STUDIO LIFE

One night at B-Side I arrived to find all the lights out and three other residents lit up by the glow of their laptops only.  It was quiet and I didn't want to turn on the overhead lights because the ambience was so sweet. I worked in the glow of my desk lamp and imagined Rembrandt working by candlelight. 

Do you know that feeling when you are deeply engaged in a task by yourself - but perhaps with friends - gathering wood for a campfire or preparing a meal or even in a busy office surrounded by colleagues? It's a comforting awareness that you are in easy company but you still manage to shift into a focused zone. That's what it's like in the world of shared creative spaces - perhaps this is not news to you but its been a discovery for me. 

My basement space - wonderful to come home to.

2016 began in my basement. I won't go into the dirty details but I hit a wall and hard. I have always loved my alone time and in fact, found it essential to my creative process. Then quite suddenly 'alone' transformed into 'loneliness' and it was a blow. Now, six months later, after some amazing shared spaces and collaborations I have discovered a much better way to be alone --- it's in the company of others!

This was my first shared space at Vampt Vintage in Brookvale. 

Owners Max and Dave and their great team were all so supportive. Star, my Kelpie pup was even welcome when she was little but now she's a bit bigger - she's not really getting the together alone concept ... its just together, together, together which I love, but is not conducive to getting work done.

When Vampt came to the end of their lease at Brookvale I found B-Side Creative Space (below) - it is just down the road from my old studio and literally a stones throw from my old-other-life job as a textiles designer. Run by a group of creative friends on the northern beaches the space accommodates an illustrator, an origami sculptor, a couple of painters and mural / street artists, a jewellery maker, musicians, a pen and ink artist, a couple of photographers, a lighting designer, web developers, cafe owners, a ceramicist, a motorcycle mechanic and a wallet maker. The team is building a traditional dark room and the studio is equipped with a tool room and a photographic studio - and awesome coffee shop. Everyone is welcome to visit and wander around - it sounds like it might be a whole lot of distraction but I've been able to work really well here. It is the fact that we all have a similar work ethic. Everyone needs to work and pay rent and yet if we need to bounce ideas off anyone - there's always plenty of takers. It was such a gift finding B-Side and 2016 is only half over ;)

And so here we are - Together Alone. The best of both worlds.

Source: http://susiedureau.blogspot.com.au/

MAMA CREATIVES


So this happened! I spoke in front of this beautiful crowd of creative and intelligent women about how sorrow and loss can allow you to connect with your essential self and therefore make an ideal state for creativity. I am not suggesting that grief is a requisite for art but deep feeling is; and if it happens to be grief then there are ways to align it with beauty.

Bill Henson says something similar in this interview and manages to explain it in terms that are broad and personal at the same time.  “I think that what interests me in any art form, whether its music or literary or anything else, are the same things that interest all of us in life generally. Things that shape our lives – loss, longing, love, a sense of mortality – these are the things that have inspired various artists throughout time. Really, beauty is just a mechanism that animates those things.” 

MAMA CREATIVES is a group of creative professionals who are mostly also mothers. Its founder and guardian angel is Anna Kellerman who knows that the 21st C has brought forward many creative women who no longer need to hide their families in order to be taken seriously professionally. We can celebrate motherhood and career and the unique challenges that both roles present together. Anna has dubbed Mama Creatives as the TED conference for mothers.

The group is centred around storytelling and began as the Creative Mamas shared their own stories of 'making it'. As the size and influence of the group grows, the events have expanded to include professional masterclasses and courses around health and well-being - all with a common theme of ideas and creativity. 

And of course, when a group of nurturing creative women get together there is a strong will to make the world a better place - many of the MC events end up as fundraisers. The evening of my talk we raised money to pay interpreters to help refugees communicate with their pro bono lawyers. The following weekend three of my fellow Mama / Artists organised a big fundraiser to raise funds for a womens shelter that is opening in North Sydney. As always Anna is at the forefront with energy and enthusiasm and enormous generosity.

SHOWTIME



Thank you to all who were able to make it last Sunday. The Gods were on our side, springing sunshine at the end of a cold and rainy week. As we sipped Prosecco, the warmth shone in through the barn door windows in Damien Minton's wonderful converted warehouse.

