My artistic inspiration

Art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life

Pablo Picasso

I had been travelling for 36 hours when I arrived in London on May Day 1999. It was my first trip overseas as an adult with my boyfriend, now the amazing Mr BG, and my head was swimming with new sensations- English accents! Red double-decker buses! The Battersea power station!

We arrived early and was at our BnB at 8am. After a shower and a change of clothes, we headed on the bus to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. I remember the crush of the crowds out enjoying the warm spring day, the feel of my boyfriend’s hand around mine, as we made our way across the iconic square to one of the most amazing art galleries in the world, made all the more amazing because it is FREE.

We go through a door on the right and step into a room of Degas, and then the next room, I see something which takes my breath away. My head spins and buzzes with adrenalin (mainly because I am running on empty and haven’t slept for ages), and all I can do is stand there with my mouth agape.

Sunflowers was the first piece of artwork which blew me away, and which has stayed with me for the last 15 years. That heady rush I experienced when I first saw it is something I have been chasing every time I go into an art gallery.

Art is my soul food.

A tale of Parisian museums

Over a period of five days we visited 5 museums in Paris. ‘Only 5?’ I hear you ask, or is it ‘OMG, that’s a lot to cover!’

There are so many to choose museums in Paris that you could spend your entire trip doing nothing but museum visiting, and miss out on seeing the sights, walking through markets and simply enjoying being in Paris. You need to have a balance between the two, especially with the added challenge of having the little BGs with us. The museum has to be engaging with adults and children alike, and easy to navigate so we can get to see what we want to see. These were the five museums we visited, all very different experiences, with the one thing in common that they were all free for kids- hurray!

Musee d’Orsay-Thursday

One of my favourite all-time museums, and one which I had visited the last time I was in Paris- it’s like visiting an old friend. We arrive there not long after it has opened and there’s no queue. There’s a Degas exhibition of his nudes as a added bonus at the time we visit, much to Master BG’s amusement (bottoms and body parts attract much mirth and snickers from a 7 year old boy). We also point out the building and explain how it used to be a railway station, and look at the glass ceiling, the huge clock faces (very reminiscent of Hugo) and the models of the building, which elicit a lot of interest from the kids. We visit the Impressionist and post-Impressionist rooms and simply look and marvel. As we’re staying around Montmartre, it’s a bit of a buzz to see the paintings that were created there here on the walls.

Miss BG loves the ballet paintings of Degas and his ballerina sculpture, while Master BG is quite taken with Vincent van Gogh, or the farmer as he calls him, because he lives in the country. They both get quite taken with Seurat and how he used lots of dots to create his paintings. The bookshop and giftshops are excellent, and Miss BG emerges with a picture book about Degas and Master BG has a Rubik’s cube of van Gogh images.
Verdict- a good time was had by most- Miss BG did chuck a wobbly in a crowded room, but we had pushed our time there by that stage. As it’s a museum with a targeted period and collection, it’s much more manageable to see what you want to see.

Musee du Louvre-Friday

I had never visited it on previous visits, mainly because I thought it would be insanely busy, tacky and full of people wanting to see the Mona Lisa.
My preconceptions were pretty spot on, but there were some surprises. Seeing the foundations of the original medieval Louvre were pretty awe-inspiring, and the rooms themselves as a palace were a marvel in themselves. The basic guide of the Louvre was also very good and showed you where the key works of art were located. It was insanely busy, and full of people wanting to see the Mona Lisa- I felt sorry for the painting as it was literally being papped out of existence.

The museum was also full of Japanese tourists making peace signs in front of Botticelli frescoes or the Venus de Milo while their friends took a photo of them on their phone. At this point I slapped them and told them this was not the place nor painting in which to be so inane and self-absorbed (not really, but I truly wanted to do that). It was hot and hellish, and not really a great artistic experience. People were there because it was a tourist attraction and to say they had seen the Mona Lisa and it was all right, a bit smaller than I had expected, rather than to see art. We escaped and headed for the Tuileries Gardens where we had a wonderful time at the playground (ie the kids played on a cool playground, while the parents recovered on one of the heaps of chairs and benches surrounding the play area), and had an icecream.
Verdict- If you avoid the crush around the Mona Lisa and just wander around looking at the ceilings, and other collections, you would probably have a better experience. It is a vast collection of art in a vast space, and a bit unwieldy.

