo glimpsed briefly and floating in a sea of unrealised emotion, sometimes Ophelia, sometimes the lady of the lake. Andrew Sibly labelled my first canvas on this theme ‘slippery’, a term not intended as a compliment, but not entirely received as a criticism. Indeed I was aiming at depicting that which is tantalisingly beyond reach. I had intended to create a trio score based on these images, but only a single B.P score was completed. The depiction of a figure had been tackled by Philip and my father in 1985 with the seminal ‘Reclining Nude’ composition exercise. These works show an effective marrying of a subject in what remains an essentially abstract formation.
Our first project following Juan’s departure came as a surprise. I had the idea of a score that through the course of its performance gradually shifted from being predominantly yellow to becoming saturated in hues belonging to the red end of the spectrum and vice verse. The paintings were not complicated and we wrote out the notation as we went. It was a productive session yielding a new score, ‘Summer Blaze’ that was to foreshadow my later preoccupation with the nature of the transitions within a performance set. It also affirmed once again the belief that Philip and I could still collaborate effectively. In these moments we were in sync, sharing a passion for the project and celebrating on canvas, our shared artistic heritage.
That November having met with Maudie Palmer the then director of Heide Park and Gallery earlier in the year, we began preparation for a performance at their 50th birthday celebrations held in the spring of 1991. For the event Philip and I had retrospectively scored ‘Grainger Country’ a large bold New Epoch work painted in 1979 by my father. Its sweeping forms were intended to be reminiscent of the maypole dance, and the painting pays tribute to the uniquely innovative nature of the work of Australian composer Percy Grainger, who’s ‘Mock Morris’ and ‘Country Gardens’ provided inspiration for the paintings lyrical intensions. Granger’s ideas about ‘Free Music’, through which he sought to create a sound incapable of being scored using conventional means of notation, shares the same pioneering spirit that my father had cultivated through his Notation painting. The early format score created for the Grainger Country painting is not dissimilar to the graph like scores Percy Grainger developed to notate the pitch and dynamic changes in his experimental music. ‘Grainger Country’ had hung in a prominent place in the study of our Canterbury home for many years until it had become as familiar as the walls themselves, but through the process of determining the chronology of its stages, I gained new insights and appreciation for its poetry of the eye.
Philip and I reconstructed the ‘Grainger Country’ painting using the New Epoch language, and then extrapolated 2 other basic planes to create a trio composition, derived from the spaces and shapes and quantity of thematic content in the original painting. The new composition was titled ‘A Maypole for Heide’. My mother Cynthia stepped up for the occasion and completed the trio of performers and we were placed on a rise at the rear of the placid acres of parklands broken by an occasional sculpture and an expanse of water. My sister Michaela and her husband to be, Mark Cannon provided logistical and comforting support that afternoon, as they had done before, always with willingness and a generosity of spirit. It was a strange day, periodic rain showers sending us scuttling for shelter under the voluminous gums as if stolen from Stringy Bark Creek. These then also provided welcome respite from the drilling sunshine when it returned with vengeance. On the banks below us human cattle accumulated and meandered toward our easel with peaked curiosity. But acceptance was dispersed by those slightly offended by our intrusion on the scenery. One bystander let out a satirical whoop, when the canvases were turned, as if we had reached an impasse that could only be navigated by a fresh start in a different direction. Once this insight has been given, it is harder to maintain a pride that keeps the back straight and head raised. To the unresponsive, the marks and washes become identified by their inability to communicate the obvious, and a shaky hand delivers an unconvincing message.
At the completion of my first year at university, I embarked on an ambitious set of thematic paintings, intended to integrate newly learnt painting techniques into the New Epoch genre, but also as a way of restoring confidence following modest grades for my studies. At home I was more relaxed, less preoccupied with opinions and a peer group grappling with set topics and visual assignments. Still life and nude studies were once again replaced with webs of lines intended to capture meaning. The garden was in full bloom, lush and brimming with new season’s life. I longed to be amongst it as relief from the slightly dilapidated walls, halls and corridors at Caulfield that had the feeling of having been beaten into submission through years of stolid enterprise. These paintings were about the garden, a celebration of nature and of personal growth. They were in part derived from emotions aroused by the wind through the trees at night, gentle night rain and fragrant blossom, trying to capture something of the innocence of youth, flush with the expectation of cicada songs; daylight saving; holidays; cricket and mosquitoes. They can also be seen as a kind of garden of the mind where everything is in striving motion, leaning against memory and at dusk when resentments scuttle under the cracks of dark cupboards and I could embrace a simpler experience of life.
