Roar Meet

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”

-Pablo Picasso

Photos beside my desk: Top centre is Picasso with his son, pictured in the beautiful photograph by Robert Capa, and of course my family, Hannah Eden and Shaunagh, in the others
Photos beside my desk: Top centre is Picasso with his son, pictured in the beautiful photograph by Robert Capa, and of course my family, Hannah Eden and Shaunagh, in the others.

We finished our final art exams for the term on Sunday. Form Three exams, an enjoyable period, where innovation and creativity is awarded as highly as technical skill. I am happy to say that for the most part, the ‘Threes came to the party! Our Art exams are quite well structured, with an emphasis on coursework and preparation, and only a part based on actual “controlled testing”. For the most part, I am an examination hater (h8r): The Art of the Short Memory Test: of Information that will Never Need To Be Recalled On The Spot Again. Unless I suppose one is a first-responder, or in some other crisis situation, or watching The Chase, etc. …. Of course there are the aspects of applying knowledge, and testing understanding of concepts; I get that. But still.

List of things I personally dislike about writing examinations:

  1. Studying.
  2. Writing examinations.

Let me not be mis-understood in regard to learning; I love that! And I love research and understanding, projects and creating, and most of all growth, which is I think what this post is about.

Picasso is famously quoted as saying “all children are artists, the difficulty is to remain an artist as one grows up.” I know this is true; my eldest daughter painted this this when she was very young:

Hannah, Acrylic painting , 30x30cm.
Hannah, Acrylic painting , 30x30cm.

She still makes beautiful art, but now with a little more self-consciousness, embodying Picasso’s words above. The youngest daughter does not suffer from that affliction yet. Hopefully never, though that is wishful thinking. There is too much process in the way; we are too enmeshed in the system, not to mention peer/teacher/parent expectation, nor I suppose the expectations of the self. But she is not there yet, and in recent months we have seen some extraordinary creations. Approximately 14 A4 sheets were glued together into a long scroll, which was illustrated and coloured from end to end. It included statements and conditions, being a petition against eating pigs which we were all invited to sign.

She loves pigs, this is a drawing of a rainbow pig. It can fly:

Eden, Rainbow Pig.
Eden, Rainbow Pig. A4

But it was the drawing below that motivated this post. This is a drawing of a crocodile in search of uncooked protein. It could also be a crocodile that is very vocal, in search of protein, or a crocodile that is in search of company. It was with delight that I stumbled on the work on Sunday evening, and also with the vaguest tinge of dismay, with the realisation that after more that 25 years of art-making, I will ever be able to make a drawing like this without it being utterly contrived:

Eden, Roar Meet. A4, pencil on paper
Eden, Roar Meet. A4, pencil on paper

I suppose in honesty, that it is the ROAR MEET which is the highlight of the drawing, and that most likely there are many readers decrying the employment of some quite suspect English (H8RS!!). Thankfully, 1: Dealing with that aspect lies in the more than competent hands of my wife, teacher extraordinaire (it is “her ticket”), and that 2. The Art aspect seems to be well in control.

Those who are not too busy hating on the English may sense the extraordinary contour line of the reptile, at its most exquisite on the arch of the back, sway of the tail and along the bottom jaw; Perhaps some sense the quite spectacular relationship between positive and negative shapes formed between the land and animal, most profound in the relationship between speech bubble and jaws! Most students of art would understand that once a corner has been cut off from the composition, like the bottom left above, there is no way back – except that somehow, by virtue of the open ended triangle beneath the tail, a delicate balance is achieved.

Perhaps the more perceptive will notice how at the juncture of the lines that describe the land, a really strong suggestion of spacial recession is created. I cannot believe though, that anyone would look long enough to notice that the very same juncture seems to be reflected in the chance meeting of the base of the “A”, and the top of the “T”.  And I am almost certain, that only a select few (perhaps those schooled by the venerable Martin Van Der Spuy) would observe the employment of the concept of Theme and Variation, observable in only the most exemplary of draughts-people: Where the arrow of the speech bubble establishes the visual theme, the line of teeth takes the form, repeats it in the first variation. The line of spikes along the spine form the third variation and  the scales on the body a fourth…. If they noticed that, they may too have understood that the structure of the feet is directly inverted, varied and repeated in the structure of the grass, and that in both forms, they relate to the initial theme).

Why else would this drawing hold together so beautifully?

