Photograph by Kerry Cross
"Red Chair" is a series of artists talks held at 7.00pm. on the first Wednesday of every month in The Barn at Montsalvat. It's an initiative of the Nillumbik Shire Council in partnership with Montsalvat that's administered under the watchful eye of Irene Pagram, Nillumbik's Co-ordinator of Arts and Cultural Services. It's a partnership Montsalvat is keen to preserve. Last night was the March offering which featured ecological artist Lloyd Godman. That's Lloyd (above) in the red chair with some of his extraordinary work behind. Just when I think Montsalvat couldn't get any better...it does.
All morning I've been wondering how I might do Lloyd and this event justice. In the end, I've decided to just leap in at the deep end and see what happens. Lloyd has generously allowed me to use images from his website (see images below). His website is the most comprehensive documentation of an artist's work that I've ever seen. It formed the basis of his talk (projected up onto an enormous screen), with anecdotes and explanation from him to fill out the experience.
So how to best describe his work in a nutshell? Too hard. When I say he's an ecological artist, what does that mean? It seems that he's not just interested in photographic images and photosynthesis, he's deeply deeply interested in horticulture and preserving the beauty and integrity of the environment. Bromeliads are his passion. He grows them in enormous number and variety at the Baldessin Press, a property he shares with partner and artist Tess Edwards in St Andrews. The work that he described last night shows the abiding connection with ecology/horticulture/the environment, present in some way in all of his artistic endeavour.
So imagine the devastation he felt over the environmental destruction caused by the Black Saturday fires. The fire front came within six minutes of destroying his home, work place and garden. A change in the direction of the wind was all that stood between the Baldessin Press and the full force of the raging fire. Friends and neighbours found refuge with Tess and Lloyd after losing their homes.
What's an artist to do with such a life altering event...In Lloyd's case he spent countless hours taking photos of the bush around his home, first of the utter devastation that surrounded him and later thankfully of the regeneration. These extraordinary photos have been transformed into a work called Entropy exhibited at Montsalvat as part of an exhibition called Symbols of Loss and Recovery. Exhibited in The Barn at Montsalvat, it shows local artists response to the Black Saturday fires. Lloyd's work in particular is a standout. I feel pretty inadequate to the task of bringing you a description of it. In the end, if this post tweaks your interest, I recommend that you take yourself out to Montsalvat to see it for yourself. If like me, you felt the effects of that horrible fire, his work will give you great hope in the regenerative power of the environment.
In the early days after the fire, while taking these photos, Lloyd was frequently so affected by the devastation that he would find himself sitting on a log and weeping in the middle of the bush. It's easy to see why.
Armed with hundreds upon hundreds of photos taken over several years, these single images were then realigned to form triptych such as this one below. Lloyd deliberately created the triptych with parts of the image repeated. Each triptych creates an original image- bending and rearranging what the landscape offered.
During regeneration, on October 16th 2010, it snowed in Kinglake. These images, enlarged on the screen last night, were breathtakingly beautiful.
The joy of regeneration tinged with the heartache of devastation.
Armed with hundreds of photos and triptych the real fun started. With the aid of two computer programs working in tandem (Lloyd had help from a friend for this bit) the triptych were loaded in. Via the wonders of technology they were thrown up onto the screen in random groupings (as seen in the image below). From these groupings, smaller (again random) groupings appear... then smaller groupings... until a single tryptich is shown in large format. A single image from this triptych takes up the screen before another random large group of the triptych appears and the whole random cycle continues. In this way there is no beginning or end to the work, it's a continuous loop. Apparently when the work was first shown at Tarrawarra Museum of Art, a visitor to the gallery remarked that he had sat in front of it for over an hour and didn't once see the beginning. I can understand anyone viewing it for that amount of time...it's utterly mesmerising, some would say meditative.
There is another piece of Lloyd's work that I would like to showcase. It was created on the grounds of Montsalvat in May 2007. Not surprisingly given Lloyds aforementioned interest in horticulture, it's an installation involving the Montsalvat glasshouse. Look out for that one tomorrow. It's just beautiful.
I'll be keeping an eye on the Red Chair event in the future. What a great experience. For information, check out Nillumbik Shire's website.
Today is a sad day for Montsalvat. Friends and family of Matcham Skipper will gather to give him a fond farewell at 3pm today. Matcham passed away last week at the grand old age of 89. He lived and worked at Montsalvat from those early heady days of building and creating under the leadership of Justus Jorgensen. The sadness is palpable. His funeral will be a fitting celebration of his life. David Brown will perform a piece for Shakuhachi flute and Sebastian Jorgensen will play classical guitar. Matcham's ashes will be buried with those of his wife Myra in the grounds at Montsalvat.
Matcham's sculptures abound throughout Montsalvat. His beautifully crafted silver jewellery sits in the Residents Gallery. Next week I'll be compiling photos and stories to honour his passing.
violin maker, Shakuhachi flute maker and Sumi-e painter...
Yes that's right, one artist, many skills. Add an Aikido master with 6th dan to that already impressive list and you have the flavour of David Brown from Montsalvat. Phew, what a scope of talent and achievements. Oh, and I forgot to mention....as I found to my great delight, he not only makes Shakuhachi flutes, he also plays them... beautifully. This really is the best job in the world!
In a tiny studio at Montsalvat, that looks like it's been there for centuries, David was whittling away at a piece of hardwood when I arrived. As we chatted he continued whittling.
David embodies the creative spirit so evident in every nook and cranny of Montsalvat. In 1977, having seen and heard the Shakuhachi flute, he decided that he'd set about making one. Shakuhachi flutes have been around for 700 years. He spent nine years...that's right nine years...perfecting them... and perfect them he did. His flutes are now sold in 37 countries worldwide! I was astounded to learn that he's self taught. The turning point was hearing the flute played by Riley Lee. He was able to show David what a good flute should sound like. Once he could distinguish a beautiful sound from an ordinary sound he set about making sure that his flutes created the former and not the latter. The sound created is hauntingly beautiful.
During the course of our conversation, he casually showed me a piece of music he wrote for the flute...so let's add composer to the list shall we.
Flutes and violins are in evidence all over his workshop.
As I write this, I'm regretting that I didn't ask David to knock out a tune on one his violins. My suspicion is that we can add that to the growing list!
His background in Sumi-e painting (Japanese ink painting) is equally impressive. He was taught by Andre Sollier who brought Japanese ink painting to Australia. David is also much influenced by the contemporary Japanese artist Matazo Kayama. With this expertise at his fingertips he is about to embark on sharing his undeniable talent. He plans to teach Sumi-e at Montsalvat. See his contact details below if you're interested in joining his classes. I've already enrolled.
To see him creating one of these beautiful works have a look at this you-tube. The accompanying flute is played by David and the video production is by another Montsalvat resident. It's filmed in the Great Hall at Montsalvat.
As a long term artist at Montsalvat (he's been there for 22 years), David sees no reason to look elsewhere for a workshop. His love of the place is inviolable. In his own words,
"It's a beautiful place to work! I like the people. I get to feed off the inspiration of other people. Matcham Skipper has been a great inspiration."
I can't help thinking that David Brown himself is a great inspiration and therefore one of Montsalvat's treasures.
If you're interested in the Sumi-e painting classes, or purchasing a handmade flute or violin, contact David by mobile on 0438 347 919.
To see more details about his flutes go to this website.