Thinking about the moon

As you can tell from my entries here at Miller’s Unity, this year has been a year in the background, a year distracted by seeking, reading and reckoning. Other projects have emerged but all have remained influenced/single pointed by the Miller journey on which I travel.

My most recent project has been following the 2011 phases of the moon in photography.

Yinyang

Yinyang August Moon BL

Miller’s nude and the moon series naturally has been the stream that has carried me and whilst he infamously commented to a student who had attempted a Nude and the Moon in class, “There is only one painter of ‘Nude and the Moon’”, the moon was a perfect source for his aesthetic and spiritual sensibility – a notion of unity. Perhaps it was the gentle coolness of moonlight which was in compliment with his seeing the female form or perhaps connections with the moon lay deep within his philosophy and mysticism.

Or, like me, he may have felt the cycles of the moon deeply influence human behaviour, physiology and in fact all matter. In particular for Miller the feminine is depicted, but not only, and hence Miller’s moons were always connected to the idea of feminine aspects within his masculine abstract landscape. The painted  mosaic tiles unite distinct parts within the beauty of his thought and visual expression of that thought.

So the moon, for me, represents a Miller mosaic tile that holds a complete lunar system set alongside and interdependent with the solar system, the land and life forms. This is where Miller resides in a unique understanding of the universal and the detailed essences inherent in all life systems.

Light and dark are both illuminating in all Miller’s expressions and there is no better natural form than the moon for illustration of this, albeit with a dependency on the sun – the illuminati of all.

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River, trees, stacked rocks

Part of the adventure for a biographer is walking the earth on which your subject walked, smelling the bush air, feeling the seasonal chill, listening to the river flow and really seeing the forms that may have been seen by the eyes of another. On a chill Melbourne morning this week I walked ‘ Warrandyte‘ My mother’s vague description of where Miller’s little cottage sat challenged me but the feel of the earth and the stand of the trees gave me the connection I sought.

So, July’s banner is of Yarra Yarra, Warrandyte.

Snippets from Godfrey Miller Papers MSS 1005 Vol 7 1922-36 To Arthur Fenwick. Manuscript held in the Mitchell Wing of the State Library of NSW

‘…I am found to be living in a one roomed house in the country and rarely seen in Melbourne streets. I have left architecture for the time and am totally rapped up with the charms of the sister art of landscape painting. I lead a jolly existence if any was lead by any creature, and find the days too short.’

‘…Too I should have to play the gentleman and this is rather hard for me – I do not ask for a compliment in return – but the larrikin is pretty strong in me… Needless to say it is the call of my new profession which has steadied my adventurous spirit. I have already sacrificed a great deal to it – now is another sacrifice – when I grow old – not so very long [Miller is only 31 at this time] – I wonder if I will have regrets. One wonders…. If I thought, and seriously did not, that you could endure this little cottage and quietness you would have stayed on and on without my orthodox invitation…the little trivial business of existence have all to be encountered and time expended on them, but they in comparison, are in minute proportion to other affairs, it is all very well for Shakespeare (why drag him in) to write “How the moonlight sleeps upon the bank” but if he had just done a fairly large washing laboriously in kerosene tins by moonlight he might be a little less poetic.’

‘…for this purpose you can imagine me living  in a rather dismal cottage which I have rented for three months. It was despair or desperation which took me there: It has all come about in this manner. The little house in Warrandyte found a buyer and in a few days we were packing. By some curious insight Grant had another ____ and bought away up in the trees where few know there is a house. It boasts seven rooms…and I come here to at frequent occasions to break the fast of my hermitage…’

‘…With some sneaking thoughts of over estimation of Melba I went to hear her La Boheme. the men sing delightfully easy through their parts and exited leaving the tenor. The door opened, she sang a few words and sat down. My doubts fell from me like the ancient mariner’s curse and I worshipped. Cleopatra in all her glory and the magnificent Elizabeth are mere figures in history. I have read diffusely lately while keeping Browning on hand. R>S.L. and one lately of Balzac ‘Quest of Absolute’ have taken me from my cottage, Thomas Hardy too. … all well and life without big events. Father is in Sydney and remarkably well.’

