Serendipity, a Bakery sign, and the World War I Featherston Military Camp

Serendipity is always a good sign, one that things are going the way they should. Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery has enjoyed a sprinkling of it in the past few weeks. As you may know, the Gallery building was constructed in 1918, originally as a bakery. The baking was sold from a small hut on the corner of the road which is now my home.

I’ve always suspected it came from the First World War military camp about two kilometres north of Featherston, based on two pieces of circumstantial evidence (interestingly, it was always known as “The Old Camp Bakery”).

One was that it looked very similar to the camp buildings, most of which were demolished with the timber recycled timber, but in some cases taken apart and re-erected elsewhere. The second was that this happened at more or less the same time as the bakery building was built. It made sense that the bakery’s founder Joe (short for Josiah) Towersey would take the opportunity to use one of these buildings, which were used for both military purposes and the needs of what was a small self-contained sign.

As serendipity would have it, I’m finally about to repaint the hut which has undergone many changes over the years, including being moved away from the road in the early 1980s, but still retains some of its original weatherboard cladding. I borrowed my next-door-neighbour’s waterblaster to clean it and the other house (my studio) plus some brickwork.

About a week later Joe’s son Hartley Towersey, still only in his mid-sixties (he was born when Joe was in his sixties) came into the gallery with a friend to look around what had once been his home (although by that time it was no longer being used as a bakery).

Old Sign for Camp Bakery

A vague outline of the bottom half of the letters B, A, and K can be seen

Hartley recalled that once upon a time the word “Bakery” had been painted on the front of the hut and noticed that the waterblaster had removed some of the paint back to the wood, to partially reveal the first three letters of Bakery. It was immediately decided that I would paint the sign on again.

Hartley told me about a book called Gateway to the Wairarapa, an official history of Featherston and the South Wairarapa, published in the 1950s that had a photo of the hut with the original sign on it, which I could use as a guideline.

I visited the excellent Wairarapa Archive in Masterton to get a copy of the photograph and talked to historian Neil Frances who has a particular interest in the military camp. The photo wasn’t in the book, but a photo of the hut in a forlorn state in 1979 was in another Featherston history, Memories of South Wairarapa. However, the sign wasn’t visible in this grainy image.

We discussed the likelihood of the hut having come from the camp and Neil pulled out a document that lists all the people who purchased buildings from the camp. Joe Towersey wasn’t on it. Neil then remembered that the Archive holds a colour tinted photo of the camp, that would show the colours used on most of the camp buildings. These turned out to be the same as the present colour of the hut, which still had its original paintwork. There was also a description of the colours in an old book – creamy yellow walls, maroon facing, and dark grey roofs.

Corner of the Ever Increasing Gardens

Corner of the Ever Increasing Gardens showing the colour of the camp buildings

This was further circumstantial evidence that the building came from the camp. Neil also gave me a photo of the main road of the camp taken in 1917 from Featherston Military Training Camp 1917 which was published at the time the camp existed. One of the shops in the photo had a sign for “J Ware. The Camp Boot Maker” which looked to have the same font as the still extant outlines.

I took this away to help get the font right. Once back at the office I realized that I now had all the letters in the sign for Baker in “Boot” and “Maker” – and rang Neil back to mention this. I commented that in all likelihood the same sign writer(s) would have been employed for all the signage at the camp (with some variation in styles) and the likelihood of this being the exact font was very high.

Main Street Featherston Military Camp 1917

Main Street Featherston Military Camp 1917

This stimulated another important detail about the camp’s history in Neil’s well informed brain, which was that not all of the buildings were built by the government’s Public Works Department. Some shop owners at the camp paid for the construction of their own buildings, most likely using the same builders as employed by the Public Works Department to construct the military buildings, and in much the same style. Any of these buildings removed from the camp would not be on the previously mentioned list of private buyers of the camp’s military buildings when it was broken up, and the hut could quite easily be one of these.

It should also be noted that Joe had previous experience as a builders’ labourer in Wellington as an adolescent in the 1890s so pulling apart and reconstructing the hut would be easily within his capabilities.

While the question of whether the hut came from the camp will probably never be known for certain, the chances are extremely high.

A Footnote: I was always planning to keep the original colours on the hut when I repainted it. Too often people buy an old building because of the appeal of its age but over-renovate so that virtually all the original spirit is lost. There’s something to be said for continuity being good for the soul. Also, Hartley is well known in the Wairarapa as one of the founder members of the Ruamahanga River Band which has been going now for 40 years.

