Goanna Samba

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Heath Goanna (Varanus rosenbergii), Kangaroo Island, South Australia,  Photo Cody Pope, Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes a line gets into your head and leads you to create  something from this small beginning.  That is how it was with this poem.   I could not get the words “goanna samba” out of my mind.  The idea of a Goanna doing a dance move tickled my imagination.  Creativity often comes out of incongruous associations.

Goanna Samba

Monitor Lizard, patterned wizard

In the bush invisible

Disappears standing still

Chases down smaller prey

Hiding in its clever way

 

Great Goanna, beneath verandah

When it’s hot, will meander

Doing the Goanna Samba

 

Sleek reptile, very agile

Climbing trees, with an ease

Catches barest noontime breeze

Beat the heat, sleep and laze

On dusty dry summer days

 

Goanna not salamander

Ancient dragon, so much grander

Doing the goanna samba

 

Smart Goanna, disaster planner

Good defense, survival sense

Finds escape beneath a fence

When bushfire comes suddenly

From raging flames quickly flees

Doing the Goanna Samba

Doing the Goanna Samba

© The Artist’s Child 2017

The Goanna, an Australian Monitor lizard, doesn’t always get the same attention as the cuddly marsupials, unless it does something dangerous to humans.  Yet they are amazing creatures and can be found all over Australia, except Tasmania.   The  Goanna can move very quickly when required.  It has a wonderful undulating gait that reminds me of the Samba dance step.

The following video shows a Goanna visiting a back garden in rural Australia.  Fabulous reptile to watch.

Kat

Memories: Your Own Creative Database

We all have memories of past experiences that give us pleasure or haunt our dreams.  Our memory is a wonderful resource that can inspire artwork.  It is a way to relive a happy moment in your life by transferring the feelings of joy and wonder into something new and tangible.  Or to use a bad experience and transform it into another form so it no longer has any power to cause too much grief, or at least lessens the impact.

Memories can provide inspiration for both realistic or fantasy works.  Some great literature and art has been created from artists and writers using memory as their starting point.  Just a few examples include Charles Dickens use of his early life as a basis for David Copperfield; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird based upon her childhood experiences in a small southern town; and the painter Marc Chagall’s beautiful and dreamlike imagery inspired by the scenery of his childhood in Belarus, part of Russia at the time.  We all have our own memory vault full of unique episodes and images from life that can trigger the imagination and lead us in all kinds of directions.  You never know what will surface.

Sometimes unpleasant memories require a creative solution so that you can move on.  I had a bad experience with someone on a bushwalking trip who was a bully.  I effectively dealt with the situation at the time, but it still came back to give me some anxiety and put me off bushwalking with complete strangers.  I decided to turn the episode into a series of tapestry designs and have fun with my anxiety and fear.  I also wanted to create a sequence where the girl is no longer the victim, so I created a bogeyman who gets his comeuppance. My two favorite images of the series are where the girl is frozen with fear in a protective egg, while the masked bogeyman stands over her (Overcome by Fear) and then after he is reduced in size and she sprays him with insecticide (Overcoming Fear).  Creating these designs made me laugh and feel a lot better.  If you reduce you anxieties to a manageable size they can no longer affect you and you can stomp on them like a bug (that is in the series as well).

Happy memories are usually the ones you treasure the most, especially those relating to childhood.  When it is impossible to go back and visit people and places long gone, the only thing you can do is to recapture and bring them back to life through art or writing.  My grandparents lived on Melbourne’s Yarra River, with an orchard that stretched down to the river’s edge.  It was like visiting the bush with the eucalypts and wildlife, which were part of the river’s ecosystem.  Looking back with some nostalgia I wrote some short poems that try to capture a child’s uncomplicated memories of that place.

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Kookaburra (photo by JJ Harrison, 2010,Wikimedia Commons )

By the River

Kingfisher by the Yarra

Watching the still water

Looking for fish

In a log by the river

Tiger snake likes to slither

Better not sit

© The Artist’s Child, 2017

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Tiger Snake (photo by Teneche, 2010, Wikimedia Commons)

There were only two rules that Ellie and I had to obey when visiting our grandparents. Don’t go near the river’s edge and watch out for snakes.  A Tiger snake had been found asleep in the living room fireplace when my mother was a child. One was sleeping under a log near the river when we were children, and we were kept well away.  As these snakes are deadly, we did not ignore this rule, although I never actually saw one.  In fact I have never seen any snake in the bush at all, probably because I stomp and make some noise so they will hear me coming and disappear.  Or I have just been lucky.

