Poppies and Crosses

Remembrance day: the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month specifically recalls the official end of WWI on that date in 1918 with the signing of the armistice and more

Poppies and Crosses – Flanders Fields (Photo credit Willowbrookpark.blogspot.com)

widely recalls all fallen soldiers…‘we remember them’…the emblem the red poppy of the Flanders Fields…the blood stained on earth churned raw.

On my Miller journey I have been quiet because I have been ‘under a flood of words’ some my own but also those on Gaudier-Brzeska who was killed in a charge, at Neuville St. Vaast, on June the 5th, 1915. To his memory Ezra Pound writes ‘It is part of the war waste. Among many good artists, among other young men of promise there was this one sculptor already great in achievement at the age of twenty three, incalculably great in promise and in the hopes of his friends’ and ‘that Gaudier-Brzeska had an amazing faculty for synthesis’ and from Gaudier-Brezeska on the Front ‘I have been fighting for two months and I can now gauge the intensity of life’

Today is a day marked for us to pause for thought, to reflect on what has past and to recognise and prevent modern day manifestations for such destruction. It is a great responsibility. In a year there are 365 days in which we should remember to apply our creative will and consciousness within our daily lives no matter what basic tasks we face because not to do so means we have forgotten.

As previously noted Godfrey Miller was injured at Gallipoli. He lay on churned ground waiting to be collected and taken to the Australian Casualty Station. Like Gaudier-Brzeska he also had received two promotions; like Gaudier-Brzeska he understood synthesis. Each man explored concepts of the material and spiritual worlds and formed, created with all their own energy, pieces of unity requiring more than a first glance, deserving our whole attention. Their understanding of the past forms, the future forms, time, space, planes, proportion, rhythm leads the observer to the present forms – forms of possibilities.

On this remembrance day, I reflect with a new energy and, with due respect to the past, look forward to further understanding Miller’s possibilities.

‘…and exotic geometry
numbers tumbling from his mouth
not spoken but in forms
rotating out of words whirling
movement dynamic
the stone, Gestalt
stirrings from Goethe
held
minds eye inside
impish smile to part’

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The Quest

Yesterday I arrived in Sydney half asleep or close to sleepwalking. The night before had been a roulette of small snatches of sleep – about leaving Mum for two nights, about waking early for the plane trip.

It was a struggle in the Mitchell only because of my lack of presence. The letters themselves offered the principal of yin, yang, the purchase of a Sung vase, a lengthy discussion between brothers and a scathing attack on banks which seems to be echoed in this weeks media.

On the Sung Vase:

‘I have now a Sung vase. At least I have paid a portion of the price, and when you have these lines before you I shall have, doubtlessly, access to the company of so beautiful a thing as a rare article from the days of early Chinese work in such directions. I bought it only with due consideration, though such reflection really only took the formal character of allowing a sensible amount of time to elapse. I liked it from the first and, in exploring and comparing mood, I examined the collection of the British Museums and saw nothing which gave me more satisfaction. I feel I have a pleasant thing with me, a thing which has both the satisfaction coming from its painting and a pleasing excitement coming from its form.’ (Letter to Lew 29/5/37 held in the Mitchell Wing of the SLNSW)

Today though, I awoke well for a train trip a few hours out of Sydney to meet Tom Thompson to discuss, over a cup of tea, Miller, art and the post war climate.

Tom picked me up at the station and took me to his home a short distance away. We entered via the back door under a verandah-line of socks and singlets and a small chair with the remnants of green enamel paint. The scene was reminiscent, and Tom commented later, of the detail from his work of the Annunciation. We entered the back door and took seats in the kitchen sharing tea and biscuits, all the while speaking on Miller, on art. There was no pretence in the kitchen; all was laid bare on the laminex table where I took my first steps at a critical glance of individual works by Miller. ‘It’s a quest, like belief is a quest, not a reality, not a surety and that is the adventure of it’, was Tom’s precise expression, and ‘there are some works when you know he has realised something, is close… These are the works to note.’ I asked him about the Nude and Moon at Te Papa because the apparently severed leg troubled me and Tom merely dismissed the work and talked on… I learnt there at the kitchen table that I had the faculty to dismiss art works too… I learnt a second lesson in seeing.