Bathed in sunlight, the talented singer/songwiter Dave Calandra shared his music. He performed, in particular, a song he wrote about the weather which married perfectly with the atmospheric theme of paintings. The sweetest little waitpersons handed out delectable canapes designed and constructed by the beautiful foodie, Anna Russell.


Damien took the soap box and delivered one of his famous off-the-cuff intros. He remembered days, a few years back, when I would visit his gallery on Great Buckingham Street, chatting about the Sydney art scene and hoping one day to have a show with him.

After an Oporto's carpark audition - Stuart Spence was awarded the task of a 'This Must Be The Place' lyrics recital. He had threatened falsetto and fancy dress but Stuart's sincere and heartfelt reading needed no embellishment.

Surrounded by dear friends and family and arts community - I felt truly blessed. And the light shone in bright multi-coloured streams... At least that's how I remember it. 



For those dear to me who couldn't be there - you were felt in spirit. 
You know you were.

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

susie dureau


A few months ago, I found myself on a ship somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. 

There was water all around as far as I could see. Upwards was sky…. limitless space… cloud-filled by day and starry by night. The rare Venus and Jupiter conjunction was playing out in the celestial drama. I tracked the stars every night with an app on my phone - marveling about how we circle around each other.

One cold, squally night I was on the top deck looking over at rails at the dark wake. Only one other person was on deck with me – a stranger. It was eerie and quiet and I felt vulnerable - and yet - far away from any land I have known, I felt a euphoric sense of belonging.

This body of work is about that moment of connection to being where you are. 
Wherever you are.

'THIS MUST BE THE PLACE' IS ON SEPTEMBER 20TH BETWEEN 4-6PM. 
583 ELIZABETH ST PROJECTS. UPSTAIRS LOFT. 
Tel: 0400 099 620 
Email: damienminton1@gmail.com

Come along to the show - we will have a prosecco together and stand in the streaming afternoon sunlight while listening to the soulful tunes of Dave Calandra... oh and there will be some paintings. We will be there.


The paintings will all be up on my website by September 10, 2015 

Painting

Paintings: TOP: Saltwater Spirit, 30cm diameter, Oil on board, 2015 BOTTOM L-R: Voltage, 30cm diameter, Oil on board, 2015, Stay Gold, 30cm diameter, Oil on board, 2015, A Separate Peace, 30cm diameter, Oil on board, 2015

ABOUT THE SONG

I must acknowledge this song by Talking Heads as it shares the title of my show -  And is so apt! The lyrics are lovely… and quite long … so I’m ripping out a few precious lines – with apologies to Mr Byrne.

Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground, head in the sky…

I got plenty of time
You got light in your eyes…
Never for money, always for love…

Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there 
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place…

There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I'll be.

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, TALKING HEADS. SONGWRITERS BYRNE, DAVID/WEYMOUTH, TINA/HARRISON, JERRY/FRANTZ

And mmm - I just discovered these videos - a couple of awesome covers and the real deal. Now lets see if I can get someone to perform this at my exhibition opening....

The Lumineers! Love this video too...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTuDXGSfD4c

Iron & Wine!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3x5QNK4gfo

The Original.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFeforW2ycI


HIDING


Earlier this year the ABC screened a drama about a family living in witness protection in Sydney. The makers of the series borrowed some of my paintings for the set. I’ve captured a few images to show – what a buzz to see my paintings in a good old Aussie TV drama!




INKING THE STORM



A few days ago I found some notes and sketches that I made during the storms that thrashed the northern beaches earlier this year. The sketches relate to the work I am completing now for a show in September.

“It is hard to find a visual language for this morning’s ocean. Do the waves peak or curl? The perpetual thrashing doesn’t allow me time to fully comprehend it.

Being here, sitting with and in the storm, I can feel how it moves and I hope that this sensation will be enough for me to be able to translate the image to canvas once I get back to the studio.

The tempest from the sky has abated and the beating wind that lashed the shoreline last night has transformed into mist and steady rain. The sea rages on, however. As if in retaliation or triumph, the storm seems to come from within the ocean now.

I have tried, on the previous page to express the sea with Conte but this was not as effective as the Chinese ink wash. Perhaps the ink is better to describe the waves because it is fluid and moves across the page as waves move across the earth.”

Looking back, this storm was the perfect setting for some personal wayfaring that rocked me this winter. And in the glorious cycle of nature, the ocean is now calm and glistening and the sun rises higher each day.


Chinese ink wash better describes the waves.

