Amidst the astonishing order of Hong Kong lies the tiny ramshackle fishing village of Tai O on the island of Lantau. Despite the pink dolphin tour yielding a distinct lack of pink dolphins we were nevertheless free to explore the insect trail streets which weave and skitter through this portside town.
Dried skins of manta rays hang from shopfronts, dazed fish swim in tiny buckets and fish gizzards are presented in wicker baskets, whilst the smell of dried fish mingles with a sweeter aroma (mango?) At the back of a tiny shop selling faded plastic toys sits a family around a tiny table eating noodles, the bluish flicker from the TV in the corner playing on their faces.
I like this place. There’s something primal here…the ghosts of past generations of fishermen are etched into the alleyways and crevices, each little shrine a reminder of the nets that have been cast and the fish tallied. A schoolboy runs up and says in very deliberate English, “hello, I’m nine and I go to Tai O primary school…”
Well the big trip is here… 13 countries in 51 days, accommodation booked, car hire booked, laptop (nearly) packed. From Lithuania to Ireland, Hong Kong to Estonia and everything in between, this is a trip that will fire the senses and I’m hoping also the artistic juices. From castles in Moravia to the curious “Burren” in Ireland, not to mention the Latvian shooting range experience where you can fire a pump action shotgun and an AK-47 in an old WW2 soviet bunker.
Tools of the trade
The tourist’s viewpoint does not interest me… I want to see how a farmer lives, I want to know what motivates the street vendor to set up his little stall every day, I want to see the land unfold in all its beautiful and unbeautiful splendour.
From an artist’s perspective I know not what lies ahead… so I approach, expectantly, with an open mind and an empty sketchbook.
I started by looking around in my immediate neighbourhood… I’m looking for ideas… I’m a detective. I believe you should be able to paint whatever you see with whatever you have at hand. So I’m looking. Lots of construction going on here… great cranes lifting slabs of concrete, dreams being built on a labourer’s sweat, a suburb lurching into existence alongside a Payne’s Grey coastline.
I see a bobcat. It’s parked outside a tradie’s house, bucket lowered, rust and dirt clinging to a chassis which has seen better days. Love it. This is my kind of subject… now I have to work out how it’s going to work. I’ve tried isolating it against the canvas… I like the integrity and the starkness, but maybe it needs context…. ?
The best part about travelling is letting the ideas sift themselves and work their way out. I’m looking forward to attacking this painting with fresh eyes when I return.
What’s your memory of your first family car? For anyone over 40 it’s more than likely that great Aussie institution… the Holden. Whether it be the classic FJ or EJ, or the FB with its restyled interior and its finned tail-light clusters, the mere mention of a Holden evokes lazy days at the beach, childhood arguments over who gets the window seat and for adolescent males a symbol of screaming machismo, marking a rite of passage toward adulthood.
I like the FB for its unabashed American influence designed to stem the popularity of Ford and Chrysler locally. I painted this FB against the backdrop of Gerringong beach, trying to reclaim some of that early 60s nostalgia. When I think Holden I also think of Bex, faded Cornetto signs outside milk bars and golden haired surfers dragging on their last Winnie Blue before reluctantly heading home into the darkening sky.
Holden EK one of my favourite Aussie cars… this one painted at Gerringong beach with a swell rolling in. What makes an Aussie icon? Is it more than a national consciousness rooted in what was once seen as important… can we reinvent symbols in a modern context without losing that Australianness, and does that even exist any more?