Eat, clay, love

Yoko Ozawa rides her bike to Northcote Pottery, and rides home with a 5-kilogram bag of clay. Placing the clay on the table next to her throwing wheel, Yoko sketches small shapes in a notebook alongside recipes for glazes.

Yoko prepares a ball of clay, kneading it to release pockets of air. This is the beginning of a relationship with the clay. Different clays have unique temperaments. While some clays are happy to be beaten, mashed and squeezed into large figures, other clays require a more delicate touch and sensitivity but enjoy spinning on the wheel being pinched and caressed into shape. Learning how to work with the clay’s personality takes time and a lot of touch.

After placing a cone of clay in the centre of the wheel, Yoko pushes the pedal with her foot to start the clay spinning. Yoko’s fine fingers and focus of mind allow her to throw very thin walls that rise to form traditional Japanese teapots, small trees and other vessels for domestic use or wonder.

Yoko stamps her initials on the bottom of each piece and the raw objects dry together on her wooden shelves before meeting up with other Northcote locals for a bisque firing. They return home, get a treatment of glaze and return for a final stoneware firing.

Finished pieces come home and rest in different parts of the house. One wide black vessel (Moonlight vase) with a second internal wall sits by a window and at night reflects the light and image of the sky and moon outside. Yoko’s tree vases gather en masse to create a forest on the dining room table. A small green insect passes by to inspect the lovely curve of a stump teapot. Yoko delights in these collaborations with nature. Plants or moss outside are welcomed inside to mingle with her creations. Recently her work has taken its shape from the bantam chickens that dwell in her vegie garden.

Yoko’s work can best be enjoyed with a cup of tea or some onigiri at Kappaya café at the Abbotsford Convent where an installation of her ceramic light shades hang permantly.

Yoko Ozawa Pottery.

Yoko Ozawa, ‘Moonlight’ vase. Photo: Olga Bennett

Yoko Ozawa, tree vases and dish. Photo: Olga Bennett

Yoko Ozawa, moss in a little milk jug. Photo: Olga Bennett

Yoko Ozawa, stump teapot. Photo: Olga Bennett

Yoko Ozawa, a chook and the eggs. Photo: Olga Bennett

Mann in Japan

I’m not sure where that itch of devotion comes from, the one that gets a person up early in the morning to fold their bed sheets carefully before having a cold shower in preparation for a job as personal as that of a singer-songwriter. Melbourne’s blessed, in a world where popular music has turned bland and good-looking, to still produce such unique musical talents such as KES, Jonathan Michel and Oliver Mann. Artists who take the listener on an intimate trip to the furthest corners of the human soul and experience.

Oliver Mann’s flare for storytelling through song is enriched by his opera training, giving him a huge spectrum of delicate and penetrating vocal tools to enter a listener’s heart. ‘Shoes of leather’, a regular on Olly’s set list, details the story of a drug trafficker’s effort to reach Hong Kong by foot after his plane crashes in the jungle. It’s quite a story that reaches heights when Olly belts out the chorus ‘Hong Kong forever, onward walk’, summoning an almighty tone that vibrates and almost crumbles me when I hear it. I’ve cried and laughed many times listening to Olly meander through intimate performances at local churches, ballrooms and his Sunday residency at the Edinburgh Castle in Brunswick.

I was keen to hear about Oliver’s recent tour of Japan, and asked him to share some words and pictures from his wonderful journey.

1. I got to Ikebukuro in Tokyo to prepare for my first week of touring some new music I had written. The thing about Japan is it’s tough to find somewhere to practise music because the living confines are often tight and too much noise can be upsetting for neighbours, so I was forced outdoors into the megalopolis but found this tiny park in Ikebukuro amidst the streets and streets of concrete. I had to practise walking around in circles to disrupt the preying mosquitos! It was a special park—Tokyo is full of such diamonds in the rough.

2, 3. The gardens in Shinjuku, a morning stroll … After a six-show tour through Japan I lived in Shinjuku for a month preparing and performing the Donizetti opera Don Pasquale in a joint production with Opera Australia and the Arts Foundation, Tokyo. This was a busy rehearsal period followed by two shows in the Shinjuku Bunka Center, so it was pretty heads down. I took any chance I could to walk through the park next door to the hotel—Shinjuku Gyoen-mae park … and if I got lost in the surrounding megalopolis I could look up to orient myself with the Cocoon Tower.

