Industrial Cathedral

Industrial Cathedral
"Industrial Cathedral" charcoal drawing on paper 131 x 131 cm Jane Bennett. This drawing was a finalist in the 1998 Dobell Prize for Drawing (Art Gallery of N.S.W.) ; Finalist in 1998 Blake Prize for Religious Art ; Winner of 1998 Hunter's Hill Open Art Prize

Monday, August 1, 2011

A total lack of Art and Coffee on the Rocks Part 2 - A Bad Aroma

 I started to paint a quick oil sketch of a group of Indian dancers and was spotted by Channel 9, who were looking desperately for something to film before the festival opened. They dragged me off to a spot in front of the Opera House where they were going to film the weather report. Not a spot I would have chosen as it was looking directly into the rising sun, but I started a tiny study of Sydney Harbour, as they mentioned the Rocks Pop Up Project and 47 George st. I thought I had done a good job of being an ambassador for the Arts and the project.
There were few people passing by. Most were clustered around the tents several hundred metres away. I decided to finish my little Harbour study and then roam around in search of festival highlights to paint.
The study worked out quite well and a couple of people walking past made admiring comments. Then a group of people who had been friends of mine since my days in Pyrmont, stopped to chat.
All hell broke loose.

Society of Hatred For the Arts

I was bullied and harassed by the mindless goons operating as SHFA Rangers.
I was told not to paint in public.
I explained who I was and that I was the official Artist in Residence appointed to do exactly what I was doing and was not engaged in selling my work or harassing the public. Only people who stopped to admire my work and expressly asked for more information were spoken to.
One of the Rangers demanded that I put my wet oil paintings inside my trolley luggage so that they weren't 'on display'. They were not 'on display'- they were drying next to each other on my easel. Oil paint stays wet for up to a week, especially in winter, however sunny.
My 3 little paintings were scarcely blocking anyone's view as the largest canvas was only 30 x 15cm.
These two orange vested morons made a flurry of phone calls to their head nazi, who was apparently sitting in the penthouse suite of the Museum of Contemporary Art getting his jollies by watching the whole debacle unfold on his video screen. As a gigantic grudging concession I would be permitted to finish the little harbour view, providing I didn't let anyone watch me paint and that I packed the 2 wet oil paintings underneath my belongings in my bag.
Which of course smeared them, ruining the day's work.
They so didn't care.
I was told I had a studio at 47 George Street and I was to get back to my studio and stay inside during the festival.
I had an expensive French box easel and trolley luggage with things I had been planning to put in the studio later. Because of the festival my car was parked a long distance away. I was exhausted from coping with their haranguing and wanted to leave.
Could they stand by my easel to make sure nobody stole it?
They were happy to stand there bullying me for a couple of hours, but they didn't have enough time to safeguard my belongings.
Creating art is a much more serious and dangerous crime than robbery.
I had no idea.
Obviously I'm a danger to society and have to be stopped at all costs.

They'd never seen a plein air artist before, and wanted to make sure that they never saw one again.
They won't.

Maximum points for irony - we were standing in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art. As I returned from the long trek to my car to pick up as much as I could from my former 'studio' I noted a busker occupying my spot, completely ignored by the rangers. He was singing. And very badly, too.
The rangers argued that the busker had a licence.
But then so did I.
"Artist in Residence", remember? 
Why appoint an Artist in Residence and forbid them to paint?
 I complained to the Rocks Marketing Authority Manager as soon as I reached the studio.
She said that she probably wasn't going to be of much use. She more than lived up to that expectation. While offering to "talk" to her troop of standover men, she could give no guarantee that the same thing wouldn't happen the next time I picked up a paintbrush outside the 'safety' of the studio.
She said something that made my blood run cold.
"People were in the Rocks to see the coffee not to see art"
Well that puts the nail in the coffin for so-called "Creative Sydney" doesn't it!
This attitude explains why Sydney doesn't have the cultural ambience of Melbourne or Adelaide, never mind aspiring to the standards of Paris or Rome.
As an Australian Artist I am used to being treated like dirt - it's part of the job. Imagine an Australian sportsperson being treated with this amount of disrespect. See, you can't, can you.
But what utterly disgusts me is the shabby pretence of "fostering creativity" while doing the utmost to stifle it.

As far as I can tell, these are the 10 rules of the City of Sydney:

Don't be an artist.
Don't be creative.
Don't produce anything. ( And if you do - don't let anyone watch you. Ever.)
Don't be eccentric.
Don't be sensitive.
Don't be unusual.
Don't be interesting.
Don't be unique.
Don't think for yourself.
Don't stand out.

Just don't.


Streetsy said...

Hi I came to your blog after reading the article in the SMH.
It makes me very angry to have these people interfere with the daily life of people who pose no threat to anyone. I'm not a professional artist but I do like to draw and take photos. If I ever get treated like you did, I'm not sure how I'd react.
Sometimes I really hate this city. If there was ever a protest I'd be there. Maybe we could all turn up and draw the opera house together. :)

Anonymous said...

I too am appalled by this attitude and sympathise with your frustration.

Jane Bennett Artist said...

Thanks Streetsy and Anonymous for your kind words and support! As well as the bullying, I was upset at the hypocrisy. One branch of an authority was attempting to foster creativity via the 'Rocks Pop Up Projects' and another part of the same authority was doing their best to nip it in the bud. A bit like the old joke about one government department digging holes and another filling them in again. Another irony was that I was painting close to the spot where Arthur Streeton had painted his iconic image of 'Circular Quay' in 1893. His paintings were vitally important in creating an awareness of the beauty of Sydney Harbour which we now rely on for a great deal of our tourism. It makes me so sad to think that Sydney Harbour will no longer inspire great works of art.

Sophia Moore said...

What a stupid shame.