Le Corbusier…a complex character

Le Corbusier was a complex character. I was first introduced to his work as a university student, young and impressionable. He brought about a desire for me to understand the way in which we live, an effect that has been long lasting. His work centres on trying to make sense of the world through architecture.

Esprit Nouveau Pavillon

Dear Charles,

There is so much to tell, I am not sure where to begin.
 

Le Corbusier was born Charles Edouard Jeanneret in a Swiss Village in 1887. Early on he showed interest in the decorative arts. As a young man he travelled Europe extensively and these experiences strongly influenced his desire to become an architect. At the age of thirty he moved permanently to Paris, at this time he was engaged in both the arts and architecture. During 1920 he wrote a manifesto with artist Amedee Ozenfant, titled ‘après le Cubism’ (after Cubism). It was a criticism of highly decorative art and architecture and an ode to a new artistic movement he labelled Purism.

Purism Le Corbusier

I wish you didn’t name the Cubist movement a ‘romantic cobweb’. I fear you will be misunderstood. I see your desire to bring order to this busy world. When I look at your paintings I see the beauty in their simplicity. With such ease you direct my gaze, I see earthy nature and stillness. I note you have changed your name, you will always be Charles to me. It is just as you say…there are “Eyes that see and eyes that do not see”.

Shortly after his Manifesto on Purism Le Corbusier realised his passion lay in architecture. In 1925 he completed the Esprit Nouveau Pavilion in Paris for an important International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Industrial Arts. It was designed with Amedee Ozenfant and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. Built in a simple standardised modernist style with little decoration, it was widely criticised by the exhibition authorities and journalists. Le Corbusier stated at the time that “Right now one thing is for sure, 1925 marks the turning point between old and new”. Within months of the exhibition Le Corbusier had a dozen housing projects in Paris. He quickly became a well-established architect with his own unique style. A simplicity of form with a strong focus on function.

Villa Savoye

In 1928 he began work on Villa Savoye, a home that was to become iconic of modernist architecture. Villa Savoye was completed in 1931. The home was a purified example of Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture. It had reinforced concrete columns, free design of the ground plan and façade, horizontal windows and a roof garden. So brilliant was this home he announced to the public that it was “Poetry and lyricism supported by technique”. The house leaked continuously, and the owners complained ferociously. Le Corbusier was virulent in his own defence and widely accused of being arrogant in public. But there was no denying this house was visionary and it went on to lead a new international modernist style. At this time Le Corbusier also got married to a model named Yvonne Gallis. They were together for twenty-seven years until she died in 1957. By all accounts he was an attentive husband although not a faithful one. He conducted a long term affair with Marguerite Tjader Harris.

Charles, when you pontificate with such enthusiasm they do not see you. They do not see your erudite doubtfulness, that you swing from being elated to depressed in turns. They do not see how generous you are in private. You should never have told them about her, especially not shortly after your wife died. They do not understand it is possible to love two women at once.

Le Corbusier wrote more than fifty books during his long career, expounding his numerous theories on how people should live, frequently implying the uneducated masses needed to be saved from themselves. For a period of eighteen months he worked on urban planning designs for the Vichy government. This has caused significant concern to historians recently. Was he also a Nazi sympathizer? His focus seemed to remain firmly on the potential of architecture. It was always about the building and the buildings ability to provide. In some ways his point of view was utopic. On housing he said, “what modern man wants is a monk’s cell, well-lit and heated, with a corner from which he can look at the stars”. So there exists a dichotomy within this narrative. Always striving for a modern, standardised profound simplicity but leaving a little space for the stars, for dreaming and wonder.

Charles when you told me you “prefer drawing to talking” I didn’t understand. But now all of this time has passed, I see what you mean. They pore over all of your words, searching for the truth, but they forget you were an architect. They are trying to decide if you are still worthy of their adoration. Do they not look to your buildings? I think it was right of you to say, “drawing is faster and leaves less room for lies”.
 

Over the course of his career Le Corbusier completed projects in fourteen countries, many of them large institutional projects. Perhaps one of the most famous was the building of a city for the Indian government in Chandigarh, begun in 1952. The buildings are a fine example of Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture. Chandigarh has been lauded as one of the most successful planned urbanisations in modern history. Chandigarh is also the site for Le Corbusier’s largest open hand sculpture, it stands twenty-six meters tall. Le Corbusier designed the open hand to be a sign of peace and reconciliation. It is open to give and receive.

Open Hand Sculpture

Le Corbusier was recognised during his lifetime with awards of the highest order in both France and America. His contribution to modern architecture continues to be influential today. In 2016 UNESCO added seventeen Le Corbusier sites to the World Heritage List. These projects were completed over a fifty year period and represent both his residential Villa Style homes and his large institutional projects. Le Corbusier died in 1965 at the age of seventy-eight. He had pre-determined that his grave would be inscribed with his birth name Charles Edouard Jeanneret. Underneath that in quotation “Le Corbusier”.