4. My partner Peet made me some tour shirts … so I looked stylish when I played.

5. This was my dusk walk along the Kamo River, Kyoto, from where I was staying for my show that evening. Shows are always quite early, three- or four-band bills starting around 7 pm and over before 10 pm.

6. Guggenheim House in Shioya, Kobe
A grand old house with musical performances in the living room. Owned by an experimental musician named Ali Morimoto who was very kind and accommodating. I played here with Eddie Marcon’s band and a wonderful pianist, Takeo Toyama.

7. This is Eddie sitting at the piano with the band in the living room at Guggenheim House, just after the show.

8. I listened to a lot of traditional Japanese music while over there. Here is a photo of me in front of the very intricate Noh stage in Tokyo—the National Theatre. At the back of all Noh and Kyogen stages there is a painting of a matsu—an aged pine tree. Ancient spirits can make their way down to earth where there is an aged pine tree. Good vibes.

9. This is the most beautiful painted matsu I found, in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo. A massive and striking painting.

10. After the shows were over Peet and I went for a ride. This is Peet riding across a Chinkabashi, which is a specially designed bridge intended to sink peacefully and steadfastly in the event of flood (hence, no railing). The Shimanto River in Shikoku is one of the last clear water rivers in Japan and was stunning to ride along, though our ride was cut short by the onset of a typhoon.

Fine family living

‘Australia’s is a special kind of philistinism, an immovable materialism which puts art and ideas of any kind deliberately and firmly to one side to let the serious business of living proceed without distraction.’ Robin Boyd

Just to the side of the city Matlok Griffiths rides back and forth from Richmond to his studio at the Abbotsford Convent. In his spare time between his job as a graphic designer and his study to be a high-school art teacher, Matlok slips off his Melbourne attire and slips on a pair of long shorts and paint-spattered T-shirt. He might then water the mother-in-law’s tongue succulents that line his small window overlooking Collingwood and fire up the air compressor air as he sprays, sands and slaps paint down on a board or large canvas. The starting point for a painting is usually something domestic: fruit or pot plants or something graphic like the Lacoste crocodiles who popped up everywhere on his recent trip to Cambodia. A hand of bananas, black and shriveled, sits atop his small red tape player. These charred models are resuscitated in paintings with a jazzy array of acrylic and spray-paint colour. Shapes and marks are made and Matlok might scratch his head, leave and have a soy chai before heading back to completely rub away all his work for something new to appear. It seems right when it’s wrong. When it’s allowed to be wrong all sorts of doors may open. As the sun sets in the east over Carlton an array of Philip Guston nobby type characters and cartoony figures and shapes all emerge for a party in this little nun’s bedroom, all feeding off the wholegrain rice crackers and hummus kept on the shelf.

This month Matlok exhibits with four friends who rarely show their art, all a little shy to enter the smelly art stage. Hank Josefsson from Scandinavia, Julia McFarlane, and Rick Milovanonic, musical members of the Twerps. Individually they each made a painting around the theme of ‘fine family living’. The next painting was then made using an element from the last painting. So you get very playful variations on the theme as the language of each artist’s work is digested and then reworked. The finished result is a fresh little show. Hank’s Scandi background and painterly flare give different perspectives and angles all on the one picture plane creating work as one might imagine a very small David Hockney might. Julia’s prints are flat and objects are reduced to shapes and colour. They take a close-up look at architecture and garden features as if walking around a backyard. Rick translates various patterns and features into black and white prints, the lovely reduction and neatness of modernist architecture buzzes with the plant patterns and house angles all singing together.

Hank Josefsson, Julia McFarlane, Matlok Griffiths, Rick Milovanovic, Fine family living, St Heliers Street Store and Gallery, Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne, 1–16 September 2012.

Hank Josefsson

Julia McFarlane

Matlok Griffiths

Matlok Griffiths

Rick Milovanovic


Organic happenings

Drawing has been a great friend of Rhys Lee’s for as long as I’ve known him. Rhys went through a graphics course in Brisbane with fellow artist Matt Hinkley, but Rhys was always keen to get a little looser and wilder than graphic design would allow. Spending time throwing lines around with spray cans as a youth lead to very exuberant painterly works early in his career as an artist.

