27 March 2012

Day 2: second new painting

The cogitations of yesterday bear no relationship to where the painting has gone today.

The title Awake to a Blue Sky 
seems to be going away in favour of 
Chiara and her Scuri.

But this is not painted in that manner, rather drawing on the literal Italian
chiaro = light or clear 
scuro = dark
or chiara and scura [feminine]
and with the additional level here also, 
taking Chiara as a woman's name (as Clara or Clare in English)
and her Scuri — her grasping dark creatures, her demons,
holding her from her nature of light
... creatures on the one hand seemingly conventional
and on the other savage.
The belt not an adornment but a restraint.

and then to revise the left side of the work,
the bemused dark side on the left, the fury on the right

26 March 2012

beginning another painting

Laying the ground for "Awake to a Blue Sky" - a figure leaning way over backwards, looking to the sky.

More later... am wanting very different texture from past painting, glossy, sharp. We shall see whether the painting will allow it!

Again for the May open exhibition of the Shoalhaven Mental Health Fellowship on the theme, Out of Darkness into the Light. On masonite, incorporating frame in picture, masonite 65 x 125 cm.

..... contemplating the dark lower scene, my mind went to Blake's 'dark satanic mills'... a google images search for 'william blake satanic mills' brought much food for thought, including these pages:

link 1 - link 2 - link 3 - link 4

This was first work this morning

and at the end of Day 1, 
I did some work with oil pastel (over acrylic over black gesso, over old painting)
... don't know where it goesstomorrow, but will try not to overcomplicate the background 
— or make the figure too realistic.

The small images from the camera are very helpful, compared with working on a large surface,
in identifying colour and light/dark imbalances, as well as errors of line.

23 March 2012

discussing how to think about social media

I have been participating in an interesting discussion arising from Kony2012 here at Kabissa:

Questions, for groups and individuals wanting to engage with groups and individuals in developing countries:

  • how to shift discussion from posture to action, 
  • how to make action positive,
  • how to achieve empathy
  • how to empower and
  • who to empower?

20 March 2012

Uganda, Kony2012 and colonial mindsets

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There has been great uproar and excitement in social media as a result of the launch by the organisation Invisible Children of a campaign called Kony2012, whipping up hysteria about a war which is over. 

Some of the 'children' impacted by the LRA war in Uganda are very visible to me. Today I have an email from Fred Obala, with whom I have been in contact since 2004, himself once a kidnapped boy soldier of the Lords Resistance Army. Here is Fred's view: 

KONY 2012:  
This movie broke me in shock and some families who lost their loves one we in tears. I watch many angry Uganda in the North reacting on TV news with protest.  In my opinion, the children and community of northern Uganda went through a lot and this is the time people are rebuilding their life. Many are trying to put what happened behind, and then start a normal life based on education and economic activities. The present of NGOs has drastically reduced compared to 2002. Kony2012 produced by Invisible children misrepresent certain factual background information about Uganda politics, culture in regards to LRA. The terrible thing is that it’s over presented and at exactly wrong timing because people are trying their best to overcome this but it being thrown back to their face without strong consultation. Secondly, Kony is not just a bad gay as American kid is being told but remember the present government come to power by gun and by over throwing the Acholi son Gen. Tito Okello out of power. In the beginning the local people supported Kony with expectation that they would recover their lost glory to Museveni but it went off hand. Thirdly the practice is spiritual belief which Kony probably inherited from Alice Lawkena for Rebel leader escalated into this war. We are also know government of relaxing with their obligation to protect the citizen led to increase in the rebel powers. On this note, it’s known that Northern Sudan government was supporting Kony to fight in Uganda because Uganda government was supporting Dr. Garrang SPLA rebel in southern Sudan to fight for their independent.  Kony was hiding in Sudan with a lot of comfort but of course Diplomats always keep their hand soft. The movie also destroys a lot of moral and emotions energy in children who have been abducted and trying to overcome this bush killing by presenting horrible memories. It never shows respect for their private life.  In this movie its show how some NGOs are using children to generate money and selfish popularity,  these children are too vulnerable to speak for themselves and people use them just like Kony is doing, and I hate it. Government should come in to protect children/youth from this exploitation and question activities of this nature, I have seen many of them here and I don’t like how they takes victims stories for fundraising only without sense of moral. People here are not interested in those things for now, we want move on with our life with a settled atmosphere, lets gives time to for the brain to settle first then others later. We have already seen billions of dollars spent here in humanitarian aids but little impact on the ground, this mean there is more to do as a country than this method of fund raising. When I look the at idea of making Kony famous for the purpose of arresting him it sound very good to me but I don’t think approach like this brings unity, instead these will generate local conflicts and scaring former child soldiers. Mr. Russbell probably did this project with good and honest intension I belief, but he did not consult the local victims on how to proceeds or overcome the moral impacts. It’s beyond my imagination how feasible it is for America to capture Kony without attracting extra political interest or triggering another war that will end with controlling Uganda oil newly developed. The good thing, Kony is now famous can we build on this to arrest him. Where are here, again we have to deal with psychological impacts of kony2012 movie on our own as it comes so fresh in my mind now. We don’t have proper counseling centre within the community. We don’t have much empowerment program for children that are even a threat to future society. The present is very much needed as added value not foreign initiators. I have been in war since 1986 and it’s difficult to forget what happen. 
 Fred Obala, 29, from Lira, Northern Uganda.

