Thursday, December 22, 2016

Season's Greetings!

It has been a tumultuous year and we are confronted with a new world.  Reading online comments sections that follow political posts would make you despair of the human condition but I am hoping that the tumult will activate those who support an ethical environment. Let us hope that this time next year the tide has turned again.

Merry Christmas to everyone (of all faiths or none) and may you have a very successful 2017.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pears and Frangipani

Pears and Frangipani
Acrylic on Canvas, 30 x 40 cm
Warmth, summer fruit and flowers, a general relaxed feeling - they all conspire to make one want to paint, even when beset by a seasonal virus such as the one that caught up with me on my return from Tassie. 

The Frangipani tree is covered with flowers and when I bought these two inside, they were enough to perfume the studio.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mona: Museum of Old and New Art

Ferry with sheep
The Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Hobart is a Museum you don't easily forget. I was there two weeks ago but it remains very fresh in my memory.  It is like no other museum you have ever visited. I usually last about an hour in a museum, but I was at Mona for five hours and there was not one bored moment of the many I spent there.

Ferries and buses take visitors from Hobart. I took the half hour ferry ride and was pleased I had. I was also pleased I had not read much about it as the many surprises, including the building itself, made my visit memorable. I will not spoil the surprise for those reading this who have not visited, but I can talk about some of the exhibits, not all of which are permanent. 

Mona thumbs its nose at everything: the art establishment especially, but everything else as well, including the creator of this gallery. I didn't notice on my way there, but as the ferry arrived for the return journey to Hobart I could see the group of sheep on the back deck. They looked at us as we looked at them. These quirky, amusing and sometimes in-your-face moments are what Mona is all about.
Golden vase ...
and reflection of me listening to
information via Mona device

Each visitor is given a phone-like device which 
automatically calls up prerecorded information about the art works near that visitor. You can have the information about the works that interest you emailed to you.  (The battery of my device died, so I lost my information - thus few of the images here are captioned.)

Henry Moore head
Woven carpet
The bottom level of the gallery had been divided into four spaces, each comprising several rooms. Four curators had been asked to exhibit art that answers the question 'What is art?"  I found the question captivating as I had written an essay in my second year at art school with the title 'What is art anyway?'

Interestingly two of the curators answered the same way, although with different exhibits. I didn't agree with their premise though, that art is all about survival of the species.

Fat red car

As I sat waiting for the ferry, I realised there was an art video playing right in front of me:

My Mona Video

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hobart city

Hobart seems to be full of small businesses run by very friendly people. I just had a beer at a nearby corner pub. It's called The Duke and it is the type of pub that would encourage me to be a drinker if it was located near where I live. It was early (6pm) and a couple of kids (12 year olds?) played pool in one room, two women with wines and some delicious fish 'bar food' were in the next door room and I took my beer and sat in an adjoining area where the sun was streaming in through the window.  After a while the owner came to check if I was happy with just a beer (I had prevaricated over food) and as I left his wife (I assume?) gave me such a friendly smile and wished me goodbye.

I had decided on dinner at 'home' so I went over the road to the Soup Stop to get a takeaway soup. The Indian family there were equally friendly and the pumpkin soup I took home was delicious.

Beautiful old buildings, ugly new ones
The built environment however is not so inspiring. There are many fine old stone buildings in Hobart but my overriding impression of the city is of traffic. Most roads through the city are one way so they are four lanes. Four lanes of ever churning traffic. It seems that those on the east of Hobart have to change places with those on the west very regularly. I have seen a few buses, but not many, and none on these main thoroughfares.
Picturesque waterfront

There are some very picturesque spots on the wharf with stone houses and moored yachts, but mostly it is large tin sheds and bitumen roads.

I brought my painting kit with me to Hobart but in vain. There are some pretty spots but they are outnumbered and overshadowed by the ugly developments around them.