Joe Towersey and second wife Kathleen in 1965

Joe Towersey and second wife Kathleen in 1965

Click to enlarge the two links below to read about The Camp Bakery founder Joe Towersey taken from the book Memories of South Wairarapa. NB A couple of additional facts not mentioned in the book. Joe went to work for Bill Adams Bakery in Masterton, later to become Ernest Adams. The fowl houses at the back of the bakery (on what is now a separate property) were kept by Henry (Harry) Stretton. His wife Joy was the niece of Joe.

Joe Towersey history 1

 Joe Towersey history 2

Of Occupy Wall Street, bloggers and free jazz giants – an interview with Campbell Kneale

Featherston artist Campbell Kneale’s exhibition 22.11.14 is showing at Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery December 2014 to the end of January 2015.

Interviewed by David Famularo

Campbell Kneale

What’s the meaning of the title of the exhibition “22.11.14”?

I title them with the date of the beginning of the exhibition.

Is this work similar to what you have done before?

No, it’s different to what I’ve been doing before. I’ve been pretty much working in a field that could very broadly, and perhaps not very accurately, be described as abstract expressionism, which I know is a dreadfully loaded term, but it is abstract and it is expressionist. That’s what I’ve been working on for the past 20 years.

This last lot of work, which has appeared in perhaps in the last three months, is figurative. It’s got images, it’s got THINGS in it, which is pretty new for me. I haven’t done that for 20 years.

The works were created in very short time frames and that is part of the abstract [influence]. The abstract work was all about developing a certain handwriting, a physical quality in the work that couldn’t be imitated by anybody else, the result of the fact that my body and muscles remembered emotions in a certain way that made the  paintings look like my paintings as opposed to the guy next door’s.

These ones with their really short time frames, are about trying to capture that same sense of handwriting, almost like some kind of charged improvisation. You don’t have time to fuss over it, you just get the image down.

They are based on photographic images, media images largely, so yeah, in some ways this is quite different.

The thing I always found frustrating about abstraction is its inability to be able to deal with external subject matter. It is very good for internal subject matter and very good at finding what you are about but very poor at being able to address the world around you.

Over the past couple of years I’ve become quite politicized, quite radicalized, I think, to a certain extent, by the current political climate that we live in, in New Zealand. And looking at the world at large through those eyes – the post Occupy [Wall Street] movement. I think for me, I was hooked into looking at the world through this way through the Occupy movement.

It sparked an interest in me to investigate ideas like money and media and public opinion and myth making and war and critiques of capitalism and various kinds of things like that. Those things interest me but the abstract cannon that I was working with had very few doorways to explore those things.

So it is very interesting and it took me by surprise, a lot of the images that I am working with now.

How did you decide what images to sketch? Were you just watching television and reading books?

Well kind off.

Do you watch TV?

No, I don’t have TV. The internet usually. Because this sort of work is quite new to me, the images themselves and the reasons why I painted this particular series of images are probably quite separate.

What I am excited about with this exhibition is being able to see them altogether and to be able to make links between those different areas of interest.

There are links between our current political system and police brutality. There are links between the myths of lot of those traditional pillars of democracy and the reasons why we went to war in World War I. There is a link between our current political system and people going into WINZ (Work & Income New Zealand) and shooting people. I don’t claim to know what exactly that link is but everything is connected in a funny way.

Even if you just think about World War I. It’s been a hundred years and there seems to be a very New Zealand worshipee tendency, because we do worship New Zealand in New Zealand. We have an interesting form of nationalism here. There is this tendency to celebrate and memorialize and make some big drama out of this hundred years thing but the truth is most New Zealanders don’t know their own history. We are completely disengaged from our own history. We are not encouraged to know it and most New Zealanders don’t know why we went to war in World War I. Most New Zealanders still buy into this idea, which is a propaganda myth, and really consciously so. You can read about it in a number of places where the idea was sold to New Zealanders that we were supporting king and country. We still talk about Gallipoli being the birth of a nation and all that stuff.

Okay, that’s a part of the story, but the other part of the story is that there was huge amounts of British capital in New Zealand and just like today we are obligated to participate in coalitions of the willing, or an allied expeditionary force, because if we don’t, the capital will be withdrawn from our country. The reasons we went to war were for money.

The same reasons the Americans joined the First World War. If Britain and France lost the war, which it looked like they were going to do, Wall Street wasn’t going to get their money back, so they sent a huge force, very very late in the day to make sure that didn’t happen.

Why short sketches?

That’s about the handwriting. I didn’t want images that looked too labored over. I didn’t want to lose everything that I had gained over the last 20 years by developing a spontaneous muscle memory with the work that I did. I wanted it to look like mine.

So one way of doing that was to give yourself certain impositions so that you have to do it very fast and it will look how it looks because your body is forced to move very quickly. Whereas if you work over it studiously, you get the time to iron out all those creases.

