|Albion St, Morning, oil 20 x 15cm|
Wednesday, 7 September 2016
|Our Tuesday Afternoon Reading Group, from Tales from Outer Suburbia, 2008|
I recently worked with Allen & Unwin to produce a 750-piece jigsaw puzzle of the above image, which comes nicely boxed with a paperback copy of the book from which it is drawn, Tales from Outer Suburbia. I had a crack at my advance copy and found it much harder than expected (which is saying something given I painted it!) One for serious puzzlers.
Jigsaw-puzzling was an important part of my childhood, especially during Perth heat waves when our family would bunker down in our one small air-conditioned room like climate prisoners, sometimes for days on end. Doing these puzzles was perhaps the first time I really learned about the tiny abstract components that constitute a picture; they can actually teach you quite a bit about looking, and by extension, drawing and painting. And are, of course, strangely addictive too.
Due for release October 1, and you can find more about it here.
Sunday, 4 September 2016
|Cover of Small Things, published September 2016|
I never met Mel Tregonning, or spoke to her in person, but we did email back a forth a few times after I discovered her work for a small graphic anthology Flinch published by Gestalt in Perth, for which I was also a contributor in 2009. Her short piece entitled Night featured a lonely character bothered by strange, microbial shapes emerging from shadows cast by her own body, a silent sequence of graphite pencil drawings that struck me as very poetic and assured, and I wrote to let her know how much I liked the piece. I also encouraged her to consider a longer work for publication: it turned out she was pursuing this already, and we talked briefly about the technical difficulties of rendering so many consistently good images in a narrative sequence, especially using tonal drawing – I had just not so long ago completed The Arrival, which has many parallels with the project Mel had set for herself. I also recommended her work to one of my trusted publishers, Allen & Unwin in Melbourne, and was delighted to hear a little while later that they had offered her a book contract. We kept in touch occasionally after that, and Mel shared a few examples of completed pages, which looked terrific, and an interesting evolution from her original piece in Flinch. I was most impressed by her patience, dedication and clarity of vision, not to mention the technical precision of her drawing style and natural sense of narrative flow.
The next time I heard about Mel was during a publishing meeting about another project in late 2014, and my editor, Jodie Webster, who was also working closely with Mel, told me the tragic news that Mel had taken her own life. It was hard to believe and took a long time to register. Her untitled book project had been left incomplete, although only by a relatively small margin. Most of the immaculate artwork had been finished, and apparently Mel had indicated that she still hoped for the book to be published, a wish strongly supported by her family, especially her sister Violet with whom she had a close relationship and often discussed her work.
Given my experience with editing silent narrative I was asked to work as a consultant on the final stages of the project earlier this year (2016). Jodie and the team at Allen & Unwin had already done an excellent job putting together page layouts that worked perfectly in the absence of missing elements; well, almost perfectly. There were a few critical images that Mel had sketched out in detail, but had not been fully rendered in her laborious drawing style, they were only very pale outlines. After examining Mel’s original drawings closely – very large works using soft graphite on medium-weight paper – I realized I was familiar enough with this technique to be able to emulate Mel’s style. Not perfectly perhaps, but enough to carry the reader through certain passages without noticing a difference. I spent a few weeks working on the ‘missing pages’ and these were then able to be added seamlessly into the overall design. Fortunately, Mel had left such intricate preliminary work that this was not difficult to do, only time-consuming, as if she had conscientiously left instructions as to how such work should be carried out. I can confidently say that everything within these pictures is entirely of Mel’s imagination, and I’ve merely assisted with a technical realization, and passed both original art and copyright back to her family. The whole time working on these pictures I could imagine Mel’s critical eye examining every line and smudge, wondering what she would think. It was a very strange experience not being able to ask for advice or approval, even as Mel seemed so present among the original drawings I was using for reference, but perhaps this absence made me try even harder to get it right.