My view from a coffee shop towards the wharf this morning was depressingly drab so I painted a child at the next door table. He was looking out at some bikers preparing to ride. They were no doubt happy because the roads appear to be in good repair. Pedestrians and painters though are less well catered for, which is a real shame as Hobart has so much potential.
Some of the tin sheds have a charm of their own.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hobart, the ocean and Tempest

Who's looking at me then?
Tempest, the show on at the Hobart Museum and Art Gallery seems to encapsulate Tasmania, sitting as it does with its face towards the squally antarctic.

Bass Strait to the north of Tasmania is equally as treacherous and always spoken of in tones of awe by race commentators during the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Some boats don't make it. Some crews don't make it.

Tempest includes seafaring and shipwreck paintings, video installations and museum pieces to do with storms, pirates and parrots.

Outside in the courtyard is a large 'mobile' made of plastic detritus from the ocean. It is an effective comment on our plastic society.
Plastic Rubbish Mobile

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tristan und Isolde in Hobart.

The local paper on Friday
It is not so often that an audience rises as one to cheer and applaud at the end of a concert, but in Hobart this evening it was as if the crowd was a single organism. We had just heard a once-in-a-lifetime concert performance of Tristan und Isolde with the remarkable TSO under the baton of Maestro Marko Letonja. Nina Stemme and Stuart Skelton came to Tasmania from New York where they have been singing Tristan and Isolde at the Met and were joined by Slovenian Monika Bohinec who is currently with the Vienna State Opera. I don't know the name of the horn player who played the extraordinary part for English horn but she was as remarkable as the singers. Letonja slipped into the back of the orchestra to give her the bottle of wine he had been presented with, by way of thanks.

Wagner fans knew this would be no ordinary concert and members of various Wagner societies flew in to Tasmania from all over the country to hear it. It was definitely worth their while.

Audience stands as one ...

Monday, November 14, 2016

Do I see the ring of steel?

Sunrise 3

Once the sun is up, if I look north over the ocean I might just see the Ring of Steel that our Government is promoting to stop those dastardly refugees..

Now that they are releasing the long suffering detainees from Manus and Nauru they are worried about their tough guy image and have begun beating their chests and chanting, deploying the navy to stop any boats who dare to come near.

Notable Australians have gone on record to say they would not be alive had they not been helped by 'people smugglers', but the government has its fingers in its ears.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Mr Trump and a warming world

Sunrise in a warming world
We are going to have to get clever and coordinated to save our world, working together as never before to support initiatives that mitigate warming.

We have a formidable enemy, large and powerful and willing to sacrifice the world to make a profit for themselves.

But we are many and we too can be formidable, now we know their methods (thank you Naomi Klein) and realise they just don't care. We must do whatever it takes.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sunrise over the beach

What do you do when the world goes crazy? My twitter feed is full of reports of nasty racst incidents in the USA and of articles saying Liberal Party MPs want to repeal the Australian laws that protect people here from racial vilification.  I despair at the human race.

Nature continues to put on her best clothes and, as therapy, I have decided to take out my paintbrush and paint my beautiful area. This is the first, Sunrise over the beach. A metaphor for new beginnings.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hillary won the popular vote

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote! Al Gore won the popular vote but not the Presidency. Just think for a minute how different our world might be if Americans elected their President according to popular vote. (Southern Florida might have even avoided being lost beneath rising seas.)

I believe that those who voted for Clinton voted for decency and the rights of all Americans to proper representation, rather than voting for the establishment. My hope is that they will now join forces and hold their elected representatives accountable.  Trump has attracted people to his team who have past records of caring only for themselves and they now control the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as the Presidency, so America needs a focused and active opposition like never before. Good luck Americans! There are a lot of anxious people watching you.

[Liberal America has been steamrolled by Trump]

Monday, November 07, 2016

Ayse Goknur Shanal and Evgeny Ukhanov: a most moving performance

"Artists are there when the world forgets what is important!"