When you cast that spell on me all those years ago I could never have imagined you less than good. I think your life was dedicated to an exploration of temporality and where we find our place in this beautiful world. I remember you said “To be modern is not a fashion, it is a state. It is necessary to understand history, and he who understands history knows how to find continuity between that which was, this which is and that which will be” I think about you often.

Yours truly,

Nicole
 
 

To learn more about Le Corbusier

http://www.fondationlecorbusier.fr

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My favourite Australian Architect – Harry Norris

Harry Norris and I have a long history. It began in the Coles cafeteria when I was four, and now I am in my forties. I suppose you could call him my other lover, for I have occupied his space and he mine for as long as I can remember. He has been there for me on so many important occasions.

Cathedral Arcade Nicholas Building

Norris was born in 1888, part of the Victorian era. A man of ordinary means who became a prolific interwar architect. One of the first to introduce the Art Deco style to major commercial projects, completing over twenty notable buildings in a career that spanned forty years from 1925 to 1965. These buildings are in Melbourne, my hometown. This collision course that Harry and I share began long ago at the G.J. Coles Building in Bourke Street, which opened in 1930.

One of my favourite things, other than Harry, is to daydream. Others have always been critical of this past time, but not me. Daydreaming is about details. My vacant brown eyes staring at the ceiling in the Coles Cafeteria on level six. All of those squares, layers of patterns, each sits inside one another—fans and scallops and triangles, columns extending down the wall. And so, began my love affair with Harry, comparing him to all others. After our visit, we would walk up the hill to get the tram home. I would turn and look back at the façade, something I now know is called faience. It was mauve, the colour of the building; it fascinated me. Norris had learned about faience in America from the Chicago school. It is a glazed architectural terracotta that can be used as a skin for a building. I came and went from that building for ten years, and then it changed, like everything changes. It became David Jones, and they hid the ceiling.

Before I knew it, I found myself working full-time in town. After some years, I ended up in Block Court Arcade. In my early twenties and with my own office. I had arrived. Norris had remodelled this Victorian building in 1930 to insert a shopping arcade connecting Collins Street and Elizabeth Street. It included entrance signage in Jazz Moderne typography and stylised floral and zig-zag motif. A multi-coloured terrazzo arcade floor, ornamental bronzes, and copper shop fittings. Divine. Upstairs I had an arched internal window looking down on this scene—more food for my hungry eyes. And then I met ‘the one, my love.

But you, dear Harry, are coming with me. It is not the time for divided loyalties. We shall be three”.

It was time for a Wedding. I wanted a ballroom as romance was the only reality I had ever considered. Finally, I found the northern extension at The Windsor Hotel, designed by Norris in 1961. My lip quivered as I stared at the ceiling; it was a homage to the old, not decorative like the Victorian ceiling of the original hotel but imprinted with the memory of it. A parquetry oval dance floor beneath. And so, I, my betrothed and my other lover, had a wonderful Wedding reception. And we danced and danced; it was just as I had imagined it would be. I come and go from that building every year to mark the date. First, there were two and then three, four, five, and six, each of us participating in this shared experience that is a celebration of our love. The ballroom no longer exists; it became the Hard Rock café and then something else.

“I didn’t like this, Harry, but acceptance is something I am good at.

I went on a journey recently to Burnham Beeches in the Sherbrooke Forest, built in 1931. It was a day of surprises. A beautiful streamlined building, reminiscent of an ocean liner, she is listing. But there has been a spotlight placed on her now, and I am confident it will be okay. Empire Rone had a fantastic art installation there, and now Burnham Beeches is a five-star hotel. It was a lovely excursion to the countryside, a chance for me to think.

I didn’t know she was one of yours, Harry, a treasure you left hidden in the forest for me”. 

Lift Nicholas Building

Now it is time to get back to work. My children have grown up. All roads seem to be leading to the Nicholas Building, designed in 1925. It is commanding with its large-scale classical elements, a great example of the ‘Commercial Palazzo’ style. The lifts are the longest-running manual lifts in Melbourne. I have visited three times in the past year, and now this week, I see there is a little room to rent for a modest price. My eyes enjoy the kaleidoscope of colour as I walk under the leadlight barrel-vaulted ceiling in Cathedral Arcade.

“Is this where I am supposed to be, Harry? This was the beginning for you; perhaps this is the end for me. Is it time for us to part? I think this is your masterpiece. Coffee in hand as I walk to the lifts, I look at the others; their eyes are turned down. They do not see you. But then I feel grateful for all of those stolen moments, the times I have got to keep you all for myself”.