The Laughing Kookaburra, a type of Kingfisher, would steal the goldfish from my grandfather’s fishpond, so he placed a removable steel grill over it.  We would hear them laughing in the trees and it always made you want to join in.

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Tawny Frogmouth Mother and Chicks  (photo by Alan U Kennington, 2011, Wikimedia Commons)

Frogmouths

Three baby Frogmouths

Small bumps in a gum tree

Impossible to see

Then one blinks

Illusion broken

Unlike mother, frozen totem

© The Artist’s Child, 2017

The Tawny Frogmouth is a member of the Nightjar family.  Their tawny feathers act as camouflage in trees.  In one of the orchard eucalypts grandfather pointed out a delightful family of Frogmouths to us as children.  The babies had yet to learn the art of staying completely still like their mother, and would move their heads to look at us.

Bellbirds

Bellbirds ringing, singing

In the river valley of childhood

How they echo in my memory

© The Artist’s Child, 2017

This is probably what I remember and miss most about being down by the Yarra.  The constant calls of the Bellbirds or Bell Minors. Some people find their calls annoying but I find them soothing.  It was hard to believe you were in the middle of a city.

Here is a You Tube video that will give anyone unfamiliar with these birds a sense what it is like to be in their environment.

Everyone has a fantastic database full of memories and it is good to get that retrieval system working.  Once you start delving you will remember all kinds of things that can inspire, disturb or make you laugh and these can feed your creative work.

Kat

Singing Songs and Writing Words

We’ve all heard that famous line “music soothes the savage beast”. It is from a play by the English writer William Congreve (The Mourning Bride, 1697) and the words are actually “music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks and bend a knotted Oak”. Well when I feel like a “knotted Oak” singing and playing music makes me more relaxed and much happier.

As I have mentioned previously in this blog, several years ago I did some creativity classes at a local art group when I was feeling blocked.  As part of the program we did singing to loosen up our creative minds.  The teacher was both an artist and also ran a-cappella choirs.  In the creativity class we learnt how to sing original language songs from different cultures: Indigenous Australian and Maori songs; African tribal and African American songs; European folk and Scottish Gaelic Songs.  It really opened up our minds to World music and we learned a lot about singing in harmony.

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African Drums, Claves and Clap Sticks

Our teacher encouraged us to use the percussion instruments she brought to the classes, like Aboriginal clap sticks, African drums and various shakers.  Clap sticks are made from Native Australian woods and they are much louder than Afro Cuban Claves.  It was fun to sing and use percussion instruments and it helped with our timing.  Ellie and I ended up singing with the teacher’s group for four years, until she moved interstate.  Doing this group activity made us feel really good about ourselves and we have continued to sing whenever possible.

The world would be a much colder place without music.  It brings people together and makes everyone feel better.  Sadly in modern working life singing is usually separate from daily activities, unless you are employed in an enlightened business.  People are rarely encouraged to sing as they work.  In past centuries there were lots of working songs sung while people washed hand dyed textiles, worked on sailing boats, did the housework and other repetitive activities.  Now all you hear is the blaring of radios from building sites or mind numbing Muzak in elevators or stores.  There are buskers of course, but city council regulations don’t usually encourage group participation on a busy street and Flash Mobs don’t happen often enough.

What a different place our country would be if anyone could sing when they felt like it without constraint.  If you do sing when walking along the street you just receive strange looks.  Singing for the hell of it in public must break some unwritten convention about what is socially acceptable behaviour in our uptight society.  You’d probably be classified as a public nuisance and get fined for making a disturbance in some places.

Unfortunately life is not a musical and we all have to create our own time to sing at home or with a community singing group.  There is nothing better than getting together with a group of friends or like-minded strangers and having a sing-a-long.  Even if you feel you cannot sing, you could learn an instrument, do percussion or become part of a drumming circle, anything that allows you to make a noise, especially with others, to free your spirit and get you out of yourself.

