art travel

Ten Things I Love About Australia

M.A. in Oz

I’m just back from a wonderful trip Down Under. My daughter, Julia, moved to Perth in June for a semester of school. Before she left, she hinted that a visit from me at the end of her term would not be unwelcome. The flight is loooong—15 hours from Vancouver to Sydney—so I tried to jam everything I could into this trip. We started off in Perth, and then went to Melbourne and Sydney.

At the risk of sounding like an idiot, I didn’t totally understand that it’s now summer in Australia. I knew that the weather was going to be 30 - 40°C, but I figured that their winter was our summer, if that makes any sense. And don’t get me started on the disconnect of hearing Christmas carols and looking at palm trees. Anyway, the flipping of the seasons completely discombobulated me. I felt like it was summer everywhere, and I was ready to buy little summer dresses and start making summery art. The whole holiday seemed to be out of normal time, and as a result I think I enjoyed everything much more. I’ve had some personal stress in my life lately, and it was nice to escape it all.

So, as a salute to one of my favourite movies, and the late Australia actor who starred in it, here are Ten Things I Love About Australia:

1. I loved the neighbourhood pride in Fremantle.
When you see addresses in Australia, they are identified by neighbourhood. People seem to identify with their neighbourhoods with a fan-like zeal. I visited Fremantle, an artistic town near Perth. They have used a Potemkin-like preservation technique I saw often in Australia: maintaining the original façade while creating a whole new building behind. It creates charming street fronts and modern interiors. We toured a sunny outdoor (!) Christmas craft fair at the Fremantle Arts Centre. Here’s a travel tip for you: indie craft fairs are the best place to buy souvenirs. The Freemantle one was patriotically local, with local signs like Dingo Flour gracing t-shirts, cards, etc. get souvenirs.
A Canadian aside for those of you who read Robert Genn’s newsletter, the Fremantle Arts Centre may sound familiar, where it gained recent notoriety for awarding a large cash award to a very naïve print. Despite this dubious incident, the Arts Centre was quite interesting to visit with a variety of modern work

Graffiti in Perth
2. I loved the sunlight in Perth.
I guess while much of North America is shivering under record snowstorms, I shouldn't mention that it was 40˚C in Perth. You probably don't want to hear about my tan either. Anyway, the light is so intense in Perth that even my 60 SPF sunscreen wasn’t doing the job. Naturally there is a connection between light and art. That kind of light makes the brightest colours seem natural and right, and I saw some vivid paintings in private galleries, as well as a beach installation at PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Art.) I have the sneaking suspicion that I belong somewhere tropical creating my bright, glossy artworks.

Science at Melbourne Now
3. I loved seeing Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria
This survey exhibition of contemporary local artists was like a crash course for visitors to Melbourne. It was the perfect overview show since the city itself was the subject of much of the art. There were video installations that were like tours of the city: an electronic map explaining various sociological changes in the city, and a seamless video tour of the various alleyways of the city.
In addition, the museum showcases a lot of local craft as well: fashion, jewellery, shoes, clay, and glass. The museum space is lovely and open, and it was packed with all kinds of people enjoying the variety of art there.

Didn't I see you in V for Vendetta?

4. I love that Melbourne is famous for graffiti.
How can you take a problem and turn it into an attraction? Melbourne has alleyways filled with colourful graffiti that apparently change weekly. Tourists take tours specifically to see the graffiti. Personally, I felt uneasy at being trapped in a narrow alleyway with a gang of teens in masks yelling and swearing as they tagged the walls, but I guess that’s part of the street scene. I do like the idea of it, though.

5. I love the way that art was woven into life in Melbourne.
Melbourne is known as an artistic hub, and rightfully so. The city is famous for its street art, and there are many studios, designers, and galleries there. What impressed me most about Melbourne was the way that art had been woven into the commercial side of the city. As well as the street art, there was excellent art in our hotel, the stores, and most of the restaurants. Art was being used to enhance the whole way of life in Melbourne, as well as show that artists are a valued part of the city. Art is clearly a viable career in Melbourne.
Adam Cullen's art was even in the elevator.
Horns not included.
We stayed in The Cullen, an art hotel in the Prahan neighbourhood. Budget allowing, I try to stay in art hotels everywhere, but I have to say that this was the best art hotel I’ve ever stayed in. There are three hotels in the Art Series chain, and each one chooses one artist and features him in all the art in the hotel, with originals in the public spaces, prints in the room, and even a curator to tell you more about the art. Our hotel featured Australian artist, Adam Cullen. Our room included two large prints, an imprinted image on the glass bathroom wall, and even a stack of art books. The hotel map includes art galleries, as well as the usual restaurants and shops. The Cullen was doing more than just using art as décor, they show a real passion for art.