Musee de Montmartre- Sunday

This is a little museum about the social history and artiditic legacy of Montmartre. It is located in the former building in which Renoir lived and painted, has a garden and two resident black cats. In here you could learn about the artists who lived and painted in the area, the cabarets, the Commune of 1870, and the building of Sacre Coeur, all in relatively quiet surroundings. There was a free audioguide available and the staff were quite friendly.
Verdict It’s small so you can get in and see it in under an hour, it was reasonably priced and in a beautiful setting. A lovely outing!


Espace de Dali- Sunday

This was a five minute walk from the Musee de Montmartre and the only place in Montmartre where you could see art (not counting the myriad of artists who flock to the Place du Terre to sell their paintings). It was where you could see over 300 works of art from this artist. The works of art are largely prints, sculptures and several letters, and primarily come from the latter part of Dali’s career. I saw a Dali exhibition a couple of years ago in Melbourne which was comprehensive and contained everything you would want to see. This didn’t really match up to that experience, and a bit disappointing – a bit overpriced too!
Verdict -don’t bother, and save your money for crepes au chocolat.

Centre Pompidou- Monday

It was wet and rainy, and we had just left the Eiffel Tower, so now was as good a time as any to visit. The architecture and the setting is quite appealing to children, but it was a bit too wet to stand and look at then inside out building. It was pretty quiet and we were sharing it with art students, school groups ( how cool would that be to come in for an excursion and see Picasso and Matisse!), and a few other tourists braving the weather. We weren’t disappointed. We could move around and stand in front of paintings and sculptures and talk about them without getting jostled. There were big glass windows that Miss BG could stand in front of and look out onto the street below. The bookshop is quite extensive too.
Verdict-really great for children, but having lunch here is an expensive experience.

Review: The Art of Being Melbourne

Maree Coote is a writer, photographer, designer and illustrator, who has used her visual style to create books that can be read and cherished.

Maree Coote’s first book The Melbourne Book: A History of Now (2003) is a celebration of Melbourne’s history, and its icons with some wonderful photography by the author herself.

Her latest book,  The Art of Being Melbourne is a celebration of Melbourne through the eyes of its artists. You can see the city evolving from a village planned along the Yarra with a strict grid structure (thanks to Hoddle) to a bustling metropolis. The minutiae of Melbourne life is also depicted- its trams, streetscapes, bridges and buildings. While there is the occasional figure depicted, the focus of the book is undoubtedly Melbourne.

There are so many notable inclusions in this book, including Frederick McCubbin, Albert Tucker, John Brack, Kenneth Jack and Jeffrey Smart. The art is arranged in a chronological order, which also allows the reader/viewer to see the evolution of artistic styles and influences.

I would have to admit the streetscapes were what interested me the most. I discovered new artists (to me) such as Dora Wilson, Louis Kahn and Mike Barr, whose portraits of Melbourne in the rain are very familiar!

When I saw it at my library, I pounced on it, looking forward to taking it home to savour. It is more than an art book and more than a history of Melbourne. It offers multiple perspectives on a city at a particular point in time by a myriad of talented people. If you love art and Melbourne, this is the book for you.

The Naked Face

The National Gallery of Victoria is currently showcasing an exhibition entitled The Naked Face: Self Portraits. It’s encouraging patrons of the exhibition (which is free- yay!) to take a self-portrati and email ot, which will then be showcased on the NGV’s Facebook page.

The aspect of self-portraiture is intriguing. It allows the person to define who they are, and depict some form of self-examination. In some ways this blog is a self-portrait in words, or at least a portrait of my life through my eyes and words.

Anyway this is NOT a self-portrait, but a very nice lady took a photo of me with my phone camera just before the start of the Sussan fun run which I completed a couple of weeks ago. I did the 10km route in 1 hour 3 minutes. I plan to do the same run again next year, under an hour, with the lovely Ms S who is unable to do any running at the moment, owing to a pending arrival in the Ms S household.

The only thing I was wearing on my face, apart from the specs, was sunscreen. There were some ladies who were running in full makeup, but I tend to prefer the less is more approach when getting sweaty :).

Exit through the Gift Shop- a Banksy film

Another night, another DVD. I mean, why bother with telly when you can watch something without adverts? That’s not to say there are no interruptions when children at night become yo-yos…

Exit through the Gift Shop could be a documentary on street art, a commentary on the contemporary art world or how people use and exploit the cult of celebrity. It’s probably all of these things.

