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 22, 2011

Constant Reader

painting by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett from the top of the Anzac Bridge, collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW
"Closing the Gap" Painted from the top of the ANZAC Bridge
1995 oil on canvas 91x122cm  
It's strange how when some paintings have been completed, they take on a life of their own.
One of my favourite art documentaries has always been the series "The Private Life of a Masterpiece" showing the weird and wonderful uses and occasionally abuses of various famous paintings. Paintings that were forgotten for centuries, suddenly rediscovered and revered, mocked for being cliches and sent up rotten by Monty Python, and then revered again.
My painting "Closing the Gap" has already had a very exciting afterlife indeed. It was completely ignored for nearly a decade,and spent some time cooling its heels behind a nameless gallery's photocopier, but I knew even when I was painting it that if I could hang out long enough, its time would come. I chose it as one of the images on my business cards, and noted that it was the most popular of all my cards. In fact a few people admitted that they had actually framed some of them as though they were miniatures! The actual canvas was exhibited for 2 years in the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, , in the exhibition : "Paradise,Purgatory and Hellhole-a history of Ultimo and Pyrmont". It made a brief visit to an exhibition in the funky Insa-dong gallery precinct of Seoul in South Korea a couple of years ago, and it was reproduced in an Asian art journal.
In 2009 it was acquired for the collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.
In 2010 it featured in the exhibition - "ONE hundred"100 iconic objects from the permanent collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, to celebrate the centenary of their founding in 1910, and a large image of it graced the back cover of the State Library Magazine.
In 2011, reproductions of it papered the boards covering the renovation work on the State Reference Library.
Now the State Library is going to hang a large reproduction of my work in the reading room of the redesigned State Reference Library. The display should be set up by the end of September, although the official launch of the renovations of the State Library won't be until Stage 2 has been completed, which would probably be in March 2012.
 "Closing the Gap" now seems to have become the iconic image of the western side of Sydney Harbour, just as Brett Whiteley's "Jacaranda Tree on Sydney Harbour"  is the iconic image for the eastern side. Lavender Bay symbolized the hedonistic lifestyle dream of Sydney in the 1960s and 70s as Pyrmont now embodies the ideal of the early 21st century. There may be free bookmarks, postcards and possibly even more merchandise to go with it. If I had a brain, I would have asked for royalties, but unfortunately I'm an artist and not an accountant, so I'll settle for fame and glory instead! The Library has said that they might even put my blog address on the main image at the copy desk. Apparently they can do a "QR code" so people can link to the blog with their mobile phones ... Considering that a bit over a year ago I didn't even know what a blog was, I'm impressed. I feel as though I have become as much a mascot for the State Library as "Trim" the cat!
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Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Tale of two Pyrmont Hotels - 'The Terminus and the Point'

A Tale of two Pyrmont Hotels - 'The Terminus and the Point' 2010-2011 
oil on canvas 31 x 61cm

Sold : Private Collection Sydney

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I started painting this in 2010, but they started to dig up the pavement.
What a surprise.
As well as the  construction of new buildings and demolition of the old ones, there has been what seems like endless removal and replacement of the cobblestones. Pyrmont is famous for its golden sandstone, but there must be genuine gold deposits underneath as they've been digging up the streets of Pyrmont as long as I can remember.

I had painted the Point hotel but had trouble seeing the Terminus from my chosen angle. Rather than repaint it I put it on the backburner and resumed last month.
By this time, the Point was under new management and had been repainted and renovated. I decided to keep the 'Point' as it had appeared when I started the painting rather than update it. You'd get dizzy keeping up with its changes anyway.
I've lost count of all its colour changes - it's gone through the entire Dulux Weathershield chart over the past 3 decades.
When I first saw it in 1981 as the 'Royal Pacific' it was a rather shopsoiled white with a royal blue trim.
It's much more chic now, in keeping with its new surroundings. Inside and out.

When the block down the road has been redeveloped by Lendlease to be one of the final buildings of the Jackson's Landing Precinct, the Point won't look out of place to its upmarket new customers.

The Terminus  hasn't changed much throughout the years since it was abandoned, except that some of the ivy has died.
The network of dead vine tendrils twining over the sunburnt brick facade look like a rotting veil of Belgian lace.
It enhances the "Miss Havisham of Harris St" aura clinging to the Terminus.
Quite a contrast in style.
The striding legs of the Anzac Bridge at the top of John st link the past and the future together like a giant clothes peg.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Artist in Residence at the Aroma Coffee Festival - the Post Mortem

I have tried to repair the three little paintings, which were smeared during my run in with the Spanish Inquisition at the Aroma Coffee Festival at the Rocks on Sunday.
I couldn't recapture their original freshness and joie de vivre, but then I didn't expect to. 
Something more than just the actual painting got damaged in that bruising, unnecessary and humiliating encounter with mindless authoritarianism.

Punjabi Dancers at the Aroma Coffee Festival 2011 oil on canvas 15 x 15cm
I was told by one of the dancers that this was a traditional Punjabi dance to celebrate the joy of bringing in the harvest. 3 or 4 minutes of whirling circles of gold, red and blue and then it was over. I thought it was an exhilarating start to what promised to be an exhausting but creative day at the festival. I didn't expect to paint more of this dance than a few bold lines to imply their energy and grace. I wanted to 'warm up' by creating several swift impressions of as many aspects of the festival as possible.
Sydney Opera House at Dawn 2011 oil on canvas 15x15cm

This is the tiny little oil study of the Opera House that all the fuss was about.
The irony is that I was only in this spot because the Channel 9 film crew was bored out of their tiny minds, searching for something worth filming before the festival actually started.
I don't enjoy staring into the sun while painting, but Channel 9, being sticklers for tradition, like to present the weather with a conventional harbour view and an obvious landmark such as the Opera House or the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.
Another irony was that by the time the power-crazed and heavy handed Rangers had arrived to attempt to prevent the creation of such a dangerous and subversive work of art, I had almost completed it and was about to find another location in which to be a public nuisance.

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.