But I am not suggesting that Eden is some sort of child prodigy, or that she is in any way more accomplished of better than any one else’s child (she is, so is Hannah, but I am not saying that). The point is that like all of our children, she makes beautiful pictures, over and over again. And she tells stories and voices her ideas. And it is our remit (since we  have the absolute privilege, not only to provide education for our children, but also to teach them), not to bugger that up.

There is hope.

As I have written, the Upper VIs have departed (leaving a hole), submitted their sketchbooks, portfolios and research components and we await their results eagerly. But the result is only a part of the story – the rest is the growth and learning that has taken place during their time in studio. This goes beyond the visual arts, I hope that they leave having learnt a whole load more than that, as I have, from them. Nevertheless, if this growth can be measured within their work, maybe that is something.

One of them. Kayla, found her Form One sketchbook, and brought it in to show me. Here is the first homework drawing that she made for me, six years ago.There are many good qualities about the drawing, and during the course of that first term, her drawing improved considerably.

Kayla, cup. 20 x 25cm, pencil.
Kayla, cup. 20 x 25cm, pencil.

Here are some of her more recent works, in various media:

Kayla, Shells, mixed media. Approx A3
Kayla, Shells, mixed media. Approx A3
Kayla, Seeds and Beans, Mixed media, A2.
Kayla, Seeds and Beans, Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Chongolongo [sic]. Mixed media, A2.
Kayla, Chongolongo [sic]. Mixed media, A2.
Her work is very beautiful, and to see this small strand of this section of the journey laid out as such provides me with some optimism; that in the future, there will be places where people might not say:

“it’s Raw meat…”, but instead,

“how unique, how marvellous”.

OBSERVATIONS

  1. A total of 41 hours of exams have been written this term, although there was an 8 hour overlap. Typically, four of us invigilate simultaneously, making it a quite substantial input into the process.
  2. Martin Van der Spuy remains one of the most highly regarded teachers of art that has passed through this country. His influence is seen throughout many of the most highly regarded painters of the past two decades.
  3. Hannah still draws beautiful works.
  4. Eden remains obsessed with pigs.

Greg Shaw,10 November, 2015.

An Extremely Rare Space

“Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.”

― Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road


This has been two weeks of extremely high pressure, as expected: A combination of IGCSE examinations, A’ Level coursework and Personal Studies due, as well as Upper VI final assembly, speech night and leaving traditions that have had to be attended to. I am immensely proud to be the Line Tutor for the Upper VI Year group, though I am never quite sure what qualifies me for that position… Nevertheless, it is highly rewarding to work with these young adults, and I am forever optimistic that these extraordinary young men and women will return to this beautiful land, and make their contribution. How else will our children survive these radicalised environs.

This is what I said to them at their Final Assembly. The second half is probably of more interest than the first:

Upper VI 2015

It is clear that the you have taken a step, and walked without the shadow and weight that previous years have carried under the status ‘new school’ carried. Rather than looking to the past for guidance, you have stood tall and walked forward, independently. These steps have made you unique; you have relied on your own judgement, brought strength, imagination and courage to this institution. You have every reason to walk out here with your heads held high; I applaud you for this.

Whilst you have moved forward, you have not ignored the past, nor the structures that have been created. You sought to build on and improve these where possible, accept and move around and beyond the barricades when impossible, and you have responded to inconsistencies with humour and good nature. When I have lost focus, you have reminded me of one of my own central tenets; that a group only has value when each individual embraces and retains their own individuality. When I have strayed across that imperceptibly faint line, you have pointed it out: that subtle margin between Line Tutor and Dictator.

Your achievements have been extraordinary. You have excelled academically. Your results to date are the highest achieved by any year group at the Academy. You have excelled within the sporting arena, leading your colleagues, peers and the school body with determination and courage. You have represented us culturally, through service and charitable endeavours, with humility, in a way that has brought pride to the Academy. You have created music, art, and drama of an intensity, that has arrested, challenged and astounded us.

You brought us the Knight, you brought us Matthew Mole. You paid for your dance. You wore the most elaborate braids, the largest ‘fros and the shortest skirts. Your parking is wantonly lacking, even by Zimbabwean standards. You acknowledged that whilst good grammar was important, oversized, inflated incapacitatingly large biceps, was importanter (Internet Meme, ibid). The value of your collective late arrivals, would pay for a year of education in this institution. You hold the record for the most so-called “sick” days of any year group to date. You broke the fountain, you broke the driving rules, you broke the record for swimming in the filthiest pond in the city.