Tom shared with me copies of his sketches of the NAS staff and the one of Miller is a small piece, an attempt to acknowledge Miller’s initial shyness, his enigma, through a

Godfrey Miller by Tom Thompson (Original acquired by Mitchell Wing of SLNSW 2009)

drawing with a hat half over his face.

In discussing Miller’s work Tom felt he didn’t reach toward abstraction but contraction – the bringing together of detail in lines and curves, allowing these to shift in relation to the Golden Mean, into rhythmic, animated forms, a climax and fall or overflow to come to rest again within the one canvas. We looked further into the works, from John Henshaw’s book on Godfrey Miller, examining the curves by turning the paintings upside down, sideways entering into the worlds of Miller’s quest. This is a pattern largely in mature works but the interest in geometry is also present in earlier, less evolved works, where the style is perhaps more post-impressionist but where the negative or void spaces are as important as the positive for the balance or unity of the whole. The sketches though are often abstract where Miller’s lines resist each other to suggest the figure. Tom defines abstraction as the taking away, and contraction as the building of details toward… We talked also of Paul Gauguin, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca, Picasso, Cézanne, Velázquez, William Blake and Leonardo.

When we waited on the station for my train I asked, ‘Why the post war days are often described as such halcyon days by, the then, young people of all nations?’  Tom’s answer was firm: ‘the atomic bomb changed everything philosophically, spiritually and threw us back to the basics of physics. It challenged every metaphysical notion … the shock of the bomb was devastating…and physics then delivered the big bang and black holes and so it went on…We had to get to know each other better and to think it all out again and that was the excitement…’ We kept talking then about war and the delivery of white feathers to young men in civilian clothing  but my train pulled up before I reached the stories about the artistic quests that followed the multi-faceted levels of destruction contained in those acts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Threads

How important are threads? Are they all connection points? Are they life’s force displaying the unity of all things? Am I merely talking of coincidence or serendipity?

Miller speaks of threads: ‘I am aware that in many quarters of natural science this is objected to: therein something repulsive to many but I do not know why and I am inclined to just let people have their way of liking without protest. To me it is an expression of thought of beauty of a deep kind. It is a freeing of the mind and letting it flow out along the thread connecting all things, permeating all and passing from what we call a class to another class – without any more hitch than that of passing thro’ the water in a glass to the glass itself, their permeating thought is opposite from that thought which focuses on our object then jumps to another, the break, impact then subsequent break, is not pleasant for me. I prefer the thread instead of the steps. The cord holding the Beads to the Beads. I believe there is a great opening or blossoming in such nature of thoughts.’ Letter to Lew 17/2/36

Brenda Niall in her book Life Class speaks specifically of beads and quotes Leon Edel [on choosing certain episodes in the lives of his nine Bloomsberries] ‘string them together as one strings beads’ ‘When the string is complete and harmonious each bead has a relation to the other beads on the string’ p. 224-225 Life Class

Brenda shares too, Samuel Johnson’s quote: ‘As the process of these narratives [the Lives of Poets] is now bringing me among my contemporaries, I begin to feel myself walking upon ashes under which the fire is not extinguished and coming to a time of which it will be proper to say nothing that is false rather than all that is true. p.153 Life Class

Recently I found a photographic restorer to assist me in enhancing the few photographic materials I borrowed from New Zealand and it turned out her mother has an early Miller, a country scene, probably painted late 1920s to early thirties, maybe Warrandyte or London. In some way this thread, from a conversation about mothers, somewhat coincidental, slipped in with all the others and I knew I had chosen the restorer with the right eyes for the work.

