6th November 2017
Auckland, New Zealand
Gallery notes for wall-mounted piece by the New Zealand artist, John Pule.
Rendered in enamel, oils, pencil, pastel and ink on canvas this painting is entitled “Kehe tau hausaga foou,” which translates roughly as, “To All New Arrivals.” Spread across five large panels Pule uses the blue and white colour scheme often associated with Delft china to sketch hundreds of tiny details lifted from both contemporary and ancient culture. Here is Christ crucified and the decapitated head of Batman, nuclear weapons, futuristic jets and Maoiri carvings, enormous mythical beast and buildings. There is a lot going on in this painting. The only thing linking one detail to the next are Pule’s people who are always tiny, indefinitely sketched and dwarfed by life’s larger circumstances. It is as if the artist is saying all new arrivals are in the same boat as those who have always been present, all are little cogs in a much bigger machine. If you stand on the other side of the gallery and let your eye fall loose you can hardly even tell where one painted person ends and the next begins.
10th November 2017
Wellington, New Zealand
“To be alive and to be a writer is enough,” writes the Wellington-based short story writer Katherine Mansfield in her notebook. The year is 1917. Mansfield is both writing and alive. Here is a photograph of her, blunt fringed, bobbed, staring straight down the barrel of the camera. She looks ferocious. The resemblance to Flannery O’Connor is not so much uncanny as implicit. It’s in the haircut, of course, the shoulders back stance, the stoic refusal to do what everyone else is telling her to do. And, O’Connor said something very similar in her letters, a sweet sentence or two about writing and living and finding this combination entirely sufficient. Both women wrote brutal short stories. Both raged against the feeble prisons of their own bodies. Both were dead by the age of 40. But still, for some time at least, they were alive and they were writing and this was enough to leave the rest of us feeling cheated.
15th December 2017
Ballina, County Mayo
Wendell Berry offers advice on living well during difficult times. No good, he writes, will come of holing yourself up with your own anxiety. Live well. Laugh hard. Eat delicious edible things. Be with the people you love. Do small acts of kindness when the opportunity arises. Such words would sound like fridge magnet truisms from a lesser pen. But, in the hands of Wendell Berry, they hold weight. They seem positively Biblical.
Do not be afraid to be happy in your own small corner writes Wendell Berry, and you feel instantly better about the wine you have just drunk and the book you are currently reading and the friend you have recently spent hours with –not putting the world to right- merely talking. Then you realise that Wendell Berry is writing in 1968. He knows nothing of 9:11, of ISIL, Trump or Brexit, the polar ice caps gone to shit. There are so many dreadful things Wendell Berry has yet to encounter. You wonder if he might have offered alternative advice in 2017. You think not. Hope is hope, no matter how hard come by. You press on.
21st December 2017
Pause. Place the shopping bags aside. And the eating. And the just-because-it’s-Christmas drinks with friends you barely see from one end of the year to the next. Take two hours and fifteen minutes to watch It’s A Wonderful Life on the big screen. Alone. Or in the company of a like-minded friend. So familiar is this film, you might as well be watching your own hand clenching and unclenching. But isn’t there a kind of comfort in repetitive action?
Count the scenes off as they slip past: the near miss at the drugstore, the high school dance, the damp honeymoon, the bridge, the bridge again. Note small details you have previously missed, for example the policeman following Harry Bailey into the party with an inexplicable accordion clamped to his chest. Weep earnestly during the closing scenes. Remember that which is good and that which is true: community/friendship/selfless living. Try to feel like it is properly Christmas now.
Recall, as you recall, once annually, that the most unspeakably awful thing to be is a female librarian, single in your late thirties. Do not dream of Clarence the elderly angel, or Jimmy Stewart, dashing homewards through a blizzard, but rather nightmare yourself on a soft focus vision of Donna Reed, glassed and spinster hatted by the library, screaming like a Hitchcock dame.