Harry Norris died at 78 years of age in 1966, only six months after he retired. To my knowledge, he was not awarded during his lifetime. He worked in an era where there was emergent opposition to decoration and ornamentation. Nevertheless, he was a man of strong vision and unwavering in his design ethos. A number of his buildings have been destroyed in recent years. But his work endures in many prominent city locations.

 “I think it would make you sad to see them now, Harry, these spaces you created for us. They are in desperate need of rejuvenation, someone to bring back the romance whilst keeping synergy between the old and the new. I have someone in mind. It is hard to be loyal since you are long gone, but I think he would honour your work. And so, I think it would be a beautiful collision; his name is Robert Simeoni”. 

Harry Norris, my all-time favourite Australian architect.

For further information or to do a Harry Norris walking tour http://melbournewalks.com.au/architecture-jazz-age/

For further information about Robert Simeoni, click on the following link. Start with the short film: an exquisite example of the synergy that can be found between old and new. https://robertsimeoniarchitects.com

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Robin Boyd Walsh Street House

I can’t make up my mind if it would be a curse or a compliment to be born into an artistic succession. That is how it was for Robin Boyd, born in 1919 into a family that already had a reputation for painting, sculpture, pottery and ceramics, and his generation would further enhance the family’s creative clout. Robin chose architecture, a career that would see him heavily awarded and recognised for both his residential architecture and his social commentary on Australian identity.

Recently I went to visit the Boyd family home in South Yarra. A house he designed in 1957 and moved into the following year with his wife and children. The house is designed in a modernist style with functionalism at its heart. He wanted a home to share with his wife that had separate quarters for his children.

He designed two pavilions built around a central courtyard. One finds the eye drawn to the central courtyard constantly as though it is difficult to ignore. This outdoor space unifies the home. The side boundaries have glazed glass walls that connect the two pavilions. They are very eye catching and the stippled glass provides a sense of whimsy as one looks through to the sky beyond. A gentle curved covered way following the glass overhead, almost playful. One could imagine a scene from Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree happening in situ. Time could be suspended in this little private oasis of a courtyard. It feels quite secluded from the outside world. But Robin Boyd Walsh Street house is not a place for hiding and I find myself thinking about privacy a lot during my visit. Boyd ensured the outside world remained at large although those that were inhabitants here would have had very visible lives.

There is a large amount of glass throughout. As one enters into the first floor from the street there is a bathroom on the left and then you are straight into a mezzanine space that was used as both the main bedroom and entertaining area. Rumour has it many cocktail parties took place here and I could easily imagine this would be a cool space for a sixties soiree. I am perplexed as to how this doubled as a bedroom. It is a very open space visible from the second pavilion, the ground floor and the entrance hall. But nevertheless, it is an insanely wonderful example of Robin’s modernist point of view.

Robin was part of an elite club and knew everyone who was anyone. He is spoken of as being sociable, kind, charismatic and in possession of unfailing good manners. There are reports he never lost his sense of modesty. He wrote nine books and completed more than 200 homes. He worked in the post war boomtime era when we were passing through a period of great change in Australian society.

Robin held polemic opinions about Australian suburbia and chastised the locals for their ‘mindless emulation’ of America, coining the term “Austerica”. The belief that everything desirable, luxurious and enviable of the twentieth century is American. A number of his books contain derisive comments on society and the way in which people lived. A social commentator for his time and of his time. Much of his literature utilises the hermeneutics of suspicion to convey an unsophisticated people. He describes a mishmash of architectural styles co existing in any given suburb. He also coined the term ‘featurism’ a practise he sights as the thoughtless ornamentation of buildings. A derogatory word used to malign his peers Art Deco aesthetic, something he considered to be very outdated and an unimaginative import from America. These ideas may be somewhat truthful but as we regard the world through a different lens today we can truly appreciate that this was not the whole story. With suburbs like Beaumaris providing a wonderful example of modernist style on mass and Art Deco Buildings finding a new appreciation for their distinct decoration.

The Robin Boyd Walsh Street house received the Australian Institute of Architects 25 year architecture award in both the Victorian and National chapters during 2006. It has featured in many international publications beginning with Japan International design in 1962. It is an excellent example of modernist architecture and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. Should you ever have a chance to see the Featherston House in Ivanhoe it is unmissable. It was designed for Grant and Mary Featherston in 1968. A home built around a garden. It won the RAIA Gold Medal in 1969. This home is still inhabited by Mary, but she occasionally allows for visitors.

Sadly, Robin Boyd died in 1971 at fifty-two years of age, this cut short what had been a very interesting and prolific career. Robin Boyd was a great Australian architect. The Boyd family synonymous with painting, sculpture, pottery, ceramics, music, literature, poetry and architecture.

