Not Telling

One of my favourite songs is ‘They Thought I Was Asleep‘ by Paul Kelly. There are three kids in the backseat of a car, one grizzling until the eldest child tells him ‘he’d better quit it or die’. They are travelling home, worn out after a day in the country playing with their cousins. One child wakes in the dark, the car moving through the night, and senses something big was happening. Something he didn’t understand and wasn’t meant to know about.

He hears his parents talking, his Dad says something and his Mum begins to cry. ‘No more words then, just soft sobs and my head began to throb, I just lay there playing dog breathing slow and deep, they thought I was asleep.’

I love what this song evokes, the light touches of childhood, the perplexity around his mother’s tears, his father’s too, not knowing why, feigning sleep.

As he sings I’m in the backseat of the car, wedged into the warmth of my siblings, vinyl bench seat beneath my legs, crocheted rug pulled across the three of us, staring out into the black night. Eyes turned up to the night sky, seeking out the moon which was guiding us home, picking out the shapes of trees with branches silvered in moonlight. Sensing something was amiss but not knowing what. Snippets of my memory, real and imagined, overlaid onto the lyrics of a song.

This is what we do, essentially, with songs, stories, artworks and poetry that have a particular resonance, or evoke a personal reaction. There might be familiarity too, or a synchronicity of time or place that embeds a response. It can be difficult to separate the personal at times, to peel back the layers of why a song, in this instance, pulls me up whenever I hear it.

In Kelly’s excellent mongrel memoir How To Make Gravy, a wide-ranging read mixing personal and family history with insights into his creative process and influences, there is a section about this song. One of his band members asked him a couple of times about the family in the song: did the parents break up, was one of them seriously ill, why was the mother crying? Kelly’s response: he didn’t know. He could recall travelling home as a child, pretending to sleep so that he would be carried inside, ‘floating across the threshold’, being gently placed into bed. The rest he made up.

This is what the act of creating is about, not telling. Being more of a conduit than providing an explanation for everything.

Are there any songs that make you pause for thought or reflection?

[Photo: dining room table at Wyalong Museum]

 

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The Archies are @ Katoomba

It is fantastic how some of the exhibitions in our national and state art galleries are encouraged to roam around the countryside. Of course it is far more strategic than that with months, if not years, of planning required to share some of the amazing work and collections with people in regional areas. These touring exhibitions bring amazing talent to people who may otherwise not have the chance to see them or to experience the transformative moments that come with experiencing something different.

I was delighted when I found out that the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition was making its final regional tour stop at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. I had seen the national portrait prize a few times when I lived in Sydney, and had been an ambassador at the Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo when the 2009 exhibition of the award finalists came to visit. The winner that year was Guy Maestri’s portrait of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu which was incredible. Other highlights included Brandon by Vincent Fantauzzo and Jan Williamson’s portrait of Nancy Kunoth Petyarr. As an ambassador, it was an experience not only to be able to walk around the exhibition to assist as required, but to hear people’s impressions of the artwork as they experienced it first hand.

At the opening on Friday night, Jacquie Riddell from the Art Gallery of NSW gave an interesting overview of the history of the Archibald Prize. She also spoke of how this year’s prize was about to open, and that the gallery was expecting about 1000 entries. The paintings arrive upon a variety of transport methods, from cars, vans and bikes to mules. Well, okay, perhaps not mules. But the competition is intense, the quality of work and array of portraiture methods extensive. And the gallery smells different during this time – all the fresh artwork gathering together, pending the judgement of the board.

The work of the finalists is a staggering scope of artistic talent and method. I do not pretend to know anything about art – I like to look but have no dialect for methods and styles. All I can note is my reaction to the work which is typical of how subjective art is for everyone. The luminosity of the portrait of Michael Caton by Bruno Jean Grasswill stayed with me, and even when I moved away from the painting I had to look back and see it again. The creativity behind Paul Ryan’s portraits of Noah Taylor (Thirteen Noahs), employing a collection of paintings and pictures and even table tennis paddles gathered at op shops and the like as the background to the work really appealed. The winning portrait Judo house pt 6 (the white bird) of Charles Waterstreet by Nigel Milsom was mesmerising – particularly the hands and face. One of my favourites was Paul Kelly as painted by Jason Benjamin. The artist’s notes included how he tried a couple of approaches before painting PK as a landscape. That is another aspect of getting out and seeing art up close – you can find out more, understand a little better what has influenced the artist in the act of creation.

The exhibition is on at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre until July 24 and is well worth the outing. Also check out The Exhibition, a sample of the gallery’s own collection which I’ll write about in a future post.

How often do you get to wander around an inspirational exhibition?

[Photo: Blue Mountains Cultural Centre from viewing platform – the Carrington Hotel forms the backdrop]

I’m on a foggy highway*

There are many things to love about living in the Blue Mountains. The air, for starters. It is usually crisp, often scented with eucalyptus along with whatever is currently in bloom. The blue skies too, although to be fair there are often dramatic cloud formations. One of my favourite things is the mist which seems to appear out of nowhere, cloaking the landscape by stealth at any time of the year. It can be disorientating at times, but there is a moment of clarity when the fog clears.

People from all walks of life are drawn to live here. It is known as a popular place for creative souls, with a wide collection of artists, musicians, writers and innovators. Someone said to me recently that you can be who you want to be here, and that in itself makes it a special place to live.

For me, it was the creative community that appealed, along with the chance to have more time to contemplate what really matters.

It can be like travelling along a foggy highway, tricky and confusing at times, but if you persevere you arrive at your destination.

*The topic line is taken from ‘Foggy Highway’ by Paul Kelly. The use of a line from a song as a topic line is borrowed from Margot Kinberg’s truly excellent crime fiction blog, which you can find here.