A classic Miller sepia wash from the Warrandyte ‘hermitage’ period

Warrandyte 1920s from Charles Nodrum Gallery Richmond Melbourne

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Science and Art

I’m thinking about science, art, style and structure whilst reading ‘The biographer’s contract’ as delivered by Professor Frances Spalding in her Seymour Biography Lecture 2010 and reprinted in an edited version in the ABR February 2011 (http://www.australianbookreview.com.au/). Science because Miller spent his self education ruminating on science and philosophy and art because he found his point of interaction between the two only after dismissing a further pursuit of science and the great masters. His own mastery appeared when he let go.

Nabokov notes that ‘style and structure are the essence of a book’ and whilst I wouldn’t raise these two aspects in a hierarchy above the ideas they are vital in providing a writer with a conduit to a reader or two. Structure remains my weakness – I wrote a proposal for my Miller project and then followed through with several chapters and rejected it all. I first thought because of the lack of public persona and plethora of letters that I would write a creative non-fiction work based on the evidence provided in the letters with chapters that were Miller conversations with the writers, philosophers, friends and artists that were central to Miller’s cerebral and visual world. In part this structure was based on my own desire to converse with Miller. This proved to be problematic as it still required some traditional biographic ancestral and place type chapters and then the flow or integrity of the idea was compromised. It also raised the spectre of inaccuracy, wild innovation and lack of authenticity. This structure gave way to a more traditional form that I structured into three parts: An Ancient Spirit – NZ to Egypt, Wounded Curves – Gallipoli to Australia, Hiroshima to Mystery – Sydney and Miller’s Moon. Then I was left with a block – surely a traditional form would be inappropriate to relate the life of a master of form, line, colour and visual conversation?

How was I to contract myself to Miller in a way that brought him productively into the present but remained reverent to him as a man and artist?

I returned to the collated evidence (with much admittedly to be done) and re-looked and dwelt. I remember the writer and my writing teacher George Papaellinas saying to me “dwell and read it out loud to yourself….Linger in each moment so that you can show it better” So I dwelt on Miller; his sketches, forms, paintings and words and I began working on a two part biography retaining the letters as the axis but Part 1 is simply London and Part 2 is simply Sydney. From each place you move in and out of time as discussions, family tirades, paintings, sculpture and sketches are revealed in a dynamic, fluid form.

My contract has thus become one with Miller and paradoxically simplicity.

Easter Moon 2011 (photo credit B Long)

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Human Steps and the Shifting Earth

Super Moon March 2011

It has been several moon cycles since I posted (including a super moon this last Sunday) and the world has literally shifted both in global and local realms. Miller was consistently concerned with man’s impact on the earth and wrote in an undated letter circa 1954 held in the SLNSW Mitchell manuscript collection:

‘In 1918 I wrote a letter which I sent to a newspaper in Melbourne. It was about the unknown subject – treatment of the earth. I asked where does the dust, of the dust storm come from, re we sure it is not our best earth, and I concluded by saying treating the earth wrongly will provoke a reply from the earth which will be like the playful paw of the tiger which will strip the flesh from the bone No one, none of my friends paid any heed except to think I was mad. In later years around 1935 I wrote about the new form of the earth. I put it in many ways: no one paid any heed…’

Miller also spoke in his 1930’s letters about having respect for our impact on the land and to learn from ancient people’s knowledge. He was speaking specifically with reference to Australia about the aborigines but in New Zealand too he rejoiced in the Maori connections to the land and their celebration through dance and music. Why is it such a big ask for modern man to pause and dwell on how we can live most harmoniously within our universe – if the retort falls always to economics…to school yard – ‘there is no point if the rest of the world is not acting too’, well, don’t get Miller talking about big business or the business mind of any sort – his response toward minds that prioritise the harmony and exponential rise of dollar figures at the cost of the earth and humanity makes him roar and brandish claws striking deeper than a tiger.