The practice of recording biographical threads:

1. Commit to a note taking protocol which will be easy to use when you get to the point of putting the work all together – It took me a while to decide on how much of the letters I would transcribe, I moved from rough notes per letter to full transcription because I found that it was only on reading a letter after transcription that I really understood it – the importance of the whole

2. Keep a note book adjacent to your transcription activity with two headings Tasks & Questions/Ideas. Transcription will inevitably raise a few tasks for you to pursue that should be noted before you digress into another letter or document, ditto for questions/ ideas that come to you as you focus on your research materials.

Always be questioning you materials, your subject, yourself

3. How to reference – I was referencing purely by letter date, now I add Miller’s page numbers where I can and maintain my own page numbers on all documents I create

4. Keep a contents page for all related materials – List manuscript materials against each volume, note against each volume the progress you are making; list correspondence in the same way as it makes it easier to refer back and find that elusive quote. I separate interviews from correspondence and note all the interviewee details including appointment arrangements/commitments and the full list of questions I have used along side the final interview transcription

5. Keep your contacts in a notebook where you can record names, addresses, phone numbers and dates and type of contact. Currently mine exist across several notebooks reflecting the way I received the contacts and needs organising

6. Commit to a daily notes practice – it doesn’t actually have to be daily but is a wonderful way to keep yourself honest, note your progress and reveal the gaps – the gaps reveal themselves but you need to be paying attention and capture them when they surface

7. Formatting of all your documents needs to be consistent for many reasons but also so you can readily identify quotable material from your own notes – I highlight some sentences/paragraphs with a thematic colour code and insert square brackets when I am inserting a comment or question or extending factual/historic content which I often do within the transcribed text – I even add hyperlinks and images Miller refers to

8. At all times you need to be thinking how will I need this material? How will I refer back to it in my text? How will I gain permissions and keep a record of these? Then change your practice to ensure that when you are in a more formal writing phase all your threads will be waiting for you, as you need them

9. Maintain a detailed bibliography and acknowledgements list as you go, as biographical research can continue over years and it would be too easy to miss giving credit where it is due when you are finally collating your text

And finally…

10. The more you let go the more the answers come to you quite naturally as you work through your materials…in fact you have to let go. Keep working with focus but let go of any preconceived structure or self expectation and some how you do reach your biographical subject.  ‘It is a freeing of the mind and letting it flow out along the thread connecting all things… GM’ ‘As she writes, images emerge from the understream. She tries but should not. For bliss will come unwilled for. OS Letter to BL 8/10/10’

Auckland: Water as thread Yachts as beads

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GCM NZ Photo Gallery

I prefer to sit on the floor next to a coffee table when in conversation and in particular when taking notes about GM. It is more grounded somehow and gives freer movement when looking at photos, cuttings and listening. Shoes preferably off. This is how I was in NZ kneeling at coffee tables looking, listening and discussing.

A niece in NZ said how attractive and masculine Godfrey was, but how difficult to know deeply. Another relayed the family story that Godfrey had trained himself before the war to write and draw left handed – this was considered one of his visionary actions (‘a moment when the future opens’) as the war injury was sustained in his right arm. A great niece remembers Uncle Lewis whistling from a window sill of their Auckland home where he stayed occasionally. Family distances were described and silences between Miller siblings. Books were found with G C Miller in Godfrey’s hand on inside of the cover: The French Revolution, Carlyle, Vol I, II; History of English, Macaulay, Vol I, II. He held these books and the Vest Pocket Kodak Camera in hands that intuitively revealed the  mysteries of form.

The eyes and the nose are the keys of  a young face pre-war and an older face post-war…always the eyes, Ayn Rand would have known how to describe Godfrey’s eyes…

GCM noted as wounded

Gallipoli 1915

GCM (R) holding niece Margaret Titirangi

Titirangi detail

Godfrey Miller 1996 AGNSW

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Te Papa

Wellington is the windiest city I have ever experienced – I know it is the stereotype but it is true, even the newspaper front page refers to the wind with affectionate and humorous tones, yesterdays paper stated, ‘If you’ve showers they’ll clear. The wind is a different story’ The wind here is a presence, often personified and considered a protector against those who don’t love this city. Today’s weather in the newspaper, ‘Mostly fine but keep the raincoat handy for tonight’. Perhaps in a maritime climate the weather becomes a part of your core understanding of your self. The people certainly identify their preferences for a southerly or a northerly – the winds are known. In Melbourne the weather is changeable but is not felt with the same intensity, the faces of each wind are not identified or keenly discussed.

