Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Unexpected Limitations to One's Obligations

In the First Years

It happened late one night. Some years ago.

I remember coming home after catching up with some friends at a gay bar on Oxford Street. I was tired and didn't know whether or not to risk a coffee. And was debating the point and half watching the news on TV. You know, the easy way to appear informed.

Quite suddenly and noisily, it seemed as though the flat was being broken into. I was on the ground floor and the intruder had climbed onto the balcony. But he just moved conspiciously round. And the thought actually occurred to me that I was about to be attacked by a wild unthinking beast - but it was the thought that was wild, rather than the creature.

This delusion was followed after a few minutes by some rather polite knocking on the balcony door!

Of course - it was David Z's modus operandi. Appearing unannounced often after a silence of years, and needing all sorts of help. Even after a big season with 'Paris Planning', his modeling agency in Paris.

Two Photos from David's Advertising Flyer for 'Paris Planning' Model Agency, Paris

So David moved in.

Using the Car on a Late Visit

But after some weeks, again determined that Sydney could not meet his needs. The usual arrangements were made to finance him out of debt and back overseas. And the mixed farewell at the door was preceded by the ubiquitous turning out of the suitcase to retrieve all those things that had quite unaccountably fallen in. Accompanied by the embarrassed giggles and implausible explanations.

A photo shoot with Scott Hicks, Director of the film 'Shine' (Best Actor Oscar won by Jeffrey Rush)

An aspect of this situation made me think of one of the main themes in the Edward Albee play ‘A Delicate Balance’. It is the limits of our obligations to others, and in particular, to closest friends. David had been a kind of boyfriend, well, as much as a straight guy can be, one who has lived with another guy for five years and called him his partner.

With William - Very Early Days

Being Silly in a Photo Booth

The main action of the play involves an older wealthy cosmopolitan couple, who are unexpectedly visited one night at home by their two closest friends, a similarly positioned husband and wife. The guests tell of being at home, and of the crisis they experienced of a rising, unspecified and acute anxiety. Their two best friends were obviously the only people to turn to, they say.

Then and in a quite matter-of-fact manner, the refugees begin to make the necessary arrangements for moving in - for the foreseeable future. They assume their friends share the same view of things, and that they are welcome. Mi casa tu casa.

But as the evening progresses, our initial protagonists realize they are not happy with this state of affairs, and they begin to question its thesis. Albee has set up the plot in rather extreme terms to explore the point. The couples, in various combinations of twos and threes and fours, investigate the issue, and come to the realization that there are unexpected limits to their obligations to their nearest and dearest.

Which brings me back to my prowler.

Photo from David's Advertising Flyer for 'Paris Planning' Model Agency, Paris

I remembered the play some contactless years later when David’s next phone call woke me early one morning. And having since moved, but retained my old phone number, I saw the potential of this new scenario. Not only of retracting from my duty but of making a complete break. I had a new partner.

In a strong supposed Russian accent, I declared I was the new owner of my old address and that I had no knowledge of myself or my whereabouts. There were some moments of confusion – probably due to the unconvincing nature of my impersonation. I finally rang off, red faced. And made all clear for my puzzled boyfriend.

I still feel uncomfortable about the manner but not the outcome of the break.

And a little disconcerted by such an epiphany. But Jean Paul Sartre exhorts us to make choices that did not involve 'mauvais foi' (bad faith) - choices that involve us acting simply as unthinking socialised beings. Actions should spring from us reflecting on a real sense of ourselves.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Another Two 'Three Graces'

Remember 'The Three Graces' in my 6 December 2006 post 'Is there Life after Leandro? (NO!)'?

Well, to refresh your memory, another take - this time by Sandro Botticelli as part of his larger painting 'La Primavera' (1482):

And another 'alternative' take:

Three somewhat different but equally aesthetic types of beauty.

Which are also absolute classics!

Monday, February 19, 2007

May Gibbs (1877-1969) - Lighter and Darker Visions

May Gibbs was one of the few early illustrators and writers of children's books to use indigenous Australian bush images - both flora and fauna.

'The Big Bad Banksiamen and Mrs Cockatoo'

'Gumnut Babies' Watercolour Book Illustration

World War 1 Postcard

While many of Gibbs's local contempories continued to draw on British or European iconography. However, her work was still cast in a style typical to books in the 1920's for younger people:

'The Wattle Babies'

'The Society of Gumnut Artists'

'Gumblossom Babies'

These watercolours are not dissimilar to those of Beatrice Potter (1866-1943), particularly in terms of their anthropomorphoric nature:

Though Gibbs's images are perhaps more powder-puff and effete.

The children's book 'Bib and Bub Their Adventures' resulted from the great success in the early 1920's of a weekly comic strip series of the same name that Gibbs produced for 'The Funnies' pages of 'The Sydney Morning Herald'.

The format the strips is that of the first image of this post, 'The Big Bad Banksiamen and Mrs Cockatoo'. And that of the strip below - 'The Gumnut Inn and Guests' Shoes'. And the strips 'Mr Banksiaman, Tooth Extractor' and 'Mr Carpet Snake and the Mangle', further below.

'The Gumnut Inn and Guests' Shoes'

What is characteristic and newish about these images is the use is a rough and rustic 'art nouveau' style, a style based on the forms of the natural world. It is less polished than the finish of the watercolour plates of her books.

The characters are various. There are anthropomorhized bush creatures - clothed and upright-walking lizards, ducks, snakes, crickets and so on. And completely floral creatures, such as the Big Bad Banksiamen - the most scary in her work, being, in their obvious aboriginality, a form of subliminal racism! With the only completely human beings here, the infants - gumnut babies and wattle babies. Though these tiny people wear clothing made of materials from the natural world - gumnut hats and wattle flower dresses. And are therefore the reverse of the bush creatures in their cloth bonnets, lace-up boots and so on.

The text accompanying many of the story frames is in rhyming couplets. In the same rustic style as the images. Rather than in the usual industrial print.

And the content or themes of the strips are somewhat different to the books. There is shade as well as light. The evils and dangers in life are also present, but are not necessarily eradicated in the approved manner of children's stories. They remain, to be wary of and work around, like the dangers of the real world. Such as the dentist in:

'Mr Banksiaman, Tooth Extractor'

Though Gibbs is also not averse to a (gleefully?) approved death:

'Mr Carpet Snake and the Mangle'

I think this choice of subject matter is something to do with the publishing context and, subsequently, the audience. 'The Funnies' appeared in a daily newpaper and so the readers would be, in part, adult. The sometimes darker content seems to reflect this broader readership.

What started me on this odyssey was childhood memories of my grandmother's reading 'Bib and Bub' aloud to me - usually in a soft scary gleeful voice for maximum fright!!! She loved the rollicking rhyming and accompanied the recital with sudden pointings at characters and actions in the book. She was best with the Big Bad Banksiamen, giving me my first genuine nightmares. And perhaps the stuff of one of my big sexual fantasies: BIG BAD HAIRY MEN!