These were the words of soprano Soprano Ayse Goknur Shanal following a most moving performance with pianist Evgeny Ukhanov at the Utzon room of the Sydney Opera House on Sunday.
Ayse sings

She had sung works in French, Spanish, Turkish, German and English, often love songs but also Stauss' Four Last Songs, songs which were his final compositions and sung at his funeral.
('But they are not sad songs,' insisted Shanal, 'he had lead a long, fruitful and happy life.' )

Despite the joy of the presentation and the mostly happy songs, I saw more tears shed at this concert than at any other I have attended. Was it the sublime voice that moved us so, or the sympathetic playing? Or was it the state of the world and the wish that Canberra's politicians could hear and be moved by these works? Probably all three. 

This concert by Australians of Turkish and Ukrainian heritage was a testament to Australia's successful multicultural experiment and I think the tears carried the fervent hope that this wonderful multicultural experiment not be sacrificed for short term political goals.

Bravo Ayse and Evgeny, and thank you, thank you!

Part of the program
(with my sketch of the view from the Utzon room)
Hear Ayse on soudcloud

Monday, October 31, 2016

Angel Place Concert Hall in Sydney

The pub opposite Angel Place Hall
Angel Place

Looking upwards

Photos of New York often seem to me rather magical, if somewhat alienating, with the tall buildings and rushing people, but then I realise that Sydney is not very different. We hurry to our destinations between the tall buildings without looking upward. The Angel Place Concert Hall is one of those destinations.

The hall is squeezed into an alley overshadowed by very tall buildings. It is a bit like those beautiful old churches you discover in back alleys in Paris and Rome which are sometimes built onto by newer buildings to the extent that they almost disappear. Rather than detracting from the buildings this squeeze somehow it makes them more interesting. In Angel Place you feel as if you are in a magic place for music lovers, a place connecting past with present.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pianists: Nelson Freire and Jayson Gillham in Sydney

Nelson Freire plays
You have to be pretty good to be touring internationally at 72 years old and pianist Nelson Freire is definitely pretty good. The program notes for his September concert in Sydney tells us he doesn't like to have a set program because he likes to play what he feels like playing at the time, as that is best for both the audience and himself. Happily he felt like playing Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and Chopin, deftly transporting his audience on a captivating journey. 

Both Freire and Elisabeth Leonskaya, who played in Sydney in August, demonstrate that age is no disadvantage for pianists, but rather the opposite.

Jayson Gillham plays
At the other end of the age scale for solo pianists is Jayson Gillham who played in Sydney last week.

Gillham is a young Australian pianist who grew up in central Queensland and reached the semi finals of the Sydney Piano competition at 17. He won the Montreal Piano competition in 2014 and now lives in London.

He played  Bach/Handel/Chopin to his appreciative home crowd. I am sure they will return to hear more of his meticulous playing whenever he decides to return.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Schubert's Trout: Australia Piano Quartet and Guests

Andrew Goodwin
Andrew Goodwin has a voice I would like to tune into every evening. On Saturday, accompanied by the Australia Piano Quartet, he sang Strauss' Morgen (swoon) at the Sydney Opera House Utzon room, then several works by Schubert including Die Forelle (The Trout). Muhamed Mehmedbasic joined the APQ to play the Trout Quintet (Piano Quintet in A major) after the interval.

Muhamed Mehmedbasic (double bass) plays with the APQ
I had been tired after a busy and stressful week but I knew this concert would sooth and revive, and I was right. I could have sat there happily for another three hours listening to this group and this tenor. Thank you APQ, Andrew Goodwin and Muhamed Mehmedbasic.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Julia Lezhneva in Sydney

Julia Lezhneva is a Bel Canto singer sublime. In an ABC  radio interview a couple of years ago I heard her say she had not liked Bel Canto singing particularly but then found she was good at it. She had been in Tasmania for the Baroque Festival and when I heard her on the radio I decided that if she came again I would definitely try to hear her.