Yet whilst the winds are known here by name Godfrey Miller is not – his name is only known by a handful of collectors and he is not listed as a significant New Zealand artist. The land that formed him does not recognise him. In the museums and galleries the holdings are slight but today at Te Papa this opinion may be debunked…

In ‘Art at Te Papa (ed) William McAloon’ and short listed for the National NZ book award for the illustrated non-fiction category, we find on page 10, Godfrey Miller listed amongst the Australian Paintings collected after a consultation with Daryl Lindsay. In the same book on page 282 there is a full page featuring ‘Nude and Moon’ and several paragraphs noting his birth in Wellington, but again, page 282 falls in a chapter on International Art 1945-1990. In discussion with his nieces we wonder at this and discuss other New Zealanders too who have become more identified with Australia. However, in Godfrey’s case, we consider, place is less important to him as an artist because thought and experience are his growth place. If his rough life journey is sketched NZ – Turkey – Melbourne – London/Europe – Sydney with Eastern visits interspersed, we note a patterning of an artist coming into being formed by colonial and natural volcanic forms into the madness and terror of injury at Gallipoli, convalescence, a rebuilding of self and intellect as an artist, first in Melbourne, then exiled in London and maturing in Sydney. I’m feeling very strongly about a post-war transformation and will explore this as far as I am able.

Te Papa honoured us today with an appointment to see ‘Nude and Moon’ and 6 sketches held by the Museum. Frances Speer (Collection Manager) took us into the back rooms, firstly for ‘Nude and Moon’; the nude was drawn out and supported on two blocks for our viewing. This is a more monochrome work than the one in the series held by AGNSW. The tesserae are longer, elongated, the mood is more silvery, more night-like and she has her back toward the viewer. Beautiful.

We stood with her for some time discussing her, the lower full moon with a rising ink-line representation, the frame paint-marked with the lattice falling into the canvas, a left leg executed with a break in form which we did not understand…even for our Wellington cousin this was a moment of discovery. She was re-tied and slid away, hopefully waiting her exhibition day, her time out on Level 5 of Te Papa. We were then steered toward another holding for the sketches, and these with such quick deft lines with minimal shading all the time revealing the nude with a feeling of flow, some with distinct movement, dance-like, as if the life model were about to rise into a new pose with arms outspread. The library was our next impromptu stop and the full file was shared – including a pamphlet where ‘Nude and Moon’ is celebrated as the July 1965 ‘Picture of the Month. In this pamphlet it does explain ‘…must be classified as “Australian School” although Godfrey Miller was born in Wellington. Others born in New Zealand who have lived and worked in Australia include Elioth Gruner, Robert Johnson, Roland Wakelin, James R Jackson and John Henshaw.’ John Henshaw, artist, who became such an important friend and one of the executors of Miller’s will.

We forgot all about the wind outside.

And my son is in Morocco looking at arches and architecture that mesmerised Miller.

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A forest near Paris

After quoting from one of Godfrey’s letters in the post ‘Search for Gold’ of a walk in a London wood walk he takes searching for the last of the gold leaves for the season –  in Wellington I discover a small oil of a forest – in Paris.

A forest outside Paris, private collection, photograph held in the Aust National Archives

Forest outside Paris, private collection, recorded in the Aust National Archives

The discovery of gold in Paris is at the height of the autumnal season and the post-impressionist canvas brings forward the light and glow of the leaves. It is approximately dated as 1933-34.

