RED RIVER

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.

DSC_0644DSC_0647DSC_0646

‘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.

THE TEMPEST

“The Tempest”

 

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.

 

 

 

“Transitions No.1”

DSC_5066

“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.

 

 

DAY AFTER DAY 3DAY AFTER DAY 2DAY AFTER DAY 1

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.

18-4-199318-4-93.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Turns

Philip painting at the Canterbury Jazz Festival 1993
Philip painting at the Canterbury Jazz Festival 1993

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.

IMG_0026

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.

Our set up in the Gret Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria
Our set up in the Gret Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria

IMG_0028

IMG_0027

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.

On Stage at the Lounge Nightclub
On Stage at the Lounge Nightclub

THE LOUNGE 4.11.1992

THE LOUNGE 2

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.

Working on the Canterbury Mural
Working on the Canterbury Mural

MAILING MURAL 3

Baden Johnson - "The Canterbury Mural" 1992
Baden Johnson – “The Canterbury Mural” 1992

Scan

 

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.

Baden and Philip with newly constructed easel for linear performance.
Baden and Philip with newly constructed easel for linear performance.

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.

 

 

Soliloquy

Performance of "Passing Leaves"
Performance of “Passing Leaves”

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.

"Soliloquy" works on paper and canvas from 1992
“Soliloquy” works on paper and canvas from 1992

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.

"Inhibition" works on paper from 1992
“Inhibition” works on paper from 1992

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.

"Waiting for the Train" 1992 Mixed media on paper 30 x 30 cm
“Waiting for the Train” 1992 Mixed media on paper 30 x 30 cm
"male and Female" 1992 oil on canvas 130 x 100 cm
“male and Female” 1992 oil on canvas 130 x 100 cm

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.

"Drop Sheet" Jazz collaboration 1992 Acrylic on canvas
“Drop Sheet” Jazz collaboration 1992 Acrylic on canvas These drop sheets formed a ring around the circular base of the Tri-Easil.
"Drop Sheet" 1992 Visual Jazz collaboration
“Drop Sheet” 1992 Visual Jazz collaboration
"Drop Sheet" 1992 Visual Jazz collaboration
“Drop Sheet” 1992 Visual Jazz collaboration

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.

"Water Spirit" Euan Graham 1992 works on paper and canvas
“Water Spirit” Euan Graham 1992 works on paper and canvas
"Reclining Nude" 1985 Peter Graham Pastel on Paper 40 x 70 cm
“Reclining Nude” 1985 Peter Graham Pastel on Paper 40 x 70 cm
"Reclining Nude" Philip Graham 1985 Pastel on paper 50 x 60 cm
“Reclining Nude” Philip Graham 1985 Pastel on paper 50 x 60 cm