What does that psychologically do to the work?

Keeping it shorter or keeping it longer?

Keeping it longer.

Well it would ruin it really. It would be like a record that gets over produced. You can take all the rawness out of it and it will end up sounding like everybody else’s record. If you get some million dollar producer to produce your record their job is to iron out all the idiosyncrasies and make it into a polished product whereas I am much more interested in bands that have a tape recorder in the corner.

Why did you choose [jazz saxophonist] john Coltrane?

I’m interested in the way we create super heroes. The way the media manipulates public opinion to create heroes

How does that relate to John Coltrane?

Well, John Coltrane comes into this little cluster of work which are the portraits. There’s [WINZ double murderer] John Tully, but there’s Edward Snowden, and I guess depending on what part of the media you listen to, [Snowden’s] either venerated as a hero, or villainised as a traitor. Whatever you decide is largely based on the media you expose yourself to. I’ve got an image of Batman. Batman is either a hero of the people or he is a billionaire CEO of some corporation who rules an entire city. And is the joker the good guy? Is he the one who represents destruction and introduction of democracy?

I’ve never understood how Batman can be a super hero with no special powers

He’s got a suit! I think about our society and the way we venerate people because they have a suit and a nice car. Why are those people celebrated in our society?

He’s the one they keep on making movie after movie about.

It’s because he’s a dark hero. He’s a bad guy. He’s not superman. Superman’s a squeaky clean vegetarian nutcase.

Maybe it’s because he’s imperfect?

Yeah, but you don’t know. You don’t know if he is a billionaire capitalist, or working for good. There’s obviously a huge PR campaign around Batman in his movies to convince Gotham City that he is a force for good but actually he’s a billionaire capitalist who owns the city.

You’ve got a sketch of [blogger Cameron] Slater and [New Zealand Prime Minister John] Key. Any particular reason you went for them?

They are topical but in the same way that John Tully is topical. There is a link between the things that happen in society and those who run that society. Again, I’m interested in the way that media or the way that we create super heroes, the way that the media shapes our public opinion. Depending on what sort of media you listen to or watch, to how you understand the link between John Key and Cameron Slater, it will be either a none of your business kind of thing, or a right wing conspiracy, or something completely despicable, or absolutely fine. The fact is, those two people exist, they have a link, and you put them next to a John Tully painting, and it begins to link the actions of the corporate elite with the actions of the grass roots people who are being affected.

To go back to John Coltrane, I’ve depicted him in his military uniform, in his pre “jazz hero” days. He was a poor guy, a black guy, so again an outsider. You could think of him as a destitute black jazz musician or you could think of him as the instigator of a form of blacks only music like free jazz which alienated everybody white who ever heard it as a squawking horrible noise.

And yet his intention was the revolutionisation of black society, the Africanisation of jazz, the expulsion of white corporate values from jazz, and he was really the sound track to the black civil rights movement.

I thought he was only playing free jazz right towards the very end [of his life]. I thought his music was just a new formulism, a new way to play jazz?

That could well be what was in John Coltrane’s mind, the spiritualization of jazz. But the fact that this all happened at a time when black people in America were fighting for their civil rights, and this music was blacks only music, to white jazz ears this was an unlistenable noise. So he came about in a place and time where somebody had to step into that gap, to be a black role model and espouse African American values at a time and place where that was pivotal in society.

Do you like listening to Coltrane?

I love listening to Coltrane, especially his later stuff.

Why did you choose the World War I landscapes?

There is a bit of an unspoken tradition in the Wairarapa to paint nice twee décor type landscapes, the classic Wairarapa landscape which I’ve always been fairly ambivalent towards. I don’t really want to see paintings of people’s lifestyle blocks and their weekend holiday properties.

The World War I landscapes, the exhibition being in Featherston is kind of important to me. This whole town is pretty obsessed with this notion of memorialisation, of claiming its little place. But again, people don’t really know their history, they don’t know why we went and actually your understanding of why we went to war changes your whole perspective on what memorialisation is about. This was the centre of training for a lot of those [soldiers] and we sent a lot of those people to fight for British capital

It’s the same today. It’s the John Keys, it’s the land owners, it’s the capitalists, who don’t have to go and fight, who send young boys under this myth of nationhood and everybody doing their bit for King and country.

Well we’re not. If anything is worth memorializing about the First World War, it’s the people who decided they didn’t want to go. I think the only people who are worth celebrating are the conscientious objectors who were basically tortured by this country for their refusal to take part.

And to put that into contemporary terms, we are currently in the process of joining yet another coalition of the willing? What are we going to do?  Are we going to surrender our rights under a new trade agreement to American capital? Well, yes we are, and who would be worth celebrating in our society in 100 years time. I would like to think the only people who would be worth celebrating are the people who stood against that.