On a trip to New York a couple of years ago Rhys expelled about 100 large ink works on paper that he later spread across the walls of Block Projects. I had the opportunity to live with Rhys for a few months down at his abode in Aireys Inlet when we were both between lives in late 2010. We’d come home from the beach nice and salty and Rhys would do a few donuts on the sandy driveway just to liven up an otherwise peaceful day on the coast. We’d then rest on the couch most of the day. Rhys knows how to rest and he knows how to play. He also knows how to keep the house in tip top order while chaos reigns in the studio. When his batteries are fully charged he rises from the couch, walks over to his kitchen table and spills ink or moves it around with old brushes until something appears; maybe a monkey or a hazy memory of an evening in Peru. The cathartic process and drawing and mark making can be fully felt in Rhys’s work. The murky organic happenings that lie deep beneath the surface of a person can come forth and be present through this type of art. We watched this documentary on Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart); how he said during an interview that he paints just because his arm needs some exercise between concerts. We loved that.

Rhys has recently drawn a bunch of lovely raw patterns that Lisa Gorman has turned into wonderful fashion clothes for her spring/summer collection this year.

Lisa Gorman’s collaboration with Rhys Lee can be seen in Gorman this September.

Rhys Lee is represented in Melbourne by Utopian Slumps.

Lisa Gorman and Rhys Lee collaboration

Lisa Gorman and Rhys Lee collaboration

Rhys Lee, Aireys Inlet

Rhys Lee, preliminary painting

Rhys Lee, designs for the Lisa Gorman collaboration, ink on paper


Do ya thang Wang!

I’m staying in Bang Pu Mai at the moment, just outside Bangkok, visiting a loved one. There’s not a lot of art out here as it’s a big industrial area. We drive along Sukhumvit Road each day and pass billboards with big photos of the King’s daughter taking photos of seagulls. We pass a few massage places and people eating and working out on the street, and we are passed by huge buses spray-painted with anime designs transporting factory workers to and fro. We go for a jog in the evenings down at the mangrove waterfront about a kilometre from Nok’s (the loved one) house where there are some nice oversized seagull sculptures. But every day I’ve been thrilled to watch Nok’s neighbour, Wang, sculpting these bright tree trunk functional things in his driveway. Nok thinks he has a commission for a local temple because he’s really gone into overdrive making tree trunk tables and chairs. I was so thrilled that I bought one for Nok’s mum, just before being told the guy’s brother had a fling with Nok’s mum’s sister that went sour, so neighbourly chit chat has been avoided for a while. Anyway, I paid 400 baht ($12 Aussie) and lugged it home and tropical Persian cat quickly became fond of it so the air cleared. It now sits in the front yard filled with some lovely orchids. Wang sculpts the shape in chicken wire, mixes up cement in the wheelbarrow and moulds it with his hands into the shape of a cartoony tree trunk. He then waits a week for it to dry before whipping out the weather-shield house paint and giving it very bright outlandish colours. I can’t tell you how great they look out the front of houses in the surrounding streets, as other neighbours have purchased them to jazz up the ‘burb a little.

Digesting Michael

In 2010, I visited Fergus Binns quite regularly for lunch at Friends of the Earth. We’d nibble on our organic lunch plate and then head upstairs to his Smith Street studio to have a look at what he was up to. The painting taking shape for the bulk of that year was Toy painting (Alice in Neverland), a huge exploration in oil paint that calls on pop imagery and art history to unpack HIStory. I walked away from my first encounter quite flabbergasted at the sheer ambition of the work. Two years later and it’s still on my mind. The painting roams across an expanse of psychology and painting territory, crossing the gruesome power of paintings such as Goya’s Saturn devouring one of his sons with a sea of fairy-tale symbols surrounding the King of Pop’s harassment within the psychedelic Neverlandscape. Like Jackson himself, the painting is best left with this short introduction or a very long analysis.

Fergus Binns is a studio artist at Gertrude Contemporary and has a show opening at Utopian Slumps on 19 October this year.