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One of our fine leaders…
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The consequence of a bad bet

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 8.22.46 PM(You can find the video of “The Unveiling” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYlzIyM6VDs

You have constantly surprised me, I am often humbled by your imagination, vision and achievements. It is with immense pride, that I am associated with you. You are, and always will be, one of the finest groups of young adults I shall ever work with.

There are few amidst you, who do not understand the extraordinary privilege that it is to be part of this institution. One does not have to look far to notice the extraordinary facilities, to witness their constant development, and the dedication with which they are tended and maintained.  One need not beyond this marquis to see that the administration is constantly driving the Academy forward to keep it abreast with the rapidly changing technological horizons, and ensure that as you leave these environs, you will not be at sea in the world beyond. You do not need to look beyond your classrooms, your common room, your mentors’ rooms, indeed, you do not need to look past your phones to witness the fact that you have at your finger-tips teachers and guides who have invested in you with dedication beyond that which you cannot, at this point, possibly conceive.

But there is a greater, more subtle, more profound privilege of which you are a part. One that you will only begin to comprehend as you move beyond these realms. That is the sacrifices that have been made, the labours that have been endured. Your families’, guardians’ and benefactors’ investment in you that has afforded you an opportunity, a chance, a moment in this space, this place of shelter, this place of protection.

What is the nature of this place, for which sacrifices have been made?

This is a place that acknowledges your right to exist, to grow and to mature in harmony with your kin and countrymen. A place without violence. A place without corruption. A place in which the person with the largest stick does not stand as the head of the hierarchy. The same cannot be said about the space beyond this immediate boundary.

This is a place which acknowledges that the ability to make an expression with a note, brush or movement, is equal to an expression of a work of prose or poem. And that each of those expressions are equal to the study and understanding of our histories and of our physical, social and economic environment. And that each of these, are equal to understanding the make-up of our world, of the chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics that underpin and structure both our past and present. If it is not yet the case that a musical or theatrical performance is equal to a world cup rugby match, then this is a least a space which acknowledges that it should be so. The same cannot be said of the spaces beyond this immediate boundary.

This is a space in which each of you has stood as equal; irrespective of the nature of your particular strengths and weaknesses. A place where provenance, race, or religious bias does not determine your status. A place where you have stood as equal, irrespective of culture, of gender or sexual orientation. The same cannot be said about the space immediately beyond this boundary. This is an extremely rare space and unusual space, and you have had the privilege to pass through it.

The young writer and speaker Adora Svitak said this at a recent TED conference;

“Progress happens because new generations and new eras grow and develop and become better than the previous ones. It is the reason we’re not in the Dark Ages anymore. No matter your position in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children, so that we can grow up to blow you away.”

I believe that we have given you an extraordinary opportunity. Now I offer you this challenge:

Grow up, and blow us away!

Aien, Aristeyein: Always Excellence.”

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Upper VI 2015 donated a series of “gates” on to which leavers’ locks will be locked henceforth
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Callum Du Plessis and I, the final moments of the departure…

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Observations

i. You say the Hellenic Academy motto as “eh En, Ari STEH veen”. It means “Always Excellence”.

Studio One

Just to say that the work that has been submitted, makes this job more rewarding than any I could imagine.

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The progressive decline of the very beautiful studio during the late night mounting endeavours…

Razor wire, a gash and some burnt wood (Part 1)

“My songs have nothing to do with war. They are all about the sad insecurities of a balding rock star”

– Chris Martin (The Guardian 17 March 2003)


I picked a piece off of a painting and painted the hole red. It looked like a small wound in flesh. The surface had been afflicted. It was a small wound, it could be construed to have been caused by a sharp stick. There were also scratches, quite deep I suppose. There was a slight translucency in the layers of oil, which spoke to me of a sort of bruising. Once, when I was using my sisters stilts, I slipped. There was a rusty screw sticking out of the handle, and it stuck me hard in the shin. It made a hole right into the bone, quite deep. I never talked about it because of the fear of going to hospital.

Minimal damage.

Contained.

My painting spoke nothing of the carnage that was created and endured at that time. Perhaps that was not the objective. Perhaps that was simply too big to consider. But as a hole in a dam, a picked scab, the injury beneath a toyed with, nuisance piece of loose skin grew and grew: Visually, physically, contextually. I engaged with that initial hole, that small puncture wound. It was the beginning of an obsession with surface and texture, with representation and literalism that would endure till the present.

