The Travelling Sketchbook

Many months ago I joined a group of women bloggers who wanted to contribute to a travelling sketchbook, Anne Lawson‘s brilliant concept. The blank sketchbook was made by Anne in Melbourne and posted off to the first person on the list who posted it to the next one and so on and so forth until it reached me, the last one on the list. Consequently, being last, I had all the previous entries to follow. A hard act. Here are the creations, page by page:

The sketchbook has now returned from its round-the-world trip back to Anne’s house. It’s been a unique pleasure for each of us to decide on a suitable contribution and then execute it.

For me it was an unusual day. I’d been wondering how I’d find time to think about my contribution let alone write something in the book. But I’d gone to meet a student that day who forgot about her lesson, so I unexpectedly found myself with a whole day free. I went home and set about writing a number of meaningful quotations with a calligraphy pen, ending up with ten. I chose the neatest one that best fitted the page size. Then I added a piece of machine embroidery I’d made for a textile art course years ago. It’s freely embroidered inside a wire coat hanger, then cut away. I had made several of them and attached them to a shawl for the course assessment, but had this one left over. Now it isn’t left over any more.

Thank you Anne for your idea!

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The Enchanted Ring

Today a new story has been published in Peacock Journal online, “The Enchanted Ring”, written by Catulle Mendès in 1887, translated by me. The story is in his collection, Pour lire au couvent (To Read in the Convent), which might surprise since it’s a wee bit spicy for innocent convent girls and only a little less risqué than his tales in Pour lire au bain (To Read in the Bath).

To set the scene, the Peacock Journal editors have illustrated the story with Claude Monet’s impression of Vétheuil in the outer regions of Paris in 1879. This will give readers a hint that the story works its way towards a country inn where three rich and handsome princes are resting for the night (only one of them is asleep…).

Claude Monet, ‘Vétheuil, Paysage’, 1879

Another of my Mendès translations, “The Only Beautiful Woman”, appeared recently in The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation which you can read about in my blog post here where you’ll see a photo of Catulle Mendès standing casually in his study reading a story. Or a poem. If you don’t recognise Mendès, you might recognise his daughters from this painting by his friend Auguste Renoir in 1888, now in the Met Museum, New York:

daughters-of-catulle-mendes-renoir

Auguste Renoir, ‘The Daughters of Catulle Mendès’, (1888), Huguette b. 1871, Claudine b. 1876, Helyonne b. 1879

Peacock Journal has a theme: beauty. The editors search for it in every submission. I feel fortunate and chuffed that they found it in “The Enchanted Ring”. Make your day better by popping over to read this and other stories about beauty.

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Nervous

We arrived at the ruins of the burnt-out observatory at Mount Stromlo before the sun set yesterday, excited about the performance we were about to see: “Nervous” by the Australian Dance Party, an hour of contemporary dance, music and lighting.

At eight o’clock, inside the structure in the light of the early evening, four dancers began their interpretation of the inner turmoil of nervousness, while the audience waited outside in anticipation, peeking in through the doorway. At last we were invited into the space to find a chair or floor cushion to settle into for the performance as the dancers slowly and aimlessly walked about the circular centre of the floor, confronting each other and almost colliding, wondering about the thing that was making them nervous.

And then they seemed to come together in harmony and moved as one.

Once the audience was comfortably seated, the dancers picked up speed, and the idea moved from wondering to worrying. The nerves were back in control, and we soon learnt why, through the dialogue of the blonde dancer: “Hey, there’s something I really need to talk to you about.” We heard it over and over in different phrasings, as she talked to herself or moved up to the audience and addressed them directly. Hello, there’s something…. No. Hey, how are you? There’s something I… No. Ahhhh, there’s something I really… No. Ughhh, just act natural… Why is this so hard?…

And as she practised her speech, the other three were her conscience, the angels and devils telling her she was doing it right and doing it wrong and she was hopeless at this but had to do it anyway. The four became one conscience and approached the audience, and again the blonde spoke, Hey, there’s something I really…, while a second dancer held her breath, another writhed and the fourth groaned painfully. All of that stuff that goes on inside us while we’re trying to appear calm and in control.

Eventually the nervousness conquered its victims and they could do no more than lie on the cold concrete floor in the purple light of defeat…

Over all of this movement was the intense electronic music composed by Ben Worth (my son), pulsating and vibrating and making us physically vibrate with it. It was loud and soft and occasionally absent but it always returned. And there was Robbie, the lighting guy up there on the platform with Ben, playing his lights over the dancers as darkness descended. Robbie’s light show became one of the players playing with the dancers’ nerves.