No matter whether you believe in Miller’s tiger’s paw or not, our Earth is living and provides us with life. We are the only beings who continue to look at our own needs before listening to the earth. It is time to take care of the earth for the future prior to blatant exploitation in the name of economics and politics.

Energy is shifting in the world. This is most overtly realised by the activity of the tectonic plates but it is also shifting within those who choose to live examined lives. Change, hazards and challenges take many forms. I dedicate this post to my friends who through love and sharing of dialogue enrich their own existence and mine, and so many others in their orbit. Healing and restructure is a solo and collective effort  demonstrated most profoundly by all those who continue the unenviable task of restoring and rebuilding after the recent earth events.

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Our Miller descendants have been directly impacted by the earthquake in Christchurch, in considering this, along with Miller’s aesthetic respect and affinity with the Japanese, I offer these links here:

Don’t play into media identified compassion-fatigue, if you haven’t already, choose one, give what you can and send thoughts of strength to the remarkable people who are on the ground in all these areas – supporting, grieving and surviving.

Detail of Miller's Moon from Nude and the Moon AGNSW

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The Road Trip to my Mentor

A research journey has many aspects and one is the generosity of your oldest friends. They may not be immersed in the details of your journey but offer unquestioning support to be with you as you take your first steps outward into new realms. And so it was that Miss Whitetree (aka Hippy due to an impending hip operation) and I ventured out on the road to head toward my mentor in North Western NSW.

The blue mountains wound us around and up and down offering sudden openings into great panoramas of grey, blue, dusky ash green and the sepia lined, time-stained sheer rock cliffs rising into tableaus and peaks, shifting back into their own movement as we pass. The air was warm and scented with green. We stopped at occasional vantage points and saw paths toward unseen rivers and missed many more as our hired hybrid Toyota took us under the instruction of GPS-James to our destination – not quite on the map. Blue skies with great sculptural cumulous nimbus greeted us after our descent from the

Hippy's profile on the road

Blue Mountains, occasional cows raised startled heads along the road, the ground was dryer than I expected with sudden shadings of green.

We came into our first town to find our B&B and to swim, washing away the travel exhaustion before our initial meeting.

Meeting my mentor for this part of the Miller journey was to be taken by the hand and guided into the minds and work of many who influenced or were significantly present in Miller’s time. It was an immersion greater, far greater than our refreshing travel swim. There was an unsteady tower of books occupying a chair for my reference so that I can hunt them down online, in Melbourne or via the libraries. There was another array of art books on a table in a grapevine-ceiling courtyard and this was all before I had produced my questions collated for the trip. Hippy and I began opening pages of beauty. Brancusi drew me in first but I had to share him as there were forms there that Hippy needed to see as she dabbles in the creative process with limestone and soapstone under the tutelage of her sister-in-law Jenny Whiteside. The next day we started a little later than expected and this was the true work day for me with Hippy making her own way through the local museum and local produce stores.

Central to my quest is a need, that I underestimated, and that is to be able to view the world with the eyes of an artist, for I am continually finding layers of meaning in Miller’s energy, light, line, form, colour and lattice that I previously missed. It is apt that we traveled through the Blue Mountains driving over the strata-layers of history with geological moments revealed at odd and unexpected times as the road turned or wound us about. A journey of the elements revealed.

Introductory phone calls were also shared with Miller contemporaries and artists giving their words on light with further references for me to search. And quotes too, that Miller gave to students, ‘the line against the half tone’; the anecdote of Miller a man so able to be on the inside that he was observed walking and being literally knocked over by a water bubbler on the side of a building at NAS. It is what is on the inside of Miller that I seek and as a biographer, whilst I am gifted with the exceptional words of those who have written before me, it is this inner man that I question continually as I am guided by the hand of art. Miller responds only when I am ready.

