My body of work – the heads of agreement!

 

studio2

Studio1

I believe that the environment we live in affects our ability to create. Therefore sometimes it is necessary to create the environment first. Well, this is what works for me, and is why it has taken five years to complete the environment for creativity to fully blossom. The environment I talk of is mostly exterior and therefore visual, however there is a flow through to the interior environment as a result of having a suitable space to work from. The renovations to the studio were in fact completed in 2015, but the renovation to my life was still a work in progress.

Last weekend I finally “hung” my body of work from the recently completed and final year of an Arts degree (Bachelor of Visual Art), onto the walls of my studio. Interestingly (as you can see) there are no body’s, and the portraits wear headgear reminiscent of a death mask.  I started with only two portraits and ended up doing five, and ironic that in the end they all fitted so perfectly onto this funny curved wall which is the main hanging space in the studio. It was as if I had somehow subconsciously painted these portraits to suit my studio; the middle one of me emerging from the dark, smack bang in the middle and the others facing inward, surrounding me in support.

Titled ‘The Immortal Soul’, this recently completed body of work explores my life experiences and spiritual beliefs. Through a combination of mythological, psychological and symbolic imagery, these paintings reflect facets of my persona. The sequence of five paintings is structured around the idea of personality archetypes as defined by Carl Jung and depicted through the language of surrealism. The masked aspect is symbolic of death. Through the executioners hood I reflect on my existential approach to life and how I have reinvented myself many times over. The hoods therefore speak of endings and new beginnings. All the portraits of the archetypes explore the concept that humans have two basic natures, the physical and the spiritual. They represent psychic intuition: the unseen inner life, which guides me in the physical world.

When I stood back and looked at my work, I was reminded of the quote by T.S Elliot, ” we shall not cease from exploring, and at the end of our exploring will be to arrive and know the place for the first time”. Even though I was born with this gift, I felt a sense accomplishment, I was amazed (that I could do this), and they made me feel worthy. These paintings define me right now, but in five-ten years better paintings will define me, and THAT is the power of self discovery through ART.

HAIL ART!……long may it live (after the resurrection)!

Advertisements

Hyper Realism

Eley Portrait

I am not a hyper realist artist, and nor do I wish to be. However this is my attempt at painting in the hyper realism style, created through a master class workshop at The Art Academy (Adelaide based art school run by Robin Eley). What I wanted to achieve from the workshop was knowledge about form, and how this is created through tone and colour, and also mixing skin tone from the correct palette. We all painted the same painting from a photo, so I don’t know the woman (left side in case it isn’t obvious!)

Robin Eley is a generous teacher who happily shares his knowledge, and mastery of paint technique with a class of roughly thirty people, over a five day intensive workshop. He’s also a super cool dude who is living the dream as a successful artist in Los Angeles. I think it is quite safe to say that he still calls Australia home, and shall return to our fare shores once he has made his mark on the world. Other notable Adelaide artists such as Tsering Hannaford also teach at The Academy. The next up coming workshop is in January next year with David Jon Kassan and Shana Levesen. I highly recommend the Academy for those artists who wish to develop their painting technique. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the camaraderie gained by meeting other like minded souls.

Gina

image4

It is the anniversary of “when my niece came to stay”, a whole year ago. Winter can be quite heart warming when you have experiences like this…..

