Cones. Bert Flugelman (1923-2013) created them, and the National Gallery put them out under the blue Australian sky in the Sculpture Garden. Flugelman produced a number of stainless steel sculptures in Australia (where he lived), not to be confused with Austria (where he was born).
Children and adults alike love the 20 metres of image-distorting steel forms. You can be as thin, fat, short or tall as you want. Cones is a paradox, a totally unembellished minimalist artwork yet filled with detailed images. The seven iconic conic sculptures reflect this little bit of Australia, the sky and trees and flowers and dry sandy ground. And anyone standing around.
Today I was fortunate to find myself alone in this corner of the Garden to snap some photos sans visitors. My camera’s eye caught me in the stainless steel mirror, and my mind made a link to the nearby Portrait Gallery where I had just spent an hour, where I had seen a self-portrait of Bert Flugelman (it’s a sculpture), and now here he gives me my own self-portrait, an image of no one in particular. Indeed, it’s better (in my humble opinion) than the self-portraits by Ken Done and Sidney Nolan that really do look like no one in particular!
‘The Mandrake’, my translation of ‘La Mandragore’ by Jean Lorrain – about a princess who gives birth to a frog – has just been published in a new literary journal, Belmont Story Review. I missed its appearance in May in this first issue, and discovered it one afternoon this past week when searching randomly online. A delightful surprise!
Jean Lorrain was a French author of the Belle Époque who wrote fantastical stories and novels that were original but often bizarre. He was loathed for the caustic humour of his newspaper columns in which he attacked many of the leading figures of his era. Yet, while his perversions repelled readers, this participant in Belle Époque decadence was also a spectator who wrote sarcastic analyses of its morals: many of his stories encourage questions about prejudices, leaving a reader unmasked and uneasy. Lorrain was particularly renowned for his flamboyant homosexuality and an addiction to ether. No surprise, then, that he died quite young, at 51, in Paris. Today much of his work remains unread, even by the French.
I’ve translated a number of Lorrain’s short stories, with a few published in literary journals. Last year I decided to translate ‘La Mandragore’ (1899), a dark fairy tale brilliantly illustrated by Marcel Pille and available online in the original French edition at Gallica. I submitted my work to a few journals and this year was fortunate to have it accepted. When you’ve read the translation available in print from Amazon or for free on the site of the digital publisher, Issuu, I highly recommend you check out Gallica, where you’ll see amazing illustrations like the one below which will give you clues to the story about a Queen and her frog daughter. Oh, and of course there’s a mandrake, the plant with an eerily human-shaped root…
‘La Mandragore’ has also been translated into Spanish by Alicia Mariño and Luis Alberto, and it looks to be a beautiful edition that includes the original illustrations.
If you’re looking for some mild amusement, and you have an Apple computer, check out the Faces option in the ‘Apple Photos’ application. It collects images of faces, that is, anything that resembles two human eyes above a nose above a mouth. It doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes it finds sculpted faces, though they can look real enough, like these resting on top of the pond in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery, faces that produce a physical reaction in passers-by:
It’s not just 3D images it finds; even 2D painted faces are thrown into the collection with photos of real faces. Here it places two faces from For of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven by Frank Bramley (1891) hanging in the Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand, next to my beautiful daughters-in-law:
How about this image of a sun sinking into the sea? I do love a good sunset, but if I’m looking for the reassurance of a human face, I prefer my son, not the sun!
But even more mysterious, curious and ridiculous, a photo of a kangaroo’s tail and back legs, sideways. I’ve looked at this circle with my glasses on and glasses off. I can’t see any face. But it’s good for a laugh!
It was truly surprising to see all the faces (recognised by Apple) from my photos. There were even some I had previously ignored for being too small or blurry in the background of another subject. As I was scrolling through them all, another son walked into the room and exclaimed his delight at all the faces of our family and friends appearing in a long stream across my screen. It was a bit of fun, and was fit fodder for the photo challenge this week.
There are times when a gallery visit can be dull, and others that are unforgettable. When I walked into this room of old Australian art, I experienced a moment of consternation as the walls leapt out from behind the turn-of-the-century artworks. All four walls were painted in a red and black chevron pattern, clashing with the soft colours of portraits and landscapes in frames of ornate gold and timber. The intent was to shock, and it did. The pattern is a reference to the Wiradjuri people of Australia who paint chevrons on their skin and on trees. The installation artist is Brook Andrew.
I was disturbed by the clash of loud and soft. But on this Monday morning there was something even more disturbing in the room. On one of the viewing seats was an obese boy who had fallen into a deep sleep. His carers were trying to wake him, calling his name and shaking him. The gallery guard came to help with a louder voice, keen to move him along. She called for her colleague to bring an ice pack, which was laid on his shoulders and neck. He didn’t wake.