And just like the [1981 South African Rugby] Springbok tour [to New Zealand]. What do we remember the Springbok tour for? Do we remember the [New Zealand Rugby Union chief] Cess Blazeys and the [New Zealand Prime Minister] Robert Muldoons? We don’t really remember those people. What is synonymous with the Springbok tour is a bunch of blokes, a bunch of gangs with crash helmets and hockey masks fronting up against the police. I think that is worth memorializing. The fact that thousands of New Zealanders stood against something which was wrong in order to create genuine change. And it did. It created genuine change. If anything is worth memorializing about the Springbok tour  it is those events, not rugby, not the superstars of the day, not sporting winning out in the end and isn’t it great that we can all come together and play sport and put these other concerns aside. It is the fight for a better society.

I guess that depends on whether the present government and its supporters succeed and their point of view becomes history or not. I like the Martin Luther King quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

That’s interesting but the Springbok tour is a good example of what happened in New Zealand in the 1980s which like going nuclear free and gay rights, seems quite inconceivable now. There has been a huge shift in New Zealand society towards conservatism, and that’s been brought about by media manipulation, by consumer choice, by this idea that if we consume certain goods we are certain people. It’s simply not true. And again, this plays into this whole idea of how we create myths about ourselves, what we think New Zealand is all about in terms of our identity, and how it is completely at the mercy of corporate forces. We don’t actually have any control over our New Zealand identity any more. It doesn’t matter what new Zealanders say about whether we should our assets or not. The government is going to sell them and New Zealanders are not going to do anything about it. They will not come out in the street. They will not protest. They will not front up to the police. They will go “Woe is me. No one listens to me.”

Campbell Kneale Exhibition

You can read the artist’s statement and view the works here

Campbell Kneale – 22.11.14 – The Artist’s Statement and Works

“22.11.14” represents the first collection of non-abstract images Campbell Kneale has shown publically in over 20 years. Through this series of confronting pictures of killers, politicians, militarized police, and historical landscapes, the painter investigates the connection between mass media and myth creation, technological efficiency, brutality, and the gradual erosion of traditional democracy in favour of the ‘inverted totalitarianism” of The Corporation as described by political philosopher Sheldon Wolin. They are a whisper to re-engage personally, politically, socially and spiritually as resistance to the massification, standardization, and blandification of late-era capitalism.

Each painting is made in a very limited timeframe (never more than 30 minutes) simultaneously denying and affirming “technique”. This approach preserves the spontaneity of each brushstroke, echoing aspects of Chinese ink painting, Claude Monet’s “Water Lillies”, the ecstatic abjection of Georges Batailles most confrontational writings, and the supercharged improvisations of Cy Twombly.

30 Minute Painting (John Tully), acrylic on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, $450

30 Minute Painting (John Tully), acrylic on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, $450

10 Minute Painting (Cameron Slater and John Key), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $350

10 Minute Painting (Cameron Slater and John Key), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $350

10 Minute Painting (John Coltrane), acrylic on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, $350

10 Minute Painting (John Coltrane), acrylic on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, $350

10 Minute Painting (Edward Snowden), acrylic on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, $350

10 Minute Painting (Edward Snowden), acrylic on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, $350

batman - campbell kneale

10 minute painting (Batman), acrylic on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, $350

 

30 Minute Painting (Destroyed Landscape 3: Dresden), acrylic on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, $450 SOLD

30 Minute Painting (Destroyed Landscape 3: Dresden), acrylic on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, $450 SOLD

30 Minute Painting (Deborah Curtis), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $450

30 Minute Painting (Deborah Curtis), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $450

10 Minute Painting (Gaza), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $450

10 Minute Painting (Gaza), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $450

10 Minute Painting (New York), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $350

10 Minute Painting (New York), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $450

30 Minute Painting (Destroyed Landscape II: Western Front), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $450

30 Minute Painting (Destroyed Landscape II: Western Front), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $450 SOLD

30 Minute Painting (Destroyed Landscape III: Western Front), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $450

30 Minute Painting (Destroyed Landscape 2: Western Front), acrylic on canvas, 1.2m x 90 cm, $450

Under The Skin

Under The Skin

David Famularo

In reading recent issues of Nexus, an Australia based magazine that deals in subject matter outside the mainstream, it has been interesting to note that theories about body snatching aliens are common.

I had previously thought that body snatching aliens belonged to 1950s Scifi films, most famously Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This was supposedly a metaphor for McCarthyism in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s when it was feared a fifth column of Communists was infiltrating the fabric of American society.

