Sunday, November 18, 2007


ROGER HILTON'S SUGAR, Kelvin Corcoran (Leafe Press, Nottingham, UK), 2005.

What does the poet want of the painting? A poem; the absolute given ("world", "language") such as poetry would die for (though the good chance the painter's done just that is temporarily forgotten).
To the poet, the painting is already part of the world --a step or a word away from the impenetrability one might also call nothing (as in how & what to say anything); a speaking not merely audible but coherent.
The poet in the wake of the painting joins a conversation, answers because spoken to, enrolls the painting in the ventriloquy that's largely the art. To the poet the articulate painter is the painting(s) speaking. The oracle. To the poet , painter is often who one would like to be, doing, naturally, what one would like to do.
Kelvin Corcoran's Roger Hilton's Sugar (Leafe Press, UK, 2005) is as candle to moth for me if only because Hilton's one of the St Ives school, the most personal artist of that distinctively English modernism flowering at mid-century. He's one of mine, as it were, since in addition to assuaging my ex-pat's nativist fascination, he fields the formal contradiction of contemporary painting, dealing both abstractly & figuratively with the challenges of representation & feeling.
Hilton's line-drawing, Seated Nude 1972, is wonderful on the cover & also heads the sequence of poems. It's similar to the many female nudes in Night Letters and selected drawings (selected by Rosemary Hilton, produced by Newlyn Orion Galleries Ltd., 1980), those he confesses to becoming bored with in that remarkable tragi-comic testimony. The title of Corcoran's book refers to Hilton's great word-painting, Fuck You Wheres My Sugar (gouache, 1973), which I've only ever seen in reproduction in Adrian Lewis's The Last Days of Hilton (Sansom & Company, UK, 1996).
So what does Corcoran want of Roger Hilton? In his chapbook, the painter's words, often drawn from Night Letters, & the poet's words, evoking the painter & his works, convulse --sudden image in my head of the moment, in all its film versions, that Dr Frankenstein's creature spasms into life!-- and Roger Hilton appears to be up & about & all around one. My experience of Kelvin Corcoran's poetry is much the same --as though literary culture is the ground, received, mediated --not done to death though, since he tills this particular earth wholeheartedly, his head a pair of hands & no lump of stone --and disport he will, with & upon it (--the problem, if I may say, of intellect in the equation with song (that is, the sound of it, voice defined as subject's truest quiver that'll shake & fork poem (& painting come to that) to disorder's most perfect pitch) --likewise the problem of historian, political analyst, propounding critic --welcoming --could that be true? would that it were! --whatever contradiction, expressed as text, which love exacts. Love? Well of course, love : the body that doesnt mind, the body unbound --"My mind empties around the tower / of Kapetanios Christeas and into the sea", Ino in Against Purity, from New & Selected Poems (Shearsman, 2004) --the sensually responding, data dissolving, feeling, desiring poet come through all-knowing's blaze, relatively unscathed!
Corcoran's a dissenter whose poetics & politics snuggle up cuddly as these times' rad rap expects them to (--his "English Bores", in one poem, who've "co-opted Ashbery", probably line up with his Blair, Bush, Sharon, Milosevic in another poem, "those who are wired to the world, who cannot set ambition aside." --and not much of a charge, really --I mean, any four nobs would do, surely? -Mandela, Arafat, Mugabe, the Pope --but I suspect his foursome are code for "Fascists" or some such, with the despicable Milosevic there to anchor the calumny --Blair & Bush the patsies for the relativist political equation that makes nothing very much of the profound distinction between megalomaniac, racist dictatorship & liberal-democratic society; Sharon included not only as the legendary butcher but cypher for Israel in the Left's lunatic repudiation of her sovereignty (--as though poetry could be "reactionary" in such raw political terms --as though political terms served poetry's definition at all? --but, to be fair, Corcoran is a poet of history who, of course, uses the materials according to his own interest)... And he enrolls Roger Hilton in the same disaffection, disaffiliation... The famous incident of Hilton trying to give away his own CBE -- poignantly in Roger Hilton's Sugar : "I am lying under a bus in St Just / -who wants this fucking medal? / It's a curse on me for staleness, / I could use this gravel, textured to my face, / fairer far than palace walls." -- is more complicated in Jeremy Le Grice as quoted by Adrian Lewis, the contradictory psychology of the anarchist who keeps an eye on career... For Corcoran a feature of his quixotic conjuration, a Hilton whose "Stick it in your pipe" is an inflection of the "brand to stick in the eye of state"...
Probably Hilton's greater role for Corcoran is that of index of Englishness --of England & the English --from out of geology, topography, climate, culture, aesthetics, politics --exemplar of what I think of, from so far away in Australia, as the quirkiness of that marvelous place, not just St Ives but all of England as that magical "secret island". And that's Corcoran himself, hiltoned thus :