See also Rosebell's Blog, watch her video.

The startling new development this week is psychotic behaviour of Invisible Children's Kony2012 film maker in San Diego, which apparently saw social media turn on him. This led a brain injury physician to write a column in The Atlantic, calling for fairness for the film maker, Jason Russell and respect for what the physician thought was his psychological state. Without expectation of it being published, I have written to The Atlantic today thus:

"Ford Vox [the brain injury physician) while sensibly deeply sensitive to the traumatic mind-state of Jason Russell, creator of the Kony2012 video, seems extraordinarily naive in not similarly being sensitive to the deep and divisive offence that video has done to people in Uganda who have been putting their lives together since the war with the LRA - which, contrary to Russell's wild assertions in the video, is over.......  or has been 'over' until this violent intervention via social media.
We need to give equal value to the lives of others far away, to avoid commodification of their affairs in social media, recognise their need for self-empowerment and not impose colonial visions of superior command of their world. The great tragedies of western strategic policy are made up of such deeply confused thinking about what we can fix because we think we are clever (or we equate cleverness with our imagined power) when we have very slight knowledge of local affairs.
I write from Australia, have been using the internet to help some individual young Ugandans and their organisations rebuild their lives with their own plans, since 2004.
When will we, collectively - when will the big international NGOs especially - get the point. You don't fix people just by shoving things down their throats, doctor...  they need respect such as Ford Vox asks be given to Jason Russell."

19 March 2012

back to painting

Returning to painting... with the benefit of Tracy Verdugo's workshop and its participants, see previous blog entry.

I had not arrived with a particular painting in mind, wanting to work freely. My painting began as some do with the view to Jervis Bay, influenced in the past, as many, by Glenda Borchard's eye... though certainly already vanished in my own direction. [links open in new tabs or windows, close the new tab to return here]

Then as the picture built the landscape was subsumed into a nude form. Here began the serious laying down of base. I wanted blue depth under skin tones, something that stuck with me from my privileged access to the restoration work after the Florence flood of 1966, to which access for this young person in the Rome embassy because the Mitchell Library in Sydney had lent a world expert on print restoration. One of the major figurative paintings which needed its wood base removed was found to have an under-base of blue below the flesh tones of the surface to give them depth ... so I started with a blue colour for the flesh. (I have been unable to find that painting, but google being the serendipitous adventure it can be, it led me to discover the blog of Antonella Colaninno)

[clicking on any image provides a gallery of all images, press return to get back to the blog]

By the time I took that photo [click to enlarge] I had added story — I planned a yowie figure watching over her, with her thoughts streaming, her arm ambiguously seeking connection or fending off, also (we had begun discussing symbols in paintings) an echidna in the corner: singleminded, prickly, not easily picked up. 

At the end of the first day I had applied some skin tone and was so appalled by its state I turned it to the wall to hide its nakedness and clumsiness overnight.

I had no idea overnight if I would go on or paint it out and start again....

I did go on. Then late in the morning my female protagonist died and it became a tale of mourning. No photo of that state. Then I remembered I had been wondering what I might paint for the 2012 exhibition sponsored by the Shoalhaven Mental Health Fellowship, for which the subject was to be 'out of the darkness and into the light'. And so the idea dawned and the painting became "The Dream of Sunshine in the Morning". As it also remained for me to place a light cloth over herself. We shall see if it is finished... entries to be submitted 1 May.