But art is also in restaurants and shops. Not just decorative art either, but actually interesting abstractions that enhance the shopping experience. I loved this painting in a store called Green With Envy. The designers used challenging abstract work instead of pretty "wallpaper."
Why can't all stores look this amazing?

6. I loved the hands-on aspects of all the art museums I visited.
Perhaps you can judge museums on how they treat children. In every museum I visited, there were special tags besides certain paintings, explaining the art specifically to children. And they all had hands on activities for kids as well, although they let shameless adults have fun as well. We made necklaces at the NGV and  a paper Frank Stella room at the AGNSW.

This gorgeous room is part of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.
7. I loved the compactness of my Sydney art tour.
Strangely, a lot of Australians in other cities warned us about Sydney, all bad stuff. But we loved Sydney. It seemed more business-like, possibly because we stayed closer to the CBD (Central Business District.) But the city was beautifully organized. In one long afternoon, we managed to do the iconic Opera House, the Botanical Gardens, and two fabulous art museums, all on foot. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have an artist for a mom, just ask my kids: you’re going to go to a ton of museums. But I do offer bribes treats in the gallery café. And naturally we do the beaches, parks, and zoos as well, it's not art 24/7/. 

8. I loved that the museums were free and well attended.
There is a definitely a problem in Canadian thinking about art. When our own Prime Minister equates artists with galas, you know that culture equals elitism. In my hometown, a visit to the Vancouver Art Galley will set you back $17 and with only three floors, parts of which are usually closed for installations, it’s generally not worth the price.
But in Australia, all the fantastic museums we went to were completely free. There were Australian artists featured everywhere, some of them quite current. In fact, I saw a lovely mix of art (below) in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW.) 
Loved the juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional portraits.
In fact, the only disappointing show we saw was one we paid for, an overview of American art at the AGNSW. The show was apparently meant to showcase an evolution of American art linked to history, but the paintings featured were mainly second-tier. The Rothko and Pollock ones were especially disappointing. I think it’s very sad that the better paintings weren’t chosen or allowed to travel, especially since so many Australian art lovers were coming out to see the show. Ah well, we saw so many great pieces in the rest of the museum that it didn’t matter. Apparently the best things in life are free.

Gregor Schneider welcomes you.
9. I loved the riskiness of the installations.
Another problem I see in Canada is that art that is challenging or weird is sometimes decried as a waste of taxpayers’ money and hidden away. It’s deemed unsuitable for children and decent people. In Australia, there seems to be more openness about risky or experimental art.
I saw school tours checking out crazy nudes with a minimum of snickering. And in the AGNSW, we went through a super-creepy installation piece by Gregor Schneider, which mimicked the original basement of a house in Germany complete with corpses. I think the scariest part was that you had to inform staff that you were entering the installation. Was this in case you didn’t come out?

10. I loved the people in Australia.
It’s not all about art, one of the reasons you enjoy a trip is the people. The Australians were so friendly and relaxed that it made everything that much better. If you’ve never been to Australia—go! With the gorgeous beaches, the culture, the design and great people, you’ll find ten things you love in no time.

You can't post about Australia without a koala photo!

What You Liked in 2013

Can I be the first to wish you a Happy New Year?

For 2014, one of my resolutions is, as always, to post more often. I am heartened by the people who tell me they enjoy reading my blog, and wish there was more of it. And that's not just the people in my family, who are hostage to my mood swings. So, I resolve (once more) to post weekly. I have the world’s largest collection of half-finished posts, therefore all I need to do is finish them and I’ve got a few months done already.

WIP and my cats are what you can see if you follow me on instagram.
Except, you know, in a square format.

But while I was scrolling through my brand new instagram account (@matateishi, if you want to check it out) I also realized that the end of the year is great for looking back on the past year. As a writer, you wonder exactly what readers are interested in knowing about. What topics are the ones to break through and get eyeballs? Well, for me, these were the top posts of 2013.

The number three post was:
As I watch the World Junior hockey tournament right now, I am seized with a desire to go back to Malmø, Sweden. I remember how comfortable the bed was in our huge and inexpensive hotel suite, and how much I enjoyed the modern architecture by the sea. Reading about my art travels to the incredible museums of Sweden and Denmark was a top post for readers as well. If you were one of them, great news, my next post will be about my art-filled trip to Australia.