My discontinuous line is sexual, intimate, savage.
your fantastic anatomy my vehicle;
this is what they say - beast, charming I'm sure,
show the whole world, why don't you?

As is your life, so is your line,
a fragment made abstract and broadcast;
the human sensation we die for;
my nudes and other animals dancing.

My horses, carts, boats and flowers
such earthly bodies in motion overlap,
run into one another the quick sensation
behind the big secret behind all thought.

Bow down you Greeks, you ghosts;
I am on the last run, with no feeling in my feet.

So much more one could say... Corcoran's domestication of Pound's dictum in the opening of the second stanza above (& Pound surely inferred in the coupling of the misquotation with giveaway word "broadcast"? --and Jack Spicer's moniker "radio" quite a motif in Corcoran's work generally)... Corcoran's lifting from WS Graham's poem, Lines On Roger Hilton's Watch, the image of Hilton's gaze, "Nothing can replace the long, steady gaze, / face to face with the picture." (Seeing Hilton), against the artist's teasing instruction, from Night Letters, "Never confront either a painting or your wife face to face. They are better seen out of the corner of your eye, while you are entertaining yourself with other things."
(These are observations, not quibbles, about the use a poet makes of historical material --all grist, yes, but something closer to metaphysics emerges than history supposes --or is it simply the natural waywardness of the lyric & what happens to history when it's caught in lyric's throat, tuned on poetry's tongue?)
My heart goes out to Kelvin Corcoran for his English project which is far from simplified in an artist like Hilton, however poetically configured --Hilton & that entire St Ives, & further, neo-Romantic, crew --before, during & after abstract-expressionism; before, during & after postmodernism...

--Kris Hemensley--
November 12-18, 2007

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


[KRIS COAD : "WAITING..." , at Diane Tanzer Gallery, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
October 20-November 17,2007]