Ben, left, and Robbie, right, on the platform behind one of the old concrete arms that supported the telescope in the past.

By nine o’clock, the sky above the roofless structure was black and starry with a crescent moon and nearby Venus growing brighter by the minute. Some cords from the floor became a prop that lit up and tangled about them, winding around and wrapping them up. The music stopped, the darkness was almost complete. Someone began clapping, and we realised this was the end.

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Weekly photo challenge: Mirror

Cones. Bert Flugelman (1923-2013) created them, and the National Gallery put them out under the blue Australian sky in the Sculpture Garden. Flugelman produced a number of stainless steel sculptures in Australia (where he lived), not to be confused with Austria (where he was born).

‘Cones’ in spring, Sculpture Garden, NGA

Children and adults alike love the 20 metres of image-distorting steel forms. You can be as thin, fat, short or tall as you want. Cones is a paradox, a totally unembellished minimalist artwork yet filled with detailed images. The seven iconic conic sculptures reflect this little bit of Australia, the sky and trees and flowers and dry sandy ground. And anyone standing around.

Today I was fortunate to find myself alone in this corner of the Garden to snap some photos sans visitors. My camera’s eye caught me in the stainless steel mirror, and my mind made a link to the nearby Portrait Gallery where I had just spent an hour, where I had seen a self-portrait of Bert Flugelman (it’s a sculpture), and now here he gives me my own self-portrait, an image of no one in particular. Indeed, it’s better (in my humble opinion) than the self-portraits by Ken Done and Sidney Nolan that really do look like no one in particular!

Self-portrait with wattle

Self-portrait with wattle

Thanks to the WordPress photo challenge, I was prompted to get my camera out today as I was passing through the Sculpture Garden.

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The Mandrake

‘The Mandrake’, my translation of ‘La Mandragore’ by Jean Lorrain – about a princess who gives birth to a frog – has just been published in a new literary journal, Belmont Story Review. I missed its appearance in May in this first issue, and discovered it one afternoon this past week when searching randomly online. A delightful surprise!

Cover of first issue of Belmont Story Review

Cover of first issue of Belmont Story Review

Jean Lorrain was a French author of the Belle Époque who wrote fantastical stories and novels that were original but often bizarre. He was loathed for the caustic humour of his newspaper columns in which he attacked many of the leading figures of his era. Yet, while his perversions repelled readers, this participant in Belle Époque decadence was also a spectator who wrote sarcastic analyses of its morals: many of his stories encourage questions about prejudices, leaving a reader unmasked and uneasy. Lorrain was particularly renowned for his flamboyant homosexuality and an addiction to ether. No surprise, then, that he died quite young, at 51, in Paris. Today much of his work remains unread, even by the French.

I’ve translated a number of Lorrain’s short stories, with a few published in literary journals. Last year I decided to translate ‘La Mandragore’ (1899), a dark fairy tale brilliantly illustrated by Marcel Pille and available online in the original French edition at Gallica. I submitted my work to a few journals and this year was fortunate to have it accepted. When you’ve read the translation available in print from Amazon or for free on the site of the digital publisher, Issuu, I highly recommend you check out Gallica, where you’ll see amazing illustrations like the one below which will give you clues to the story about a Queen and her frog daughter. Oh, and of course there’s a mandrake, the plant with an eerily human-shaped root…  Illustration by Marcel Pille in original edition of 'La Mandragore' by Jean Lorrain. My translation, 'The Mandrake' has been published in The Belmont Story Review (no illustrations, unfortunately). A Spanish translation was published in 2015, with the original illustrations. Ilustración de Marcel Pille para la obra La Mandrágora, de Jean Lorraine.:

‘La Mandragore’ has also been translated into Spanish by Alicia Mariño and Luis Alberto, and it looks to be a beautiful edition that includes the original illustrations.

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Weekly photo challenge: Face

If you’re looking for some mild amusement, and you have an Apple computer, check out the Faces option in the ‘Apple Photos’ application. It collects images of faces, that is, anything that resembles two human eyes above a nose above a mouth. It doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes it finds sculpted faces, though they can look real enough, like these resting on top of the pond in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery, faces that produce a physical reaction in passers-by:

Heads National Gallery Sculpture Garden

Dadang Christanto, ‘Heads from the North’ 2004, Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Australia

It’s not just 3D images it finds; even 2D painted faces are thrown into the collection with photos of real faces. Here it places two faces from For of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven by Frank Bramley (1891) hanging in the Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand, next to my beautiful daughters-in-law:

Beautiful girls painted and real

How about this image of a sun sinking into the sea? I do love a good sunset, but if I’m looking for the reassurance of a human face, I prefer my son, not the sun!