I am about to open ‘The Legendary Lindsays’ when nature offers a moment of drama as a wild storm wafts and weaves its wind and roar through the grapevines. We remove the library treasures quickly and watch the light, the lightning, the rain. The lessons are given in this aesthetic moment.

Light after the storm

When we finally turn the car away we notice the space inside is crowded with thoughts and words by and about: Brancusi, Klee, Rodin, Gaudier-Brzeska, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, The Legendary Lindsays, Picabia, Kandinsky, Tagore, Dadswell, Hoff, Mackennal, Deborah Edwards, Robert Hughes, Bernard Smith, Tagore, Krishnamurti, Jinanaajadasal, E. P. Northrop, W.G. Hooper, Suzuki and so many more. There is no need for the radio.

There is the whole road ahead.

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Elevation

My most recent interview was with Leonora Howlett, an artist and ex-student of Miller, who was in her final years at NAS 1959-60. At the risk of repeating myself these invitations into the homes and minds of artists who have been taught by Miller continues to offer me more than I think the artists themselves realise. The interviews flow from some basic memory ticklers and open out into a complex map of creative history. There are always fresh anecdotes, descriptions of place, time and people that when layered with my existing interview material organically produces a mind-form which is slowly building into the architecture that will eventually be the biography. ‘Form is a strange thing. The more you work at it the less it belongs to the visible: then it is Idea…’ ‘…a thought form’ GM MSS 1005 Mitchell Library

The layering process begins with the basic memory ticklers: first meeting with Miller, response, appearance, voice, classes, relationships, words given, influences, NAS grounds, visits, paintings, exhibitions, anecdotes, interests (theosophy, anthroposophy, Jung, music, books, the outback) war service knowledge and other contacts. It is extended through the artists referring to other artists, artistic movements, books, catalogues and new contacts for me to interview. This layering forms a 3 dimensional grid something like what Will Gibson describes in Neuromancer and I find myself working within a matrix structure of data and memory. This parallels nicely for me with Miller’s work and his idea of the lattice…. ‘Lattice is the word of my own. When you have solid things you have no unity, when you draw them out to their parts (Plato would say their divine parts) you leap from a solidness to an openness, a web or lattice…it is the belief in (the wafts) that draws the lines into the centre of the diagram’ ML MSS 2719 Mitchell Library also p. 64 D Edwards.

After speaking with Leonora I was invited upstairs to her elevated studio and sat at her table reading ‘The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985 a catalogue from the LA County Museum of Art. This book came up early in our conversation when Leonora asked me what books had been written about Australian artists and Theosophy. Outside Dr Jill Rowe’s work, ‘Beyond belief: theosophy in Australia 1879-1939’, in which Miller is mentioned, and some essays I have read from the Australian Theosophical Society, I remain unaware of a book that examines specifically the Australian Artist and Theosophy – I may well be wrong or maybe there is further work to be done. Looking up from my reading and audio note taking, as new names leapt out from the pages, I felt myself in an elevated space with the thick, solid trunk of a eucalypt outside the window.

Wounded Eucalypt – Ku-Ring-Gai

It seemed to me that this elevation from the earth was ideal for the creative quest – somehow a lighter plane existed for pure thought far away from the pull of earthly concerns. It was a space for colour, ideas and the revealing of divine parts.

I walked off to the bus, away from the elevated studio, thinking of the anecdote of Miller cutting a rectangular hole in some fibro sheeting so that he could see the stars from his bed.

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Canvas Conversations

What would Miller say seeing his conversations come up in the Auction houses going into collections that may or may not be able to interpret his language?