I’m very proud to have played this small part in bringing this excellent book to a broader public, I believe Mel’s vision is an important one to share, regardless of its origins or backstory: it’s just a great book. The narrative itself concerns a small boy whose confidence is literally eaten away by tiny creatures, triggered by relatively minor events at home and school, and growing to alarming proportions within a silent world. There is a wonderful resolution to all this, which is neither sentimental or contrived. And while it is tempting to interpret this on many levels, particularly considering Mel’s own battle with mental illness, I feel some caution is due, that one would do well to avoid drawing simple conclusions. For many artists dealing with inner difficulties (which is most of us) the making of art represents a moment of heightened clarity and mindfulness, not an expression of malaise, and this is the feeling I find in Mel’s work; a clear and critical gaze upon matters that are universal, familiar to everyone, a strong grasp of the delicate balance between hope and despair with which we must all contend, and a kind of enlightened peace – a meditation – that can flow from the act of drawing or writing. Above all else, Small Things is a book must be read entirely on its own terms, projecting whatever it will into the mind of each reader.
To find out more about Small Things, you can read this interview with Violet Tregonning on Triple J’s Hack:
You can also download for free Mel's original short story Night from Gestalt here: http://www.gestaltcomics.com/shelf/digital/night/ and visit the Allen & Unwin site here
Saturday, 3 September 2016
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
A few contributions to new anthology publications:
Along with a number of other Australian creatives, I was invited by a teenage girl named Grace Halphen to give advice to my own 13-year-old self, given that people usually have a particularly difficult time at this age. A terrific and somewhat therapeutic project that will be launched in Melbourne, September 11, you can find out more about it here: http://affirmpress.com.au/publishing/letter-to-my-teenage-self/
A variety of Australian writers were asked to contribute short essays on influential books, particularly those read while young. My own contribution covers my favourite novels, short stories, picture books and comics that either set me on my path or irrevocably derailed me, depending on how you want to look at it. More about it here.
For German readers only, Was ist los an meiner Tür? – What is outside my front door? – is a collection of short stories by winners of the young-people's literature prize, the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (I won an award once for a translation of Tales from Outer Suburbia). I've contributed two original short stories to this collection, 'Pig' and 'Parrot', and enjoyed the rare opportunity to have my writing illustrated by another artist (Aljoscha Blau). More about this anthology here.
And of course, The Singing Bones has just now been published in the UK (Walker Books) and the US (Arthur A Levine Books), featuring a new foreword by Neil Gaiman (who I've known for a couple of decades now, thankyou once again Neil!). Walker UK has also produced a limited boxed edition which includes two signed prints, all wonderfully designed by Nghiem Ta, with whom I've worked on a number of other projects. More about The Singing Bones here.
And you can hear me prattling on about origins and inspirations here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKAdkCc90Ng
Wednesday, 24 August 2016
|Gambling Hans, wire, paper, clay, paint, 30cm tall|
If you happen to be around the upper end of Little Bourke St in Melbourne, do drop by the South American bar and restaurant VAMOS where I'm exhibiting a selection of limited edition prints from The Singing Bones, plus a pointy sculpture of a wolf, alongside an exhibition of work by Inari Kiuru, Saturnalia Industrialis, a speculative meditation on 'industrial moths'. You might even catch some live flamenco! The exhibition runs throughout August, September and beyond; more about VAMOS here.
Also, if you'd like to see the sculpture shown here, drop by the excellent bookstore Brunswick Bound on Sydney Rd in Brunswick (Melbourne) where it sits behind the counter. It depicts a moment when Death is tricked in to climbing a magical tree from which he can't descend for seven years: during that time, nobody dies.
Monday, 22 August 2016
|The Greatest Cat in the World, oil 150 x 100cm|
A stand-alone painting that also relates to a short story of the same title (published in an Australian anthology, Rich and Rare). It was used by the Financial Times UK this weekend to illustrate the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, and also accompany an interview piece by Lorien Kite related to the forthcoming publication of The Singing Bones in the UK on September 1. You can read the full article here.