Sunset and handsome boy

But even more mysterious, curious and ridiculous, a photo of a kangaroo’s tail and back legs, sideways. I’ve looked at this circle with my glasses on and glasses off. I can’t see any face. But it’s good for a laugh!

Kangaroo tail, sideways

It was truly surprising to see all the faces (recognised by Apple) from my photos. There were even some I had previously ignored for being too small or blurry in the background of another subject. As I was scrolling through them all, another son walked into the room and exclaimed his delight at all the faces of our family and friends appearing in a long stream across my screen. It was a bit of fun, and was fit fodder for the photo challenge this week.

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The sleeper wakes?

There are times when a gallery visit can be dull, and others that are unforgettable.  When I walked into this room of old Australian art, I experienced a moment of consternation as the walls leapt out from behind the turn-of-the-century artworks.  All four walls were painted in a red and black chevron pattern, clashing with the soft colours of portraits and landscapes in frames of ornate gold and timber.  The intent was to shock, and it did.  The pattern is a reference to the Wiradjuri people of Australia who paint chevrons on their skin and on trees.  The installation artist is Brook Andrew.

Brook Andrew installation Brisbane

Under the Jacaranda, R. Godfrey Rivers, and Mt Coot-tha from Dutton Park, Evening, F.J. Martyn Roberts

I was disturbed by the clash of loud and soft.  But on this Monday morning there was something even more disturbing in the room.  On one of the viewing seats was an obese boy who had fallen into a deep sleep.  His carers were trying to wake him, calling his name and shaking him.  The gallery guard came to help with a louder voice, keen to move him along.  She called for her colleague to bring an ice pack, which was laid on his shoulders and neck.  He didn’t wake.

Monday Morning, Vida Lahey, 1912

Monday Morning, Vida Lahey, 1912

They phoned his mother, put it on speaker, put the phone near his face, all to no effect.  The guard sent the carers off ‘to have lunch’, trying to trick him into feeling left behind.  No reaction.  He was now sliding off his chair, an ordinary chair, not a sofa, not even a soft chair.  Just a gallery chair, hip but hard.  The guards pushed him back onto it, talking to him all the while.  Nothing.  One guard said to the other, “We haven’t had this before,” and laughed as gravity pulled the boy down again.

Portrait Group, the Mother, G.W. Lambert

The carers had not gone to lunch but were hiding from the boy in the next room.  They peeked round the corner and saw that he hadn’t woken.  The guards warned the sleeping boy that he would have to go home in the back of an ambulance.  His hand twitched, and the guards and carers persisted with the cold pack, calling, rubbing and tugging.

Forty minutes later:  they stood him up but his eyes were still closed.  As I left the room, relieved, they were following me out, the carers guiding him, one each side as he walked blindly.  His huge black t-shirt was too long, hanging down past his shorts, revealing only his heavy shuffling legs. They were taking him home to bed, they said.

I returned to look more closely at the artworks, to try to understand why the walls were screaming in red and black.  But I could think of nothing but the boy, who must have been heavily medicated.  Those chevrons are emblazoned in my memory, but the boy whose eyes never opened will not remember them.

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Pinboard

Authors today are encouraged to promote promote promote their work on a blog (and on other popular elements of social media that I don’t use).  One promotional activity which hasn’t been too time-hungry and is even enjoyable is the creation of a Pinterest board with images associated with my translated works.  I’ve recently read articles by two much-published authors pushing Pinterest as an author’s friend.  So I tried it.  When you check out my board you’ll see intricately decorated pages from the original French versions of my translated stories, like this one from La Revue illustrée, 1st June 1899, for ‘Princesse Mandosiane’, one of the stories you can now read in English in the Eleven Eleven journal (which you’ll have to buy):

First page of Princesse Mandosiane, in Revue illustrée, 1 June 1899

First page of Princesse Mandosiane, in ‘La Revue illustrée’, 1 June 1899

Look at the creature in the bottom left of the page doing a handstand while balancing an ‘L’ signpost in his mouth!  Reminds me of the sculpted column swallowers in Romanesque churches.  Such fun!  Why don’t we decorate our pages any more?

Of course, for every one of my translations that’s published there are several others not accepted.  Just this week I’ve received two rejections and a notice that someone is already translating some stories I’m working on.  Or, rather, was working on until that moment.  Submitting stories to magazines and journals has become a part-time job, taking so much time and effort that I hardly have time to translate new stories.  But why write it if no one will read it?  Between the writing and the reading, there must come submission, publishing and promotion.  Fortunately there’s pleasure in it all!