AOTEAROA






I have long been fascinated by New Zealand. I don’t know why. I do not have relatives or ancestors there. In fact, until recently, I had not even been there. It might have been the curious Tiki pendant my father once brought me back, or the lure of untamed landscapes, or the people and politics – I really can’t say. Happily, I have finally been to Aoteroa and that ancient land affected me.

 I stayed on a farm, in a little ‘batch’ at the edge of the water in the Te Moana-a-Toi (Bay of Plenty). The nearest town is Tauranga. The farm belongs to the family of my travel companion, Janet. The family grows hydrangeas and organic avocados and the most scrumptious golden plums I have ever tasted. Those are the commercial crops but as we learned – the farm yields so much more.


 Most mornings as we sipped our coffee, 94 year old Ian (Father of the Farm) would bring fresh plums and avocados down to us at the batch. Sometimes he would bring fresh beans and herbs and tomatoes from his garden. Most mornings he would stay for a coffee and entertain us with stories from his days as a fighter pilot and a young man in love with his beautiful wife.


 Each evening we swapped the hot brew for local wines and waited for visits from other family members and neighbours – always they would come with offerings from the land and sea.  One night we were given freshly caught fish another night an enormous bowl of plums and berries from which we made pies to share.


 Nights were filled with home made cuisine and joyful eclectic company. My dear friend Janet and I behaved as wildly free as a holiday in a remote place calls for. There were bonfires and dances and an evening of inking by a local tattoo artist who was called in to make some Maori designs on the limbs of departing Mexican WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic farms).


 In all this plenty, I felt the roar of the land. I saw for myself the long white cloud hovering over mountaintops. I dug and planted and picked. I sketched and photographed the scenes around me.  The spirit of this small corner of the world is now imprinted on my heart…. And will find its way into my paintings.








Day 18 SWEET HOME


I have really needed this trip for my mind, for my art, for my heart, for my family. But it is so GOOD to be home. I must return to Berlin some time soon, as I have yet to taste a Currywurst. It's good to have goals.

Day 17 LOST IN TRANSIT


Not much to report here unless you are interested to know how I nearly smashed my laptop over the head of the oaf who was sitting next to me from Zurich to Singapore… but I’d prefer you to think that I enjoyed every minute of this trip.

Day 16 AUF WIEDERSEHEN BERLIN


I leave Berlin tonight and there are so many things I haven’t seen yet - I haven’t had my currywurst either! The picture above is a photograph that is in the bedroom of the apartment. I have grown quite fond of it – beauty is everywhere.

I really wanted to see the Hamburger Bahnof before I left. It is a museum for contemporary art in an old train station: worth the journey across town. The building itself has a divine symmetry and the work inside is varied and engaging.


I think Andy Warhol’s enourmous sparkly portrait of Joseph Beuys could be a pivotal work to illustrate the spirit of the place. I am much impressed by Warhol after seeing the works here. I had assumed that he owed his success to his audacity. But looking at these works I see an artist who is challenged and connected and searching. There are not just portraits here but the electric chair works, which seems to be a conversation between himself and Rauchenberg (who also uses the blue chair in works of the same year). There are also some painterly foundations for his screen prints.



I only had time then for a quick peek at the small but hard-hitting Victor Man show at the Deutscher Bank KunstHall. It gave me an insight into how contemporary painting can retain an exquisite quality in terms of colour and handling and still sit comfortably in a contemporary ‘conceptual’ setting by adopting sophisticated themes and innovative lighting. The room was dark and the spotlights on the works were angled in such a way (from directly above the works) that the light grazed the surface of the paint. The paint glowed so intensely that it almost seemed to be a black light and fluorescent paint… but I think it was simply the artist’s confident use of colour and tone.


And now time to go back to the apartment and pack up. It is funny how your mind does this to you at the end of a trip... but I am ready to go home now. Auf Weidersehen Europe. I will be back soon.

Day 15 AI WEI WEI, BERLIN BIKINI & THE POLAR BEARS



Inspired as I was by Ai Wei Wei at the bunker yesterday, I wanted to visit his major show at the Martin Gropius Bau. I have always been a little mystified by Ai Wei Wei and though I am aware of his huge global success - I was not entirely sure why. I have no doubts now. This man is a powerhouse of art. That he has managed to crash through oppressive rails and communicate meaningfully to an international community makes him all the more powerful. Every work is fascinating and inventive and there is no sign of derivative or lackluster that sometimes afflicts sensational artists.