Now she is back, singing with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. I heard her first concert and it was simply a joy. She is a captivating and very generous singer, singing several (long) encores with her perfect, subtle, extraordinary voice.
 (Listen to her here ... I recommend this CD for endless pleasure!)

The Australian Chamber Orchestra played differently tuned instruments with gut strings and, together with exceptional visiting oboists and lute player, gave a stunning performance. It is the mark of exceptional players when they can modify their playing to bring the best out of their collaborators. Bravo and brava!

New potatoes

New potatoes
I have hardly touched  my computer this last three weeks. Instead I took part in a local group art exhibition, spent time child minding for a mother who was racing to finish a Masters Thesis during school holidays and helped an HSC student revise for finals exams. I also spent more time in the garden because it is spring and everything needs doing at once.

I am converting the driveway into a vege garden and a few weeks ago I planted some spouting potatoes in a spot so hot and sunny that not much grows. When the first summer heat hit the potatoes wilted and died and I expected little of them. Today I dug the soil over and discovered I have quite a crop.  Some of them are tiny, but I shall eat the lot!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Music with Aiko Goto and ACO musicians

A weekend listening to Australian Chamber Orchestra musicians is a weekend to appreciate.

On Saturday last Aiko Goto gave a violin recital with pianist Ian Munro. This is the third Goto solo recital I have heard and I think she only gets better. Not only is she a whizz on the violin, she is a little package of charm and much loved by her audiences.

Ex-convict prison: the marks where the stairs went up to
higher levels are visible on the end wall.

 Then on Sunday I attended a Mozart/Beethoven concert given by five ACO members in the former women's convict prison, now National Art School lecture theatre.

I studied there a few years back and heard a lot of lectures there but I never 'saw' the prisoners in my mind's eye as I did last Sunday. The building has massive sandstone walls and must have been a dark forbidding place when the internal walls were still there. They were removed and a new roof installed when the building was rescued from dereliction after WW2.

ACO musicians play Mozart
I hope the time/space warp makes it possible for lovely music to travel backwards and lighten the burden of the poor women who were incarcerated there. Theirs must have been a sad existence indeed.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Tognetti/Leschenko treat

Battered sheet music waiting to be played.
The Polina Leschenko (piano) and Richard Tognetti (violin) concert at the Angel Place hall last week was a winner. They will play together in November this year at the Barbican in London and this was a sort of preliminary concert. After a marvelous Beethoven/Sculthorpe/Pärt/Brahms concert they played three encores, so lucky were we.

I was seated behind the musicians and couldn't help but notice that when Tognetti has room to move about the stage he gets on his surf board to play the energetic parts.  I couldn't resist drawing the surfboard into the little postcard sketch I made while they played.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Spring has sprung (at my place)


What a difference 5 days make in Sydney. Last week it was still cold enough to need a heater and warm jumpers then over the weekend spring arrived.  Flowers seemed to spring up overnight and bushes burst into blossom.

Every year people plant pansies and other spring flowers when it is wintry cold, then all at once the weather turns. Suddenly it is hot and the pansies wilt in the sun.

Last week there was barely a flower on my azalea hedge, but now it is overflowing with blossoms. Don't blink or you'll miss them.
Azalea hedge

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Erudite women in music and science

Elisabeth Leonskaja (photo by Julia Wesely)
I saw Elisabeth Leonskaja play Mozart with the ACO last week and have been searching for words to describe the experience. Now I discover Murray Black has found the perfect words.  Black wrote in The Australian that although Leonskaja's reputation as a doyenne of the Russian old school makes her sound quite intimidating her 'playing ­actually radiated appealing ­geniality in equal measure with formidable dignity and gravitas.' I couldn't agree more. One felt taken by the hand, wrapped in a warm blanket while at the same time being aware that a metronome couldn't have kept better time than her remarkable hands.

Leonskaja is softly spoken but very musically erudite. Listen to her radio interview  (until 25 Sept) to hear her speak.