China’s Communist government ironically fears religious group The Falun Gong in much the same way. Although the Falun Gong are non-political, it is their apathy in regards to political engagement that the Chinese government saw as a threat. Political apathy can be as dangerous, and even more so, as political dissension.

Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi, it turns out, is one of those people who believes in alien body snatchers. In two interviews he gave (one in Time magazine) which were recently reprinted in Nexus, he argues that there has been (and still exist) previous intelligent life on other planets similar to Earth.

These alien life forms are inferior to humans but because they have been around much longer, are still more technologically advanced than us. Nevertheless, they desire the superior human physical form and so have been helping humans make the technological progress necessary to reach the point where human bodies can be manufactured, the aliens’ ultimate plan being to inhabit these man-made bodies themselves.

The reason the aliens in Under The Skin want to snatch humans, specifically males, is never made clear in the film but that doesn’t matter because that is not its point.

Made on a limited budget, much like New Zealand films (receiving financial support from Creative Scotland, for example) Under The Skin’s only luxury is Hollywood star Scarlet Johansen in the lead. Other than that, the film makes do with the everyday world as its stage. Likewise, the actors playing the many small parts are convincingly normal.

There are two films Under The Skin reminds me of. One is The Man Who Fell to Earth from the mid-1970s starring David Bowie and the other Liquid Sky from the early 1980s. Indeed, Under The Skin shares with Liquid Sky a close relationship between aliens and sex and seduction.

One of the strengths of Under The Skin, which is based on the book by Michel Faber, is that at every point where it could so easily fall into a familiar narrative, it stubbornly goes against expectations.

The alien honey trap isn’t wired for empathy but I constantly find myself expecting it to express feelings of compassion, one of the most obvious examples being when a child is in danger of drowning on a windswept beach. But it is worth remembering that the alien’s sense of “alienation” is mirrored by the coldness that is often the norm in human society.

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the film is when the alien seduces a horribly disfigured but endearingly naïve young man. And perhaps the entire film turns on this spot where his predicament gets under her skin. The young man has experienced victimisation all his life and the alien’s comprehension of this fact and accompanying empathy begins her own fatal transformation from predator to lover to victim.

Ultimately, however, the alien is not seduced by men but by sensuousness of the human body she inhabits. By being in one, she has in fact become one of Gaia’s children.

Magic in the Moonlight

Emma Stone and Colin Firth

 

Suspension of disbelief is the term – first thought up by Socrates and further developed by later philosophers – to describe the phenomenon where an audience on being told a story through one medium or another (eg storytelling around a fire, theatre, film) puts aside their usual sense of reality to believe in a fiction.  Fantasy becomes reality, the impossible becomes believable.

Humans seem to come hard wired with this facility, and it is amazing how quickly and easily we fall into this hypnotic trance. From the moment the first images fall on the screen at a movie, we become engrossed. If this experience isn’t maintained, the film fails. A film, like all storytelling, is a psychological realm, reflecting and evolving each viewer’s inner space.

The 1920s in which Magic in the Moonlight is set, is a relatively rare period for modern films to be set in. Generally speaking, our sense of relevant history only seems to go as far back as the 1930s. We have a simplistic notion of the “roaring twenties” – sharemarket speculation, jazz, flappers. I’ve only recently discovered what a fascinating decade the 1920s  actually were, in popular culture especially representing the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.

It seems Woody Allen is well acquainted and intrigued by the era as well. He places his characters squarely in one of its romantic epicentres, the French Riviera, and unapologetically indulges in a picture postcard re-imagination of it – beautiful cars, stunning scenery fashionable men and women, hot jazz. He further captures its spirit through a story line and style of film making that, although more sophisticated, is reminiscent of movies made at the time.

As its title suggests, there is almost a corny romanticism to Magic in the Moonlight, but Allen doesn’t mock the era or undermine it with our modern day predilection for cynicism. He still has faith in the notion of finding true love. But depth is needed to make such a story line satisfying to a 21st century audience and this is where Allen, playing with notions of love and magic, adds substance and humour.

The film starts in a theatre where a “Chinese” magician makes an elephant disappear. I marvel at how Allen creates such a marvellous and convincing shot of a spellbound audience of the era. From there the story unfolds in the south of France. This enchanting realm becomes the landscape within which a worldly cynic and ingénue battle over each other’s perception of reality. Both see something in their opposite that is attractive but neither is fully able to escape their own sense reality.

And here lies one of the ironies of the film in – the suspension of disbelief. I (and I assume the rest of the small audience at my screening) find it much easier to take the side of the waif with supposedly psychic powers than the intelligent sophisticate, who is rational, but fearful and wounded by his own cynicism. It’s the same effect, although on a less grand scale, to what takes place in the mind of the audience in Scifi and horror films, where we identify with the protagonist who believes in aliens or monster, not the other characters who don’t.