July 9th 2015: I have just experienced the most gorgeous eight days with my niece from New Zealand. First grandchild to the family, therefore my first niece, and my brother’s first born (of four girls). Maybe this ‘first’ status gave her some rights of passage in life which held her in good stead, considering the circumstances she found herself in during her childhood. An unfortunate one as the result of her parent’s marriage breakdown. I am sure that she is not alone on that stage, with other children who endured the uncertainly of home, place, and belonging as a result of a broken home.
The older I get (or more mature I should say), the more I am drawn back to my family. In particular, my role within that structure. Having left home and country at seventeen, I have not had a lot of connect with my siblings, nor the wonderful nieces and nephews as a result, at fifty I found myself returning like a homing pigeon of sorts. I wanted to reconnect and make up for lost time. After the breakdown of my own marriage to an Italian man, I realised that there were indeed tribal differences between us, and the years I had spent developing relationships with his children and mother were buried soon after we parted. In Italian lore marriage is forever, no matter what. When you leave you are ‘officially’ dead. Till death do us part indeed, I had died to them upon the end of the marriage.
Two of my nieces from two different sisters had been to stay for extended periods during the time I had my Graphic Design business. So it was like work experience for them, as well as getting to know each other a little better, considering I had not had a lot of contact during their childhoods. The visits were from one to three months. The visit from Gina was only one week, and at my invitation. I cannot explain why there are better connects with some members of the family than others, but I guess it is no different to the people whom we simply encounter in life and form an instant bond with.
Gina had not been in the best of health of late, so I just wanted to wrap her up and give her a much needed rest. I knew that being in a new environment could be such an invigorating and sometimes in itself a healing experience, combined with some TLC, I felt I could offer some respite from her CFS condition. Gina had ‘burnt out’, her get up and go, got up and went, her MOJO was gone gone! CFS does not necessarily signal a call out to the Country Fire Service, because there simply is no fire to put out, and it is pretty hard to reignite the flame. Her resulting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was possibly due to having put all her eggs into one basket, and when that basket broke the shattering effect is likened to that of a jigsaw puzzle needing to be put back together. There is your life, you can see it – the whole lot, from inception to present moment, the good, the bad and the bloody ugly. Her childhood had crept up on her and she found she was addressing the many aspects of her dysfunctional childhood. The fact that she had survived the multitudes of moves from town to town which robbed her of friendships and bonds with other girls. Endured her mother’s creepy boyfriends who had run her down with verbal, sexual and physical abuse and made her feel scared and insecure. Being farmed out as a child slave to another woman who was simply lonely, for two years, who practiced in the occult, performed séances, runes and other weird shit that no child should ever be exposed to. How her mother allowed this to happen is beyond my comprehension! Combined with a lack of any fatherly input, owing to her mother’s annihilation of his need of presence in the upbringing of his daughter’s life and geographical distance combined. It all came to a shattering head at age thirty-eight.
In the past three years Gina had suffered high-grade pre-cancerous cervical changes that needed surgical removal, but caused her to suffer a massive hemorrhage, which lead to Fibromyalgia, and on to chronic fatigue. In essence, she experienced at age thirty-eight a massive meltdown, which also resulted in her inability to work, and the effects that had on the family from both a financial perspective in this day and age where most parents both work to support a family and a psychological one which made her feel enormously guilty for letting the team down. Trying to piece together and make sense of a robbed childhood, what she really endured and had mentally blocked out for survival took its emotional toll. Combined with quite simply the pressures of running a family of her own and trying to make sure that her children had the childhood she did not. Was it any surprise that her life shattered and splintered the way it did and manifested in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