Essentially it starts with Thierry Guetta, a French vintage-clothing store owner in Los Angeles, who has an obsession with documenting everything with his video camera. A chance meeting with his cousin one night while holidaying in France, leads him to discover street art, or what authorities would call graffiti.

Thierry’s camera obsession becomes focussed on these guerrillas of the art world, who are determined to make their mark in their environment and across the world. He manages to film them under the cover of using the footage for a documentary. His ultimate dream is realised with the filming and befriending of Banksy, an elusive English street artist.

The only problem is, Thierry has no intention of making the documentary, with the tapes thrown into unlabelled tubs. His attempt to bring it together has Banksy deciding to take over the documentary project himself, and gives Thierry the task of creating his own street art. The results of this are hilarious, and at the same time quite disturbing.

It’s thought provoking and had myself and Mr BG talking about it for days afterward. It reminds me of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where everyone believes the hype of celebrity, and doesn’t wish to be seen as uncool by decrying the impostor.

The DVD could have done with subtitles, given the quality of some of the sound and the fact that Banksy’s voice was distorted (you could still hear a tinge of a Bristol/West Country accent), but the extras, such as a background documentary on Banksy and the documentary that Guetta actually composed are excellent.

It’s a fascinating look at an underground culture on the verge of becoming mainstream.

N is for…

Natural History Museum

We had been warned about the queues, so arrived early… and got stuck in the queue.

Thankfully it was not too cold, it wasn’t raining, and we had a perfect chance to admire the architecture while waiting.

Once inside we caught a glimpse of what we were hunting- Dinosaurs!

The place was busy already, and I’m glad we arrived early. The collection was fantastic and appealed to everyone of all ages. There was even an animated Tyrannosaurus Rex.

National Gallery

Visiting the National Gallery is like popping in to see old friends. Their faces are so familiar, and they don’t mind if you want to spend ages there, or just pop in and out. I wanted to show the kids my favourite picture, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

Miss BG thought it was pretty, but there should have been more purple.

I got a more excited response from Master BG when he saw Seurat’s The Bathers. He was very impressed with the size of the painting, as he had only seen it in a little picture book called Sunday with Seurat.

We sat in front of it and looked at the painting for a little while, then had a little wander before the kids expressed their desire for icecream, by experimenting with sound and echoes in the large rooms (they were a tad loud).

Uusually we wouldn’t stay too long in the museums we visited, which didn’t worry us too much. They were free to enter, so it wasn’t a case of trying to get our money’s worth from a day.

Arvo Tea

I finally succumbed to the siren’s call of Sunday’s Kitchen :Food and Living at Heide and savoured every morsel.

The premise of the book is a collection of recipes which belonged to Sunday Reed. These recipes are interspersed amongst the chapters of the book, as are recipes of visitors to Heide, a place which was part country retreat, part artists’ studio, part paradise.

The book outlines the history of Heide, the creation of the gardens and the development of the retour a la terre spirit which John and Sunday Reed embraced. It stresses the importance placed upon creating a beautiful environment which was largely self-sufficient, and sustainable. The emphasis was placed on eating fresh food which was locally produced and prepared simply in order to nourish the body, mind and soul.

The ethos clearly influenced a number of its inhabitants- Joy Hester and Sidney Nolan both evoked their time spent in Heide later in life in Hurstbridge and Parkville respectively.

The artists which benefited from the Reed’s patronage and friendship are represented in the imagery scattered through the book. Quite often the images are those which were produced at Heide, or of Heide itself. Photos too, abound; some  photos taken by Albert Tucker, are quite familiar for those people who have read previous books on Heide in the 1940’s . Newer photos from Mirka Mora’s collection are present, as well as colour images from the 1960s. Seeing John Reed relaxing in Heide II reading the paper, surrounded by objets d’art, in colour, is quite a jolt. Colour make the image more immediate  and recent and brings home the fact that Heide II was a home before it became a museum.

And the recipes? They’re too a snapshot in time, and evoke a more genteel period. My favourite part of the book is the ritual set around arvo tea, when tea, with scones and jam and cream would be served at 4pm.

In all, it is quite a readable book and will appeal to those who love reading recipes, with a dash of social context. Stephanie Alexander’s foreword is excellent and the book flows from this. If you love this art period, read it. If you love food, read it. If you love beauty, read it.

