‘A Brush With the Blues’ was held in Melbourne in February 2020. This was just before Covid hit the scene, forcing us to isolate. The timing for the exhibition in itself, is cause for celebrating. Most of us didn’t know what was coming.The show’s opening was literally a raging success. I say that boldly because it was a party as much as an opening; an opportunity to bring together friends and to share with a wide cross section of the community a body of artwork I felt proud of. However, it also drew people who had a mutual bond and love of Greek Blues music and culture and rallied a group of musicians/ friends with talents of their own. There seemed to be a creative, community spirit to the opening from the start. Indeed, the inspiration for the exhibition in the first place came from a music jam held at a tavern, where with patrons and a core group of musicians created an inclusive and supportive atmosphere for others.
Setting the Scene: It is a bright, sunny, warm Sunday afternoon. Now imagine a large, elegant space with two large glass doors open to the footpath of a tree-lined shopping strip. Inside, 24 colourful, striking, paintings and wall sculptures face each other along the stretch of two walls. The description plaques tell ‘stories’ that are either: poetic, about the making of the art or give a historical/ cultural context to the corresponding artwork. Together they weave a tapestry of information to suit different areas of interest and work to tell a bigger richer story about the art and the theme of the exhibition. An opening speech by the guest speaker takes on the form of a tour of some of the art. His animated and detailed account gets people following him around the space as he highlights certain artworks.
TAKE A LOOK at one visitor’s perspective of the afternoon:
As soon as the speech concludes, in a back corner of the space a large group pf musicians settle themselves onto sofas and other furniture forming a circle. They begin to play and sing as clusters of people move to sit amongst them, or stand around them while others sit nearby on tables. Others take the opportunity to continue looking at the art with less of a crowd.The entrance to the space has two doorways open to a shopping strip. People from within the exhibiting space have spilled out onto the footpath. There is a slight breeze outside and some people have taken refuge from the heat by sitting at the public bench and outdoor alfresco tables. Amongst the music and the enthusiasm whirling around me, all I see are smiles.There are pats on my shoulder and requests to put a red sticker on an artwork keep coming ; until there are only a few left and the hum subsides.
The Jam : My encounter with Greek blues music: Rebetika in a weekly music jam, held at a local Greek tavern only up the road from the exhibition space, compelled me to create this body of work. I was inspired by the cultural, historical and socio-political scope of the music and the stories, characters and raw, poetic lyrics. Struck by the positive effect this often times, misery laden music had on me personally and those around me. In my life I am not drawn to listen to dramatic, moody or abrasive music; watch horror movies or choose to endulge in negativity”. Yet this music, in particular the lyrics of the earlier songs, though heavy and sad always left me feeling so incredibly happy. The role the jam played for the participants both active and audience, is multi-dimensional and worthy of attention and exploration, as is the power of the music so far removed from its original context
The Music: A little about this music: In 1923 from across the seas nearly 2 million Greeks were exiled from Asia Minor /Turkey and arrived, largely unwelcome, as refugees on the shores of Greece. The majority settled in the ports of the cities carrying with them trauma and stories hard to bare. Eventually the musicians amongst the newly displaced population met with urban musicians and together they found a creative and cultural common ground. Thus ‘Rebetika’ was formed, giving expression to the communities’ struggles with poverty, loss, crime and authorities. Today this music is often referred to as the: Greek Blues. With themes still relevant today, it is a genre of music that continues to inspire new generations of Greeks around the world, but also music enthusiasts who are drawn to the courage, charisma and creativity that lie behind the tunes.
The Art : The art of this exhibition had stylistic elements of religious iconography teamed with expressionism. It depicted secular and cultural themes, commanding closer attention from the viewer regardless of cultural background and knowledge of the subject matter. I used less pattern and fine detail than I have in recent years and instead opted for a more vibrant palette and ironic at times imagery. The sculptures were more assemblage based and abstract than my recent labored, multi layered 3 Dimensional works. My subject matter moved across time from the antiquity to the nostalgic past and up to the current, local music scene using Melbourne musicians as muses for several art works.
This exhibition was as much an ode a musical tradition that travelled across the seas, the refugees of old and the socio-political conditions of the time; as it is a reminder of how the Arts bare witness and perhaps has the power to conquer, amongst other things, adversity.