Monday, 2 August 2010


I was reading 'realia' yesterday (crazy wild and steady 30 July). 'realia' is one of my favourite blogs. Jennifer was talking about her recent experience of releasing her creative self. She's been attending a series of classes and surprising herself. She's been dancing singing and drawing as part of post graduate
studies in Expressive Arts.

"realia link"

I left a comment about my experiences back in my twenties when workshops which combined terror and exhileration led to some remarkable changes for me. Particularly life changing was the five day 'clown workshop" I attended run by a psychodrama practitioner, Bridgit Brandon. That was over thirty years ago and I can still remember, not only Bridgit's name but, every moment of those five days. I ran away to join a clown troupe soon after. I encourage you to read Jennifer's blog to get a better idea of her take on these things.

I promised her I'd share another 'wild' creative arts workshop experience with her.

In my twenties I explored every possible creative arts form. I had attended a boy's catholic school which did not offer any arts subjects. It didn't even have a library. I had one teacher in my twelve years of schooling who was outstanding and set us wonderful writing exercises which surpried and inspired me. We studied Hamlet for the best part of six months and though I think Shakespeare is brilliant no production since has exilerated me as much as our reading of Hamlet in class. I didn't realise it at the time but he set me on a path that, as a young bloke, I was not even aware of.

So in my twenties I was a mime artist, a musician, a dancer, a mask performer, a clown and a visual artist- all this as I studied Economics and later taught primary school.

In my visual arts phase I attended a few summer schools run by eminent Australian artists including AlunLeach-Jones and John Peart. The most memorable however was run by an eccentric artist who had a passion for liberating the creative potential of her students. She encouraged us to paint on a large scale, to Jackson Pollack like, enter the painting and use our whole bodies. We filled our brushes to saturation and attacked the large pieces of butcher's paper we were working on. I was a willing student. I loved the wildness of it. It felt great to just go for it. She praised our work, exhorted us to stop thinking and created an atmosphere completely free of judgement. We worked with live models. Beautiful voluptuous young women. It was a young boy's dream. All of this happened on the second floor of the Brisbane City Hall in a large space left abandoned by the then Council. It now houses the office of the Lord Mayor.

"The only drawing I've kept of those years - I was not terrible, but not too promising either"

As the five day program drew to a close she promised us a painting exercise to end all exercises as our finale.

Next day we arrived to be greeted effusively by Maureen. This time Maureen announced she would not be instructing but demonstrating. Maureen was over the top in every respect including her dress. Each day she would turn up in a new outrageous outfit - feathers, vibrant colours, scarves. Her outfits screamed 'ARTIST'.

So here she was again at her most flamboyant. The model waited patiently while Maureen attached a large roll of paper probably three metres square to the wall. We students gathered for the performance not expecting anything beyond an energetic example of Maureen showing off her gestural style and demonstrating where she really wanted us to be heading.

The model dropped her cloak. Maureen dipped her hands, up to her elbows, into a large bucket of white paint. Suddenly the atmosphere was electric. Then, in a controlled but possessed way, she proceeded to paint the model, greasing her breasts and buttocks, back and thighs with thick daubs of paint. And while the paint dripped and oozed she physically manhandled the young woman into, across and up and down the wall. The whole piece took probably two minutes and when Maureen finally stepped away we stood there jaws agape.

Without missing a beat Maureen toweled herself down and resumed her exchange with us about art as if nothing had happened. The model disappeared and we were left to make sense of this bizarre happening. Art never was quite the same again.

It was the seventies!

Post script
I had been politicised by my university experience (the vietnam war, the cultural revolution of the late 60s) and had strong sense of justice and was aware of feminism. At the time I was both exhilerated and appalled. As I write this the ethics of that moment still trouble me. In one respect it was incredibly liberating. At another it seemed the young model had been no more than a piece of meat. Had she collaborated willingly? What were the limits of art? Did Maureen go to far? By today's standards of course that was all very tame.

John Peart

Alun Leach-Jones


Jennifer said...

Wow. WOW!

As you know I'm still sort of reeling from the experience of losing myself in a creation. As much as it's scary - I want more.

I'm sort of feeling like you in wondering if there was some sort of violation of the model as canvas - although I expect there was some sort of prior agreement (?) - so there was art making on both sides (?).

One thing I've learned about this stuff is the sheer power of it - and if we practice (or, more importantly facilitate) it, then we need to be mindful of this.

You mention that you were a mask performer. My facilitator this week specializes in mask and puppet arts. I did a practice facilitation in mask making, and she was adamant in conveying that this is one of the most powerful forms of expression. "NEVER ask a learner to put on a mask before s/he gets to know the character/persona first. Big, big things can happen in an instant."

I so get how this stuff has carried with you throughout your life Steve. I'm glad it did.

Thanks for sharing this. What timing.


ps - have you ever read Michele Cassou?

little hat said...

Michelle cassou? No. Tel me more.

PS Ontario sounds nice. I have tried to talk andrea into a trip via New York up into Canada. I'm fascinated by Nova Scotia and those remote areas with celtic roots. It'll happen.

Jennifer said...

You would love eastern Canada. Do visit those provinces with the Celtic roots.

Michele Cassou is a painting facilitator who somehow inspires these passionate, unleashed pieces from her workshop attendees. Her thing is, as I recall, getting people to paint from emotion - before thought and processing - the core of experience. The book I have is called "Point Zero" but there are others. Anyway, the painting instructor you described reminded me of her and inspired me to go pull the book from the shelf for re-reading.

Thanks for the call out, by the way, and for diving into this topic, when it's where my mind is immersed at the moment.

And don't think I mentioned it, but that drawing is amazing!

Stafford Ray said...

I liked the drawing too and really enjoyed your memoire, but the model as paint brush? Don't know about that!
Did you see the Sex Party launch this week in Brisbane? There on camera was a guy painting using his penis as the brush! Apparantly he fucks up more than he sells! Oh stoppit!