If you would like to learn more or do a tour here is the link to The Boyd foundation https://robinboyd.org.au

If you would like to learn more about Beaumaris Modern then here is a link https://beaumarismodern.com.au

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How to sabre a bottle of champagne…

It has been said that when a bottle of champagne is sabred correctly it sounds like the sigh of a content woman. Let me show you how to sabre a bottle of champagne. It begins with peeling off the layer of gold foil, slowly and purposefully; for it is delicate. Then releasing the cage around the cork so that the pressure can escape. Carefully untwisting the wire to prevent the cork releasing ahead of time. Running my fingers along the seam on the neck of the bottle. Being confident; placing the sabre on the seam, careful to apply the right amount of pressure and then swiftly sliding along the neck. I don’t want the cork to be unyielding. An inexorable sigh escaping with a sudden burst of satisfaction. The trick is not to be strong and hard but sure and intentional. Go all the way, it is a clean movement.

The history of sabrage is surrounded by myth and mystery. It goes back to the French Revolution of 1789  when Napoleon Bonaparte would sabre champagne using his sword. It is said that he and his soldiers; Hussars, would drink it in both defeat and exaltation. They were able to sabre a bottle with their brass hilted swords whilst on horseback.

Legend has it that they would visit Veuve Clicquot in Reims and be entertained by the widow Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, dining at her vineyard. Madame Clicquot took over the champagne business after her husband died in 1805, when she was twenty-seven years old. The bottle is still representative of her today, veuve being the French word for widow. She was a woman of contradictions, described as a formidable business woman and an entertainer of great frivolity. Historians still claim that because of her “no business in the world has been as much influenced by the female sex as that of champagne”. As the soldiers would depart her vineyard she would gift them a bottle of champagne that they would sabre as they rode off to their next battle.

Champagne sabrage has been kept alive in modernity by companies such as Mumm who have made it a feature of their brand to keep this practise relevant. I was trained by a Mumm representative some years ago now. It is possible for inexperienced hands to cause injury to themselves and others but as you can see when done well it is a seamless performance and makes a welcome addition to any dinner party.

How could anyone say no to a satisfied sigh…

To purchase a sabre https://www.georgjensen.com/en-au/bar-and-wine/bar-accessories/indulgence-champagne-sabre—stainless-steel/3586672.html

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A love letter from Paris

Rue Vauquelin, Paris…a little piece of paradise…I never walk past here. I don’t want to ruin the memory.

A love letter from Paris. I know he remembers her…I wouldn’t leave my love home alone with her because she was all raspberries and cherries and only twenty-three. She was from the Louvre, a student there, ‘the school of love’; she says. I’m nodding, he’s panting. It’s agreed; she can stay. We’ve employed her as the au pair. She is to teach the children French. We are all learning French. The four children, my love and me. The year is 2006.

The park in between. We would meet there with the four children every afternoon and swap them. The gap in our classes a perfect window for a picnic in the park. My time 9-1 and then my loves 2-6. We had homework…my love always better at rote than me. I would copy his homework every night whilst he started that second bottle of wine. “Did you know I did that?” I learnt by osmosis, he by hard work. I spoke first but he knew better. My grammar so poor, his confidence so low. It was a race, everything was a race. I think he won, I stopped running. “Did you notice?” I had to race with four children on my back. They were heavy and each year they became heavier. Filling me with love, until I could wish for no more. Now I become light, they are running. I watch them with envy and admiration. It is their time now.

Jardin du Luxembourg…the park in between…the children and their boat

They are running so fast, much faster than we did. I want to run again. “Will you race me, my love?” But we need to change the rules, because the world has changed; and I have changed. I have the fondest memories for all of our shared experiences with the children that year in Paris. The first time I dined in a fancy restaurant, with my love and the four children. I remember what the children ate. I remember helping them with the shells. I remember the smells, the butter and garlic, the white wine emulsion, the moules. But I have no idea what I ate. Why can’t I remember? I know I was happy. It all seems to be slipping away. And now I look to the photos, they keep the memories alive.

Our children were aged 3,5,7 and 9 at this time. The older kids rode 42km…insanely impressed.

Each year when we return to Paris we create new memories, new moments that will become the old ones in the future. And Paris, she is always the same but different, that is what I love about her. She is both new and old at the same time, a little bit like us.

I remember the bike riding in high heels, of course, always in high heels. I remember the kayaking. I remember our Vespa. I remember the metro. I remember the pain au chocolat. The day I ate three of them in an attempt to be cured. It didn’t work, I could have eaten more. Always with the four children. Now they are living their own lives. I don’t want to burden them with the expectation to be around; but I do miss them. I miss you too. Can you send me a love letter from Paris?