As one artist to another : our currency is response. Being a friend of the artist exacerbates the obligation (Robert Duncan : responsibility is the ability to respond), & propels the urgency.
I assume, now, exquisite ceramics from Kris Coad, and the chamotte clay tiles & stools & the bone-china shoes in her new exhibition, Waiting..., reward that expectation. One must constantly remind oneself of the sophistication of her work lest familiarity blunts ones appreciation of her true & tried craft nous. Her piece in the Contamination group-exhibition at the Gasworks, Albert Park (18/10 -28/10/07), is yet another example of her ability to make exquisite ceramic art of simple themes & familiar objects : viewed from the notional front, pillow-cases on a clothes-line; from the back, the garments within the translucent pillow-cases; on the near wall, a product of the entire exhibition's theatre-lighting, the clothes'-like shadows, a wonderful bonus for the particular work.
It's an irony, though, that the deliberate theatrical staging of the Gasworks show, the Gasworks' house-style I think (individually lit pieces within the large darkened area), fully expresses the innate drama of the work itself --a work (Washing Day) which probably wouldnt demand an entire show's focus as does Waiting...'s clearly connected tableaux at Tanzer's. But what the room at Tanzer's required, in my opinion, was a gradation of light appropriate to the different tableaux, especially for one I initially thought was the single piece but as the price-list clearly indicates is in fact three! And, in my mind, those three of seven tableaux do create an installation of their own, utterly different in its suggestivity to the remainder of the room. The expectedly exquisite smaller pieces --e.g., stool, tile, shoes --are disarmingly elegant, but the largest tableaux, the intended work or my fabrication, is something else again!
A week or so ago, on first visiting Kris's exhibition, I assumed that the entire room was an installation, an unfolding though mysterious narrative. And I wasnt going to be diverted by the artist's title or, paradoxically, by the beauty of her tiles, stools, & shoes. I was consumed by the riddle also appreciated, I realized, in the penultimate sentences of Sarah Bond's catalogue-note --"Is there another room to enter and should I remove my own shoes out of respect? Have they been collected here for another purpose?"
Remove my own shoes? O God, I thought, remove myself; so difficult to be there as the awful feeling grew in me & around me that Kris Coad's largest tableaux was no homage to an Asian temple but the ante-room of something like a dungeon of no return, even one of the death camps' ghastly ovens.
Waiting? Of course, objects always await their narrators. They are, if you like, referred subjects themselves --perfect in themselves but inanimate. It is human presence/absence (Buddhist living/dying?) which dynamises them. Whatever they are is not narrative. But mercy : mercy, mercy, mercy : the owners of these shoes werent ever coming back...
One of Kris Coad's signatures is the illuminated object (electric light artfully deployed upon the unique texture of her pieces). So possessed was I by the macabre stillness of the large tableaux that I saw candles within the shoes, little shoe candles, little flickerings for the departed souls, diminutive sepulchres. I wished then for muted lighting or darkness except for the few lit shoes & whatever filtered in from outside the gallery. However, I completely accept the comment made to me by Ursula Dutkiewicz, when we discussed these issues at the Gasworks last week, that there is a world of difference between a commercial gallery & something like the Gasworks, a space given over to its artists. So, of course, one understands & accepts the definitive tension in a commercial gallery between commercial & aesthetic imperatives. Tanzer's does well in this context : the grey wall at right angles to one tableaux, the large white screen contextualising the largest work, are crucial theatrical props. Priceless, as it were.
This is Kris Coad's first large room : her work deserved it! She filled it! No waiting for Kris Coad! The artist's arrived!

--Kris Hemensley
October 28-November 7,2007

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Regarding John Hubbard (in Dorset)

from the Journal[English], Journey 07
Tuesday, 9th October (...) Abed,11-05pm. Nothing much doing in Dorchester -- For a start the spitting rain of Weymouth had become heavy downpour in Dorchester --no chance, therefore, of following the stream into the countryside abutting the town but hidden from it (in the sense of this countryside surprising one when one comes upon it so close to the town centre) -- We visited the Museum wch. was showing paintings by John Hubbard but the thought of 6 Pounds entry x 2 for an exhibition of aerial views of Dorset several of which we could see through the entrance of the gallery room put Naad [Bernard Hemensley] off & therefore me too -- But cards & catalogue of earlier show were inviting --
At Library later on I researched [Googled] John Hubbard and was happy to find his story : from Connecticut, came to UK in 1961. . .He's in his late 60s [70s actually]. . .When I saw Naad again I told him JH was one of ours. . .references to Peter Lanyon, Mark Tobey, Maurice Graves, Zen & Taoism, Chinese poetry. . .Mentioned in dispatches by Peter Fuller. Say no more. The unexpected gift of this Journey. I have his e/mail and will probably follow up.