Sotheby’s Australia Sydney 23 November 2010, Lot 48: Figure Group, Sold $42,000 incl buyers premium $50,400 Note on artist Dr David Hansen

http://www.sothebysaustralia.com.au/lot_details.php?lot=3779&auction=380#

Figure Group Sotheby's Australia Sydney 23 Nov 2010

‘I can’t tell you of pictures I paint in principles’ Letter to Madeline Webb, Undated estimate 1950s, in box MSS 2719 ‘truth and the interest for a painter’ Letter to Madeline Webb 16/5/1955 MSS 2719

Menzies Australia Melbourne 15 December 2010, Lot 114: Early Landscape, price range $3,200-$4000

http://www.menziesartbrands.com/cgi/dmcat.cgi?rm=display_lot&item_id=16930

‘You’ll be surprised and join with others in thinking me mad but I am to be found living in a one roomed house in the country [Warrandyte, Vic] and rarely to be seen in Melbourne streets. I have left the architecture for a time and am totally rapped up with the charms of the sister art of landscape painting’ Letter to Arthur Fenwick 30 May 1922, Vol 7 in the Mitchell Wing of the State Library of NSW

In another letter he writes about the difficulty of letting a painting go and once it is gone needing to recognise the absence and move on to other things. Artists I interview worry they are becoming more like Miller when they find themselves reaching into their racks for a painting 20 years old and now knowing what it needs – the conversations are on a continuum.

Miller’s notorious habit of reworking canvases infuriated Patrick White when trying to purchase  ‘Nude with Moon’ and according to David Marr, ‘White courted the painter with eggs and oranges (I think the Lavertys became the beneficiaries of the oranges) brought down from Castle Hill.’ Miller furthered his reworking and painted over the thoughts White had loved so much. For Miller the conversational flow on this canvas was incomplete and seriously interrupted in 1959 with the tension he felt over the Melbourne NGV exhibition of his work. He writes of this in a letter to White dated 22/10/59 Vol 9. White did go on to use aspects of both John Passmore and Miller for his character, Hurtle Duffield in his book the ‘Vivisector’ published in 1970. This fusion is interesting as from most accounts neither man had a lot to say to each other although they did share a mutual respect and Miller is reported to have gone down to the quay to see Passmore off on his voyage to Italy [one interviewee said America] made possible by the Helena Rubinstein Prize. He arrived late and stood amongst Passmore’s friends devastated that Passmore had already boarded.

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Walking through time’s door

Door to the Mitchell Wing of the SLNSW

This week is about calling Miller’s ex-students. Some I speak to over the phone others I arrange to meet if my traveling-to-Sydney days meet with theirs. I threaten my family I will leave and live in Sydney but I know it is not the city I yearn for but an important period in time, rich with possibilities and minds wide open to beauty and form. It seems to me there is a ‘closing’ now occurring in this century of uncertainty, meta-technology, constructed fear paradigms and a presumption that the forces of business and law and order will bring us through…to what?… when our multi faceted selves, the essence of who we are is being tamed, framed and priced.

When I speak with Miller’s students I hear ‘openings’, I hear a passionate discourse of ideas, line, colour and again and again they teach me to see as though I was blind before I began this journey. There is also the joy of discovering other artists that I may not have come across before, and those moments when you see in canvases glimpses of Miller’s line, use of colour – not in imitation at all but in reinvention, just the glimpse. This invariably marries with their sharing of the treasured words spoken to them in a class – for Miller was no wastrel of words, on this most students agree, and Barbara McKay repeated it today ‘when he did speak to you he gave generously…it was important.’ And yesterday Annette Dixon said, ‘he spoke about form, the importance of the space between the arm and the torso…his work was poetic’ and although ‘he worked and worked on his paintings the poetry was evident’ and Barbara Mckay following the same thought on the work in a Miller canvas ‘he would spend ages on a piece then there was this freshness.’ Annette also said,‘he stood tall…exceptional’ ‘his teaching was about the passing on of experience’. In all these conversations it is evident that Miller, the times, NAS itself and other artist teachers in the 1950s and 60s passed to their students a sense of openings for the individual, for their art.