One work is a series of Han Dynasty (202BC – 220AD) vases that he has painted with modern automobile paint to illustrate how modern technologies are wiping out the valuable past. How average the actual vessels look now – all chic and shiny… and this is exactly the point.


He has been imprisoned for his liberal ideas and an exact replica of his detention cell has been reconstructed here so you can feel what it was like. As you exit you can watch security video of yourself that was captured from all manner of angles unbeknownst to you while you were inspecting the space. You get a genuine feeling of personal invasion.

In the afternoon I head out to the new Berlin Bikini which is a shopping mall that exhibits up and coming designers in ‘concept’ boxes. It is situated right next to the Tiergarten and famous Berlin zoo and because I have no particular agenda – a whim took me to visit the zoo.

It is an exquisite place – if one could combine the Sydney Botanic Gardens with Taronga Zoo – this would approximate it. The gardens are lush and abundant with spring flowers and the zoo is exotic. The lion stood up and roared just for me; and the polar bears (eisbär) sat long enough for me to sketch them. There were a couple of newborn monkeys that kept my attention for a long time – and animals that I had never seen before such as the Stachelschwein which is like a wombat with spines.

I was determined to have a currywurst today but I just can’t bring myself to – pork sausage has never been my favourite. So I have a schnitzel and salad and head home to pack. I promise to currywust tomorrow as soon as I see a stall.



Day 14 THE BOROS BUNKER




Last night I woke in the middle of the night to hear a scratching noise. I flicked on the light. It was coming from the wardrobe… a mouse? No! Please no. No – it’s coming from the corner… what IS IT? This went on for a comical 5 minutes as I dashed about the room in my underpants unable to detect the source of the sound as the sound started to increase in intensity. I looked up just in time to dodge the falling lampshade. It had slowly ripped off the frame – how will I explain this?

In the morning I had an appointment at the Boros Bunker. This was a difficult appointment to secure as I had not planned well enough in advance and when I realized I had to make a booking the website showed that they were booked out until the end of July. After pleading with them over the phone they revealed the exact time they would update the website with any cancellations and I was thus able to nab a precious spot.

The Sammlung Boros is a private collection of contemporary work owned by the Boros Family. They started collecting in the early 90s but had nowhere to house and show the work. They looked for a long time to find a suitable place.

This bunker is the most weird and incredible building in itself. It was essentially a bomb shelter for citizens but it is entirely above ground. The reason for this is that Hitler wanted the people to see the building and for it to make them feel safe. This was a misconception on his part as despite its fortitude it is, in effect, a monument to fear. In order for it to withstand a bombing, the walls are 3m thick with concrete and rebar. This depth meant little to me until I saw a section of the ceiling that the Boros family had had to cut out to make allowances for access to their home (that they built on the roof). 3m is a great deal of concrete.

A similar bomb shelter was directly hit by a bomb in another area of Berlin and the worst physical implications to the people inside were a temporary loss of hearing and some bleeding noses. In this bunker we can see another staircase innovation: scissor staircases. The ceilings are low and yet calculating the angle at which the stairs run between the floors, the engineers were able to install two staircases (one above the other, per floor) I’m still not entirely sure how this works but although you could see the two levels of stairs – there was still enough headroom. The idea is that double the capacity of people can enter the bunker in an emergency. After marveling at the design we are told that it is a direct imitation of a concept designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Wow.

After the war the Russians used the bunker as a prison and after the Berlin wall came down it was a venue for raves and fetishistic sex parties until the council shut it down (there was little ventilation, few exits and no toilet facilities) which made it dangerous for the extreme activities going on inside. At this time it went up for private sale and soon after the Boros family ‘salvaged’ it. The walls themselves tell a hundred stories from the original phosphorescent painted arrows to the fluoro graffiti from the 90s parties. I would hazard a guess that many of the artists who exhibit there now had been there before as part of the edgy Berlin 90s scene.

And I haven’t even begun to talk about the art… so cool! All the works are challenging and cover a range of themes such as the big bang, utopia, parallel universes and the possibility of 11 dimensions. It is such a mind fuck. I love it. As we near the third level we can smell something cooking… is it popcorn? Our guide smiles and asks us to wait and see.

