For our first meeting of 2018, we were welcomed back to the Newcastle Art Gallery and greeted new faces and congratulated a regular who is now permanently employed.
I introduced the conference room as our writing space, and shared the extract from Anne Manne’s So this is life – Scenes from a Country Childhood. I have previously written about this text and its use in Writing Our Lives and made an instant connection with the Grisaille: shades of grey from the collection exhibition.
The french word grisaille is a term used in art theory for the practice of using a colour palette restricted to grey.
The starting point for this exhibition cam from the re-discovery of Do-to-Kai 1969, a relatively unknown and undervalued painting in the collection by Warren Knight.
Tobias Spitzer, Technical Officer
Artemis, Vol. 49, Number 1, January-July 2018.
We began by exploring the works on display, Grisaille being on the ground floor, though many found the upstairs space (next to our writing room) quite inviting. It was filled with the bold, bright colours of Elisabeth Cummings’ Interior Landscapes. Some of us roamed both floors, gathering words and ideas, while others devoted their 30 – 40 minutes to one exhibition.
I was drawn to several works in Grisaille. Firstly, a series of three collages by James Gleeson created in 1976:
- Baudelaire: The salon of 1895 – the governance of the imagination.
- Odilon Redon: Imagination is the messenger of the unconscious.
- A contrived apotheosis.
Intricately constructed, I found myself reflecting on the ability of each work to draw me closer and push me back, observing the interplay of imagination and consciousness. The detail below, from Baudelaire: The salon of 1895 had me scribbling
lace like spaces woven between darkness lightening to grey.
Elsewhere, these works suggested
bruising blacks whirling into white waves
cresting on a concept and easing back
One small written quote from Odilon Redon suggested that ‘The unconscious is the wine of life, of a life that is divine and always new.’ I connected these ideas with Romanticism and images of nightmares, tortured thoughts and turmoil.
I also contemplated Brian Dunlop’s City tryptich, a lithograph on paper.
solitary chair – the music stopped yet she wandered to the window, taking the fine filaments of shredded curtain and tying them up to let light into the room.
stealing space back into the room
A series of black and white images revealed a stark harshness. Back in our writing room, we shared our ideas and impressions, with members contributing interesting phrases
darkness on the margin and empty hooks of memories.
We settled in to 30 minutes of free writing, and I found myself fluttering between works and ideas ‘I’m still so intrigued by the magnetic bleakness of imagination and consciousness. what drifts across my mindscreen and captures my attention …’
To conclude our session, we could either read or discuss our piece. There were many different perspectives – some quite finished draft narratives, some flutterings, some ekphrastic. This moment of revealing always invites further discussion on the implications for our teaching, with many connecting the difficulty of sustained writing to the experience of their students when we offer the instruction: now write.
Lace like spaces woven between darkness and ever lightening grey. Tendrils of sense, weaving patterns between separations, charting a course among distant pints, with rest stops along the way.
And when I return, will the chart have changed? Will different paths potholed and decayed, and others firm and wide, taking the space of smaller pathways. Trees of memory and shrubs of thought punctuate the landscape. Almost microscopic in design, as if each small piece needs to be atomised to make sense.
[this drew me to another artwork]
A collection of french knots populate the landscape, bringing warmth and life to the dull, misty morning. A moment of birdsong, snatched away on the breeze, leaving a lingering, lasting refrain that seems so foreign. My yard, my space, my ideas, still struggling to flourish, pushing and poking their heads above, in search of the sun.
We meet again at the same venue in Term 2, Week 5.