Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Death and a Birth in the Family

Apologies guys for seeming to have disappeared. My trusty old Toshiba Satellite died - most dramatically and horribly! The screen flickered gently but ominously for a day or so. And then went irredeemably black. No amount of coaxing would bring any kind of life back - we had a corpse.

So the scene round the house was:


I considered a trip to Jay's to get the right mourning gear:

or Robinson's

and would have ended up:

with female relos looking like:

Or if you were doing it round 1810:

All this seemed a bit mad and severe, so I contemplated a bit of 'half-mourning':

Girl in Half Mourning 1895

Half Mourning - Waist 1890-1910

Though I was not really sure what 'half' meant. You could have floral designs within the black? Maybe if you didn't really care that much for the deceased? Or every other day you could party on as usual?

In any case, the idea of a mourning broach particularly appealed:

With the lock of the deceased's hair in the first example obviously being replaced by a sliver of the old screen!

I even thought about being photographed with the 'remains', in good late Victorian mode:

But in the end decided against it.

It's much healthier to move on. And prepare for the new arrival. Which was delivered yesterday - in the form of a bouncing 2.8 kg baby Toshiba Tecra 8 laptop.

George de la Tour 'The Newborn' 1640's

Of course, I had to have the puter version of the new-born baby set:

Which included a new wireless modem, super fab carry bag, Comsol housing to harvest the old hard drive as a mass storage device, and so on.

Inoculations followed as virus protection. And reloading old software.

So a new life - see you again very soon guys!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) - Another Australian Photographer

Olive Cotton is an under-rated and under-exposed Australian photographer who worked from the 1930’s on. The influences on her photography are numerous, including that of her one-time partner, Max Dupain (see my post ‘Max Dupain (1911-1992) – Australian Photographer’, Wednesday, February 14, 2007):

Olive Cotton 'Max after surfing'

Dupain in turn photographed Cotton, as a lover would do:

Max Dupain 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' (1939)

Olive Cotton photographed by Max Dupain

Cotton’s work itself often has reference to art history, such as interiors with resonances with C17 Dutch interiors in their similar tangible quality of air and lighting in internal spaces …

Olive Cotton

Vermeer Interior

... and her still lives, such as her ‘Teacup Ballet’ (1935) and ‘Glasses’ (1937) that reflect the deco formalism of her fellow country woman Margaret Preston, among others:

Olive Cotton 'Teacup Ballet' (1935)

Olive Cotton 'Glasses' (1937)

Margaret Preston 'Implement Blue' (1927)

Cotton in her turn influenced others. ‘Plum Blossom’ (1937) and similar examples had things to say to later floral photographers, such as Mapplethorpe:

Olive Cotton ‘Plum Blossom’ (1937)


There is a masterly sense of composition, balance and lighting in Olive Cotton’s oeuvre– a sure touch that leaves the viewer totally satisfied. There is nothing small or awkward or indecisive. And all this, without being too pushed or self-conscious:

Olive Cotton 'The Sleeper' (1939) - Her friend Olga Sharp

Bet Olive was a very determined kind off person!!!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Associative versus Logical Thinking - A Desk, a Cabinet of Curios, Two Late C19 Coastal Sepik Figures, and The Huli

I glanced at a book on my desk this morning ('Paris in the Fifties' by Stanley Karnow) and ended up thinking about the Huli tribesmen of Papua New Guinea. And wondered how I got from one to the other. It's to do with the kind of thinking involved. Not logical but associative - where one idea or image leads to another, through some personal connection in your experience. And this train of thought is often not open to discovery by others.

But first I want to set this context a little more first.

In a moment of total financial insanity some years ago, I raised my hand that once too often at a fine furniture action and found myself the surprised owner of a C19 leather-topped mahogany campaign desk. I was a student at the time, with no income what-so-ever. And was obviously suffering from pre-examination hysteria. But I've never regretted this lapse, even for a second. What did Julie Andrews say about her favourite things?

Since then I've realised many desk tops tend to evolve and, like archaeological digs, reveal rather a lot about their owners:

And at certain times, they can be more maximal:

And at others more minimal:

Though it might be difficult to say which is which in my case!

So I was looking across this perhaps favourite topography round the house yesterday, and it occurred to me just how many tribal objects we'd amassed. And this inevitably lead me to think about another parallel moment of auction madness, this time a Sotheby's 'Aboriginal, African and Oceanic Art' auction.

The specific madness this time was in the form of two late C19 Coastal Sepic Figures. Each of these figures was carved after the death of a female ancestor, wrapped in cloth, placed in a leather bag and worn off the belt of decendants.

The figures are of wood, and stand on round wooden bases. 23 and 12 cms respectively. They still retain traces of red, yellow and white ochre decoration. Each is accompanied by an old brown label with the same inscription - 'Carved image or totem, Boram, New Guinea, presented by H. A. H., 23 / 3 / 1930'.

I wondered if there were any resonances between these wooden carved figures and tribal peoples and practices in New Guinea today.

As the sculptures were ochre-painted, I began to think about this in the context of face and body decoration.

And I remembered the Huli tribesmen (or Wigmen) who live near Tari city in the central highland of Papua New Guinea. As opposed to the the Coastal Sepik River people associated with my wooden figures.

The Huli's fame rests to a degree on their face painting, and the elaborate wigs they construct of human hair interlaced with brightly-coloured bird feathers.

Cos this piece was about associative versus logical thinking, I didn't want to engage in any out-moded historical anthropology about so-called 'primitive' peoples, and what their cultures and social practices may reveal about those of early man.

I wanted to let my sensous visual associations take me where they would. And I'm pleased just to be mesmerised by the visual qualities of all these images - from desk to Huli. To revel in the formal and colour values. And put my logic to rest.