In the spring, our Canterbury garden was at its most intoxicating, wisteria with its feather boa train of flowers poking out from behind a hedge of poison ivy. Necklaces of forget – me – knots skirted the veranda, its lattice-work knotted with a wild potato vine forming a lush barrier. Against this a banana plant flourished, freed from a stifling pot and the expectation of fruit. A mature photinia tree bordered a tardy lawn, its sap green leaves dispersed here and there with the striking cardinal red opulence of those ready to fall. These leaves had served as pretend currency as a child, a time when money really did grow on trees. And presiding over the whole enclosure was the stately oak with a gathering of ferns at its enormous foot to earth. With branches neatly spaced for ease of climbing and cicada hunting, this tree was the corner-stone of the garden, a grand matriarch that shed hundreds of acorns every year, many of which took root in the top soil and leaf mould of the surrounding gardens. The leaves too would fall in their thousands and create oceans one could dive into, their dampness transformed into thick plumes of grey smoke when dumped in the flickering incinerator, gradually diminishing as the flames reasserted themselves. The place was forever linked to Sunday afternoons when private adventures had time to unfold and I was sure that there were things that I had discovered and knew about our bit of land that no one else did.
Most of all I liked the music of the place, largely shielded from street traffic, and only the proximity of neighbours and the regular distant squeal of metal on metal coming from the railway infringing on its sanctuary. Summer days were drenched in the periodic rattle of Cicada’s, and the sun would rise to an orchestra of magpie warbles and currawongs in the high branches. Indian Minors skipped along the top fence line and wattle birds pounced on the slightest movement, their eyes catching the light like liquid diamonds, gleaming until blinked. By night, other voices of owls and crickets could be heard kept company by hissing possums negotiating territorial rights. I was terrified of the dark and often found the short trek to the workshop a harrowing experience if its lights were off. It was a different place then full of that which cannot be seen and so takes form in wild imaginings. But it was this dichotomy that also endeared it to me, full of the richness of the great world and never becoming so familiar that mystery be tarnished.
I locked myself away for a few weeks, alone with the largest canvas I had worked on at that time, beyond my powers of composition. The small room I painted in was adjoining my bedroom and had been my brother’s room until his fateful migration to the workshop. A cupboard had been removed to create a passage way, and the canvas seemed to fill the space back lit by windows overlooking the front ti-tree fence. It was an added delight to escape here, open to the flow of things and away from people and the intrusion of conversation. Relishing the challenge and channelling all the techniques ingrained during the year, I began mapping out its construction, the smell of turps filling the room with its harsh aroma. My first themes appeared, taken from the swirl of branches streaming beyond possibility and the thickness of trunks belying the extent of their twist. Colours not belonging to the night emerged to assist the fracturing of the surface. I was interested in the rhythm of form rather than its illusionistic rendering. I wanted something believable in its feeling and vigour aside from achieving any kind of reality. The forces of nature exposed in the split second of a lightning bolt. Listening to a wild night I imagined the rattle of letter boxes; the bang of an unhinged gate, and the leaves like great dark mops flopping about. The paintings detail was less related to observations than to the emotional response evoked in the music of a wild night. Through the window, the street may appear quite still despite the howl of the elements, full of drama if you understand how to read it. Even after eyes have adjusted to the dark, hundreds of events are happening that cannot be seen, and by the time you acknowledge their existence they have already come to pass.