It IS popcorn - a cart that has been popping corn since the artwork was installed – in May 2012. It is in a large room and it is FULL of popcorn – we are encouraged to step in it – to climb to the top and grab a fresh piece to eat if we like! Oh my kids would LOVE this.

There is also a work by Ai Wei Wei here – it is a tree but it has been recreated from hundreds of trees – the wood collected from all over China and pieced together here. Ai Wei Wei is still not permitted to leave China – so assistants installed it.

It is the home of the Boros family and only 12 English speakers are permitted every 90 mins and only 3 days a week. Our guide reiterates that we are, in effect, walking around in the family's basement. 

I met a lovely couple from England who took me to a great café for lunch and directed me to a good shopping spot in the afternoon where I stocked up on gifts and bought myself a very expensive pair of shoes… trippen.


Tonight I dined in an Indian restaurant which has been tempting me for days with a beautiful aroma… this is to show you what 10 can get you in Berlin. My bill actually came to 12 as I had a lovely glass of Riesling to accompany it. Needless to say I barely made a dent in this lavish array – nor did I intend to order so much – it was simply a set menu for one. Wishing I could share this meal with my nearest and dearest.




Day 13 KULTURFORUM


Each day I have been venturing out into the wider Berlin but I am realizing just how incredible my local area (Prenzenlauer Berg) is. For starters it has EXPAT MEAT! But apart from that it is very cosmopolitan and very Berlin – When I say ‘Very Berlin’ I mean – lots of chic fashionistas, kids and families galore, old men selling home grown flowers in the park, pierced and tattooed punks advertising new bars, lovers kissing everywhere… anything goes.

After my café breakfast (bircher muesli and Chai tea) – I made my way to the Gemaldegaleire. Its entrance is tucked away at the back of a complex called the Kutureforum. It was deserted and I started to think I should have chosen a different way to spend my day. In the foyer, a couple of people milled about but I pretty much had the place to myself.

I was wrong to assume that no crowd means no pleasure. The collection ‘sammlung’ (love that word) in here would rival the best in the world. There are rooms overflowing with Rembrandt, Titian, Raphael, Rubens, Caravaggio, Dürer, Brueghel, Van Eyck… even Reynolds and Gainsborough. I realize that I am starting to sound repetitive – such treasures here in Europe… but this gallery is different. Though I recognize the artists, many of the paintings are not familiar. But again, this does not mean that they are inferior paintings – in fact, many of them are amongst the most beautiful works I have seen. I am aware that I am taking in generalities but I do not know where to begin. Being almost alone in the gallery increases the intensity – there are no distractions, just me and the works.

Perhaps I will just mention one painting as it is in one of the first rooms and it took me by surprise. It is Holbein’s, Maria als Schmerzensmutter (Our Lady of Sorrows), 1495. It depicts Mary crying and there is such intensity of emotion in her pleading glare – I feel reluctant to move on. I have included a brutal crop here – but I wanted to show the eyes and the tears. Holbein is a beautiful painter - he is emotionally invested in his subject here and it carries.



Ok just two… Venus with the Organ Player, now this one I do know – though only through slides. It is thrilling to see Titian’s sensual touch and skilled and varied handling up close.


I wonder if I picked up an art book from the 1930s whether many of the works in the Gemaldegallerie would be detailed there. Whether generally, German galleries, collections and indeed, artists were largely left out of the curriculum when I came to study art.

The war, now 70 years ago, is still deeply felt in Berlin. There are physical scars on the buildings everywhere and the Berliners are not in a hurry to brush them away. For example, there is a church with the steeple blown in half; it has been carefully repaired to stabilize and weatherproof but otherwise it stands in pieces as a reminder of history. There are many memorials to the Jewish people and many empty spaces – empty rooms in galleries – empty concrete squares – a theme that symbolizes the absence of Jews from German society. A friend who lives here mentioned that she has only recently seen people displaying the German flag - there is still such guilt associated with any kind of patriotism.

This remorse does not in any way make good what happened under Hitler’s reign – but there seems to be an understanding of the necessity (if not willingness) to face the past. I cannot help but compare this with my own country’s reaction to the bloody history of Australia. Here, in this regard, a cultivated ignorance is pervasive, for the most part.