Out on the street, neither would we. But for some reason we put aside all our usual sense of what is normal to one side for an hour or two. Out in the “real world” it is impossible for reality and imagination to co-exist. One assumes dominion at the expense of the other. Usually the real world wins out, and yet imagination is essential for existence as well.

Magic in the Moonlight argues both for and against the existence of magic. But it points out that humans can’t live without it, or at least a belief in it – this sustains us or at least helps us to survive without going mad. A lot rides on the outcome of the romance in Magic in the Moonlight.

Maleficent

Maleficent reviewed at Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery www.mazzolajewellery.co.nz

What originally piqued my interest in Maleficent was seeing the poster in the foyer of Masterton Regent Cinema, which seemed to recapture some of the magic from Disney’s golden age. Indeed, the theatre itself still retains some of the picture palace grandeur of the same period. Plus it made instant sense for Angelina Jolie to play the part of the malevolent Maleficent.

I won’t give the plot away beyond saying that it involves conflict between the fairy and human kingdoms, recounts the “back story” to the events that took place in the 1959 animated version of Sleeping Beauty, and bends the denouement to suit a different moral message. Amongst its greatest pleasures, which can only be known by seeing Maleficent on the big screen, is how it draws on the past to create its magical realm.

Fairies have been part of European lore for hundreds if not thousands of years, a journey from genuine belief in the existence of fairie creatures to a purely imaginary world (for most people) today. In centuries past audiences used to listen to story tellers, and used their own imagination to picture fairies.

However, strange creatures have been the subject of the visual arts of European culture for many hundreds of years. They abound in Romanesque and Gothic sculpture, along with painters like Hieronymus Bosch (c 1450 – 1516).

Maleficent reviewed at Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery www.mazzolajewellery.co.nz

Indeed, the evil queen in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is said to be based on the sculpture of Uta von Ballenstedt in Naumburg Cathedral by the thirteenth century Master of Naumburg.

Maleficent reviewed at Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery www.mazzolajewellery.co.nz

While the illustration of the rabbit in Alice In Wonderland by John Tenniel is said to be based on the sculpture of a hare in Saint Mary’s Church, Beverley, England.

However, it is not till the nineteenth century and in particular the explosion of brilliant British art that fairies as we picture them more or less today start to appear in paintings and books.

Maleficent reviewed at Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery www.mazzolajewellery.co.nz

To this day the great British fairie painters such as Richard Dadd (1817 – 1886 – The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke pictured) have copyright on our idea of what fairies should look like.

Maleficent reviewed at Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery www.mazzolajewellery.co.nz

It should also be noted that many of these artists drew heavily on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for their subject matter as in the instance the Quarrel of Titania and Oberon by Sir Joseph Noel Paton.

There are literally millions upon millions of contemporary paintings, illustrations, and statues of fairies produced by New Age artists but rarely do these ever have the charm or capture the imagination as the nineteenth century ones do.

While visual artists provided the fairie imagery, the primary stories are European folk tales collected or written by the likes of French author Charles Perrault (1628 – 16 May 1703) and German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, lexicographers and authors Jacob Grimm (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786–1859).

But to arrive at its final form, Maleficent had to be filtered through one more major cultural and artistic movement and that is the high art of Hollywood movie making circa 1930 to 1950. Although the original animated Sleeping Beauty was made comparatively late in 1959, Maleficent feels like it has drawn from the deepest well of the 1940s.

Maleficent reviewed at Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery www.mazzolajewellery.co.nz

Jolie, who brilliantly plays the part of Maleficent, has all the retro star power of the greatest actresses of that age like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. There is one moment in the film where life and art become one with a very subtle but powerful reference to Jolie’s double mastectomy.

Maleficent reviewed at Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery www.mazzolajewellery.co.nz

Director Robert Stromberg and cinematographer Dean Semler capture the gothic mood of these old films, especially through the close ups which bathe Jolie’s face in light and shadow. Most great films of old always had at least one special “moment” that became their signature and in Maleficent this is where Aurora draws Maleficent from the shadows where she is hiding.

Whereas Quentin Tarantino name checks classic cinematic moments, his films tend to end up as a pastiche of intellectual Post-Modern irony. Maleficent director Robert Stromberg never forgets that his film’s aim is to emotionally engage the viewer.

And Maleficent proves that many of Hollywood’s old school techniques can still be successfully employed to this purpose. The film is an emotional roller coaster as were all great Disney films of the past. This is Maleficent’s story, and it is her journey that we are meant to experience viscerally, her emotional revelations that we are meant to comprehend as meaningful to our own lives.