I remember we had only one date night that year and I ruined it. “Remember?” It was the first cold snap and I wanted to drop a blanket by to a local man but in the rush to please everyone I didn’t get to him. I had fed the children, bathed them and had them in bed when the au pair arrived but I hadn’t dropped off the blanket. I was so distracted. The colder the night became the more I worried about this man. We had to abandon the date to go and deliver him a blanket. My love so kind. We missed our dinner booking and we couldn’t get in anywhere and it ended up being a horrible night but he was so indulgent of me being happy. I remember his patience and my apology. Checks and balances…

Our forties seem to be lasting forever. Such hard work, ensuring the children are ok. Reflecting on my goals, they are so specific, all about the children. “I’m sorry if you missed out”. I want the children to contribute to society and to be happy. Two things, be happy, contribute to society, I want them so badly. I have repeated that on so many occasions, a well worn phrase.

We are in interesting times, the new and the old. “Have I enticed you, my love? Will you race me?” I promise to speak French forever, since you cannot. Maybe I will learn Italian too, we both know it lives inside me. “Can you handle the heat?” I want to feel jealous again, like I did in Paris. I would never have left you alone with her…

A love letter from Paris.

For relationship advice http://www.relationships.org.au

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Winter is the season for lovers

Winter is the season for lovers. Being cold and hot, prudish and passionate. It’s the season of secrets and revelations. Big coats, warm boots and cosy gloves, the glimpse of a collarbone, the line of the neck, the little hollow that begs to be touched. Less is revealed, and more is desired. The short days and dark nights, the moodiness.

Hellebores or winter rose. One of my favourite winter flowers.

The polarity between indoors and outdoors. The comfort of home and then the need to leave when it’s been too long. The fire, it is mesmerising, wanting more, adding another log. Not knowing when it is enough or recognising that it is too much. An inability to be measured. Having to open the window to let the freezing air in, peeling off the layers of clothing. Where is the point of divergence and the space in which we join? Winter is the season of contrasts.

The clothes. The time it takes to dress properly. The extra garments, the pantyhose, the camisole, the little items that determine whether my day will be cold or comfortable. Remembering the scarf and umbrella. The time it takes to undress. Everything is slow, a forced patience.

Dry skin, dry hair, wet clothes, wet walls, condensation, warm breath. Writing on the glass, the shower, the back door, the car windows, no surface is forbidden. The messages, they are obvious, funny and omnipresent. They make me laugh.

The disparate flowers of winter. The heady fragrance of daphne. The fragile dogwood and happy daffodils. The time spent outdoors, the wet knees, easy digging, soft earth and abundant weeds. The genial winter sun reassuring on my back, contentment. All the things that make my winter garden unique.

The early hours of the winter evening; they are suited to seeing the milky way. There is less humidity, clear skies, you can pinpoint the stars. It is a time for observing after the exertion of planting and pruning and picking. The last few minutes before it gets really cold. It is silent, there are no birds chirping at this hour of this season.

Winter is the season for dinner parties, entertaining, red wine, gooey cheese and friends. Hot ovens, warm scones, sticky jam and clotted cream. It is the time for flushed cheeks, cold hands, brisk walks and impassioned embraces, relieving one another of the cold.

The hot baths without haste. Cool sheets, warm bodies, crisp air. The leisurely lie Ins, the long mornings and lazy weekends. Winter is the season for lovers, both new and old.

It is the season we welcome upon its arrival and then we are desperate for it to end.

If you feel inspired to do some gardening https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/

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Blue Poles by Pollock

The psychology of abstraction. Blue Poles by Pollock

Jackson Pollock Blue Poles

American abstract artist Jackson Pollock doesn’t tell us what to think, he compels us to think. When Blue Poles arrived in Australia in 1974 everybody thought something. It was a seminal acquisition for the Australian people and established a new frontier for the Australian art scene. Animated discussion took place in every lounge room across Australia and opinions varied widely from it being a complete waste of government money to a sign of a politically progressive modernist viewpoint. But one thing was undisputed, no one truly understood what it meant, this abstract expressionist art. It was the beginning of something for Australians as a collective and most importantly as individuals.

The Whitlam government paid $1.3 million in 1973 for Blue Poles by Pollock, an abstract expressionist piece of art. It was a world record for a contemporary American painting and debate raged over the value of abstract art at this time. Blue Poles was painted in 1952 and measures just over two by five meters. Painted in a style termed drip painting on Belgian linen that was stretched out on the floor.


“On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting”
 

Jackson Pollock 1912 -1956

Pollock used sticks and syringes to flick and drip paint over the dark undercoated canvas. He would squirt the paint with incredible precision and control. He could quicken the line by thinning it or slow it by flooding it. The creation of this artwork a purposeful act for him, externalising his troubled internal state.

Abstract art defies conventional explanation and can be described as a conceptual notion of society at a moment in time. At that time, we witnessed the rise of the individual in society and abstract art can be seen as a reflection of this. Pollock was trained in conventional painting but chose to do work that was very personal to him. This then gives rise to us, the people of the collective conscious; having our own rights to an opinion. We no longer have to believe what we are told or taught. This piece of art allows each of us to think freely.