If we don’t address the wrongs done to us throughout our life passage, we carry them with us, until finally they catch up with us. They define us, as victims of our own making because we have not stood up for ourselves. Gina had however stood up for herself and at many junctures in her childhood, especially as she grew into adulthood. She finally said to her mother when the boyfriend’s abuse became too much “I cannot live with you any more”. She was only fourteen years old when she went into voluntary foster care. Stories of aiding her mother to keep from being strangled by the boyfriend, with a massive crack to his head with an ash tray, then being turned upon by him. Raking a gravel driveway as punishment for her ‘crime’ in this episode, then having him speed his vehicle over it, only for her to ‘do it all again’. She spent a brief period living in a friend’s caravan in the back yard for respite, even though she eventually went back to live with her mother, when it was safe. Gina enjoyed her time alone in the caravan because she had a sense of freedom. A safe space of her own.
Her life made mine look like a fairy tale in comparison. I could not blame my brother either, simply because he was not there. He was only twenty-one when he married, and Gina’s mother a mere eighteen years young, crazy when you think about it? It failed after only five years and two young children under three, he went on to another country so being there for her was a geographical barrier in many respects. He was shut out, but also didn’t put in a huge effort to retain the contact that was quite obviously needed for a good relationship to be retained.
Gina has her own family now, a son of fifteen and daughter eleven, and a husband who adores her. So why was Gina in the place she was? Over compensation perhaps for her own upbringing and its deficiencies. I could not judge her on that one as she only spoke of her children with the utmost love and her role as a mother with pure dedication. Yet I knew she was crying out for more, and it was quite possibly just this need to be mothered. We all know that our ‘motherly’ role can be quite depleted if it is not topped up with some reciprocation every now and then.
My own mother had always told me “be kind to each other”. I somehow wanted to help her heal from all the acts of injustice that had been inflicted upon her during her childhood years. I believed that conscious acts of random kindness go a long way in this world of selfishness and self indulgence. And charity starts at home right? A Virgo and therefore earth mother sign, giving back comes naturally to me. I hoped that a week in my care may come to help heal her shattered soul, mend her spirit and send her on her way again having had some nurturing from her aunt. Only time will tell on that front.
We made a pact to take a selfie together on every day and on each occasion, whether it was out and about or just at home. Sometimes I wrapped her in my favourite blanket and parked her in front of the tele to watch a brilliant eight part tele series called “The Honourable Woman” (BBC equivalent to Homeland). Stacked books in her room to read, of which she finished one and took another with her for inspiration. Cooked some of my all time favourite recipes in my brand new kitchen. We ate vegemite chocolate and cake whilst we told stories of our lives. The interchange of self, our rebellious youths, and the taming of our free spirits,….motherhood, sisterhood, womankind.
The final words she said to me when we parted, “I love you Barbara, you are the mother I never had”.
“And you Gina are the daughter I never had”.
There is was, it had passed, our brilliant week together. I had facilitated a remarkable experience for us both and it felt good, just as much as the parting felt wretched. I had wanted to help her, but I knew that I had also helped myself. The tears made me feel human, they made me feel connected. I put on the Sheryl Crow CD, turned it up loud, just as we had done on Sunday as we tore through the Barossa Valley in my fast little car. “I can’t cry any more” played first up. I cried all the way home,…and then some more.
I feel so despondent towards my brother (Gina’s father) and her mother also. But they are not my concern. I only acted on impulse and intuition, slight as that may have been and many of us tend to ignore as we go about our busy lives. To engage my niece for a week in Australia for some much needed time out was a simple act of kindness, but I know that it brought us so much collective joy and healing for both of our souls.