As a creative person I like to tell my own stories in song.  Since childhood I have written poems, an interest inherited from my grandfather, who was always expressing himself this way.  Most of my works use a rhyming style suited to song lyrics.  I put these to simple melodies played with four or more chords on the guitar or ukulele.  In my case the words come before the music, not the other way around, because I need to feel strongly about a subject for inspiration to strike and this involves writing.  There are songs that I am quite proud of and have performed some these with Ellie, who also plays the ukulele, at gatherings of friends, at parties and small community groups.

Not all the verses I write end up working as a song and some remain as poems.  The following is a poem written when sleeping in a caravan on our property during house renovations.  I wanted to capture the sense of a stormy night being buffeted by the elements in what is virtually a flimsy tin can on wheels.

WILD NIGHT CARAVAN

caravan-drawing

The cold wind kicks her, she rattles, bells toll

Like a concrete mixer, she rocks and she rolls

The rains starts a thumping

It’s drumming, keeps coming

Sleep not so easy

Wild night caravanshe-huddles-dog-cuddles

While the storm rages, she shakes, she huddles

For what seems like ages, she waits, dog snuggles

The rain starts abating

Day’s breaking, still waiting

Sleep comes so slowly

Wild night caravan

I ended up writing some other lyrics about the caravan and created a better song.  Sometimes you need to rework an idea before you hit on the right combination of words and music.  Once it’s finished, I think it is valuable experience to go out there and try original material before a supportive audience.  It can be daunting but you get used to performing your own stuff.  Some songs work, some don’t, but it is important to keep on trying.

There is no need to be silent, afraid to sing or play music, whether it is someone else’s song or your own.  You don’t have to be a virtuoso.  Music is in all of us and if you practice regularly you will improve, no matter what anyone else says.  Sharing your love of the medium with others is one of the most uplifting and fun things you can do.

Kat

When We Believed in Fairies

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Fairy Design

Watching colourful butterflies in our garden the other day reminded me of our childhood obsession with fairies.  Ellie and I listened with fascination when our parents read stories from illustrated fairy tale books and we played make-believe fairy games in the garden.  In December we had the lovely, paradoxical combination of both the summer fairy world and the winter wonderland of Santa.  The belief in an enchanted world of fairies, elves and a magical being who brought gifts on Christmas night, helped to develop my love of imaginative imagery and fantasy.

Fairies bring magic to the world of children and no wonder they are as popular as ever.  I remember visiting the Ola Cohn Fairy Tree in Melbourne’s Fitzroy gardens as a child and being fascinated by the carved fairies, elves and animals that I thought would move when no one was watching.  Our grandfather would take Ellie and I to the fern gully at the Royal Botanic Gardens.  We called it the Fairy Dell and grandfather would point out the fairies floating under the fronds.  We would see them because our belief was so strong.  Another time he gave us a rock that had a mushroom growing out of the moss on top and told us that this was a fairy house.  The mushroom and moss are long gone but I still have that rock. It was special.

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The Ola Cohn Fairy Tree

In my room hung a print of fairies trooping in a forest (The Fairy Way by Margaret Winifred Tarrant).  I loved that picture and I have it stored away as a memory of childhood.  One summer holiday Mum made us some wings out of wire coat hangers and pantyhose and we would dance around in our ballet leotards or swimsuits pretending we could fly.  I don’t know what happened to those wings.  They probably fell apart from repeated flapping.  If it were too hot outside we would create a fairy house by covering a table with a sheet and play underneath.  We found inspiration for our make-believe games in books.  My favorite Australian fairy books were about the gumnut babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, by May Gibbs and The Little Green Road To Fairyland, beautifully illustrated by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.  I loved the fact that the fairies were depicted in the Australian landscape with native animals and gum trees so it was easy to imagine them in our own environment.  The fantastic fairy tale illustrations by Arthur Rackham were other favorites.  We still have these books because they are timeless.

snugglepot-cuddlepie

It was fun being allowed to stay up late to watch the old 1930s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring Mickey Rooney as Puck on TV.  Although it was in black & white, the film captured the dreamlike world of the fairies and brought Shakespeare alive.  I saw it again recently and it is both an ethereal and humorous version of Shakespeare’s play, despite the basic special effects.  We also enjoyed the 1951 British movie version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol staring Alastair Sim as Scrooge, which usually screens around this time of the year.  The jovial “Ghost of Christmas Present” was a version of Santa Claus.