Blue Poles did a tour of Australia upon its arrival in 1974. I was a small child when I met Blue Poles. It was my first trip to an art gallery and it has informed my love of art. My family missed seeing it in Melbourne and decided a road trip to Adelaide would be a good idea.

Mid 70s – a recollection of the road trip.
 
We were buckled into the powder blue HK Kingswood with the retro fitted seatbelts at some iniquitous hour of the day, my sister and me. Wearing our pyjamas for the first part of the journey; we were expected to be silent and sleep. My Mum was very organised with the map and a thermos. My Dad was the sole driver, he was always the sole driver. It was my Mum’s job to give directions and keep a look out for police wanting to book my Dad for speeding.
 
On this particular trip we picked up Nana; as she wanted to see Blue Poles too. My memories suspended as I faded in and out of sleep during the journey, feeling really content to see Nana in the middle of the bench seat in the front. She sat much taller than Mum and Dad, she was a statuesque good looking woman.
 
We stopped for breakfast at the Golden Fleece Petrol station with the yellow sheep sign, this happened on every road trip. Dad would have a big fry up, he seemed to enjoy this cooked breakfast. I couldn’t understand why. I have strong memories of cold toast in a cane basket that looked dirty and felt greasy. I can still recall the dry toast in my mouth. It was horrible.
 
Back on the road again and we were over half way when the radiator blew. It gave everyone a fright. The bonnet of the car flung open with a big bang and cracked the windscreen. Dad managed to shut the bonnet and we limped to a petrol station. I can remember Mum repeatedly asking Dad about the temperature. “You should have noticed the temperature. You knew the radiator had a leak before we left.” The accusations were running thick and fast. I perceive my Mum as being right but feel sorry for my Dad all the same. She is the careful one, telling him to slow down and when to turn and what to do. She gives the go ahead to pass the trucks. It’s a real team thing, except when it’s not and Dad has done something wrong.
 
Finally, we made it to Adelaide. We all head to bed a little weary, it had been a long day. I was tired but super happy to share a bedroom with my Nana. The next day there was a big fuss about how lucky we are to go on holidays and how privileged we are to be seeing this painting and that we need to behave. Something we rarely did. We were outrageously naughty children. I don’t recall feeling lucky. I just remember standing before this huge canvas and my Dad saying, “I could’ve done that”. That is all I remember. I was little, very little.

After its tour of Australia Blue Poles went into storage until the National Gallery of Australia building was completed in 1981. It has resided at the NGA in Canberra since then. There was another road trip not long after the opening of the NGA. The year was 1984 and we drove to Canberra to see the ‘Impressionist’ exhibition. Whilst we were there Dad took us along to revisit Blue Poles, I was fourteen years old. I reminded Dad of what he had said some years earlier, the vernacular exactly the same. He was true to his word and time had not softened his stance on this particular piece of abstract art. And so, we truly see the rise of an egalitarian; individual point of view, on this occasion from a man who didn’t finish school yet speaks six languages. My Dad. Everyone had an opinion and to each their own. A new era in art and individuality had begun in Australia, the masses had been engaged.

Blue Poles by Pollock is on permanent display in Canberra at the National Gallery

For visitor information follow the link https://nga.gov.au

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Brett Whiteley Studio Sydney

A literary retelling of my visit to Brett Whiteley Studio Sydney
 

Nicole Cullinan

It’s a well worn path, the muse, the artist, the sex, the love, the destruction…The embodiment of a creative existence. A story that continues to captivate us throughout time. Why do we never tire of it? It is desire that holds us all entranced in this doomed narrative.

 As I wander from room to room in Brett Whiteley Studio Sydney my mind is roaming freely. There are quotes on the walls, there is paint everywhere and ‘The Alchemy’ resides here. That is one of his more famous works painted in 1972. It is autobiographical, which is easy to see and understand when one is standing before it. It is like a surreal cacophony of all that was important to him. I remember ‘The Alchemy’ but my imagination is with the bathroom series. My all-time favourite.

The bathroom series was painted in London in 1962, the same year he got married. The subject for this series; his wife Wendy, who remained a muse for him throughout his life. The series to be his first major exploration into figurative art, it was inspired by French painter Bonnard and his bath painting. The bathroom series is seductive, sensual and intimate.


London Studio Apartment 1962- A reimagining by Nicole Cullinan
 
I can hear the water pouring into the bath, a whoosh and a splash for the first few minutes, then it settles to a gentle flowing rhythm, water on water. It takes about 15 minutes to fill a bath. The air is very cold, and the bath is way too hot. I didn’t time my undressing well and now I am cold which makes it even harder to ease into the water. You need at least a hand width of water to get in. I take the plunge and feel hot and cold simultaneously. It’s a very strange sensation. My bottom, calves and feet are pink and searing, knees pulled up to my chest; minimising the surface area burn. I accept it has to be a freezing back bath, just for a few minutes. I lean back into the cool porcelain of the bath, relief. More time passes, all temperatures reach equilibrium and I start to relax.
 