Hmm…must put the kettle on and rustle up some scones…

State of the art

We all have weaknesses for certain shops- I try and not walk past Haigh’s on my lunchbreak and am extremely thankful the Lindt shop is too far down Collins Street for me to be tempted in. Yet I braved the heat yesterday to venture into what could be a minefield- an art supplies shop.

It’s more than stationery- Officeworks, Penfolds and  Office Magic just doesn’t do it for me. Office supplies are just too functional and practical. Art supplies stores sing out with their creative possibilities, creamy thick sketch paper, pencils, pastels, oil paints, paintbrushes…I’m getting dizzy at the thought of it.

I used to draw,  before I moved to Ballarat, before children and before my job got in the way. I had over a couple of years built up a sizeable collection of brushes, oils, watercolours, pastels, chalks and charcoal. Our local community centre had classes in a variety of media which I tried, before I decided what I really liked was the feel of a pencil in my hand. My fingertips were constantly stained from shading, and the staff at the local art supplies store near where I lived knew me quite well.

Even once I stopped drawing, I would still stop by, just to look of course. Luckily there isn’t one near where I work now, nor near my house.

I discovered my tub of art materials while doing a tidy last week, which got me in the mood to actually do something with them. But it looked like I need a kneadable rubber (it looks like blutack and much better for erasing than conventional erasers), and possibly some poster paint for the kids, and maybe even a new sketchpad… I could very well end up walking out with more stuff than what I need :).

I was good- it may have been the thought of lugging paper back to work in 40 degree heat which limited my spending spree. Still I’m sure to be back there- it’s in Degraves St, near Smitten Kitten, another place of weakness :).

Streets of your town

This article which has famous Melburnians describe favourite walks around their city/past had me pondering my favourite walks/places of significance.I am not Melburnian by birth- I lived there for 8 years before my move to Ballarat.  It’s a place where I studied, fell in love, married and became independent- I ‘grew up’ during my years in Melbourne.

I would happily walk up and down Collins Street, it has one of my favourite lunch eateries and two chocolate shops in the same block (have yet to try the Lindt shop, but will save that for later), and I feel so alive walking down it in any season any time of the year. It’s also around the corner from work at one end and Southern Cross at the other- I have been catching trains to Geelong and Ballarat from Spencer Street for 20 years now :).

My walk would include Swanston Street. It’s not particularly glamorous, and full of tacky souvenir shops, but I would start at the end- the University of Melbourne, where I did my B.A. It was miles from my small girls’ only Catholic secondary school, and I am so glad I went there. Favourite two places there was the South Lawn and the Baillieu Library (guess I was a library nerd in waiting…).

It’s a good walk down Swanston to my next stop, the State Library of Victoria. As a child I remember going there to see the museum exhibits with my family. As a uni student, it was the sight which greeted me as I emerged from Museum Station to catch a tram, or walk, up to uni. I worked there for two years and enjoyed nearly every minute of it. My favourite memory is leaving work later and seeing the library lit up, and feeling a sense of awe that I actually worked there.

If I felt a bit peckish, I would have some dumplings from the Dumpling House a little bit further down, or, if I wanted to make an occasion of it, go to Cookie. Both favourite lunch spots for friends!

To walk off lunch I would venture a little bit further and end up at the National Gallery of Victoria (International). One of the beauties of doing an Arts degree was the periods between lectures. The NGV fed my soul, and I still love the water wall!

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever

This was a mesmerising start to the day. Initially found on Twitter, here is the YouTube clip

What made it even more beautiful was the music, Bach’s Sarabande from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major,  performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

What struck me was the beauty of the subjects- their features may have altered over time, given the notions of beauty of the period, but the symmetry of their faces and the regularity of their features gave them a common look. A similar montage of men in art, while it may celebrate beauty to some extent, would also be more real in their depictions. It seems that in art, men have the power and women have the beauty- but hey, I’m a library ner, not an art history buff!

The first time I visited London with Mr Bookgrrl in 1999, we visited the National Gallery. We arrived at our B&B, had a shower then went to Trafalgar Square. The first painting I really saw was Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, which knocked me for six. Not having really slept for 24 hours, my head was buzzing, but my mind was so spun out by seeing real paintings I had only seen in books.

We visited Paris as well, but the art museums were shut owing to industrial action. They were demanding an increase in funds, which, considering their place as cultural icons was understandable. We spent the time walking through the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, visiting Versailles and Giverney. Luckily we returned a couple of years later to visit the galleries and museums :).  Paris will always be a joy for ever.