Our pilgrimage into the memories of cousins is tiring Mum considerably so we take the days quietly with rest being a precursor to any outing. Today we met with another cousin, Mum commenting how wonderful it would be for them all to meet together at one time. The Wellington cousin suggested they had left there run a bit late as the cousins are all separated through Australia, New Zealand and Ecuador and travelling is far more physically challenging these days for them all. These cousins are all Godfrey’s first nieces and each have moments of meeting, gifts given, their own memorabilia and stories to share. He is said to have talked about sunflowers but I don’t know of any canvases with the flowers; he purchased one sister-in-law a painting by Charles Conder that he chose for her in London at her request; he often shared his philosophies with his nieces providing concrete life examples to aid their thinking through of the ideas; he was particular always about his work and how it was framed making frames himself, including the one above, of the forest near Paris. The frames and inner frames were vital in the composition.

We may not be able to take the road trip to Hawera & Patea (Taranaki region with Mt Taranaki), as it would be a full day trip. We do however have an appointment at Te Papa to view their ‘Nude and the Moon’ that they have kindly agreed to show us despite our very late notice. Another great niece, like me, let us know it was there. It will be interesting to view it, keeping in mind, the Nude and the Moon held by the AGNSW.

We may also have time for a trip to Naenae to John Duthie’s home, Balgownie, currently on the market…but we shall see. This home was where my Grandmother Mera grew up after her mother Isabella died (also mother to Godfrey & Malcolm). Godfrey and all the other Miller children visited their grandparents there and photographs of rowing boats

Waiwhetu Stream below Balgownie, Naenae

on the stream below the house exist in nearly all the cousin’s homes, and if I look carefully, I am told, one of the rowing boats holds Godfrey and Mera. This I will explore when I get home as Godfrey rarely appears in photographs.

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Astride a motorbike

My favourite image of our flight to Auckland is Mum waltzing the aisle with Taren, a beautiful Qantas flight attendant. The waltz-hold turns out to be the ideal support for an elderly passenger negotiating the narrow plane aisle. As Mum passes through business class a gentleman remarks how brave she is, Mum, unaware of the compliment, continues her waltz with Taren to her seat further down the plane. We sit prepared with Anticols for the ascent. Mum takes it all in and we fly to the land where Godfrey Miller was born.

Cousins greet us, complete with hamper, and take us to our apartment coming back the next evening to take us to their home for dinner. This dinner is where we enter into the collection of photos, newspaper cuttings and letters all pertaining to the Miller and Duthie families. The talk is rapid as other family members arrive and offer their memories, family anecdotes and share books inherited from Godfrey’s brother Andrew, also a Vest Pocket Kodak (VPK) camera that took the Egyptian training photos

The VPK Godfrey held to take these photos

and a large photograph at Gallipoli…and so much more. All these parts form our shared Uncle.

I look for the first time at a photo of a young Godfrey from a newspaper cutting ‘Acting corporal G. C. Miller, NZ Engineers, wounded.’ The photo must have been taken before he was wounded as the face is full, robust, not like his older self at all. There is another photo taken outside the family home in Dunedin, in this one he sits astride his brother Andrew’s motorbike. The bike is stationary, his gaze forward to the ground. The photo does not given the impression that he was about to ride off.

Astride a motorbike Dunedin

The photograph that speaks the most though is a family group out on the verandah of his brother Andrew’s house in Auckland. There are 6 figures in the group all standing or sitting close, as you would expect in a family shot, except for Godfrey who sits on the verandah fence a few feet away from the group holding the youngest niece, Margaret on his lap. He looks toward the camera over the head of his niece with his legs crossed toward the group. This is the face I know… it is quite different to the young man with legs astride a motorbike…

On a small sheet of paper we find ‘To a Snowflake’ by Francis Thompson written out in Godfrey’s hand. It appears to have been a poem that interested the Anthroposophists as it is discussed in a book ‘The English Spirit: a new approach through the world conception of Rudolph Steiner’, the chapter that contains the poem is titled: ‘The Three-Fold Soul’.