I decide to cook at home today and I discover why no one does. One organic chicken breast from the local biomarkt cost 7 and the remainder of my ingredients - another 7. I make a mediocre rice dish with a fork and a saucepan (my host doesn’t cook at home and has few cooking utensils and only one pot). As I scrub the pot I can hear the surrounding restaurants filled to the brim with Berliners as it is every night of the week. I imagine the delicious meal I could have purchased for under 10.

The delightful verdict: It is not economically viable to eat at home.

Day 12 SEX, DEATH & MISO SOUP


I stayed well out of the red light district while I was in Amsterdam but in Berlin, sex is ubiquitous.

Today I visited the impressive Berlinische Gallery in Mitte where they were showing a major exhibition of the work of American, Dorothy Iannone who basically depicted society as clusters of genitals over a career that has lasted 50 years. When room after room of legs-wide-open became tedious, I climbed the crossed staircase* onto the level of the Berlin artists permanent collection. The downstairs theme continues… (please excuse the pun). Is it me? Have I been away for too long? 

At lunch I purchased a copy of ‘EXBERLINER’. As far as I know this is a mainstream magazine for English speakers in Berlin. The first article is about an English gay club that has opened. The title of the article is BEST MOUTHFUL OF GERMAN(S) and it reads like this: “A little bit nervous when it comes to the legend of the giant German Schwanz? Having trouble saying ‘Ich finde dich geil’ while gobbling down schnitzel? Fear not: there’s a new sex party for horny homos who want (or need) to speak English. Not subscribing to the adage that love is a universal language, EXPAT MEAT (yes) at Prenzenlauer Berg gay sex club Stahlrohr 2.0 aims to fill a hole for the Teutonically timid.” Case in point! Ha!

I spent the afternoon in a completely different dimension at the Jewish Museum. I barely have words for this. The building itself is completely disconcerting:  narrow corridors file off in various directions and the floor appears to be slanted (which I believe it is - ever so slightly). The effect upon the visitor is a sense of vertigo – intended by the architects to express the sentiment that nothing makes sense after a tragedy such as the holocaust.

Tears began when I read this letter from a mother to her son who has managed to organise passage to South America at the beginning of the war to stay with relatives there.

“My Darling Son,
Tomorrow I am being evacuated to a place called Auschwitz. I do not know what will become of me. If by chance you do not hear from me again, please know that you have been the light of my life and I am so relieved that you are safe away from here. I will love you always,
Mother”

Another was a letter from a 10-year-old boy to his aunt. He had been separated from his parents and has managed to hide, alone, in Nice for one year before he was caught. He pens this on the train. Looking at the actual letter you can see how young he is by the immature handwriting, though his words are eloquent.

“The heat, the stench and the crying of men, women and children who are crowded into this train, defies all description. We do not know where we are heading. Escape is impossible.”
There was a little notation from the museum saying that he was taken to Dachau where he was murdered.

I had to leave. With tears running down my face, I tried to find my way out of the labyrinth. The museum is largely underground so that by the time I burst onto the street I was able to recognise what an incredible museum experience it was. For a millisecond of my life I gained an insight into the terror of the holocaust. But escape was possible for me.

I shifted into a third dimension for the evening when I met up with a friend of a friend Ilona, Kat. We had spoken on the phone and arranged to meet on a street corner near Alexanderplatz. She was going home after work to collect her dog, Winnie, who joined us. Not knowing what Kat looked like I approached a girl with a dog who was standing on the corner. “Kat?” I said. She looked at her dog then back at me, frowned a meaningful frown and said “Nein”. I decided to wait for Kat to approach me.

We went to a Vietnamese/ Japanese restaurant (apparently this combo is a very Berlin thing). We did have miso soup and sushi and chatted our faces off. It was so lovely to meet Kat and I know our paths will cross again. Winnie is divine and I hope to get more cuddles from her some time soon.

On this note (aware that this is a very long diary entry)… my host, Eva, is a yoga teacher, energy healer and editor of Art Berlin. Her apartment is a retreat with beautiful little shrines in every corner. I feel like the universe is getting involved in my journey.

*This is German design ingenuity at its best – the sleek staircase runs diagonally across the enourmous double-story-high gallery space. The staircases run in opposing directions. Where the staircases meet (in the centre of the room, mid-air), there is a landing so you can redirect to any corner of the upper level (or lower level if you are Christopher Robin – please, someone get that reference).



