David Jones, artist and poet (1895-1974) begins his PREFACE TO THE ANATHEMATA :

'I have made a heap of all that I could find.' (1) So wrote Nennius, or whoever composed the introductory matter to Historia Brittonum. He speaks of an 'inward wound' which was caused by the fear that certain things dear to him 'should be like smoke dissipated'. Further, he says, 'not trusting my own learning, which is none at all, but partly from writings and monuments of the ancient inhabitants of Britain, partly from the annals of the Romans and the chronicles of the sacred fathers, Isidore, Hieronymous, Prosper, Eusebius and from the histories of the Scots and Saxons although our enemies . . . I have lispingly put together this . . . about past transactions, that [this material] might not be trodden under foot'. (2)

(1) The actual words are coacervavi omne quod inveni, and occur in Prologue 2 to the Historia.
(2) Quoted from the translation of Prologue 1. See The Works of Gildas and Nennius, J.A.Giles, London 1841.

04 September 2009

John Brack @ NGV Ian Potter Centre : the Giving and Receiving of Regard

There always seems a further depth to be plumbed within the oeuvre of John Brack.

On my first visit to his recent retrospective ( click here ) at the NGV Ian Potter Centre, apart from the renewal of pleasure and admiration, what registered most was the breadth of French influence, from an earlier period when French Art ruled the roost.

The work that floated to the fore over the following days was Portrait of Dr. Ursula Hoff, 1954 . Something about it intrigued.

There was no plan to the second visit beyond the opportunity for another quick walk through. Soon, however, I am again fixed face-to-face, as it were, before the Hoff study. Such severity. Such unblinking return. So simple. So, what's different here?

Next, around the corner, I stop at Little girl's head (Vicky), 1955. A similar sort of stop-in-tracks seizure as at the Hoff, but different. So clever (laugh out loud). Immediately curates a small Brack exhibition in the gallery of the Imaginarium : just these two works, placed opposite each other.

Go back to the entrance again. Thinks: maybe I'll look at the looking in the work of John Brack. The first work, the host, the one that greets us is Men's wear, 1953. So much that will follow is here already fully realised. Plot the levels and layers of looking, all straight at us.

Also at the entrance, placed side-by-side, two 1948 black and white pencil studies complete the welcoming party. These spectres, too, appear to regard us. A man looks at ( ... us) and a woman looks at (... us); artist and model both look at (... us). The passing (... us).

Immediately curates another Brack exhibition in the Imaginarium : just these two works, placed opposite each other.

No need. Brack had already done this himself and built upon the scenario. Woman and dummy, 1954, brings the desire realm player(s) together. Sense Being Regards Art(i-facere)/someone looks at something. Self and Other, the primal chemistry of duality's infinite congress. You and I; Us and Them; This and That; Inside and Outside; Illusion and Disillusion; Coming and Going; Here and There; on and on through the scenes and titles of his next 40 years.

After these clear-seeing openers, there appears to be a change of strategy. For the players, the fourth wall turns opaque again. For the play, a re-commitment to proscenium theatre. For us, to play the witness of those who, in our period, "strut and fret their hour upon the stage" (Macbeth). Almost no character other than (that of) the artist will look through to us again. Not until Finale, 1992.

John Brack_Inside and outside (The shop window)_1972_400

The nudes all avert their gaze. Things with no eyes are no trouble to us - still lives, nature morte - flowers, cards, pens and pencils, things without senses. Of the portraits, Hal Hattam looks outward, but from the shadow. Dr Hoff, her body posed at standard oblique, still determinedly fixes her eyeballs upon the artist and to the return view of history.

I imagine her saying, "We've been through this before, John. That's why I wore the cameo for you today."

Occasionally one or other of the children is transparently direct but as a rule the play's the thing. The elaboration of this is in the detail. In The Hands and The Faces, 1987, even there, a generation further distanced, still no painted eye meets ours. At the show I scribbled a note, "an embarrassment of eyes". (A deference of eyes; a politeness of eyes; a sophistication of eyes; a discretion of eyes... )

Similarly with the history cards of Kings and Queens, 1988. Except here Brack has also represented some children's depictions of royalty in the gathering. These, unlike their well-bred wisdom-bound elders, have big open eyes that connect straight through to us.

In popular theatre at play's end the curtain is summarily closed. Then is reopened for the actors to acknowledge their audience and to be acknowledged in return : we knew you were there/we knew you knew we knew you were there. The villain and the hero, the maiden and the beast, all equal as merely players. All finally acknowledged.

So with Brack. As with the triple greeting at the start, so at the conclusion.
Watching the Flowers (1990-91)
The Celebration (1991)
Finale (1992)

At journey's end the end of the exhibition. We arrive at that point from which we are always beginning (Here and Now, after T.S Eliot) to recognise, if we care to, a performance of our own performance: we, his Actors of Looking, figured here in Watching the Flowers, 1990-91.

John Brack_Watching the flowers_1990-91_400w

Well, that was fun wasn't it. It wasn't? Of course it was/wasn't. We are the busy bodies: we like some/we do not care for others. Now all is Said and Done, let us hoist the Jolly Lot and Dance ourselves to Dualistic Death. The Celebration, 1991. ["They shoot horses, don't they?"]

John Brack_The Celebration_1991_400w

Curtain closes, curtain opens. Behold, we are your actors of the dualistic view.

. . . .

A few personal notes: With John Brack minutes after we first met. Polaroid by Daniel Thomas who introduced us after the opening of Melbourne Cool, 1983.

A jotting made after first visiting Brack's mighty 1987 exhibition at George Mora's Tolarno Gallery, South Yarra.

( click image above to enlarge )

Collins St. 5 p.m revisited. Made after the return visit to the 2009 John Brack retrospective.

2009_PT after Sengai after Brack_Collins St. 5pm_600h
A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/
someone looks at something . . .