Like many children, we would visit Santa’s Grotto at a city department store, make our gift wishes and have our photo taken with a perspiring Santa, who always looked like they were about to collapse from heat exhaustion.  It can’t have been an easy summer job even with air-conditioning.  On Christmas night we would leave out a drink and a snack near the fireplace despite the fact it was unlit.  Because it was summer, dad said that Santa would prefer a beer, not milk, as delivering presents was thirsty work.  We were innocent children and it never occurred to us that if everyone did this Santa would have become inebriated.  He always drank his beer.  Waking up at 4 am to the presents hanging on the end post of the bed was always exciting.  We could never wait till daylight.  Ellie would come into my room and we’d unwrap everything together as this was much more fun.

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Santa Xmas Cards

I think I was in the fourth grade at school and mentioned what I wanted from Father Christmas and another girl said, “you don’t still believe in Santa, it’s your parents”.  I was shocked and devastated.   She was not one of my friends and probably said it to be superior.  Because I did not want Ellie to have the same bad experience, I decided to let her down gently and told her that our parents handed out the presents on Santa’s behalf, because he could not get all the way to Australia in one night.  I wish that our parents had told us the truth rather than leaving it to chance.  It is always sad when childhood beliefs are destroyed by some unkind, thoughtless person.  I bet that girl is still a sourpuss.  But the world did not end and it was just a part of growing up.

I don’t remember when my belief in fairies ceased.  I think that it just gradually faded away.  Probably the Santa incident was the beginning of the end.  The tooth fairy vanished after I gained my second set of teeth.  Without that cash incentive she became redundant.  Maybe fairies start to disappear as we learn to cope with the realities of life, but it is hard to forget their magic.

As an adult Myths and Folklore are still important.  I find modern fantasy artists who depict the fairy realm very inspiring.  One of my favorite painters is the British artist Josephine Wall, who produces beautiful, incredibly detailed paintings of the world of fairies and other mythical creatures.  I also love to read fantasy novels and watch films that are based on old fairy tales.  Probably the first book that I read on this subject and still one of my favorites is Faerie Tale by Raymond E Feist, with its references to Celtic mythology.  Quite scary and definitely not a bedtime story for little children.  A masterpiece of the fairy tale genre is the 1940s French film La Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast) directed by Jean Cocteau.  With its living statues, the Beast’s palace is deliciously creepy and surreal.

Fairy tales still capture my imagination and have been an inspiration for my songs and art.  I have made cards with fairy and Santa images to accompany gifts for friends and relatives and will continue to be influenced by these mythical beings and will try to bring them alive.

And hey, if the Irish and the Icelanders will not harm a fairy tree or move an elven rock because this will affect the fairies and elves who dwell there, who’s to say they are wrong. The natural world needs all the help it can get.

So if anyone asks, “do you still believe in fairies?” I will answer’ “Yes, I believe in the idea of Fairies” and that will be the truth.   And as for Santa, he is everywhere whether you believe in him or not.

Happy Holidays.

Kat

(There is a lot more to read and view if you click on the text links in this post, including the full version of the movie, A Christmas Carol).

Childhood Imagination and Scary Stories

The stories that you hear as a child are among the first things to stimulate your imagination and creativity.  Some of these tales stay with you well into adulthood and you often try to recreate that sense of wonder or tension in your own work.

Today we seem to be losing the oral story tradition of past generations because there is such a huge choice of media available to entertain the young.  This is a pity.  It is a good idea to write down the oral stories told to you by your grandparents and parents so that they do not disappear altogether and so that you can pass them on to your own children.

Sometimes the stories that you remember most are the creepy ones, because of the excitement that they generated on the first telling.   My father told my sister and I a great scary story when we were children.  My grandmother also told it to my mother when she was a child while they were doing the dishes.  It was from an old mystery storybook that she owned but which has long since disappeared.

