Friday, 6 July 2012

Friday Five: Local TV

Moving to another country is weird in all sorts of ways. Even (or perhaps especially) if you're in a place that speaks that same language and is similar in many ways, you can still get thrown by everyday events, such as 'what's on TV'. Australia appears to be three years behind New Zealand in Coronation Street and, as New Zealand is already at least eighteen months behind Britain, it can all get a bit confusing. Charlie Stubbs popped up the other day, large as life (and twice as ugly)! The second series of Downton Abbey (which I saw in NZ last year) has just begun.

We have got repeats of Doctor Who from the Rose days through the Martha Jones/ Torchwood debacle and the Donna Noble days. I love David Tennant and I really enjoy the Doctor Who Confidential, which strangely manages to add to the magic as it demystifies the secrets. We're also getting old runs of Remarkable Vets, which make me feel nostalgic for the many times Chester visited and was so well looked after. Plus a couple of friends works there, and it's amusing to watch one try and dodge the camera, while another seeks to hog the limelight.

5 TV Programmes I'm Watching:
  1. Silk/ Harry's Law - It may not be fair to put them together, but they are both excellent examples of legal dramas in their own way and representative of their county. Silk is intelligent, well-written, and well-directed, highlighting persoanl, political, and legal concerns. It features great acting from Maxine Peake (Veronica from Shameless and Twinkle from Dinner Ladies), Rupert Penry-Jones (Adam from Spooks) and Neil Stuke (Paul from Grafters) and seems real. As a compariosn, Harry's Law is yet another legal drama by David E Kelly, this time starring the inimitable Kathy Bates with good support work from Nathan Coddry and Mark Valley. It's a lot neater and slicker with jump cuts and obvious musical overlays, and you don't have to think much to follow it, but it's fluffy emotional legal drama and I like it.
  2. Episodes - Relationships, writers, actors, relationships between actors and writers, anglo-American co-operation and miscommunication - it's all there, and it's funny. And Matt LeBlanc is the perfect foil to Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig (both from Green Wing among countless other things).
  3. Tricky Business - worth watching for Antony Starr and the scenery (Wollongong), it's billed as 'an Aussie family drama' about a debt collection company. As it's pretty good, and involves real actors, it will probably be axed in favour of yet another reality cooking/singing/home rennovation/ dancing programme.
  4. Once Upon a Time - Everyone is actually a fairy tale character in a parallel universe, and the evil queen prevents them from knowing the truth. It's as fun to imagine which character you might be (I think I'm the gingerbread house witch) as it is to watch Robert Carlyle play Rumplestiltskin.
  5. Death in Paradise - Ben Miller is a stiff-upper-lipped policeman trying to battle island crime while sweating in a suit in the French Caribbean - kind of like Bergerac with better weather, or a cross between Wild at Heart and Doc Martin. An excellent excuse to film somewhere exotic, and fill the screen with sun-drenched clichés.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Portrait Gallery - Part Two

The 'Australia Now' gallery features those of current importance, figures in leadership, business, sport, science, medicine, literature, performing arts, film arts, and visual arts.

Fred Hollows by Kerrie Lester
Fred Hollows' portrait by Kerrie Lester is a fabulous image of oil on hand-stitched canvas. The bold, cheerful colours and sharp creases befit someone so instrumental in the treatment of eye disease and improvement of sight.
Jane Campion by Peter Brew-Bevan
The photograph of Jane Campion by Peter Brew-Bevan (1969) really stands out as she sits in front of a bookcase, and her image is reflected in a shiny table, looking at us twice over.
Keith Urban by Peter Brew-Bevan

Peter Brew-Bevan is also responsible for the 2007 photograph of Keith Urban. This is another classic, depicting him slouching against the wall, hands in pockets and looking down as though slightly self-conscious by the celebrity side of musicianship.

David Campese II by Paul Newton
In contrast, Paul Newton's portrait of David Campese (2000) is astonishingly direct. Also dressed in casual black shirt and jeans, he leans against a wall with his arms folded. It's a similar pose to the one adopted tby Keith Urban, but he looks straight at the viewer and, although not arrogant, he seems very confident and comfortable.

Neil Armfield by Adam Cullen
 In Adam Cullen's portrait of Neil Armfield (2010) the theatre, film and opera director is rendered in vibrant oils against a sage green canvas. The vivid colours of his bright pink flesh, blue jacket and yellow dog drip down the canvas as though anxious to escape their artistic confines. Although they are both sitting, it is not comfortably.

Angry Anderson by Sally Robinson
Angry Anderson by Sally Robinson (2006) is an intriguing acrylic on canvas. Although wearing a black singlet and covered in tatoos, he is smiling and looks far from angry. His flesh (both the painted/ inked variety and his naked bald pate) is comprised of coloured dots like an example of pointillism or a pixellated version of an identity-supressed subject, while conversely featuring him in microscopic detail.

Robert Drewe (In the Swell) by Nicholas Harding
Robert Drewe in the Swell by Nicholas Harding (2006) is a fantastic work of oil on Belgium linen. The author is painted in slithers of pastel paints like gelato, looking good enough to lick.

Glen McGrath by Sally Robinson
Glen McGrath by Sally Robinson (2003) is made up of stripes and dashes of synthetic polymer paint on canvas conveying an attitude of movement and deceptive motion as he strokes the ball almost imperceptibly with two long fingers.

Cathy Freeman by Kerrie Lester
Cathy Freeman's portrait by Kerrie Lester (1999), rendered in oil on harnd-stitched canvas, is almost naïf art in style with the black outlinesserving to enhance the power and the strength in the long limbs. Smiling and stretching against a chain-link fence, there is a suggestion of explosive speed and wild spirit wild spirit about to be unleashed.
Eddie Mabo by Gordon Bennet
Newspaper print and aboriginal symbols against a skyline of modern buildings make the perfect background for Eddie Mabo's portrait by Gordon Bennet. The passion of the land rights decision with all its inherent shame, hurt and justice is evident in this synthetic polymer paint on canvas.