By my bedside was a post card of ‘The Tower of Blue Horses’ by Franz Marc. I found it amongst a shoe box of old cards my father had received at various times during his life. This image was intriguing and I felt a great affinity with this artist’s sense of design, and his melding of realism with imaginative colour and form. His works had this lyrical appeal parcelled in the structural certainty of cubist form and put vision to the concept that the task of the observer was to gain an understanding of the feeling out of which the painting had been crafted. A large exhibition of German Expressionist works that came to the National Gallery of Victoria early in 1990 further cemented this movement as my first major influence aside from the paintings I had lived with.
‘Life in the Garden’ was a score I wrote born out of that summer of painting. It depicts the leaves and flowers of my childhood playground drenched in the remembered light of early summer. Inspired by the last great New Epoch work my father completed in June 1986, but replacing the decay of the final white turn in ‘Leavings’, with washes and a two-toned blue sky peeking through the lush foliage which gives the work a more celebratory atmosphere. We ran through 4 complete rehearsals in the workshop that summer, and then featured the new score in our season of council run festival performances. This score represented a breakthrough for ‘Extended Vision’ and became the main stay of our performance repertoire for the remainder of the year. Its strength lay in the colours and thematic structure, which was easily associated with the complicated tangle of leaves and branches, allowing for an easy keyhole for audience interpretation and stylistic idiosyncrasy. For members of the public invited to participate, the score proved to be easy to follow, and a good vehicle through which to explain the basic components of the language. The paintings were capable of retaining structural integrity despite numerous participants ‘having a go’; it could all be pulled together in the final turn. Having tested numerous scores, there was a great reassurance to be felt when finally a prototype could be used with confidence to identify its kind. Trial and error can become habit in time, and measures of success can be derived in the understanding that all these small tributaries finally mingle with the great sea.
Scores should be subject to evolution. In the future with greater means at my disposal I may choose to expand the subject, and adopt a more holistic approach. Winter branches may fracture a white sky, sprouting from a formidable trunk. Observed through a window, the branches may seem to curl around the aura of a great presence. There may be stains on the glass like dried grief. The branches may yield the promise of sparkling fruit, or a collection of perfectly formed leaves. Water droplets may cling to the rough skin of the great tree and shake their spill in the face of an icy blow. Behind, the sky moves through shades of grey, bruised where the rain got out. Removed from the physical presence of the season, beauty becomes abstract and in some ways more desirable for those with an appetite for art.
The first performances of ‘Life in the Garden’ were rather tentative and tight, in comparison to later versions more given to the feeling and passions aroused by the circumstances we found ourselves in – a busy street corner; a pulsing night club; and the hallowed chamber of the National Gallery of Victoria’s great hall. The leap from nature depiction to symbolic expression is mirrored in this transition and highlights the importance of exploring a composition and of choosing a variety of approaches in which to bring it to life.
Set Day 146
Studio Rehearsal (19 December 1991)
“Life in the Garden” (Performance No. 1) composed by Euan Graham
Performed by: Euan Graham, Cynthia Graham and Philip Graham
Set Day 147
Studio Rehearsal (21 December 1991)
“Life in the Garden” (Performance No. 2) composed by Euan Graham
Performed by: Euan Graham, Cynthia Graham and Philip Graham
Set Day 152
Studio Rehearsal (10 February 1992)
“Life in the Garden” (Performance No. 3) composed by Euan Graham
Performed by: Euan Graham, Cynthia Graham and Philip Graham
Set Day 156
Alamein Festival, public performance (4 May 1992)
“Life in the Garden” (Performance No. 4) composed by Euan Graham
Performed by: Euan Graham, Cynthia Graham and Philip Graham
Again Cynthia filled the breach of third “Paintist” and we set about a series of Canterbury rehearsals in preparation for the seasons community festivals.
Set Day 159
Studio Rehearsal (2 August 1992)
“Life in the Garden” (Performance No. 5) composed by Euan Graham
Performed by: Baden Johnson Cynthia Graham and Philip Graham
Duration: 6.5 Hours.
Set Day 161
Studio Rehearsal (9 August 1992)
“Life in the Garden” (Performance No. 6) composed by Euan Graham
Performed by: Baden Johnson Euan Graham and Cynthia Graham
Duration: 4.5 Hours.
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.