Art Studio: Notes towards a mural #1

I’m doing it again, taking all my notes as scrawls and screeds on the backs of drawings. I need to scan things in and transcribe them to this blog. I need to document my thought process and my experiments more thoroughly, and in a way that is useful not just for school but for my own reflection. Here are few of the more substantive bits from my scrawling. I won’t bother tidying them up. I just want some of my thoughts up on here. I’ll hopefully be able to refer back to them more reliably this way.


The provocation for this project is to take our previous work about the history of art and to rework it thinking about the future of art.

Having set up this process where I work exposed to scrutiny from my community – Mount Cook, and more broadly Wellington – and having investigated Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo last semester, I feel like muralism is the most obvious step forward. I want to make art about politics today, but it also needs to be art that passers-by in Mount Cook can relate to. I want to bring the communicative sensibilities of the “plain English” movement to my art-making. When I say this, I do not mean that I wish to make minimalist or simple art, but only that I wish to make art that is as direct and clear as Anton Chekov’s writing. Art need not be a riddle. That could be another lesson I’ve learned by comparing Diego Rivera’s murals to the other well known Mexican muralists such as David Siqueros, Ramón Alva de la Canal, and José Clemente Orozco. Siqueros and Orozco are better painters than Rivera in terms of technique – Siqueros is particularly expert at depicting form – but Rivera is the better artist in the earnest way he approaches and invites his audience to understand and enjoy.

Strange Fruit, Dried Tubers

In several incidents across recent years, bodies have been left in dark spaces, encased, sometimes irretrievable, thanks to negligence that will go unprosecuted and in the future unprevented.

In Tonga the MV Princess Ashika sank, taking more than 80 people to the bottom of the ocean. Despite harbouring similar structural issues to MV Princess Ashika, Tongan officials allowed the MV Pulupaki to sail between the islands for months following the tragedy. The wealthy leaders and businesspeople, both Tongan and New Zealand, those who collaborated to put two unseaworthy vessels into the Tongan transport system, also ensured they would face only the lightest wrist slaps.

There are similarities between this tragedy and the deadly explosion at the Pike River Mine.

How Strange Fruit Relates

8 years ago, during the summer school period, I took a university course that has influenced me very much: Jazz and Race in American Literature. The paper introduced us not only to authors like James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, but also to musicians like Bessie Smith, and it was the music and its history that stayed with me far more than the literature. During this course was the first time I ever heard Mood Indigo. It was the first time I ever heard Billy Holiday’s version of Strange Fruit (I already knew Nina Simone’s). When you hear the term “jazz” bandied about by today’s popular music scene you’d probably associate it with the sort of tidy, middle class sort of jazz – the kind of jazz that racists call “white” jazz. Tidy, classy jazz is the least jazz-like of all jazz, even when it still warrants the name it is the least connected to what I see as the very root of jazz, which is the blues. True jazz is joyously downhearted and dirty, competing over the drinking and shouting of a crowd. Jazz is not transcendent, it anchors. Or it’s just an intellectual conceit. Meh. Not sure how useful this line of thought is. Oh, right. “black bodies” is a line in Strange Fruit: “Black bodies swinging in the Southern Trees.” The bodies in the lower portion of the image should be universalised human figures, curled up in death, the paint manipulated, dragged and scraped like in Leon Golub, providing a material contrast with the Rivera-like paintings at the top.


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