The film is sumptuously beautiful but beauty without meaning is ultimately unfulfilling. The meaning in Maleficent comes from the intelligent and relevant story line, clever dialogue, and most importantly of all, a powerful moral message.

Maleficent can be read as a commentary on the relationship between the sexes, as embodied in the fairies (feminine) and humans (masculine). The feminine is both weak and strong, while the masculine is strong but also weak. Environmentally, it can be interpreted as the masculine attempt to dominate nature, while the feminine strives to protect it.

As in all good fairy tales, some sort of resolution of this conflict is required and the answer is – as always – provided by love. Shakespeare understood that love is the wild card in any deck. It can turn order into chaos and bring order from chaos. But Maleficent chooses to free love from the traditional notion of girl meets boy. It is instead a free spirit that expresses itself in whoever’s heart it lives in. When the conflict does resolve itself the ending is a happy one, as it could only ever be in any great Disney film.

 

Inside “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Inside Llewyn Davis reviewed by David Famularo at Mazzola Jewellery & Gallery www.mazzolajewellery.co.nz

By David Famularo April 2014

It’s interesting to see reviewers struggle with the point behind Inside Llewyn Davis when the biggest clue is in the title itself ie “inside”.

All the reviews and articles I have read, have been distracted by the setting – New York’s folk music scene in 1962. Inevitably, Llewyn Davis’ character has been compared to real life players in the music scene, most notably Dave Van Ronk – “the mayor of MacDougal Street” upon whose autobiography the script is said to draw heavily (I’ve never read the book myself).

The January issue of Uncut music magazine quotes two of Van Ronk’s friends who enjoyed the film but remembered the time as being much more fun. That would be undoubtedly true, but the character of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a cipher for the everyman musician/artist who has existed in the shadows just outside the limelight of fame.

In Shakespearian times, I recall from school, plays were classified as either a “tragedy” or a “comedy”, although the comedies could be pretty dark by our standards. Inside Llewyn Davis is a comedy, but a black one, which ironically makes it all the funnier, because the cards dealt to Llewyn Davis by fate and his own thoughts and actions are so familiar.

Comparisons have also been made between Inside Llewyn Davis and directors Joel and  Ethan Coen’s 2000 film “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” which likewise chooses a moment in American cultural and musical history (1930s, country/folk) and touches upon the whims of fate as played out in an updated version of Homer’s tale of the ancient Greek traveller Ulysses.

But they are quite different films. While the characters in Oh Brother are exaggerated and quirky, Llewyn Davis is played more or less straight. But his character and dilemma is just as universal – the artist who fails to be appreciated.

There is never any question that Llewyn Davis has a talent, but this is unrecognised, misunderstood, and metaphorically and physically crapped on by his family, friends, audience, and fate itself.

Llewyn Davis doesn’t help his cause when his frustration expresses itself as anger. But his is also sensitive, intelligent, poetic and analytical, his psyche beautifully expressed in non-verbal moments within the film – most notably his relationship with the stray cat he picks up.

At times the film reminds me of Fellini’s Roma with its impressionistic moments full of meaning such as when Llewyn Davis hits an animal late at night, invoking a moment of sympathy and empathy.

Because he is always having to deal with the lack of appreciation of his talent, especially as he witness others he feels are lacking the same depth get ahead, Llewyn Davis is constantly having to battle his own cynicism, the very antithesis of the optimistic idealism we associate with the folk scene.

And here-in lies one of the difficult balancing acts that the directors had to walk. The late 1950s/early 1960s folk movement has been so piteously lampooned that even the Coens struggle to bring the needed amount of gravitas to the music. But by coming close spoofing the music themselves, they risk undermining Llewyn Davis’ own belief in the music, and hence the value and meaning of his own psychological journey.

Many reviewers have seen Llewyn Davis character as disparaging the folk music scene. But Llewyn Davis believes in the music and is a competent musician in that genre. Otherwise he would not be frustrated by the calibre of the musicians who enjoy success.

The soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis will never enjoy the success of Oh Brother. Roots music was ripe for rediscovery. Oh Brother lit the match, and helped trigger the current explosion of “Americana”.

Folk music, in contrast, is something of an anomaly. In the 1950s it offered a mostly white alternative to mainstream white society, highly regarding the black and white roots music of America. But folk music itself, is a relatively new musical genre that hardly predates Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

Which is not to underestimate its importance. Many of America’s most significant rock figures of the 1960s grew up listening to rock & roll but finished their musical training in the folk music scene. It was there that they fine tuned their story telling though the importance that folk music has always placed on lyrics.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a beautifully painted canvas of life in America in 1962, inhabited by exquisitely portrayed lost souls of the American landscape. If there is any painter the Coen brothers have an empathy with (and I would be surprised if they have borrowed from) is Edward Hopper, films like Inside Llewyn Davis and 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There containing much of the same spiritual alienation from the American Dream.