‘To a Snowflake’

What heart could have thought you?

Past our devisal

(O filigree petal)

Fashioned so purely

Fragilely surely,

From what Paradisal

Imageless metal

Too costly for cost?

Who hammered you, wrought you

From argentine vapour –

God was my shaper

Passing surmisal

He hammered, he wrought me

From curled silver vapour

To lust of His mind

Thou couldst not have thought me!

So purely, so palely

Tinily, surely

Mightily frailly

Insculpted and embossed

With His hammer of Wind

And His graver of Frost

(Francis Thompson)

We leave the cousins laden with a box of letters, the few photos that exist and with our heads spinning with Miller stories we sink back into the car seat for the night drive back, via the docks, into Auckland city. For me this was a first time meeting but the warmth of open arms belied this fact.

I’m looking forward to Wellington and looking out at the land of the Taranaki Region into which Godfrey was born.

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With me at the table

 

Miller's Words

 

The Miller journey has become a collective. It has become a journey with others and a journey into my self with spiritual guides flanking my path. Miller is the impetuous, the energy, and of course the subject, who takes me into artistic, philosophical and literary worlds more deeply than I have gone before – he takes me by the hand through his letters as he gives to his brother Lewis his thoughts, observations and teachings whilst in exile in London. (Throughout the London letters of the 1930s – there is a sense in his words, and the length of his letters, of his self, his I, in exile.)

There is also an excitement in his words as he accesses countries, books, ideas and people that were missing for him in New Zealand and Melbourne. He recognises a surge of strength from his ‘colonial’ beginnings and an ability to stand apart, observe, analyse and challenge the traditional mores of the English he encounters. His acute sensibility, heightened by the events and injury sustained at Gallipoli, provides for him an inner hunger to articulate the world through a language of unity and harmony, never forgetting the sceptics awareness of the inverse.

 

Miller's words Vol II – The crowded table

 

As I sit in the Mitchell Library Miller speaks through the faded carbon copies providing nourishment through ideas, books to read, music to hear, plays to see and a way of walking in the world with greater presence. In his descriptions of: a play in London; the shifting form of ballerinas on the stage; a walk in the woods, as transcribed in a recent post – I learn to see. I see forms shifting where once I saw a narrative for interpretation. My eyes previously sought words…even in the visual arts I tended to read the card first and then delve into the art. Now my eyes seek the visual, the experience, the rhythm, the feeling offered by an artist.

This journey toward Miller provides me with answers to long forgotten questions, illuminates patterns and new languages not limited to linguistics but given on canvas or through sculpture. Miller leads me to what I once saw as a precipice and he takes my hand in silence. Others too, particularly Owen Shaw and today Peter Rushforth describing Miller’s ‘Song’ pot that he brought back from China, meet me on this journey and add their wisdom, their artistic sensibility, encouraging me back into: the words of Anais Nin, rare texts, artists who have challenged preconceived notions of form, artists who have embraced and developed thinking from all facets of the globe. In this way this journey is a collective and my table in the Mitchell Special Collections area is crowded with the bodies, voices, scenes of those in London in the 1930s, Sydney in the 1940s-1960s, ancient Greece, China, Japan, India, Sweden, Switzerland…and I amidst it all –unveiled.

With great care I listen to my guides who are assisting me in bringing Miller, his voice, his life, his enlightenment and language-through-forms into the present.

 

'Mari Nawi' currently at the Mitchell Wing of the State Library NSW

 

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Moon – Water – Cliffs

There are those moments of magic when researching a biography that are only partly anticipated. My visit with Peter and Ursula Laverty was one such moment or many as it turned out. I had been looking forward to the interview for some time and was sorry it was to be on a day when I had, unnaturally, arisen at 4.30am in Melbourne for the Sydney trip. Yet from the moment of pick up at Turramurra station to my drop off many hours later it could not have been better, it was also an experience, I was to learn, that Godfrey himself had shared many times.