I do not know the original title or the author.  I have searched for it on the Internet and have not been able to find any reference to the work, so I am writing it down here in case anyone out there might know the original tale (it is not The Yellow Wallpaper), as well as to share it with others.  I can only remember the gist of the story so I am filling in the gaps with my own words to make it sound coherent and to give the feeling of the original.  It is set around the turn of the twentieth century.

The Mysterious Wallpaper (unknown author and Me)

A Man, who had been travelling for several years, returned to London to complete some business in the city.  He took a room in a small hotel not far from the central business district. It was a small cozy room that contained a single bed, a small desk, an easy chair and a wardrobe.  However its distinguishing feature was that it was decorated with intricate wallpaper of a jungle leaf pattern, the like of which the traveller had never seen before.

After depositing his bags, the traveller went about his daily business in the city and thought no more about the curious wallpaper.  At the end of the day he ate his evening meal and retired to his room for the night.  Relaxing in the easy chair to catch up on some reading by the soft gaslight, he became aware of a movement out of the corner of his eye and looked towards the wall.  The foliage in the wallpaper seemed to part for a moment and he perceived an indistinct figure in the distance.  As he gazed at the spot the leaves closed as if nothing had happened.  The traveller thought that he must have been imagining things and that the port he had drunk after his meal was probably the cause.  He went to bed and slept soundly.

The next day his routine was much the same and he retired early to his room to complete some business correspondence.  As he sat at the desk immersed in his work, he suddenly became aware of the sound of rustling leaves in front of him.  Again he looked towards the wallpaper to see, between the swaying parted leaves, the distinct figure of an ape-like creature moving through the dense undergrowth.  It turned and looked towards him, stopped, then quickly disappeared into the tangled jungle.

The traveller jumped up with a start and knew that this time he was definitely not dreaming.  He determined to find out more about the strange wallpaper.  After a restless night, with one ear cocked for any unusual disturbance, he went down to the manager’s office and inquired about the wallpaper in his room.  The manager only knew that the wallpaper was a prototype designed by a local artist, who had since died, but that the artist’s sister still lived in the area.  After obtaining her address from the manager he set off to pay her a visit.

Introducing himself to the artist’s sister, the traveller explained that he was a guest of that particular hotel and was interested in learning more about the incredible wallpaper in his room.  The woman was most cordial and proud to talk of her late brother’s work.  She explained that after returning home from an expedition to the dark continent of Africa, her brother became obsessed with recreating the atmosphere and appearance of the jungle.  The wallpaper was the culmination of his efforts and he had been allowed to decorate the room, in fact his own, with the only examples of his final design. Unfortunately he suffered from poor health and died suddenly before it could be put into commercial production.  Moreover, he had expired in that very room, something that the hotel did not advertise.

This whole story made the traveller extremely uneasy and he reluctantly returned to his room for the night.  Rather than retiring to the bed, he made himself comfortable in the easy chair with his trusty pistol by his side as a precaution.  So he would not fall asleep and miss any activity in the wallpaper, he left the gaslight on high and settled down to read.

Despite his best intentions, he could not stay awake much past midnight and dozed off to sleep, in spite of the strong lighting.  In the early hours of the morning he suddenly sat bolt upright.  The room was filled with the sound of violently rustling leaves.  He turned to the wall on his left and there, to his horror, between the wallpaper’s leaves and staring directly at him, was the face of the huge ape-like creature.  As he made a grab for his pistol, the gaslight went out and he was surrounded by darkness and the sound of crashing undergrowth.  He fired wildly and repeatedly in the direction of the beast as his terrified screams rang out in the blackness.  Then silence.

After the mysterious disappearance of the guest in the jungle room, the hotel manager had the wallpaper painted over, as it was not good for business.

THE END

As a child I chose floral wallpaper for my bedroom, but I never wanted any jungle leaves.

There is something special about having a story told through the spoken word that gives it another dimension and creates immediate pictures in your head, as well as effecting the mood.  This tale gave me a love for reading horror and mystery stories that I still have today.   It also made me appreciate the bizarre and this has influenced some of my own artwork.  Maybe you also have a childhood story that will trigger your imagination and lead you to create something new.

I hope that you have enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed recreating the piece.  And if anyone knows of the original author and title please contact me via this website, as it would solve another mystery.

Kat