They phoned his mother, put it on speaker, put the phone near his face, all to no effect. The guard sent the carers off ‘to have lunch’, trying to trick him into feeling left behind. No reaction. He was now sliding off his chair, an ordinary chair, not a sofa, not even a soft chair. Just a gallery chair, hip but hard. The guards pushed him back onto it, talking to him all the while. Nothing. One guard said to the other, “We haven’t had this before,” and laughed as gravity pulled the boy down again.
The carers had not gone to lunch but were hiding from the boy in the next room. They peeked round the corner and saw that he hadn’t woken. The guards warned the sleeping boy that he would have to go home in the back of an ambulance. His hand twitched, and the guards and carers persisted with the cold pack, calling, rubbing and tugging.
Forty minutes later: they stood him up but his eyes were still closed. As I left the room, relieved, they were following me out, the carers guiding him, one each side as he walked blindly. His huge black t-shirt was too long, hanging down past his shorts, revealing only his heavy shuffling legs. They were taking him home to bed, they said.
I returned to look more closely at the artworks, to try to understand why the walls were screaming in red and black. But I could think of nothing but the boy, who must have been heavily medicated. Those chevrons are emblazoned in my memory, but the boy whose eyes never opened will not remember them.
Authors today are encouraged to promote promote promote their work on a blog (and on other popular elements of social media that I don’t use). One promotional activity which hasn’t been too time-hungry and is even enjoyable is the creation of a Pinterest board with images associated with my translated works. I’ve recently read articles by two much-published authors pushing Pinterest as an author’s friend. So I tried it. When you check out my board you’ll see intricately decorated pages from the original French versions of my translated stories, like this one from La Revue illustrée, 1st June 1899, illustrated by Alfred Daguet for ‘Princesse Mandosiane’, one of the stories you can now read in English in the Eleven Eleven journal (which you’ll have to buy):
Look at the creature in the bottom left of the page doing a handstand while balancing an ‘L’ signpost in his mouth! Reminds me of the sculpted column swallowers in Romanesque churches. Such fun! Why don’t we decorate our pages any more?
Of course, for every one of my translations that’s published there are several others not accepted. Just this week I’ve received two rejections and a notice that someone is already translating some stories I’m working on. Or, rather, was working on until that moment. Submitting stories to magazines and journals has become a part-time job, taking so much time and effort that I hardly have time to translate new stories. But why write it if no one will read it? Between the writing and the reading, there must come submission, publishing and promotion. Fortunately there’s pleasure in it all!
This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is for something ‘intricate’. The Oxford Dictionary defines intricate as ‘very complicated or detailed’, from the Latin intricat- ‘entangled’, and from in- ‘into’ plus tricae ‘tricks, perplexities’.
Tricks and perplexities.
When I read about the challenge, I was in Barcelona looking at intricate architectural details on buildings all around me. Barcelona does intricate very well. There’s Barcelona Cathedral with its decorative west facade constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries:
There are the individual architect-designed houses in the Passeig del Gràcia, including one of Gaudi’s, which had hundreds of people outside and inside and which I therefore passed by, and there was this one, the Casa Lleó Morera a few doors away, which I prefer. It was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner for Lleó’s mother in the early 1900s.
But, for me, what was most tricky and perplexing were the bench-lamp-posts designed in 1906 by Pere Falqués et Urpí, a Catalan Modernist architect. There are 32 of them along the passeig. The benches are covered in ceramic mosaics, a technique typical of Catalan modernism (think Gaudi), and the lamp posts are of wrought iron rising up from the bench in a whiplash form, a characteristic of Art Nouveau generally (known as Modernism in the Catalonia region of Spain, which includes Barcelona.)
I sat on this bench to read a city map, looking for famous Barcelona art and architecture. But I was sitting on something more interesting than all the tricky buildings and their perplexed spectators. For, when I stood up, I saw the shadows cast by the twisting entanglements of the ironwork and the complexity of the mosaic tiles over the curved edges of the seat, and realised this was an excellent way to make art publicly useable and inclusive rather than exclusive. When you sit on the bench, you are part of the art.
I recently read a quotation by August Endell (1871 – 1925), a German self-taught architect who designed in the era of Jugendstil, or, in English and French, Art Nouveau. Here’s what he said in Berliner Architekturwelt, volume 4, 1902:
“I believe it is not generally known that, in the bark of our own native trees, we possess the most rapturous symphonies of colour that a painter could ever dream of. After rain, for example, when the colours are luminous and fresh, the richest and most wonderful motifs are to be found there. You need to go right up to the trunk and look hard at small areas the size of your palm. Strong colours alternate one with another. Velvety violet,
grey with a blue shimmer,bright green,
– the widest possible range of colour nuances are found in a rich spectrum in the boldest contrasts. Only when you have studied the colours of bark close up can you appreciate why tree trunks have such luminous colours from afar.