Godfrey would ring the Laverty’s and ask “how was the weather in Turramoora?” to which the Laverty’s would reply with an invitation for a meal. In hindsight they think these calls may often have occurred around the time of a full moon. Godfrey would then proceed by train, as I did, and they would pick him up at the station. He would come bearing a string bag with an offering of oranges or once a frozen chook, the latter was given to Ursula with “do you know what to do with this?” Whilst Ursula battled with a frozen chook for the meal Peter took Godfrey out walking in Ku-ring-gai National Park.

Ursula took me to Ku-ring-gai and we traced the steps of Peter and Godfrey around the Cliff Ave tracks. We stood out on rocky outcrops where Godfrey fell into his reveries with the full moon. If I stood still enough, with my bare feet on rock, I could imagine him standing there, his feet firm, his mind somewhere beyond caught in silvery rhythms from the sky. Peter waiting with deep respect watching the silhouette of his friend “experiencing things”. Walking further in at Cliff Ave you can see the quarry on an opposing cliff face and I am sure this quarry is presented on a canvas I know

 

The 'actual' Quarry and Trees

 

– this revelation was one of the many treasures from the day. We then went to Smith’s Falls and at this point I shed my inappropriate foot gear completely and felt the forms, Godfrey would have known, on my winter feet.

 

Smith's Falls

 

Driving to the other side where the disused quarry is located we walked over a grassy knoll to take in the views, the bird songs, the colours of a once violated earth – contrasting with the grey-green of the bush reaching out in valleys before us. A flame tree was spectacular in the distance hovering above a mound of forgotten excavations.

On return to the house we shared coffee and further Miller talk, a visit to Peter’s studio (Ursula had shared her paintings with me at lunch), a walk into the lower garden where fruit trees grow in grasses that only weeks ago were ornamented with freesias, daffodils and other annuals, then a walk back, maneuvering a crooked tree bent down over our path, to the front of the house which I loved best for its bush feel and native orchid surprises.

Throughout the day I felt Godfrey’s footsteps meet my own just as I did when I first walked into the gates of the Darlinghurst Gaol (East Sydney Technical College now National Art School). The moments of this day though, gifted to me by the Lavertys, friends with deep and admiring hearts.

From a letter to Lewis, 17/2/36 held in the Mitchell wing of the State Library of NSW.

‘I prefer the thread instead of the steps. The cord holding the Beads to the Beads. I believe there is a great opening or blossoming in such nature of thoughts. For instance we see Man as part of nature, breathing the Thing (air) which by the other method he wld consider as an object different from him: breathing it absorbing it into his blood: made of the earth on which he walks, part of it and holding in his hands Things which have been and again will be part of his fellow creatures. Opposite to this view we see man as Conqueror of nature. Strutting his way thru’ a moment of life  stomping and subduing. Think with me when I take Dr Sze to our Western pictures and see ____: ten feet high given up to the portrayal of a man . All that for one man – and he looks at you and you look at him until the impact becomes tiresome. Then Sze and I go to the Chinese show and look at their pictures. “Man admiring the Moon” A big picture of cliffs, gorges, little promontory, pine tree, waterfall. But where is the man, I see the moon but where is the man. On the promontory a little insect which if you look you can see is a nice little old gentleman with a grey beard seated on a bench by what you can guess is the tea-house under the pine. The great cosmic forces: the moon: water: cliffs and little man just one among it all.’

Miller would not have seen Smith’s Falls in the inset video in 1935, as he did not settle in Sydney until the 1940s, but it is evident in the above letter that he was thinking of these elements as powerful forces…and goes on to say to Lew: ‘I make these statements as moderate as I can: so moderate that they hardly hang together, I avoid using their strength out of fear of alarming you. The extension of the Thought will take you Anywhere…’

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Search for gold

Each month I have decided I will refresh the Miller’s Unity banner and background images of Miller’s work. They will always, reflect a detail, an aspect of beauty that is often my entry point into the canvas. This October month I’ve taken a detail from ‘Bathing Figures’.