I recognise this, having painted it, as in my style. I do not command my style. Do I like my style? Hard question. It happens.

I remain a story teller, the story evolved beyond my command, the painting changed a lot. The story it tells now is in my 'artist's statement' below. [click on images to enlarge]


In long-term invisible illness, 
you remain sentient, head full of ideas, 
and you remain sensual, heart needing love, flesh needing flesh. 
You reach out ... to touch or fend off? 
You turn away in loneliness.
Your totem becomes the echidna: small, prickly, determined, defensive, hard to grasp.
Your carer, your lover, tries to see but it's not visible; 
tries to embrace your elusive mind.

[mood change]

Oh, and!  We were given 30cm x 30cm (one foot square) ply, on which to multimedia experiment, with collage, paint, whatever. Exhausted by the major work, I produced a work which caused a primary school principal in the room to say she wondered seriously about the workings of my mind. I said I did that too.

Here is "Hey Babe"...

in the beginning was the line

I am pleased that, concerned to get my soul back into painting after a nasty period of illness ... and thus, hopefully, into the novel, I went to a weekend art workshop by Tracy Verdugo, an effervescent painter in the Jervis Bay area, a style of workshop Tracy will also conduct in the US (see Tracy's blog at link).

in the beginning was the line
Click on any image to see a gallery of all images, enlarged. 
Click return to get back to the blog.

The weekend was excellent... I was lone male among 13 women, though that inauspicious-sounding ratio was much the same as I experienced as an arts student in the early 1960s. And as I remarked at the end of the weekend, to have been painting a female nude in such company was a little daunting... though it might have been more daunting in a male group.

It was a supportive group. Painting is a lonely business even in company, there are moments when your work is something you want to turn to the wall, out of sight: as I did at the end of day one with mine (separate blog entry follows).

There was some evident influence from Tracy's style
— but being urged to work and work 
on one large canvas over two days
individuality emerged...

Tracy's technique for building a collaborative workshop was excellent. I don't plan to reveal her technique here. Some participants were experience painters and painting teachers, some had never touched a brush to paper. We were encouraged to begin with confidence just to build lines on canvas, interacting happily with each other's 'lines'. Fundamental to success was Tracy's positive energy and constant empathy and encouragement. Without which nothing. I heard someone speaking of being in an art class where the teacher constantly urged people to do something different, to get out of where they were. Well, this was pretty much the opposite, with constant encouragement to delve deeper in what we were, what we saw, what we felt, what we wanted.

The workshop was in the small stables at Worrowing.

Mood is lifted as you arrive 
by the jaunty security honchos at the gate, from Ironbark Security

The stables protective from weather, small enough but large enough
and lots of indirect light from huge doors and windows

There were moments in my work where going fishing seemed a better option

and these bipeds of the horse paddock watching me clean brushes 
seemed to say in a lazy way:
"Hey, get over it, just enjoy, the grass is green, come snooze!"

It was a wet weekend 
but we had good interludes to help work dry in the sun
(everyone seemed to put their work through half a dozen evolutions)
and see things in a different light

SIDEBAR- I am reminded of this excellent advice:
"We must be as courteous to a man as we are to a picture,
which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light." 

We did several smaller tasks and minor works for diverse experience... especially experience in chucking paint and other media around. Also in framing and trimming down elements of larger work:

At the end of the weekend we got to speak of our experiences and show what we had done. Here are some images that speak for themselves... lots of desire to "put it in the garage" to which Tracy's reply:
"No, hang it where you can reflect on it, don't tell visitors whose work it is, wait for their comments."
And note that a lot of the following remain works-in-progress, with determination to work on.

And so much variety...

14 March 2012

new directions in strategic policy?

With the appointment of Bob Carr as Australian Foreign Minister, we have an intellectual in that post, as well as a formidable political force added to the parliament.

More serious papers are pointing to the overriding issue of the imbalances and uncertainties in relations with the United States and China.