As much as I, like some of the ex-students, prefer face-to-face interviews the phone has not inhibited the sharing of this knowledge, the gift of insights into moments passed. The wonder of these interviews is how from initial hesitation, due to memory or a concern they have nothing to offer, the conversations burst into a variety of directions, all relevant offering  signposts and sometimes a key. One memory leads to another. My practice of writing out questions for interviews has been discarded in favour of an organic flow, whereby the interview itself brings forth the questions with very few mind-tickles required, either from me, or for me.

I walk now as a shadow elongated against the memories of so many

Tree and my shadow

practicing artists, who happen to be ex-students of Millers. A shadow sometimes distinct but often overwhelmed in the presence of their thoughts. Then there are the words from the Miller letters into which I leave the shadow, and swim. I swim Miller island to island occasionally diving down deep – the only problem is my world insisting I come up for air.

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Reachings and Slidings

I treated myself tonight to a meal at Fratelli Fresh. I’m not sure if it is just by association with the name but when you walk in you are hit with the green scents of fresh vegetables and perfectly ripened fruits.  I chose the smoked duck salad with figs, pancetta and a variety of leaves and herbs. Crisp, bitter-clean witlof balanced with coloured lettuces, just the right amount of aged balsamic and all else to perfection. I sat and sipped a Pinot Grigio, munched and read ‘Body Parts Essays on Life Writing’ by Hermione Lee. In the essay on ‘Virginia Woolf’s Nose’ I discovered, amongst the quoted humorous criticisms of the Nicole Kidman prosthetic proboscis (in the film The Hours), something I had been discussing on the weekend with a friend, the concept of multi-personae. Lee says, ‘ At the end of Orlando [also made into a a film], Woolf’s teasing spoof on conventional biography, her hero/heroine, reaching the present day, sniffing its smells and powdering her nose, calls her various selves together. For a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves…’ I crunched and delighted in the smoky soft textured duck nodding assent and laughing when I reached the image of Nicole Kidman and a dead bird comparing beaks. It was all quite upmarket from my usual noodle dish at a CDB, Chinese/Malay take-away, strangely called ‘Deli choice’.

A sleepy –but happy – brain always shadows the Monday arrival in Sydney particularly when, and it has happened again, I have arrived on a full moon. I’m all no sleep with extra dashes of clumsy putting my library locker ticket in the only place I later won’t remember and flapping about with numbers for the request slips as my diary nose-dives off my notebook pile of paraphernalia which is precariously balanced between me and the request desk. The librarian doesn’t miss a beat and stamps the slips with their date and time as though my house of cards hasn’t started slipping into the walkway of special collections.

The Miller volumes arrive and I slip into my transcription meditation occasionally broken by my lips speaking out loud a sentence with an unreadable world. Out loud somehow brings greater comprehension to a full sentence and invariably the missing word appears like it was once in invisible ink and has now been revealed. Miller is speaking to his brother Lew explaining, to choose the artists path, you choose to step precariously onto the uppermost rung of a ladder. At times you slip back but you are inevitably compelled higher.

11/2/36 Miller in London to his brother Lew in NZ

‘…most of my life seems a series of reachings to the highest levels, with continuous slidings down, thro the nice easy earning a living stage, to the bottom where once more I puff and scramble my way to the riskiness of the top again. In other words the world of speculations of experimentation and of questioning and discovery is not comfortable. It is very exciting and it is very depressing. It is also very necessary and essential for some particular ones of us. Essential, as is breathing and more close to us than hands or feet. I would not have chosen my lot in any other part of civilisation but I would have liked very much to have, to ______ or I might properly say my affirmation of my feelings – both earlier and with less cruel opposition.’ (Letters held in the Mitchell wing of the SLNSW)

Which brings me to the clouds.

Afternoon clouds above the Mitchell steps

As I lay down on the warm afternoon steps of the Mitchell library, I looked up thinking of those compelled on the metaphorical ladder, I was also thinking of how Gauguin, like Miller was harshly criticised by family as he too, embarked  on the journey of reachings and slidings  – different realms but we are all reaching and sliding – the tricky bit is to call our various selves together for the reachings. You only ever seem to need one for the sliding.