Fergus Binns, ‘Toy painting (Alice in Neverland)’ (detail), 2010, oil on canvas, 152 x 121 cm

Fergus Binns, ‘Toy painting (Alice in Neverland)’ (detail), 2010, oil on canvas, 152 x 121 cm

Fergus Binns, ‘Toy painting (Alice in Neverland)’ (detail), 2010, oil on canvas, 152 x 121 cm

Fergus Binns, ‘Toy painting (Alice in Neverland)’ (detail), 2010, oil on canvas, 152 x 121 cm

Fergus Binns, ‘Toy painting (Alice in Neverland)’, 2010, oil on canvas, 152 x 121 cm

Fergus Binns

A quiet one

Friday night, aged seventeen, sitting, waiting. I’ve had a Mars bar from the freezer, Dad’s reading The Age, Mum’s watching a documentary on the Queen, I’m waiting for them to go to bed so I can watch the SBS Friday night movie. No friend has called me. I don’t want to call around, it could be devastating, the pain could last through Saturday and on to Sunday and cause a nasty break-out on the oily parts of my face. It’s best to just wait this one out and pin my hopes on the movie for some relief. ‘OK Rob, we’re off to bed, have another Mars bar if you like’. ‘Thanks Mum see you in the morn.’ I tried gnawing on the Mars bar but it was too frozen so I sucked it. It’s an Argentinean movie. Bingo! At 10.07 pm I see a boob flash across the screen. They’re out there somewhere. I set the VCR and I’m off. 10.13 pm I brush my teeth walk into my room turn on the bar heater take off my clothes and hop in to bed. Mum has put on my electric blanket already so I turn off the bar heater. It takes a long time to fall asleep.

Amanda Marburg, Marking the pathway to corporeal pleasures, Rex Irwin Gallery, Sydney, 
1–26 May 2012.

Patrick Hartigan, Gone as before, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney, 19 May – 16 June 2012.

Suji Park, Former things, Ivan Anthony Gallery, Auckland, 9 May – 2 June 2012.

Amanda Marburg, ‘Cody’, oil on canvas, 2012

Amanda Marburg, ‘Jarran’, oil on canvas, 2012

Patrick Hartigan, ‘Bed’, oil on board, 2012

Patrick Hartigan, ‘Venus painting’, oil on board, 2012

Suji Park, ‘Ehizemen’, tempera and stone pigment on clay, 2012

Suji Park, ‘Ajani’, tempera, stone pigment and silver leaf on clay, 2012

Siri Hayes: The world is our lounge room

Siri Hayes’s recent show of photographs and embroidery, All you knit is love is tricky to write about as I was left quite satisfied feeling the love of family, nature, and life in general. CCP is open on Sundays now so I popped in not knowing what was on. Siri’s exhibition fills the main gallery and visitors are welcomed with the homely stitched wall hangings that adorn the hallway before entering the space. For this show Siri’s great sense of exploration, intuition and play draw her toward parks and landscapes around Barcelona, where she generously shares the family experience of living and art making during a recent OzCo residency.

Among the park and landscape photos, the work Visual diaries has a Caspar David Friedrich feel. The viewer stands before an epic Spanish landscape with four coloured visual diaries, one for mother, father, daughter and son placed on a rock in the foreground of the photo, like some sort of family tribute to Mother Nature’s wonder. Another large photo, The edge-skin shows a park that looks like a huge green crater (actually an old quarry) dug into the surrounding grey man-scape. Your eyes float around the park before focusing on the small man and child, Siri’s partner Paul and daughter Luella, who sit making a clay sculpture in response to the large public work by Eduardo Chillida that is suspended from the cliffy area of the park in the background. Siri explained it was an attempt at forming a relationship with the natural and cultural landscape of Barcelona and took place as locals walked around enjoying the warm winter sun.

The subjects flow from outdoors to indoors with close-up self-portrait of Siri and also a portrait of Paul in front of a decorative Art Nouveau-style wall relief. Siri overlaps the portrait of Paul with an intricate embroidery that follows the leaves and lines in the wall relief. Stitching into the face of a loved one could seem a little voodoo and Siri explained to me that it did feel strange as she worked on the image for six months, but a tender touch and interaction with life is present throughout All you knit is love. Exiting the show I was really desperate to get some kind of catalogue but fittingly all that accompanied the work is a response in poem form written by Geraldine Barlow. It leaves space for your mind to wander.

Siri Hayes, All you knit is love, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, 13 April – 27 May 2012.