Senator Neville Bonner by Robert Campbell Junior
Senator Neville Bonner was Australia's first indigenous parliamentary member. In this 1990 portrait by Robert Campbell Junior, he is surrounded by stylistic depictions of animals with the red, black and gold flag of the aboriginal people.

Patrick White by Brett Whitley
The 'star' of the show is a featured exhibition of portraits of author Patrick White by artist Brett Whiteley to coincide with the one-hundredth anniversary of White's birth. There was an artistic and ideological stoush between the pair, which gives this exhibition a particular edge.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Portrait Gallery - Part One

When I go to a new country, one of the things I love to do is go to their national portrait gallery. I think you can learn a lot from these places, such as who is important to the nation and why.

The National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, contains a visual snapshot of Australians. The portraits are predominantly of politicians, athletes, generals and soldiers, activists and Indigenous rights' campaigners, chefs and restauranteurs, newsreaders, fashionistas, artists, authors and musicians, architects, doctors and scientists.

Some are against blank backgrounds; others have elaborate settings, which can be as significant as the subject themself and can help you guess their occupation.

Dr John Yu by Ah Xian
A glazed ceramic head of Dr John Yu by Ah Xian was my starting point. Dr John Yu was Australian of the Year in 1996; as a paediatrician and administrator, and noted for his collection of Chinese ceramics and love of art and music, this torso with little child figures crawling over it makes perfect sense, and it is the first 21st century porcelain bust in the National Gallery's collection.

HRH the Crown Princess of Denmark by  Jiawei Shen
I love this portrait of Mary. She stands in a stunning blue gown with a sash, accessorised with a Danish elephant, looking frankly at the viewer. On one side is a Danish column, and on the other is an open widow, through which can be glimpsed the Opera House which, as it was designed by Dane Jørn Utzon, cleverly combines her background with her future representing the two countries.

George Tjungurrayi by Matthÿs Gerber
George Tjungurrayi was an artist, of the Pintupi/ Luritja/ Ngaatjatjarra language group from Kintore, NT. He has become one of the masters of Pintupi art, and his huge dazzling paintings of the Tingari Cycle are represented in the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as well as European collections. Matthÿs Gerber has painted his image as a series of coloured planes, contour-mapping the artist's face as a cartographer might, to evoke Tjungurrayi's colourful depictions of the country.

Nick Cave by Howard Arkley
Howard Arkley's synthetic polymer on canvas portrait of Nick Cave (1999) is one of my favourites. It combines bright colours and bold sweeps of spray paint with the singer's uncompromising glare. The two knew each other vaguely in Melbourne in the late 1970s. Arkley came to see no sense in the Australian preoccupation with paintings of the bush, when such a small percentage of the population engages with the bush itself.

Instead, over twenty years of experimentation, he developed a distinctly psychadelic and incandescent airbrush style, which he employed in immaculately finished depictions of suburbia. After representing Australia with such works at the 48th Venice Biennale in June 1999, he travelled to London to plan an album cover for Cave, and then to Los Angeles for a sell-out show of his paintings. He died a few days after his return to Melbourne, and this was one of his last completed works.

Christos Tsiolkas by John Tsiavis
When you look ast the photograph of author Christos Tsiolkas by John Tsiavis, the first thing you see is your own reflection against the black background covered in glass, and then you notice his judgmental look as he seems to lurk in sepia in the top corner. Unnerving.
Simon Tedeschi unplugged by Cherry Hood
The giant canvas of Simon Tedeschi Unplugged (by Cherry Hood) in watercolours that run down his bare torso makes him look more like a swimmer than the pianist he apparently is, so you can't guess them all!
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu by Guy Maestri
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu's portrait (by Guy Maestri) is another huge and powerful work. He was born blind, learned guitar, keyboard, drums and didgeridoo to play in The Saltwater Band. His debut album in 2008 (entitled Gurrumul) won four ARIA awards. The portrait seems to reflect depth and harmony.

While I was roaming aimlessly between galleries, the chap I had previously left my stuff with in the cloakroom approached me. He was finishing his shift and said he wanted to show me some of his favourite works in the gallery. I'm pretty sure that wasn't a euphemism, because the first thing he showed me was Ned Kelly's death mask!

Captain James Cook by John Webber
Next he showed me a fabulous portrait of Captain James Cook by John Webber. It used to hang on the wall of Alan Bond's office until he was declared bankrupt and it was given to his liquidator. The National Portrait Gallery bought the painting for $5.13 million - it is the most expensive art-work in their collection.

Deborah Mailman by Evert Ploeg
The guide also showed me the People's Choice Award, which is a portrait of Deborah Mailman by Evert Ploeg (1999). She is an actor of Maori and Aboriginal parents, and the rendering of oil on jute makes for an interesting background.

Nora Heysen self-portrait
His own favourite is a self-portrait of Nora Heysen which he points out (correctly) has a 3-D-like effect, and wherever you stand in the room it appears as though she is watching you, and her image stands out from the canvas.

Still of Cate Blanchett from a video by David Rosetzky
Finding out what I liked, he took me to a video by David Rosetzky of Cate Blanchett explaining her acting process, and he left me to watch the ten-minute documentary. She explains that acting is a "constant pull between wanting to be seen and not wanting to be seen." To assume a character you've got to get to a place of neutrality; to see the horizons of a character and know you won't fall off the edge. Characters are there to do something, like figures in a dream. They are real, but when you wake up... they're shadowy. "Who I am is constantly changing." She stands, sits and dances in an empty warehouse, and it is entirely compelling.