Sister from the other Mister

Ann & me & mum

“It’s her isn’t it?” I queried to my older sister on the telephone, the day my mother died. The daughter (our half sister) my mother had given up for adoption 63 years ago had made contact by letter. Dad mentioned it at the hospital upon mums deathbed, that she had received a letter from a woman in England who believed she was related to her. She had read the letter every day for a month, but such was the state of her dementia she probably thought it was a new letter every day! She never told anyone, but then she never told us about the baby she was forced to give up either.

This was her secret and she managed to hide it from us all (4), swept under the carpet, as you did in those days.
We found out 25 years later when she had a nervous breakdown over it. She had forgotten she had 4 children, and simply wanted her baby back. All was revealed during those tumultuous months of incubation, and of course which she eventually recovered from.

The letter from her daughter was polite and considerate of my mothers position in life. She did not want to upset any one, she was mindful of the fact mum may not have mentioned the fact that she had adopted out her first born to anyone, to the point that she did not even state she was her daughter. But mum knew who she was, and continued to hide the letter, as she did her past and her pain.

It came too late, as my mother had suffered a massive stroke and we (the children) had made the decision to not prolong her life owing to the quality (lack of). So we let her slip peacefully into oblivion, with a good dose of morphine to aid the journey. We knew that she wanted that. We also knew that she was over it, and had wanted out some 8 years prior. There is no dignity in being kept alive as a vegetable and believe that we are kinder to animals when it comes to voluntary euthanasia in society today.

Let’s reverse in time to October 2009, when I visited my mother in NZ. I knew that her time was close, and was not wrong for she passed away some 4 months later. Whilst there I said to my sisters “lets try and find her”, surely with internet access these days making the world a village it would be easy to find her. But mum didn’t want a bar of it. Apart from her memory being quite vague, she was also of the opinion that there was too much water under the bridge, or as the case had been of that generation, “lets just sweep it back under the carpet”. When queried about dates, hospitals, she did not want to comply, or could simply not remember.

Little did we know however that what was happening in the northern hemisphere at exactly that time was the initiation of a search by her, our half sister. Months of research, trowling relatives in Scotland that bore her name revealed nothing, until a 2nd search of the boats which had left the UK on a regular basis with immigrants to populate Australia & NZ revealed my mothers name. My half sister had not necessarily needed to find her birth mother, being perfectly happy with her adoptive parents and respectful of their position in this regard. However my mothers name was on her birth certificate, and I guess curiosity gets the better of all of us at some stage. In this case curiosity was all it probably amounted to, as my half sister did not need to know the details of “why”. Considering the era, it was pretty normal for young mothers who were unmarried to give their babies up for adoption.

Once her destination was discovered a private detective n NZ was employed to trace her whereabouts. owing simply to the barriers of geography.

Lets reverse back in time to 1947: World War 2 had ended 2 years prior, a time which had engaged my mother as an entertainer in a dance troop consisting of herself (Elsie) her sister Bessie and Lydia. Think Andrews Sisters and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B. Many a tale was told to me as a young child by my mum, of the war: London’s bombings, the sirens, entertaining in the underground, emerging to the rubble of the bombings, the soldiers………and the luxuries they brought the young ladies, chocolates, perfume, silk stockings! I remember my mother telling me how handsome and generous the men in uniform were.

She went on to have quite a few careers, but the one directly after the war was a bus conductress in London on the double deckers. I am sure that she punched many a mans ticket (because she was so very cute), but a ‘ticket to ride’, was not meant for Elsie, and when she discovered she was in the family way, was promptly hidden from view. On September 17th 1947 my mother gave birth to a daughter and called her Margaret (more than likely in the hope that her mother would take her and the child in as my grandmothers name was Maggie). She had the child in an institution called Brocket Hall, an estate which was turned over to the war office and used as a maternity hospital. Over 8000 babies were born there (exact figure shows 8338). These babies are now called the Brocket Babies and have a website dedicated to them.

Upon my recent meeting with my half sister this month, we delved through the adoption documentation of discovery she had in her possession, and one of the most poignant facts revealed was that her own sister Bessie (also from the dance troop) gave birth just one day after Elsie, to a son, in her mothers home. The difference between Bessie and Elsie of course was her status. Bessie was married! How unbelievably hard that must have been for my mother, knowing that their kids, the cousins, could have had a relationship, and their dance days would have been cemented even further through the children they had born within hours of each other. I did not know this until 2 weeks ago. My heart bled for my mother when I knew she had given up a child after 3 months of cuddling and knowing her. But I finally understood her pain of being exiled, when she had so much to gain from the circumstances of the family connections surrounding her at that time.

Whilst we don’t know who the father was, we suspect that he was tall, because my half sisters sons are tall, and there is a theory that he may have been a Buckingham Palace guard (she did always like a man in uniform – bless her). His name is not recorded on the birth certificate, so lets just list him as “missing in action”.

9 months after the birth of her daughter my mother caught a boat to NZ, to start a new life. She was 27 years old.

The only advise my mother gave me, and which I adhered to in every respect, was this, “when you grow up get as far away as possible from your family, and make your own life”! Not the normal advise a mother would give, but I have only just understood why and I have never regretted her sound words.

