Monday, February 4, 2013

Random Acts of Art in Melbourne

Feb. 4, 2013

We've been wandering around our neighborhood, which is known as St. Kilda.  (I haven't found anything about the original PERSON named Kilda who became a saint - but St. Kilda is both a region in Scotland as well as a ship that was shipwrecked.)  The area here is sometimes also called Balaclava - not after the ski mask knit hat thing, but rather an area in Crimea (named here after the Crimean War).

But there are random acts of art that keep popping up. 

There was this Mercedes Benz van that has a Robert Frost poem on the windows:
  "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveller, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth"

Then there's the graffiti on fences along alleys - with a look that says it's more than random graffiti artists tagging their name.

No, these are graffiti artists who take great pride in their work, who work on their walls for more than one night, who truly are artists.  I suspect the building owners have hired the graffiti artists to decorate the walls or fences - both for something more interesting than just a plain boring fence, and also to prevent the usual kind of tagging that goes on, so that graffiti artists actually feel a sense of ownership and pride in the work created.  Kind of the way Philadelphia started their Mural Arts program to fight graffiti, and ended up with over 2500 murals around the city.  I'm not sure, but that's what I suspect is going on here.  (And no, I can't read these - I think that's a sign of being old, when I can't really read the graffiti anymore.)

On Sunday, I met up with my internet friend Ania and her husband Marek, who took me out to the Yarra Valley and the Dandenong Ranges, to an incredible place - the William Ricketts Sanctuary.  William Ricketts was an Australian artist (born in the late 1800s, died at age 94) who spent years living with two different Aborigine tribes in central Australia, and then created sculptures paying tribute to these people, their culture, and the animals native to Australia. 

It's almost a religious experience, spending time in the Sanctuary.  This is original growth forest, on a hillside, with huge eucalyptus trees and tree ferns and other indigenous plants, lush and green and trickling with small streams and fountains, with various parrots flying through and birds singing, and then these sculptures growing out of rocks, creating entrances and gates and fountains and grottoes, hands rising from the earth, faces from the hands and stones - it was amazing. 

You can feel Ricketts' emotional ties to the Aborigine people who made him their brother.  You can feel his love and sympathy for a way of life interrupted by the coming of Europeans, who slaughtered people and animals to make way for their own lives.

And you can see the cultural pride and some of the religious beliefs of the Aborigines reflected in Ricketts' portrayal of the people, the way the elders cradle the children in their arms, or rise up out of the earth's arms and hands, with a possum or kangaroo perched on a shoulder.

There are also the Art Nouveau influences that are obvious in Ricketts' style, where beards flow into flourishes, the feeling of symmetry and lyrical embellishments.

Ricketts had his studio at this property, and actually had larger and larger kilns built right there.  

For my artist friends who are wondering about his technique (as I was): he made plaster casts of the stone before he made the ceramic sculptures, so that he could create each sculpture to fit exactly onto the stone before placing it in the forest.  He used a white clay found in Australia, and high fired it (1300 degrees Celsius, so about 2600 degrees Farenheit) which created a high degree of vitrification - thus making the ceramics nearly impermeable.  No glaze, just stain.  He then cemented each piece onto the stone for which it was sculpted.  Numerous pieces also have internal pipes to transport water, so that they become fountains.  And the moss and lichen now growing on the pieces only makes them more a part of their natural environment.

And then, just for a bit of levity, there were these two penguins in the restaurant where we stopped for a bit of tea.  More kitsch than art, but just too much fun to not toss in.  Because they were just so random.

Apparently Ricketts added a bird feeder, which drew the rosellas, beautiful red and blue parrots, who look almost too beautiful to be real.  There were five of them who kept us amused as they climbed around the trees and tried to keep each other from sharing the seeds at the feeder.

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