Alison Mercer
She reminds me of another very erudite but softly spoken person who was interviewed on Southern TV in NZ. My sister Alison Mercer works with bees and here she explains about the Verroa mite that is plaguing the bee populations of the world.

In a so-called post-fact world it is refreshing to hear from people who really know what they are talking about without being immersed in the showy blather of the PR industry.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wet rose

It's a wet wet day on the NSW Central Coast and 15C. Fifteen degrees Celsius feels quite mild after being in chilly NZ. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Wellington cats

I am back in the hills of Wellington.  Wellington is such a beautiful place, but cold ...and feels colder than the 13C high that was forecast for today. There is a chill wind, not strong but enough to lower the temperature a couple of degrees. Taihape and Turangi felt much warmer than Wellington and the difference is probably the wind factor.

Once the sun disappears behind the hill it is time to light the fire and brew a hot ginger tea. 


Cats sitting watching the fire

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Taranaki: visual joy

On a fine day Mount Egmont dominates Taranaki roads. Today was a beautiful day so as I drove south from New Plymouth I had the constant company of Mt Egmont.  What surprised me was seeing snow covered Mount Ruapehu to the east.
Mount Egmont and Taranaki cows

Near Stratford: Mt Ruapehu in the distance
Taranaki is also known for its gardens and my trip took me past hegdes of flowering camelias and huge flowering magnolias, one of which was in a schoolyard. It was so lovely I stopped to take a photo.
Schoolyard Magnolia with Mt Egmont
In every town there seems to be an art gallery or museum and one that is really worth a visit is the gallery in Stratford. They currently have an exhibition of works from the bnz collection which is exceptional. So many inspiring works of art, including works by Dick Frizzel ( pictured in a previous post), Colin McCahon, Toss Woolaston and Ralph Hotere among others. Finding works such as these in a small gallery where one can view them close up and undisturbed is a real treat. Apparently they normally hang in the staff canteen and staff rooms, at the bnz headquarters.

New Zealand treats art as something to appreciate and look at, not to store in a vault as an investment Sydney style and as a result there is  a vibrant visual arts scene here. Just visit the little gallery in Turangi to be convinced - the work by local artists there is equal to anywhere.
Glenda of Tahakopa by Robin White

New Plymouth

New Plymouth is an interesting place. It has a wonderful coastline, perched at the eastern tip of New Zealand's North Island but the town seems to thumb it's nose at the sea, with light industry assigned coastal real estate. New Plymouth Burnings must have the most stunning view in New Zealand.

The information service is on the busy coastal road in the city, across from the seashore, but I couldn't find any parking there. After a long and windy (though beautiful) trip from Turangi I was tired and an inaccessible information center was an inauspicious start to my New Plymouth visit.

Crossing the coastal rail line
If you cross the busy main road from the city and then the railway line which is still in use, though only local, you finally find yourself on the seashore.

It is a majestic vista, crashing waves on big black rocks.

Shoreline at New Plymouth
This morning I gave up the idea of finding a cafe with a sea view but instead I found a very good alternative, a cafe/coffee roaster called Ozone. The coffee was excellent, the atmosphere quirky and the staff friendly. If I was a New Plymouth resident I think I would become a permanent fixture there.

Coffee being roasted at Ozone
Then I discovered the retro yellow roof.

I don't know if it has a name, but in the middle of the city stands a large yellow structure with no apparent use. A passing resident told me that there had been a building there which was demolished and that the council asked the residents what they wanted in its place. This yellow roof was what had been chosen. My informant said with some embarrassment that it had been 'very expensive'.

Retro yellow lid


I'm not sure of the artistic or other value of the yellow structure but I think a population that chooses such a thing surely deserves the famous Len Lye museum as a reward.

The Len Lye Museum of Contemporary Art is as stunning as the photos that had made me want to visit New Plymouth in the first place. Even seeing the exterior was worth the trip. My photos speak for themselves (yes, this is really how it looks!)

Len Lye: Four Fountains