The air is warm and thick with condensation, the door is shut. This tiny bathroom has a dreamscape quality. A gentle mist hangs in the air and softens everything. There is no imperfection, or if it existed it can no longer be seen. There are no broken tiles, or chips in the bath, the light is luminescent. My lazy gaze wandering, the arch of my foot, slim ankles, the length of my calf. My voluptuous hips, little waist and ripe breasts. My head is lolling gently on the ledge of the bath and I’m about to descend into a state of lapsed consciousness. I drop my novel over the edge of the bath, I don’t want to lose another one. Moments later I slide into oblivion.
 
I smell him before I hear him. It’s a woody, musky, earthy scent. A gentle awakening. He’s sitting on the edge of the bath looking at me. I smile. He looks content. He has a polaroid camera in one hand and a spliff in the other. I like him this way. We stay like this for what seems like an eternity. He’s talking and I’m listening, passing the spliff from one to the other. I top up the bath with some more hot water and invite him in. He doesn’t want to join me. He gestures to the polaroid. I’m not sure. He lights up another and we talk some more. I’m making the spliff all wet with my fingers, it is falling apart. He slides further along the edge of the bath, so I don’t need to touch the spliff. He turns it back in towards his hand and it looks like a little lantern, I take a long drag. I’m feeling quite relaxed now. My eyes are closed, my head is tilted, like it would take too much effort to hold it upright. I hear the crackle of the film packet being opened. I focus on the smell. It has a strong, sweet chemical smell. I am still, I am so very still…

At the time Whiteley painted the bathroom series he was concerned that being married would curb his freedom from a creative and wholistic point of view. The balance between security and freedom being something that most married people must contemplate over the course of an enduring relationship. In the end I think we all desire love. Theirs was a love story that had all the elements of a grand tragedy, like they were falling over happy in pain.

There is something for everyone in Brett Whiteley’s work. The integrity of the early works with their connectedness to nature. The bathroom series and its eroticism, or something more abstract and surreal. I can appreciate all the work, the unifying element being his truth at that moment in time. Brett Whitely Studio Sydney exhibits a broad variety of his work and is an engaging place to while away some time. (Brett Whiteley 7 April 1939-15 June 1992)

Brett Whiteley Studio Sydney, 2 Raper Street, Surry Hills, Sydney. Opening Hours- Friday-Sunday 10am-4pm. Free admission is made possible by J.P.Morgan

For more detailed information here is a link https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/brett-whiteley-studio/

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Rose Seidler House Sydney

Designed by modernist architect Harry Seidler

Up a narrow set of carpeted stairs, the voice is loud; it is too loud. The space is drenched in light; it all seems too obvious. I am invited into a tour; I feel overwhelmed; there are people everywhere. I politely decline and go back down the stairs and outside to start again. I turn and walk up the steep driveway so I can reorient myself with Rose Seidler House Sydney.

There is a substantial dissimilarity between the environment and the house; this makes it easy to focus. A salient presence as it rises from the earth with stone then transitions to man-made materials. The juxtaposition of all the straight lines of the building with the gnarly branches of the trees, exquisite.

Harry Seidler designed this house for his mother, Rose; she lived in it with his father, Max, for more than twenty years from completion in 1950. It is an excellent example of the Modernist/Bauhaus movement. The balance between function and form, lack of ornamentation and no corridors; hallmarks for a new era in design. The tension between the house and the environment is very alluring.

I think it was the perfect house for the uncomplicated Australian of this time. Australia was at the beginning of a massive period of European immigration that would shape our tastes and culture over the coming decades. It is no wonder that Australians and specifically Sydneysiders, lauded this house; it is desirable, with a timeless quality.

An incredible amount of natural light flowing in; everything is illuminated, divine views from every window. The fireplace, its large stone hearth, sits flush to the floor; there is enough room for a body or two—a glimpse of the ephemeral. My senses are searching for fleeting beauty in spaces. I don’t always find it; sometimes, it finds me.

The inviting Euro Saarinen Womb chair is overlooking the valley, the northern orientation. A wonderful winter house. I can easily picture Rose in her kitchen, so much thought to function and form being placed in this space. Rose to be one of the first housewives in Australia to have a dishwasher. The moderation showed something that must have required discipline for a project with few pecuniary constraints.

It’s difficult to fully appreciate any house when it is not lived in, the melancholy that sits silently beside greatness. This is especially true of this house as it has become an expectation filled example of what should be. Rose Seidler house Sydney was well worth the visit. An overt expression of the love between mother (and father) and son, introducing us to the work of an influential architect.