Here are some of my comments:

[1] in commenting on former ambassador to China Geoff Raby's views as reported in the Financial Review

I found the decision to locate US forces on Australian soil as part of a containment of China disturbingly contrary to national interest as well as puzzlingly at odds with past Labor Government attitudes to unilateral US force presence or action in Australia from Whitlam forward.
Perhaps three things were in play:
-Rudd's essentially 20th century conservative-activist diplomatist approach
-Rudd's capacity to smother the cabinet in words, the absence of alternative critical faculty on foreign affairs within the Labor Party (mirroring the coalition), and
-concern to leave no room for the coalition to get round the Labor Government on the right on foreign policy (much as since Hawke),
Carr brings reflective and family multicultural image to foreign policy and will not be easily trampled by pressures from wherever. A major asset in relations with the US has been our reliability privately and effectively to present a different and sane view to bolster the arguments of sensible people in Washington when American leaders get strange ideas of what to do. This was evident when Reagan was taking office and wanted to adopt aggressive China policy. See the archives.
In 1980 Fraser's Cabinet decided that we should actively pursue a broad-based relationship of value to any future Chinese government, in its own right. Howard didn't get the sense of the whole relationship, mind basically on the money. We haven't got back from there - but must, swiftly.
·  [Reply]

Dennis Argall
formerly ambassador to China
Mar 6, 2012, 11:38AM
 [2] Letter to editor of Financial Review, regarding this editorial

I was puzzled by this reference in your 14 March editorial "Caution needed on US/China":

"But Australia should not be overconfident about being able to be an honest broker between two such large powers and should be careful to also nurture relations with other Asian countries so it can work in concert with them to ease whatever US-China tensions do arise."

Both those options seem too complicated and a bit away from how it's done. 

We have in the past had a history of being valued in Washington by people wanting reinforcement for sensible argument when an American Administration goes weird on China, as seems to happen. As also in the past we have had a reputation with China of refusing to speak 'for China' but to speak for ourselves. One of the great values in our relationship with both, when well served, has been capacity to resolve issues without resort to a lot of noise. Senior Chinese officials in the 1980s spoke warmly of this to me: "You always fight hard for your own interests, but you don't make it so public like the Americans. Thank you."

In recent years there seems to have been a shift to noisiness in our China policy. I stay with the wisdom of the 1980 Fraser cabinet decision to build a broad and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship valued by any future Chinese regime. A perspective lost in the Howard years - focussed on the money -  and muddied by the silly (but sadly serious) militaristic cant of more recent times. This amazing statement in the 2009 Defence White Paper has to be pulled down:

"The United States will remain the most powerful and influential strategic actor over the period to 2030 - politically, economically and militarily. Its strategic primacy will assist in the maintenance of a stable global strategic environment."

Strategic planners in defence have no greater prescience than those in financial markets. It's wishful thinking, not just at a political level but at a force structure level where having special toys depends on being in a deeply integrated defence relationship with the United States. 

I agree with your editorial that this is an important challenge for Carr. But the answer is not in trying to put all the eggs on the scales at once, it is to measure and deal with the issues with a concern to build all the best aspects of relations with rising Asia and sustain all the best aspects of relations with the relatively declining West. 

I hope Senator Carr takes home a copy of the venerable and valuable Satow's Guide, cherishing especially his remark...
"These then are the qualities of a good diplomatist. Truth, accuracy, calm, patience, good temper, modesty, loyalty."
Sir E. Satow, A Guide to Diplomatic Practice  (Longmans, Green & Co. London & New York, 1917) p. 451 http://books.google.com.au/books?id=KWAUAAAAIAAJ&q=truth#search_anchor accessed 24 February 2012.

which needs to be the cornerstone of our foreign dealings.

Dennis Argall
formerly Ambassador to China. 

[3]  Letter to Editor (limited to 200 words) of The Age, regarding this article by Dick Woolcott

Dick Woolcott's "How a US Ally can be Friends with China" makes the case. 
 I don't know how we improve general public attitudes towards and conduct when in Asia in an age of universal travel, but government must be more conscious of how ordinary Australians shape our image. 
Key to our official relations with both China and the US, when well served, has been capacity to resolve issues without resort to a lot of noise. Senior Chinese officials in the 1980s spoke warmly of this to me: "You always fight hard for your own interests, but you don't make it so public like the Americans. Thank you."
We'’ve become noisy.
In 1980 the Fraser cabinet decided to build a broad and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship valued by any future Chinese regime. We lost the broad view in the 90s. 
This fantasy statement in the 2009 Defence White Paper has to be pulled down: 
“"The United States will remain the most powerful and influential strategic actor over the period to 2030 - politically, economically and militarily.”"
We can build the best aspects of relations with rising Asia and sustain those with the declining West. 
Dennis Argall, formerly Ambassador to China.