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Weekly photo challenge: Intricate

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is for something ‘intricate’.  The Oxford Dictionary defines intricate as ‘very complicated or detailed’, from the Latin intricat- ‘entangled’, and from in- ‘into’ plus tricae ‘tricks, perplexities’.

Tricks and perplexities.

When I read about the challenge, I was in Barcelona looking at intricate architectural details on buildings all around me.  Barcelona does intricate very well. There’s Barcelona Cathedral with its decorative west facade constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries:

Barcelona Cathedral facade, top detail

Barcelona Cathedral facade, top detail

There are the individual architect-designed houses in the Passeig del Gràcia, including one of Gaudi’s, which had hundreds of people outside and inside and which I therefore passed by, and there was this one, the Casa Lleó Morera a few doors away, which I prefer.  It was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner for Lleó’s mother in the early 1900s.

Casa Lleó Morera, Barcelona

But, for me, what was most tricky and perplexing were the bench-lamp-posts designed in 1906 by Pere Falqués et Urpí, a Catalan Modernist architect.  There are 32 of them along the passeig.  The benches are covered in ceramic mosaics, a  technique typical of Catalan modernism (think Gaudi), and the lamp posts are of wrought iron rising up from the bench in a whiplash form, a characteristic of Art Nouveau generally (known as Modernism in the Catalonia region of Spain, which includes Barcelona.)

I sat on this bench to read a city map, looking for famous Barcelona art and architecture.  But I was sitting on something more interesting than all the tricky buildings and their perplexed spectators.  For, when I stood up, I saw the shadows cast by the twisting entanglements of the ironwork and the complexity of the mosaic tiles over the curved edges of the seat, and realised this was an excellent way to make art publicly useable and inclusive rather than exclusive.  When you sit on the bench, you are part of the art.

August Endell: in praise of bark

I recently read a quotation by August Endell (1871 – 1925), a German self-taught architect who designed in the era of Jugendstil, or, in English and French, Art Nouveau.  Here’s what he said in Berliner Architekturwelt, volume 4, 1902:

“I believe it is not generally known that, in the bark of our own native trees, we possess the most rapturous symphonies of colour that a painter could ever dream of.  After rain, for example, when the colours are luminous and fresh, the richest and most wonderful motifs are to be found there.  You need to go right up to the trunk and look hard at small areas the size of your palm.  Strong colours alternate one with another.  Velvety violet,Young plum tree

fiery yellowy-red,yellow-red bark

grey with a blue shimmer,Willow-leaf Hakea barkbright green,

Maple bark

– the widest possible range of colour nuances are found in a rich spectrum in the boldest contrasts.  Only when you have studied the colours of bark close up can you appreciate why tree trunks have such luminous colours from afar.

Eucalypt forest, Jervis Bay

The individual colours are garish and unbroken, but because they lie so close together in such small blotches, they tone each other down without losing their effect.”

August Endell’s first commission was for the Hof-Atelier Elvira, a photography studio in Munich, built and decorated in 1896-97.  The interior decor was highly individual, even bizarre, but partly reflected Endell’s belief that ‘the most wonderful motifs’ are to be found on tree bark.  Look, for example, at the studio staircase, to see how the organic pattern resembles the cracks in bark:

You can guess from the age of the staircase photo that the building no longer exists.  It was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944.  Hooray for photos!

In 1896, in an article about his theory of art, Endell said:

“Someone who has never been sent into raptures by the exquisite swaying of a blade of grass, the wondrous implacability of a thistle leaf, the austere youthfulness of burgeoning leaf buds, who has never been seized and touched to the core of his being by the massive shape of a tree root, the imperturbable strength of split bark, the slender suppleness of the trunk of a birch, the profound peacefulness of an expanse of leaves, knows nothing of the beauty of forms.”

(Cited in Art Nouveau, Gabriele Fahr-Becker)

The year 2014 is all but over;  I want to finish it on a beautiful note.  In an antique shop at Jervis Bay, in a holiday mood, I found Fahr-Becker’s Art Nouveau still sealed in protective plastic yet offered for a small price.  I took it back to the beach house, peeled away its covering and flicked through the large glossy pages.  At around the middle of the book, 232 pages in, the Endell quotation on bark brought me to a halt.  I didn’t turn the page, but closed the book.  I didn’t want to forget his urging to ‘go right up to the trunk’ of trees, and look hard.  I urge you to do it, too.

Happy New Year!

I wish you wonderful days in 2015.

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