Friday, March 09, 2012

Bottle blonde

Shearing Shed Saturday Night by Pants

Since Barney arranged for me to work as his assistant at Larrikin Shire Council, I've trousered more readies than a mining magnate with a top tax lawyer - quite legitimately, I hasten to add. Barney's dealings are, of course, anything but. You know Barney. He certainly had a feather-bed landing when we moved here.

You may recall that I have tried without success to modestly squander this little nest egg on some bits of art. I'm not fussed about the investment potential - although, given that I have exceptional taste, anything I buy will hold its value.

Recently, a small assemblage by Rosalie Gascoigne came up for sale. I enquired about it, thinking it would be about five or six thousand dollars. The answer came back - $46,000. Perhaps not. The art fund remains intact.

Back in 1985, shortly after the National Gallery in Canberra opened, I made a return trip to Australia from my London base. I was in a band. We had just made an album. One of my band mates and I made a visit to the gallery and saw, for the first time, Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly paintings. On returning to London, we contacted Nolan, who was living there too, and asked him if he would kindly design the cover for our album. As you do. Inexplicably, he declined, so we made our own Ned Kelly cover. And very lovely it was too.

Miffed by the annoying 4 in front of the amount of money I could comfortably pay for a genuine Rosalie Gascoigne, I made my way up to Larrikin's End Trading Post, a grand cavern of junk, with a view to reprising the Nolan solution. Gascoigne sourced from the tip. Sadly, one can no longer get free stuff from the tip and all you find there these days in any case is grimy Tupperware and broken, even grimier fridges. The back room at Larrikin's End Trading Post contains, amongst other things, bits of old wood and bottles. I got the makings of the work above for a grand total of $6. Now, some people might think that's an outrageous price to pay for a tatty old drawer and a chipped bottle. But, I say it's a bit of a bargain for an artwork. Not exactly in Gascoigne's league but I'm pleased as punch with it.

I'm a fan of the great maker of art in boxes, Joseph Cornell, as was Gascoigne. Cornell's take on assemblages is that they are sight poems. Making art from found objects is the converse of painting, in a way. Paintings take little time to plan and a long time to execute but boxes are a long time in gestation and then, whammo, they're flung together in an instant once the arrangement comes right. I like to have both on the go.

I once became incensed, and still haven't quite gotten over it, when someone who really should have known better, referred to Gascoigne as a 'florist'. She was never a florist, but rather a dedicated and highly talented student of Sogetsu Ikebana. To call her a florist is a bit like calling Elsa Shiaparelli a seamstress. Ikebana is a high art, a discipline. I'm not saying that florists don't conjure beautiful arrangements but art needs more than just a trained eye, it needs an injection of intelligence. A work of art is the map of a thought. The viewer must be able to read that thought, which means that you have to insert knowledge, something that Gascoigne and Cornell did with both insight and charm. An item made from found objects must be intriguing. That's its only source of intrinsic value. I hope I've achieved that with the piece above.

The first box I ever made came about because Ma Pants suddenly decided to relinquish to me the small collection of items that accompanied my entry into the world. There's a little faded card with my date of birth, gender and weight neatly recorded in fountain pen, a tiny rubber bracelet, a calico strip attached to a huge safety pin and an envelope marked 'Special Privilege'. I have no idea what that means. I also have no idea why Ma Pants would want to part with these precious items, since it's almost impossible to pry anything from her possession. To call her a hoarder would be an insult of understatement. I've often wondered whether I should have been hurt by that.

Anyway, I thought for a very long time about what to do with these bits, proving the theory outlined above. And then I decided to put them in a display box. Craft shops had just started to appear and I found a very convenient and inexpensive little pine box with a glass front in one. Everything fitted perfectly. The pine has faded gracefully and I must tell you that this work is much admired, not something I ever would have expected. Sometimes art is the solution to a most perplexing problem. I can highly recommend it for awkward possessions you can find no good reason to keep but can't bear to consign to landfill.

The making of assemblages is a bit of a metaphor for life as it requires you to create an order from things that have no importance but nonetheless cry out to be made meaningful. It makes you wonder why you spend so much of your day on tasks necessary for keeping your life going, like paying the electric or sourcing replacements for products that barely limped past their one-year guarantee or fixing all the bits that got knocked about in the bad storms that seem to have been a feature of our so-called summer. Makes you wonder about the kind of life a travelling shearer might have had...