As for who Llewyn Davis bears the most similarity to, two obvious examples would be British early 1970s singer/songwriter Nick Drake who died young and unrecognised, and Mexican American Sixto Rodriguez who has only recently been rediscovered. I’m more inclined to relate him to Phil Ochs who while a leading figure in the Greenwich Village folk scene, was always too worldly, political and cynical to enjoy the success of the more other worldly Bob Dylan.

But really, Llewyn Davis meets himself most directly in another character in the film, ailing, loud and over-the-hill jazz saxophonist Roland Turner, who had had only the briefest encounter with success, a road sign for his own likely future as a musician.

Dylan does make an appearance in the last moments of Inside Llewyn Davis, to underline that essential mystery – why fate anoints one talent but passes another by.

NB Since writing this review, I’ve been notified of this excellent review on the meaning of the cat here

Some thoughts on 500 years of American painting

Anne Pollard, unknown limner Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston

Anne Pollard, unknown limner Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston

A couple of months ago I bought five or six books on art from the Salvation Army op shop in Masterton. Nearly all of them were on American art and most had been published in the 1940s and 1950s. I’m pretty certain they all came from the same estate. I like to keep collections together when I find a group of objects together like this.

People with an interest in American art are few and far between in the Wairarapa, even now, so assuming that this is where the former owner lived, he or she must have felt a bit isolated in their particular interest, especially if they bought the books some time near to when they were actually published.

Being mostly histories, naturally there is some repeating of the same artists and works, but overall the variety gives some idea of the richness of American art over the past 500 years, particularly in portraiture and folk art.

There is a continuing sense of a dialogue between America and Europe from the 1600s onwards. But inevitably, also a sense of living in a different world, and a view to the west. Even where the artist is well versed in European painting, there is something different about the works, sometimes subtle and at other times quirky and even odd.

Inevitably, the most serious artists travelled to Europe for training and work, returning home to paint for Eurocentric patrons in the eastern cities. Some of them like John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Stuart produced portraits as great as any European painter.

The Runaway Horse, anonymous, c1830, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

The Runaway Horse, anonymous, c1830, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Meditation by the Sea, anonymous, c1880 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Meditation by the Sea, anonymous, c1880 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

But what I find most interesting are the naïve, amateur, and folk artist who were essentially stranded permanently on the western side of the Atlantic, and out of which grew a distinct American art – the naïve portraits of the 1600s, Sunday painters of the nineteenth century, and social realism of early twentieth century artists like George Bellows. These artists seem to be driven primarily by the urge to observe and capture life around them as they saw it, using whatever talents and training they possessed.

Baptism in Kansas, John S Curry, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Baptism in Kansas, John S Curry, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

 

Oak Street Platform, Aaron Bohrod, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Oak Street Platform, Aaron Bohrod, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The artists of the American Regionalist movement between the two world wars, such as John S Curry and Thomas H Benton, inherited this tradition but to a certain degree their interest in American life is a more self conscious statement.

James McNeil Whistler and Mary Cassatt both made their reputation in Europe and firmly belong in the European art movements of the latter half of the nineteenth century. I’ve always found them both a bit lacking in interest when compared to the key Impressionists and Post Impressionists they associated with.

In this regard, Edward Hopper is interesting in that he too studied in Europe, only a few years later, and you can see in his early work while in Paris much of the same flavour. But when he returns to the United States Hopper keeps only the barest bones of this training and develops a style more like the regionalist and folk artists who never left home. And his existentialism has parallels in the works of many of his more naïve compatriots.

By the beginning of the 1950s American artists are amongst the leaders of the internationalist Modern movement, with New York the new art centre of the world. But that story begins where these books end. And that is one of the things that makes them such a pleasure to read.

There is no doubt that American art and its painters over the centuries suffered from a lack of recognition in their own country and a sizeable inferiority complex. But the notion that American art only caught up with the world 50 years ago is quite obviously untrue from these books. As much as one can appreciate the great European artists of the twentieth century, it’s refreshing to find an entirely new world of art, especially one that has been so under-appreciated.

NB It’s interesting to see that there seems to be a trend back to revaluing American art as this article on George Bellows suggests, and the value put on one of his works, Men on the Docks, being US$25.5 million.

Images from:

 Art and Life in America by Oliver W. Larkin 1957

 American Painting: History and Interpretation by Virgil Barker 1950

 American Painting by Denys Sutton 1948

Virgil Barker devoted 20 years of research to the writing of American Painting

Virgil Barker devoted 20 years of research to the writing of American Painting