The individual colours are garish and unbroken, but because they lie so close together in such small blotches, they tone each other down without losing their effect.”
August Endell’s first commission was for the Hof-Atelier Elvira, a photography studio in Munich, built and decorated in 1896-97. The interior decor was highly individual, even bizarre, but partly reflected Endell’s belief that ‘the most wonderful motifs’ are to be found on tree bark. Look, for example, at the studio staircase, to see how the organic pattern resembles the cracks in bark:
You can guess from the age of the staircase photo that the building no longer exists. It was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944. Hooray for photos!
In 1896, in an article about his theory of art, Endell said:
“Someone who has never been sent into raptures by the exquisite swaying of a blade of grass, the wondrous implacability of a thistle leaf, the austere youthfulness of burgeoning leaf buds, who has never been seized and touched to the core of his being by the massive shape of a tree root, the imperturbable strength of split bark, the slender suppleness of the trunk of a birch, the profound peacefulness of an expanse of leaves, knows nothing of the beauty of forms.”
(Cited in Art Nouveau, Gabriele Fahr-Becker)
The year 2014 is all but over; I want to finish it on a beautiful note. In an antique shop at Jervis Bay, in a holiday mood, I found Fahr-Becker’s Art Nouveau still sealed in protective plastic yet offered for a small price. I took it back to the beach house, peeled away its covering and flicked through the large glossy pages. At around the middle of the book, 232 pages in, the Endell quotation on bark brought me to a halt. I didn’t turn the page, but closed the book. I didn’t want to forget his urging to ‘go right up to the trunk’ of trees, and look hard. I urge you to do it, too.
I haven’t left town this month, but I have visited the National Museum which gave me plenty of opportunities to snap photos. Ours is a museum of social history. Neither the content nor the architecture is traditional, which is obvious even before arriving at the car park: the introduction to the building is this giant 30m high loop, part of what is called the Uluru line: In the foyer there are great glass windows looking onto the lake, and an artsy window dressing which produces the best shadows. As I moved up into the galleries, Eternity caught my eye. Arthur Stace famously wrote this single word in beautiful copperplate writing on the footpaths of Sydney between 1932 and 1967. Stace described an experience in church which prompted him to write Eternity half a million times over 35 years:
John Ridley was a powerful preacher and he shouted, ‘I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney.’ He repeated himself and kept shouting, ‘Eternity, Eternity’, and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write ‘Eternity’. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket, and I bent down right there and wrote it. I’ve been writing it at least 50 times a day ever since, and that’s 30 years ago … I think Eternity gets the message across, makes people stop and think. (courtesy National Museum of Australia website)
From reflecting on eternity I was taken back in time to the largest of all marsupials, the extinct Diprotodon. After all, it wouldn’t be a museum without a skeleton. Here’s the Diprotodon in and out of its skin:
An unmissable object in the Museum is an old windmill, its sails turning slowly and windlessly, old technology driven by new. It’s a Simplex windmill from Kenya station, north-east of Longreach in central Queensland. The windmill provided water for stock from a shallow bore, from the 1920s until 1989, when a deeper artesian bore came into service. It was one of two windmills on 25,000 acres! As the windmill owner, John Seccombe, who donated it to the museum says, Australia couldn’t have survived without windmills. One of the saddest sights in the museum was this gate, a reminder of times when some children were raised by institutions: There were other objects like leg irons and old pistols that remind us of our darker colonial past: and a convict bi-colour ‘magpie’ uniform, designed to deter convicts from escaping. But imagine the situation if, in 1788 and later, the roles had been reversed, and it wasn’t the English arriving to claim this land for the crown, but the Aboriginals arriving to take the land from the whites. Gordon Syron, an indigenous artist painted that ‘what if’ scene in The Black Bastards are Coming, 2006: Out on the museum terrace, one of the best spots to get a quiet waterside coffee, I was contemplating eternity when a man and dog came past on a surfboard (lakeboard?).
Before I go, if you’re wondering about the header image, it’s part of Martumili Ngurra, 2009, hanging in the museum foyer, painted in acrylic on linen by six Martu women from central Western Australia. Ngalangka Taylor, one of the artists, says:
“When you look at this painting, don’t read it like a whitefella map. It’s a Martu map: this is how we see the country.”
The painting shows tracks and roadways and geographical sites related to mining and pastoral activities introduced in the 19th century in their part of Australia.
More next month. Until then, see some other monthly trips on Marianne’s East of Málaga. She challenges us to take one trip EVERY month.
A window to this artist is not just a transparent barrier between him and the weather. It’s a place for colours and picture tiles and wooden shutters and an iron grill. The plaque says: “In this house the painter Willy Mucha lived and worked from 1940 to 1995. Friends of Willy Mucha.” See how he has inlaid some tiles in the wall around the window frame?
I found a small image of one of his paintings and pasted it below. It’s Collioure in its sunniest colours.