Day 11 MASTERCLASS IN BERLIN



It is 10pm and I am sitting in a Tibetan restaurant off Bergmanstrausse in Kruezberg, sharpening my already sophisticated eavesdropping skills. The nerdy expat students are hanging out eating goat milk dumplings and talking about where the cool kids hang out (warehouse parties on the outskirts of Leipzig) – boring – Oh wait – conspiracy theories… Apparently high doses of fluoride in water causes docility – this is why Hitler was adamant about dental health for the people. It was really to do with mind control.*

Prior to coming to Berlin, I organized a masterclass with a locally based teacher and painter, Eoin Llewellyn. We met this morning at the National Gallerie and looked at many paintings, deconstructing the technique. A great deal of the artists we looked at are German and I had little knowledge of most of them but so glad to have discovered some gutsy painters.

Menzel and Blechen stood out for me but there was a lesson to be learned from Casper David Friedrich and it was about quiet and ‘breath’ in the handling rather than concepts of the sublime.  In Menzel, though his handling is energetic and loose, there are always areas that are barely touched beyond the imprimatura. This gives the painting air and space and serves to bring attention to the areas of great energy without overwhelming the viewer.

We also discussed processes for home made mediums (which are pure and do not have any of the additives that factories add). Eoin was also advocating the reduction of solvent use in my practice. I don’t use much as it is but he made me realize that I really don’t need to use any.

The side of the National Gallerie is undergoing a refurbishment and Eoin explained that a great deal of historic buildings are still being repaired from WWII. He then pointed out the bullet holes in the walls that we were passing. I was shocked to see this. Had I been looking at the wall without this explanation - it probably would not have occurred to me that that the texture was this - I'm so unused to seeing such a thing. I have attached a picture below - many of the walls in Berlin look like this.

For lunch we had crepes in a food market in Kreuzberg, which were completely and utterly divine and went to Eoin’s studio to put into practice some of the things that I had observed in the gallery.

At this stage in my development as a painter, it is very insightful to have someone watch me paint and point out habits that I have that I barely notice. After discussing with Eoin the things that I wanted to achieve in my work, he was able to observe my technique and highlight why these things are eluding me. At times this was frustrating because, as with all change, our tendency is to resist. We worked right through into the evening. It was an exhausting and exhilarating day and I have learned many valuable lessons. I am excited to get back to my own studio to put them into practice.

*I googled this when I got home and there are actually plenty of websites that suggest that fluoride consumption can lead to lowered IQ together with a list of other health side effects such as bone cancer - interesting. 




Day 10: VINCENT AND ARRIVING IN BERLIN


Starry Starry Night,

Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills

In colors on the snowy linen land.

Its 10.50am and I am on a bus to the airport and I feel a bit proud of this morning’s achievements. I got up early and went for my run (walk) around Vondelpark and the canals, came back to the hotel and ate breakfast, showered, packed up my bags and checked out. I was waiting at the Van Gogh Museum when they opened at 9am – spent one hour in there (wish I’d had more), ran across town to the apple shop to buy a replacement charger as I left mine in London. Made it back to the hotel to pick my suitcases up and haul them to the bus stop to catch a 10.30 bus. I managed to make three sketches on the bus as I have been asked to bring some to show my tutor tomorrow. Awesome if I may say so myself.

The Van Gogh Museum was wonderful. I didn’t realize that VanGogh only painted for 10 years, and further to that; all of the highly saturated impasto work we know him for he created in the last 3 years of his life. There seemed to be a distinct shift in his work once he moved to Paris in 1888 and then he died in 1890. What a beautiful, fragile, insightful soul.

This is a little bit random but there is a Dr Who episode where the Tardis lands in Arles in 1890 and the Doctor and Amy befriend Vincent just before his death. I love it and I will forever more think of his character like the one in that episode. 

Artists are always looking for ways to make the optical experience of a painting more sophisticated. I was amazed to see that Vincent crushed glass into a fine dust and sprinkled it over the surface of his painting. This is not visible to the naked eye but the gallery will allow you to observe it through a microscope. I can only imagine that the way the light refracts as it hits the pieces of glass would intensify the luminosity of the painting. I have not known any other artist to do this although I know marble dust is sometimes mixed in with the paint.

Later…
Arriving in Berlin is exciting. Eva is my host and she met me at the apartment to run through the quirks. It’s gorgeous but I am exhausted. A quick trip to the supermarket to grab some dinner – fresh roggenbrot, liverwurst, blueberries and beer – that’ll do. In a state of delirium I devour my purchases and fall asleep as I hit the pillow.


