Thursday, February 28, 2013


I went back to the Francis Bacon Five Decades in its last week. Noticeably, my emotional response was muted now the startle reflex had faded, and I found the early work the more interesting.

The first painting you see, on its own in a small entry room, is the 1933 Crucifixion. It quite overwhelmed me on first viewing, and I actually got a bit teary. The guide (we were on a early entry tour and were the only two) noticed, I think, and I was half embarrassed to be so unsophisticated yet half proud that at least I had some feelings left.

I had been overcome by the transparency, the evanescence of existence, the fading of animus, and the horribleness of the exaggerated suspension, but it was when I fixed on the three ribs that I became so visibly affected. Ribs invariably define the carcass. Perhaps it is just that they are so recognisable or more likely they outline a precious cavity and it is they themselves, the ribs, which are the machinary of the most elemental of the life forces - inhalation of exhalation. Little wonder the breath is the focus of much meditative technique.

Then there's the religious connotation of course, to crucifixion I mean. But Bacon's focus was on the incredible cruelty of man to man rather than sacrificial lamb.

On the other side of the entry wall the Odessa Steps Massacre - Battleship Potemkin - was screening high on one wall so we could all see again, and again, the nurse's scream that so affected Bacon (Head series), and later Whiteley.

The young Whitely spent time with Bacon as Wendy Whiteley recalls below (25 minutes admittedly, although quite interesting ones I think, covering much of what Bacon was about, technically and personally)

"Bacon didn't change what he did all that much ... "

Head I (1947-1948) shows a head with both human and animal features, the boundaries blurring.

From the catalogue: "For the philosopher Gilles Deleuze this slippage between animal and human in Bacon's work cannot be resolved: "This is not an arrangement of man and beast, nor a resemblance; it is a deep identity, a zone of indiscernibility ... the man who suffers is a beast, the beast who suffers is a man."" This was the one painting which stirred me most this visit.

And then there was the dog - Study for a running dog, 1954.

The blurred head and feet, suggest more than movement (and maybe he wasn't very good at heads, and feet, and hands, and genitals, never seen). What initially felt like menace, a slinking dog in the gutter, became, the longer I looked, a sad and lonely outcast creature in the sewers and drains of the gutters of life. Self Portrait I ?

Blurring movement interests me, along with changing the (extremely limited) time frame in which we operate (as say in Koyaanisqatsi) in its capacity to change perception and perspective, unmasking the unseen, changing emphasis, and refocusing interest.

I've tried catching my dog at different speeds. Here are two. The first photo was shot using a slow shutter speed with the camera above and following the dog walking. The effect is of a dog walking along its own time tunnel in space, the past behind and its future beyond.

The second is because I like it.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Vladimir Ashkenazy kicked off his final year as MD and Chief Conductor with the SSO with an interesting if not particularly gala-ish programme of:

Sibelius - Lemminkäinen Suite

Fauré - Pelléas et Mélisande
Debussy - La Mer

It was played in that order although the programme notes made mention that the order of the halves had been originally the reverse. The very raising of the matter suggests some residual uncertainty about the decision. Whatever Mr Ashkenazy's reasoning, I think plan A the better. The Fauré would have made a fine opener, the Debussy, which was the most accomplished playing of the night, would have sent everyone out for drinkies on a big swell, and the Sibelius would have been the main focus for a programme called 'Legends by the Sea - Ashkenazy conducts Sibelius'. Or Legends by the Lake. Or Stay in your Cabins.

While we're talking about reversing the order, episode two of Ashkenazy conducts Sibelius - A Finnish Epic - follows on this week and it seems to me it would have been a fine season opener with the much more gala-ry Kallervo (monumental, imported soloists, male choir, and me busting to hear it live, especially after reading Alex Ross go bananas about it with Vänzkä) and a big rumble with Ravel's left hand concerto.

Anyway, back at the actual gala opening night, playing in reverse. We were well into the second should-have-been first half.  The Debussy was working well. The strings had reached that certain frission they didn't quite manage in the Sibelius (and Sibelius is all about the strings), bowing and swaying through the penultimate bars when, can you believe it,  someone two rows behind got sea sick and started to throw up. Now throwing can be quite off-putting - not only for the victim of the irreversible urge (there's only a few physiological processes that can't be aborted past a certain juncture - vomiting, sneezing, and one other does come to mind) but also for those close by, and trapped close by, whose proximity to the whole unpleasantry risks them joining in. The man directly behind me kept repeating, loudly, like some gormless adolescent - 'ooh it's going all over her dress'.

That music should so emote is the envy of many a conductor. It even made Norman's newsroom.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


My apologies. I didn't intend to drift away like that. It just happened and the longer it went the longer it went. A bit rude really; sorry.

The end of the working year was hectic, and when holidays finally came I slid into a kind of torpor.  Doing the least became the pleasure, and we spent languid times together idling through the season - swimming (Sydney is really the most glorious water city), napping on hot afternoons under the ceiling fan, and then retreats to the country where the summer was fierce but manageable.

Against that background -

K's birthday party was wonderful.

Locals will remember the Aunty Jack Show in the early days of Australian television.

On keyboard in that clip is the irrepressible Thin Arthur, an escapee from the old dart with all that ebullient inherent panto style. There he was and here he is:

It all became a gorgeous balmy night blur.

Christmas happily came and went, New Year exploded as usual in the ritual that still manages to dazzle, and January slid past as the hottest month on record. Finally the rains came.

The boat ramp by the pool shining in the morning light:

The Angophoras in the gardens by the pool glowing in the late afternoon light:

A glorious day at Mackerel Beach with the birthday boy (now all has been exposed, though a layer or two down, some discretion retained) in the water taxi back to Palm Beach, Lion Island behind:

Francis Bacon is explored in a five decade retro at the Art Gallery. We have had little exposure down here to Bacon, Irish born of an Australian race horse trainer, whose transition from interior designer to painter of the disconnected and depraved was in the company of Roy de Maistre, later also lover to Patrick White who would arrive in London some years later. Recently I read that Marianne Faithful had declared herself to be have been born depraved, or something close to that, by which I think they both mean that they are not fooled by the superficiality of temporary beauty, the things of time and space, and have come to the realisation that the/their way to the truth is to confront the ego in all its ugliness. Bacon had no time for beauty. His paintings were reality as he saw it - "a concentration of reality and a shorthand of sensation". It was suggested he could live in Switzerland and avoid tax - an idea he rejected because of "all those fucking views".

Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey was screened in the Concert Hall with the SSO and choir in great form - Ligetti, Strauss and Strauss fully alive and fully thrilling in a still remarkable and remarkably beautiful film. If he got anything wrong, it was the hostess's clothing, though I do love the velcro stick -on shoes, and that computers would get smaller, not bigger. We still watch it from time to time, at least once a year, and it has never looked or sounded so fabulous. The next most beautiful film to look at has to be Mulholland Drive - every frame a perfection of construction and light. We just watched it twice in as many weeks.

In the country things got bad. Sydney had a day of 46 C and while it was degrees cooler in the highlands, it was the smell of the dryness and heat, something almost approaching ignition point in the air, that prevailed. And there were no birds or animals. Nothing. Just heat.

I installed a fire safety bunker a year ago. The road out of this place, on the edge of a National Park, is a death trap, a photo on the front page of the next day's newspaper - a burnt out car in a charred smoldering landscape. The bunker is an earth covered underground concrete box and it feels like getting into a space shuttle when one climbs down and closes the hatch.

In the country, the night temperatures have dropped and there's soil moisture again. The King Parrots are never far away

and a lyrebird has been singing wildly just off the bedroom verandah.