‘The edge-skin’, 2011, chromogenic print, 104 x 128 cm

‘Threaded leaves’, 2012, inkjet print, linen, silk and cotton thread, glass and plastic beads, 93 x 74 cm

‘Four’, 2011, chromogenic print, 104 x 128 cm (this is one of the notebooks)

Make vibes not things: Caroline Anderson A.K.A. Crystal Diamond

Why are people making so much art? What’s on this month? The more I think about it, the more I think about it … Oh jeez, I’m a bit strung out, I couldn’t make it to the NEW13 opening at ACCA. Wanna come with me? Have you seen this? What did you think of that? I need funding! Oh I’m too busy to catch up for coffee, I’ve got so much art to make for my big show.

‘Nature is a language—can’t you read’, pleaded Morrissey.

Deep breath, pulling in air I think of a loved one far away. On the out-breath I hope it makes a small breeze that travels across the ocean and perhaps tickles their ear a little.

‘Make vibes not things’, says Caroline Anderson, a party artist. Was Bez, from the Happy Mondays, a party artist?

What ignites the party? It can come when the waitress offers you the special hot sauce that nobody else in the café seems to have at their table. Oooh, yummo, it’s hot and from South America. Thanks Caz! Surprises are the spice. Plan something to forget the plan and see what happens. Wrap something to unwrap it. Wow, it feels more special when it’s wrapped. It comes in threes. Meeting two Indian guys walking a small dog at Williamstown beach, then back at home a housemate cooks you an Indian meal. Pop in the bath and digest, rest your muscles after that long walk. Stars fall from the sky and Carl Jung gives you a wink, and you’re reminded of the way your mother ran her fingers through your hair in the bath as a toddler. So you do a little piddle on the carpet near the heater. It smells, but your housemates won’t mind because it also awakens their child within (or their mother). I’m not sure, but it’s a party within. Hi Mum, thanks for coming! No worries babe.

‘Funnily enough, the first step to becoming an absolute babe is admitting you’re a total loser’, Crystal Diamond writes.

Caroline Anderson, The Chinese horoscope show, Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington, 16 February – 10 March 2012.

Caroline Anderson, ‘Fossils 4 the future’, 2010, journal page

Caroline Anderson, ‘Smart casual’, 2011, journal page

Caroline Anderson, ‘Accidental seduction’, 2011, journal page

Caroline Anderson, ‘Untitled’, 2012, opening page of moleskin journal

A morning with Julian Martin

I haven’t seen a solo show of Julian Martin’s work but at the many group shows of Arts Project artists, I find myself gravitating toward his drawings. They offer clarity among the talking and wine sipping. The thick pastel colour on paper creates a velvety surface that absorbs and softens my intense art gaze the way a Rothko painting might. It appears so clear, everyday objects reduced and flattened, their shapes bent or warped to become signs and symbols revealing the mystery of man-made forms seen through the eyes of a very sincere artist.

Julian has worked at Arts Project over twenty years and exhibited extensively here and abroad. Early work was easily recognisable for the recurring smiling cartoon man with the triangle shaped nose who stares so excitedly from the page. Arts Project kindly let me sift through the drawers of Julian’s work in the stockroom, while Penelope Hunt revealed a little about his working process. Before starting a new series of work, Julian will reduce his palette to just black and white before introducing his refined choice of colour. A mound of pastel dust forms around the table and floor as Julian rubs the colour into the paper. Finished pieces are carefully stored as the pastel dust can move and smudge easily.

The last year has been a particularly productive year, producing a drawer full of A3-size works that steer away from human forms toward everyday objects: coffee cups, high-heeled shoes, headphones and hair brushes. The simplicity of the work quietens my mind but a thought did come that this is the place Matisse was arriving at toward the end of his life. I felt truly energised spending a morning with the pure colour and shape of Julian’s world.

Julian Martin, Arts Project Australia, Melbourne, March 2012.

Julian Martin, ‘Untitled (tree)’, 2011, pastel on paper, 42 x 29 cm

Julian Martin, ‘Untitled (high heel)’, 2011, pastel on paper, 42 x 29 cm

Julian Martin, drawings, 2011

Julian Martin, drawers at Arts Project

Julian Martin, ‘Untitled (assortment)’, pastel on paper, 42 x 29 cm, 2011