from little jottings notebook, at the Blue Raddle, Dorchester
Wednesday, 10th October. As luck wd have it (luck? --this is synchronicity, non?) I met the artist, John Hubbard, and only could have done so had we not attended the show y'day and only didnt because we thought entry was 6 Pounds and the view from the doorway was of aerial views which we thought would amount to a couple of paintings on each wall of a type that might not not detain us --
Spoke to JH
tall man, green jumper, runners, corduroys, angular face, distant american tinge to accent -- I'd been aware of him & a woman he'd greeted with hug & kiss -- That's not Dorchester, I thought : he might be the artist! -- When they came alongside (I was riveted by a charcoal of Dartmoor, intrigued by sub-title "The Inland Sea") I listened a while to their conversation then when he caught my eye (and the term "psychogeography" ascribed to Iain Sinclair tickles me again --that intersection of energies wch. can be mapped, wch. actualises what we call synchronicity --& how appealing is that?!)(and isnt that already available --the principle established by Konrad Bayer "map of his head"?) I smiled & sd I apologised for "eavesdropping his conversation" (he was telling his friend that the small oils on paper were done in Sutherland --in Scotland? or did he say that friends of his or children had become fascinated by Sutherland wch. I took to be Graham Sutherland), and sd how much I liked the charcoal -- He said it was alright to eavesdrop : he was "talking for me as well" -- It's always nice to meet new people, he said --I said I'd looked him up on the internet, loved the Rubens detail wch. I'd magnified to the maximum --loved the shape & flow of the tree in the foreground -- Also said I'd picked up on a reviewer's ref. to Peter Lanyon --he was a friend of mine, he said -- With that ref. in mind I'd wondered if I was looking at aerial views? -- He said people often sd. that but he "most strenuously rejected [he] was doing that" -- "Mine arent aerial --they're from the ground up!" -- I told him I was from Oz -- He said he had a picture in Australia -- in Ballarat? I asked [according to internet] -- He thought about it -- yes, there, he said, but s/where else, at the gallery in Melbourne -- I said I'd look out for it -- I congratulated him on his show, left him to his principal admirer and said to a woman who'd approached him same time as I did : sorry for stealing your conversation! Not at all, she laughed, I can talk to him now! -- Sense then of a local art scene --

from the Journal
Thursday, 11-10-07, in the conservatory, 5pm (...) Re- John Hubbard -- It was flicking thru catalogue of charcoal drawings in the Museum foyer that caught me -- Naad thought we'd seen his work years ago -- and knew s/thing of him, e.g. Abbotsbury Gardens, designing a garden -- And when I looked him up on the internet I had all the confirmation I needed. It's always been an imperative to connect with &/or contact the local [Dorset] scene -- [Jack] Clemo back in '87 or '90, the Powys family, the Portland gallery/Margaret Somerville, Anne Axenskold, the Canadian painter [Marie Laywine Cooper, in Abbotsbury] et al -- John Hubbard is part of that home-making for me and by extension for Naad also -- I found an e/ contact for him on his web-site wch. decided the issue : I now had to see the latest show, aerial views or not!
Couldnt believe that the show was free entry --what a faux-pas previous day -- And then deducing the older, tall, grey-haired chap in green jumper & runners was him --darting around the gallery, greeting a woman admirer & guiding her from one painting to the next -- Had to be him! --
A chap in waistcoat over white shirt, a moustachio Bootsy & Snudge character, was the first to introduce himself --a fan evidently who referred to previous [of JH's] shows -- And so when JH & woman friend came alongside I just had to say s/thing!--
I like the Dartmoor charcoal very much, I said, and also the 4 small works adjacent -- "From memory" or "from my head" he'd told his friend -- & "Sutherland" wch. cd have been the region of Scotland or the esteemed painter!
I mentioned the ref. to P. Lanyon in review on internet --wondered if I was looking at aerial views? Lanyon a great friend but no, he "strenuously" denied that his pictures are aerial -- my look up not down! he said -- For example, the large cliff & sea & sky painting I heard him describing to his friend -- I mentioned Lanyon's Mullion Bay in Melbourne --he seemed to know it and agreed people looking at Lanyon could interpret his own work in similar fashion --
I told him how taken I'd been by the Rubens (detail) on the internet --the sensuous foreground tree -- I'm sure we'll talk anon. . .

Sunday, 21-10-07 [Melbourne] (...) I've enjoyed reading & re-reading John Hubbard's catalogue note for his Spanish paintings & drawings (Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster) earlier this year. I'm particularly touched by the reference to Dorset & Cornish locations juxtaposed with the 20thCentury painting references one accepts as the major tradition & also those refs. to the Ancient Chinese & the Tao --for example, on the subject of the artificiality of horizons, "While I have only been to Tresco [Scilly Isles] twice (and you can't see the horizon within that garden), I have known both Porthmeor & Chesil for over 40 years. I used to divide my paintings into introspective (woodlands) & extrovert (open landscapes) but for some years that has ceased to apply. There is the endless fascination of water, its movement & shifting light is the essence of life itself, as the Chinese realised long ago. it is an important part of the Tao."

November 3rd, 2007, Melbourne