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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