I gave it all up, for ART!

What do you mean “you’ve retired”! “You should still be in business you know”!

Yes I do know. It is the business of knowing oneself, and I am loving it. From a deep dark secret place, I know that I am back in business, but it is all happening at a subconscious level deep within me. It is from this place that I was able to initiate the first steps towards a new life. The life I knew I needed to lead. It’s called ART, and it is my life. Everything I do is creative/created, which is how I chose to step off the path I was on to create a new life. I didn’t know and still don’t know how I am going to survive financially, but it does not matter. I know I will survive because I live in Australia for godsake & not Ethiopia (vast difference)! Because of my beliefs I know that the Universe will provide….it always does. There has been no financial planning for my future, no goal plan of X, which allows me to play  golf or tennis every day, and travel to far away destinations on an annual basis. There is just this driven force which directs me where I need to go and what I need to do. Be true to myself and all else will follow, as night follows day, …trust!  This is paramount to our existence. And now my life is archived through my art, a vehicle for feeling – how good is that? To express your feelings in pictures – awesome!

I am a fortunate human being having an exceptional experience through this thing called ‘life’. Yet I currently have 5 people close to me who are exposed to a life/death experience (yes Cancer, and therefore very dependant upon their own will to survive at a calibre of life with which they feel comfortable) I honestly don’t think I really know what that is like – to look death in the eye, because I simply love life too much; but if I were delivered that sentence then I would “cherise the day, and every day that comes after…” Isn’t this how we should all live our lives, and decide upon our futures?

As the author of this work I (Barbara Harkness) acknowledge the moral rights to the above have been asserted with the copyright, designs and patents act 1988. If you wish to use any of my material you may contact me for permission.

A Change of Heart

heirloom quilt

Why do we sometimes experience a change of heart and what exactly is it? Have we simply changed our mind on something, or has our heart had a ‘heart to heart’ with us? 

Well my heart spoke to me some time back, which is how I found myself going to Art School this year. So when I was given a brief in my sculpture class to create a ‘cocoon’, [definition: surrounds, protects, carefully crafted, tailored to the creature, transportable, transformative, a personal space which is poetic rather than functional]…..I got excited! I knew exactly what I would make before the brief was finished being read to us. A quilt!

The very next day I was at Spotlight seeking fabric. I wanted red satin, for this is my colour for rebirth & passion, and I’d have to say my favourite colour overall. The black & white squares on the main side reflect the colour palette of my new home. The letters were made from off-cuts of frocks I’d sewn in the past, as these had to represent the personal nature of my piece.

You see I’d just left home (again) to create a new one. But this familiar feeling of leaving and starting again was much larger than any other time I had left home. This was not just about changing houses, it encompassed a personal relationship, a career ‘alteration’, and selling my beautiful home of twelve years. This home had been the longest I had resided anywhere in my whole life. It had been my cocoon, a place I had created, felt safe, secure and loved in.

The saying on the quilt is from a BACI chocolate wrapper, “the heart knows no reason, that reason does not know”. I could not understand what it meant when I first read it, and I still don’t know. Its a paradox, like life itself. I don’t know why I left my home in many respects, apart from my heart talking to me. There was no logical reason, just instinct, and my heart telling me to go.

Now the ironic thing about satin, and using different fabrics, is that they don’t always go together that well. Something like a relationship in many aspects. They all reacted differently as I sewed them on. Even the carefully measured and cut squares would somehow slip so much that they would end up with a 10mm disparity in places. The red satin back kept getting caught up and sewn up double, causing me to unpick and re-do it many times over.

The result was a far more hand crafted look, which I liked. But more interestingly I was reminded during the sewing process of how life does not always turn out the way you plan, and how often we repeat the same mistake over and over, until we get it right. That karmic boomerang will just keep coming back to hit you on the head to say “hey wake up, you’ve been here before”! So as I unpicked letters, and re did lines, I thought about how life is like that, imperfect in many ways, but you get by,…until you know how to get it right. And sometimes we just get by with all our fumbling mistakes, but thats also our choice.