Post Script – I am glad I took a few minutes to allow the previous visitors to finish their tour. It is essential to pay attention to your mood when you visit anything. You want to enjoy it. Your mind needs to be relaxed and open. So if you need to reset, then do it.

Address 71 Clissold Road Wahroonga NSW 2076 Open Sundays only 10 am-4 pm

For detailed information http:// https://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/rose-seidler-house

If you would like more architecture https://thelocalproject.com.au

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How to host the imperfect dinner party.

Leave people wanting more. This is a rule for life, but it can be challenging to sustain when one is prone to exuberance.

There are a few key ingredients that can make an evening culminate with such cadence one will be begging for more. It settles on the balance between restraint and generosity. As host of this party, a little bit of planning can make all the difference. Let’s discover how to host an imperfect dinner party. Consider the table setting, the guest list, and the type of ambiance you would like at your party. Now that you know what you want relinquish all of your previous conventions and consider the following guidelines.

The guest list. The idea you would invite lots of one type because they would all have things in common; needs to be dispensed of immediately. Because let’s face it, an entire table of accountants is never a good idea. It’s all about diversity. Consider the following.

It would be best if you had lots of different personalities. They can be any mix you choose. Here are some suggestions. A political journalist; more than one, and the night becomes a bore. No more than a couple of creatives; as they are too busy thinking and by the time they have something to say, the moment has passed. A radio announcer can be super funny, but they need to be separated from the political journalist. Perhaps a lawyer, good negotiators when it all gets a bit rowdy. A real estate agent. A real estate agent, you say, excellent once things are going and everyone is selling their soul to the highest bidder. I do love the world and all the people in it. So, you get it; you can invite anyone. The idea is to ask all different types of people, and you can dilute each other most delightfully throughout an evening.

The food. Food is about labour and love. It is not about expensive kitchen appliances or science, well not at my place anyway. Food needs to be sensual and satisfying. Act like you have made an effort, even if you have not. People love to be spoilt. Themes are okay so long as you don’t take them too far—plan for your skill level. You do not want to feel stressed during a dinner party. That may mean you need to buy food. A dinner party should be about enjoyment, not an obligation. Judge your food choices based on your guests.

So while a warm gooey Brie laced with honey that drips down your fingers may be perfect for your peers…who doesn’t love to lick the stickiness from the tips of one’s fingers. It may not be the best choice for that dinner with your boss.

Be restrained when required. Do not feed your guests too much. You do not want them feeling full or sleepy, converse to that, you don’t want them to have to stop for pizza on the way home. Be generous but measured. As a guideline, I serve a set entrée and main and then serve cheese as a third course shared plate. Those that are still hungry can be satiated here.

 The fragrance of fresh figs on a cheese plate in autumn. Such a lush, sweet forbidden fruit. Thoughts of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, it was a fig, not an apple. Think about it…the softness, the colour, the texture, the taste.

Alcohol. It is your responsibility as a host to make sure your guests make it home safely, so have a plan in place before the fun begins. There is this sweet spot with alcohol. You don’t want your guests to feel shabby tomorrow, but you want them to have a good time. It is lovely to receive flowers as a host, but never with an apology note the next day. Once again, it would help if you found an equilibrium between generosity and restraint. For me, it’s that space between the unconscious mind and the ideal, where everything is lovely. It’s something different for everyone. By now, it’s time to migrate to the lounge for some dessert and relaxation.

You only need one more ingredient, an excellent storyteller, as they can get everyone in the mood. Not guess what happened when I went to donate blood the other day genre; more I just visited Heide Museum of Modern Art, and I found it quite distracting.

 “Does everyone know what went on there? There was this insane love story between John and Sunday that involved incredible sexual freedom. Sunday and Sidney Nolan had this ferocious affair when he painted the Ned Kelly series right there at that house. And all the while, under John’s nose, I think he would watch them. And then every day they would sit down to afternoon tea; like proper, civilised people. Can you imagine that?”

We can all imagine that. A hall pass every day of the week. We are way more contained than that. Never would I ever…and you, my deft host, have just moved the bar so far towards the imperfect. Strap yourself in; because things are about to get crazy.

Post Script Disclaimer: Adults may find themselves swimming in their underwear in the middle of the night, stealing street signs, or watching the sun come up. But they are nowhere near as naughty as John and Sunday. And that is how to host the imperfect dinner party.

A guide to good manners. Should you be left wanton after reading thishttps://www.penguin.com.au/books/a-guide-to-australian-etiquette-9780143566687

If you would like to receive a weekly email with my latest musings on love and life, then sign up at the bottom of this page.

If you would like to receive a weekly email with my latest musings on love and life then sign up at the bottom of this page.