The number two post was:
My visit to Siobhan Humston’s artist studio in Harrison, B.C. was the number two post, and I believe the reason is community. I made this little road trip with two other artists, Rachael Ashe and Valerie Arnzten. All three of us wrote about it, and I linked to their posts and to the artist’s site as well. The synergy of social media and cross-links is probably what gained this post more clicks, something to remember if you want to gain more traffic for your own site. Community makes us all stronger.
And speaking of community, I was paired with artist Rosa Quintana Lillo, for a show in 2014 at the Cultch. She, in turn, invited me to show at the very gallery in Harrison that I visited. So my 2014 exhibition calendar is filling up nicely.

The number one post was
(drum roll, please … brrrrrrrrap)
I was absolutely incensed to see the work of an artist I admire being copied by an artist in Australia. This came on top of seeing a Vancouver artist copying a Toronto artist, and I wrote a scathing post contrasting and comparing the copiers with the originals. But then I calmed down and realized that calling these people out directly would not solve the problem and only make everyone more defensive. Instead I rewrote the post to examine my own work and wonder how much we are unconsciously influenced.
This post was shared on social media and even resulted in one fb comment saying that I was a copier too (ouch!) But the resulting discussion was great, and accomplished what I wanted: awareness without blame. And hopefully, less copying, even though I see that the Australia artist is still at it.

So that’s my 2013. For the first time, I took a whole month out of the studio. I went to Australia in December, and then Christmas came with all its craziness. I feel a little like an addict without a fix, as I’m itching to get back into the studio now and get painting. I feel that 2014 is going to be a great year, and I wish the same for you and all your creative endeavours.

L.A. Trip, Part One

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #79

Some people have a bucket list of places to see and things to do before they die. I have a list of artists I want to see, not just one painting, but a decent retrospective, and I’m ready to travel to do this. I’ve gone to Palm Springs to see Wayne Thiebaud, and I went to Seattle to see the Leipzig painters. This month I crossed another artist off my list when I went to Los Angeles.

Richard Diebenkorn is an artist I’ve admired for a long time. I admire the way he moves between abstraction and representation, his subtle use of colour and most of all I admire his Ocean Park series. Plus, he was mentioned on Gilmour Girls, which used to be the peak of pop cultural acclaim around here.  I kept reading about planned Diebenkorn shows, but when this show finally materialized, I booked our flights to California.

The cheery woman at the front desk of our L.A. motel remarked that she had never heard of the Orange County Art Museum, and certainly the directions she gave us resulted in endless circles in an unpromising office park. When we finally found the museum, it was well-hidden in a business complex, but thanks to a Target-sponsored family day, admission was free and the place was packed. Can I say how happy it makes me to see a museum full of people of all ages enjoying good art? Can I also say how much I’m looking forward to Target finally coming to Canada, not only for the shopping, but since they seem to be big supporters of the arts?

On to the show, which features Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings, as well as the prints and works on paper of the same period.  Diebenkorn’s studio was in nearby Santa Monica, and he was inspired by the intense light of Southern California. The Ocean Park paintings are huge at 8 or 9 feet tall, seeing them in books gives you no idea. And you can see the layers of paint, where Diebenkorn considered and then obliterated what went before, as contemplation was a big part of his process. He uses oil paint in a very flat, thinned way, creating opacity rather than the shiny impasto I usually associate with the medium. And his judicious use of bright colour with neutrals was beautiful.

Diebenkorn smoked cigars and used the box tops as another painting surface.

I was particularly fascinated by some tiny paintings done on cigar box lids, which were mainly personal gifts. He managed to make the composition of a 5” x 5” painting as perfect as something 20 times larger. I’m vowing to spend more time sweating out my compositions in the future. Seeing great art is simultaneously discouraging and inspiring, but I have yet to see a great artist who didn’t work his/her butt off to create, regardless of circumstances. If you can’t get to the show, here is video of the show when it was in Texas. 

So who’s next on the bucket list? There’s a Mark Rothko show in Portland I’ll be seeing next month. And I’d love to see Gerhardt Richter, Peter Doig, and Beatriz Milhazes, and I keep adding artists to my list. Does anyone know a good way to see what shows are coming up and where they’ll be? Because I’m very willing to travel to see art, and enjoying new cities are just a wonderful side effect.