Photos: The door way to the apartment block and the view from my window.

 Lyrics Credit: Don McLean, Vincent, 1971



Day 9 REMBRANDT AT THE RIJKSMUSEUM



Sitting as I am now, at the close of this warm spring day, in a café in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam, I can hardly believe I woke up in London this morning. 

My father wanted me to add the Louvre to my itinerary. I argued that going to Paris was a separate trip as I couldn’t squeeze Paris into a few days. Loving a good debate, as my family does, he quipped that if time was an issue I could at least spend 24hrs in Amsterdam and see ‘The Night Watch’ – so a deal was struck and here I am… and so glad to be – thanks Papa.

I have ordered a Dutch beer – sorry no detail as the menu is gone and I can’t remember which one it was – but it is GOOD. I also ordered a snack plate and it has arrived too… I bite into one of the items and it appears to be a deep fried spring roll filled with a fondue type cheese OMG – this is so good – salads for the rest of the trip – promise to self.

I spent this afternoon in the Rijksmuseum in loving awe of Rembrandt. Viewing Rembrandt alongside his 17C Dutch contemporaries is really interesting and serves to highlight his genius further. This is because his contemporaries are all confident and highly skilled masters in various areas of portraiture, still life and landscape; Hals, Vermeer, Van Ruisdael, Van Goyen, Kalf. But still Rembrandt stands out. He can do it all. I want to say that is the intense light sources and contrasting shadows that sets him apart and yes this is part of it - but it is also his inventive handling of the paint, the variety of brushstrokes, the dynamic compositions and diagonal devices, detail in the garments … and his humanity. The certain something is not very tangible – though it is intensely felt. One gets the impression that Rembrandt experienced life to the edge and back several times.

Now having said that, Vermeer’s paintings nearly bring me to tears with their quiet beauty. Much is being said in his works but it is like a covert love letter, a secret that he wants us to know but is not telling all just yet.


My parents have a small reproduction of ‘The Milkmaid’ hanging in the dining room of our family home – the image has been with me from childhood and it is like seeing an old friend to see the original in front of me.

Day 8 MAYFAIR & SOHO



While I was enjoying my breakfast in Brick Lane my phone rang and I heard a voice that I have not heard in many, many, years. It was an old friend, Miles, who I met when I lived in Brighton in 1994 (pre email – its amazing to think). We planned to meet again today, at Leicester Square. 

Miles is a photographer, web developer, writer and thinker with whom I have had many philosophical discussions about art and life over the web, over the years. It was wonderful to talk as we walked in and out of small commercial galleries in Soho and Mayfair sharing the sights and hashing it out.

In the middle of our wanderings we came across Liberty of London. At the entrance was an abundance of fresh flowers – mostly roses in every hue.  We soaked up the scents and all the new Liberty patterns and textile compositions such as modal (made from beech trees) that I have been interested in in my line of work (as a textiles designer – my other life). The attendants were really informative and didn’t seem to mind me taking a million photographs. The scarf I wanted was £525 – that will have to be another life again!

We were definitely in the money end of town and we had met some delicious characters. One handsome, beautifully dressed gallery attendant was advising us where to go for lunch – he indicated The Ritz (at the end of the street) we giggled and suggested something a little less expensive. He smiled broadly and gestured broadly and said, “Darling, you’re in Mayfair – EVERYTHING is expensive here”.


In the late afternoon we were galleried out – we found a little spot in the sun in Soho Square and got some takeaway drinks from a local pub. The park is a buzz with groups of people enjoying the stunning weather. There is no evidence of dreary London drizzle – only clear blue skies and rays of sunshine. No need for the winter coat I packed.

Another old friend, Clara, who is in London completing a PhD in Sustainable Textiles, joined us. It was great to see her in her element in her neighbourhood. Clara and I went to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant near Soho Square– oh the food! Yum! Then before I knew it, it was time for me to come home and pack and wash sweet chilli sauce out of my hair (don’t ask).

I leave London for Amsterdam tomorrow. I have loved my time in this city… maybe I should stay a while… besides, my children will be very disappointed to learn that I haven’t seen the Queen.

A little credit note: Antiques at Liberty London and Artwork by Ernesto Canovas, Halcyon Gallery, Bond St.