This is Part 1 of a post about that preoccupation. I write it as my work “Elegy” hangs on the Art/Artefact II exhibition at Gallery Delta, a work a long way from the painting described above. I don’t think I can really speak about it without writing of one element of it’s history, which is what I shall endeavour to do here. I will post the second part next week. (The painting with the hole (Scratching the Facade) formed part of the 2005 exhibition “Embers of Dreams”.

Scratching the facade, 2005. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm
Scratching the facade, 2005. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm
The Elusive Dream, 2005. Oil on Canvas. 120 x 164.
The Elusive Dream, 2005. Oil on Canvas. 120 x 164.

Between then and the present lie a collection of stories of corrupted foundations, damaged structures, isolation, wounds and destruction. Stories of despair, defence, of light, of patience. Of burning, embers and ash. Not ash. Ash has less value – it is a symbol of something departed – it is hard to work with, grey, lacking contrast, lacking substance. Stories that end with charcoal. Charcoal is different. It has another quality; It’s dense, black. It has substance. It possesses the power to be rekindled. Charcoal is potential.

As the wounds grew, so did the necessity to represent them. The acrylic/plaster base became insufficient for the task. Scratches and punctures were no longer the nature of the environment. In search of a sense of greater depth, I took to ripping and layering pieces of canvas, still incorporating the earlier base. There was a transformation taking place; what began as a representation of a wound, gave way to an actual rip and tear. The surfaces which had until now seemed to form a bridge between the abstract and the figurative became literal embodiments of the ideas about which I was thinking. I didn’t ever name the parts, though the surfaces seemed to reflect different aspects. In one a type of skin, in another, panels or rusted metal, in a third burnt panels, broken, insufficient to cover or piece together the carnage. I worked on numerous pieces at a time, as over the layers of canvas, were numerous layers of oils – glaze upon glaze. I think that they had a richness and depth, from memory they were strong, resonant images. Amidst them were moments of light, of dreaming an hope.

The works below are of that era. They were part of the 2007 solo exhibition “The Valley of the Shadow”.

Wound, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 120 x 90 cm.
Wound, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 120 x 90 cm.
Staunching the Wound II, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 40 x 48cm
Staunching the Wound II, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 40 x 48cm

The culmination of these ripped and layered works ended with: “Enough Said”. What a load of crap. An total misnomer. As if there could have ever been enough said.

List of paintings that I can think of that (when standing alone) are truly able to describe horrific moments:

1. Guernica.

Not that I would rename it, it was a good title. I think for me it was enough said. It marked the end of a two and a half year obsession with those stories, and those processes. It was painted for the 2008 HIFA exhibition, “determine: Nation”, at the National Gallery. At almost two metres in height, it was somewhat overbearing, the colours were strong, the composition had some tension. It remains for me a really significant painting, one I am proud of.

Enough Said, 2007. Oil on Canvas. 140 x 180 cm
Enough Said, 2007. Oil on Canvas. 140 x 180 cm

OBSERVATIONS

  1. The product DM6, was an acrylic base which dried into a transparent flexible and extremely tough surface. It had the added property of being extremely sticky. It was developed by Peter Eyllis of Pigmento, as far as I understand, with a certain amount of artistic input from his sister-in-law, the renowned artist Helen Lieros. It is a product no longer readily available.
  2. I now use the PVA “book-binding” glue from A.T. Carter. It is as good a water-based glue as any I have used in my career.
  3. Operation Murambatsvina/Drive Out Filth, also known as Operation Restore Order, was a wide-spread government clear-up (decimation) of informal settlements across the country in July 2005. According to Wikipedia, the United Nations estimated at least 700 000 people were directly affected, and over 2m indirectly affected through the campaign.

Studio One

Still from
Still from “Contamination”, Isobel Fox

We are entering the really frantic period (more frantic that usual) of our academic year. The coursework deadlines are looming for the IGCSE students, and the Upper VI. Despite the high pressure, it is also one of the very exciting periods, as the student work peaks and the Final Outcomes are turned in. I spent last Saturday morning with some of the Form Fours. Isobel Fox presented her installation, a work entitled “Contamination”. It is a complex and intriguing work that will hopefully be included in the Hellenic exhibition next term. I have included a link to a tiny detail here: https://vimeo.com/139447880

Greg Shaw, 21 August 2015.