Now though I hand over to a letter found in the Mitchell Wing of the State Library of NSW, 10/11/35, Godfrey Miller to his brother Lewis.

‘I walked from a station where Stock and I go, further on than the one where we all three went that Sunday, walked into the teeth of a forceful wind, that was cold enough to make that side of your face into cold meat, across a rising table top of unsheltered land then down into a declension where the tree belt and little rivulet run at right angles to my path for miles! I felt that the Sunday a week ago was a day when we had passed through the beauties of the autumn as though they existed not: so I dipped into the wood rather anxious to see as the approaching view of bareness raised my fears, to see if there still was any gold left. Sure enough. Some great belts of it rose in even parabolic curves up and down where the ground heaved and the trees were a scrap stronger. The slightly sloping of the valley let the wind go over top in a kind of soft roar that you could hear only if you listened and I walked along the zig zag down-going path with the rain maintaining the continual melody of a symphony as the faces/falls of the fallen leaves. A crimson carpet miles of a ___ stretch to walk upon: the noise of the rain, the staccato of the drops on my coat and farther off murmurs of the wind and its _____ murmur in the tips of the highest trees. In the open one loses the voice of the rain on the leaves but again picks up that of the wind. Then as one goes up again into the trees once more the relationship comes back again: the noises of the leaves and the softening of the wind-noise. Then I walked through a slender pine forest: and all was quiet. Too deep in the valley for the wind too soft with fallen pine needled floor for any response from the ground. It was quite quiet. Then I swing away from where Stock and I generally walk and turned across country to pick up another direction. Thus I came out of the avenue of trees, which you know: just by where we ate our lunch on the sunny day by the haystack. It is all mostly bare of  leaves and I do not know that you wld recognise the avenue. By the site of the haystack there were great splotches of autumn. Trees nearby and just round about, as gaily coloured as toys in your shop. I ate hurriedly my scrap of lunch on that now cold place. The wind wiped over the area and did not invite much by way of inaction. I ate and opened my Tagore at random and read one of the songs under shelter of my hat and coat from the beating rain. The trees down in front of where we sat now let you see through their bare limbs into the fields which lie slanting on the high lands behind – crossed into rectangles by low hedges. Great tree belts embracing the hills, blurred and soft like a black fur over a woman’s neck. I came home retracing the path we took going down to the little brook valley bed along the old fashioned road and crossing the rivulet again, which we crossed early in our day. The flatness of the valley was letting the wind sweep up – with an even pressure against you as you stood on the little bridge. Into the woods again where we stopped and listened to birds. Now as it is today is as the strange silence with just the muffled overhead wind blending with the pelter of rain on the mass of fallen leaves. The noises are  strange changed in their relationship: through the walk – outside as one turns over the top of the hill the wind itself sounds uppermost and as you sink low into forest the winds noise is superseded. Then in a sheltered valley there is just the hush of the rain on the grass with the other noises subservient. One gains then loses the other comes to be uppermost and the third subdued till the third rises again and mingles and blends very much as musicians modify melodies in music-structure. I scouted a little bit of new land but there was nothing I cld come upon to exceed what I had seen. In fact the only better than what you saw is that which I included in my early movements. It is a glorious experience. It is one of the compensations of living in the London struggle that I can get out into such woods. The gaiety of the colouring, the heave of the earth, The music of the elements. There is majesty in the quiet coloured and dripping woods. Too the economy of Autumn an attractive play of forms for it outlines merely the masses, where summer filled them in and up and down proceeds these outlines and sweeping along the land contour. Play field of infinite forms.  Forms coloured red, coloured yellow, coloured green. Blue hills, black stems crimson earth. Along down the fields by the fence, towards the station, soft and green lands with the black barns of the farm which you know – a wind wiping the country hitting the rain onto my throat when I lift my face to the wind.  And so back to the station platform where I had heard of the description of the “beastly” day, wishing I had someone to say to, how nice the day had been.’

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