 

Metamorphosis

In the late afternoon transcription sitting, Miller comments to Lew after he has attended a wonderful Chekhov play but has sat in the expensive seats with insensitive neigbours…’On such occasions I stomp my way home in a terrible vengeful temper and live in the storm of it until I entertain myself among my pots and cooking or recreate myself by my work. But why do I make the old error again and again of going and seating myself where I am likely not to be happy.’ 11/2/36

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Distractions at the Purple Door

It was an exciting week at the front door of our house this week as Melbourne Photo Repair arrived with the Miller family photographs now in a condition worthy of publication. The photographic repair work has brought out detail and nuance with an understanding for the subject and a passion for re-creation. You can now enter the Gallipoli shot and explore the makeshift shelters on the cliff face, walk the beach where barrels roll and rest, step through seagrass collected and watch as the soldiers walk toward the front of the frame. A particularly special re-creation is a detail of Godfrey’s head removed from the family shot and with the enlargement – only to 5cmx5cm – comes a mystical quality to the face, a painterly quality, suggesting the man beyond the representation. In a photo of one of the Dunedin family homes, Montecillo, a little boy reclining on the front steps becomes more evident which makes me recollect Richard Holmes’ book Footsteps, where he describes a photograph he takes when following the footsteps of Shelley. When Holmes took the shot he was unaware of a young boy who appears only in processing. Photographs can do that, bring forward a detail in a scene that can add drama and mystery, not noticed as the shutter flicked open.

An Abebooks delivery also knocked on our purple door. Blast 1 by Wyndham Lewis, the Noble Savage and some more diaries by Anais Nin. These secondhand and reprinted books are a pleasure and draw me into the thinking around the time of Miller’s world. I delve in with delight. Sometimes though the technology scanning rare books doesn’t manage to capture the plates that were published in the original – which is disappointing.

Not at the front door but out at an appointment this week, I pulled out my copy of the Australian Book Review ( ABR ) The Art issue, November 2010 and read the edited version of Bill Henson’s Melbourne Art

Bill Henson Image cover ABR Nov 2010

Foundation Lecture, titled ‘Millennial Slippage’. The sub-title is ‘Honouring the paradox and the majesty of art’. In 2008 Bill Henson experienced media and public outrage over his image of a young girl. A tirade not dissimilar to the fictional media and public outcry against Howard Roark, an architect, in Ayn Rand’s novel ‘The Fountainhead’. No matter what you think of Ayn Rand’s philosophy/politics her writing in The Fountainhead depicted the suspicion in society for creativity, for the unknown, the different – in essence for beauty, art and truth. She writes the world as we have since read, and maybe responded to, in our newspapers and discussed over morning coffee – why, even the then Prime Minister of the time, Kevin Rudd, made authoritative comment. As Bill Henson notes ‘history is littered with bonfires of the vanities’, moments when the prevailing ethos and moral fibre of a given society is affronted by the artistic quest. Art, truth and beauty are put on trial from newspaper headlines to mother’s groups particularly in times when conservatism attempts to quell rising uncertainty. However I suggest the Bill Henson case was necessary, it was bigger than Bill Henson’s image or Henson himself, it was a self-combusting outcry containing the pain and angst of the time. It was also necessary though, to bring the art world into the public sphere and into conversation because that is where it can resonate the most. The outcry refreshed the creative worlds and brought art forward to be defended.

ABR itself has also brought art forward for discussion by embarking on the first of its Arts issues – another is planned for June – this is a wonderful step and this one is exquisite. It is co-edited by Christopher Menz (former director of the Art Gallery of South Australia) and as Brian Johns mentioned at the launch even the ad space is beautiful.

I close this post thinking about how important art is beyond the artist and I leave a metaphorical purple door open to receive more knowledge on this wonderful journey toward Godfrey Miller and his interpretation of beauty and truth.

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