On the day of presentation I arose at 5am to finish it. I wanted to be fresh for the final part of the quilt making, which was to sew the heart on and match up with a heart on the reverse side. I had envisioned myself repeatedly unpicking it and redoing it for hours owing to the complexity of this task. But you wont believe it, an almost impossible task (I thought) worked 1st time, in marrying up on either side. I was astonished to see when I flipped it over onto the red satin side to see a perfectly sewn heart on the back! No movement, no scrunching, no wading poking out………so maybe, just maybe I am getting this thing called life right after all, and things will be rosy, and right and bright on the other side.

As the author of this work I (Barbara Harkness) acknowledge the moral rights to the above have been asserted with the copyright, designs and patents act 1988. If you wish to use any of my material you may contact me for permission.

My 1st painting @ ACSA

W&M_embrace_final copy

The first painting in my ‘Tonal Realism’ class was to copy an ‘Old Master’ painting! I’d been through the school on open day and admired the Vermeers, Van Goughs and Titians,……there was even a bloody good replica of the Mona Lisa.

So acceptance of my choice of a ‘Master’ being one very young and alive, Adelaides own Anna Platten, came as a bit of a surprise. But I was personally delighted because Anna Plattens recent retrospective at the Art Gallery of South Australia had been my primary inspiration behind choosing to attend ACSA (Adelaide Central School of Art) over other Universities to pursue my fine art career.

Anna Platten is also Rod Taylor’s wife (founder of the school) who are both featured in the painting. My first awareness of her work was at the recent retrospective, which encompassed some thirty years of her work. I remember walking into the darkened gallery, the spot lights dramatising the vivid colours in her series called ‘The Journey’,….and being riveted to the spot in awe! No other artist had ever affected in that way, with their work. It was not only her use of colour which she used in such a contemporary way, contrasting with the dark moody shades which impressed me, but the subject matter of the paintings did indeed convey a “dream like existence” – and life as a stage upon which we are all players.

As I reluctantly exited (after four hours) I read with interest the plaques on the wall, about Anna, only to discover that we were both born in the same year. We had probably both started painting in our early twenties, but my life had led me along a more commercial career path and I had put the brushes away in exchange for computers and twenty years of being a graphic designer.

I secretly wondered if I could somehow recapture thirty years of lost time and become as good as her, by copying one of her magnificent paintings. So my personal challenge was set!

My fascination with the painting comes from the composition. To be in it and style it as well. Then there is the raw aspect of yourself and your husband as props – which I found deeply personal and sacred. It seemed matrimonial and very ‘Garden of Eden like.’ Idealistic even. Viewed at a time when I was going through an estrangement from my husband, the painting touched me and I was reminded once more of marriage, vows, adoration and protectiveness.

I was privileged to meet Anna at a recent talk she gave and asked her what all the little animals in the painting represented? Anna said that they were “feelings!” Lovely. She went on to say that one woman had interpreted Rod (her husband in the painting) as being her Noah, which I also thought very apt. I however interpreted them as the children she was going to bear him. We all interpret paintings differently, which is the beauty of art in itself.

For the assignment I chose a section of the overall painting, as I could not have possibly accomplished the whole deal. I still felt as though I had bitten off more than I could chew. The detail in it is extraordinary and I had a wonderful time exploring all the elements and perfecting them as best I could. It certainly pushed me and took me four months to complete, but Annas probably took a year.

Anna’s exhibition was called “The Devil is in the Detail”, I can certainly vouch for that!

My painting (copy) is a tribute to you Anna, I hope I have done your work justice.

Love ya work! (and thank you for being such an inspiration and allowing me to post this on my blog)

As the author of this work I (Barbara Harkness) acknowledge the moral rights to the above have been asserted with the copyright, designs and patents act 1988. If you wish to use any of my material you may contact me for permission.