BRAZIL: In a small coastal town in northern Brazil I created some paintings for the foyer of a hotel I was staying at. Those artworks inspired a love story about a fisherman and a mermaid who in turn transform themselves to live in each other’s worlds. It was spontaneous, unexpected but I immediately recognized that the two large paintings spoke of a rich tale. it was as if i stumbled across a fully formed story that was is not way conscious, premeditated or recalled by me. Though the theme of a fisherman and a mermaid had featured in my work 15 years earlier; I thought it had run its course.
I was clearly in a magical place and the prevailing coastline in my travels was now re-inspiring the subject. The striking difference was that I had never ventured to ‘think’, ‘apply’ or intend to ‘uncover’ a story-line in that earlier artwork.I had always been content to allow the imagery to tell its own story. I may have pondered the symbolic potential of the imagery but preferred mystery and possibility over assigning meaning. Very likely, but unintentionally, I came across as vague or aloof. Now in Brazil many years later I was soon to discover that the stories found me, and that this new work would compel, in fact, ‘insist’ that I become A STORYTELLER
THE STORYTELLER: After finishing painting I went down in the evening for a walk and came across the children of a family I had befriended the previous week. The youngest one, who I called ‘Borboletta’ (Little Butterfly) jumped on to me asking where I had been, they hadn’t seen me for a couple of days. As they gathered around me I showed them photos on my phone of the paintings and mentioned that they tell a story. With this it seemed in seconds the whole family, aunties and grandmother included, got called out and before I knew it I was surrounded with an amphitheatre of plastic chairs outside the dirt path of their home. The eager crowd, along with a night sky, equip with moon and stars, and a string of light bulbs hanging from the trees in the street powered by their generator, gave the scene even more theatrical effect. With unprecedented courage I launched in….
Spurred on by everyone’s enthusiasm, I went ahead and told a tale that was still fresh and unformed, yet to my surprise, unfolded as easily as the paintings on the canvas had. Judging from their reactions, I must have improvised with a good balance of words, actions, pantomime, fresh Portuguese and flexible Spanish. My audience laughed on cue and had eager happy expressions throughout my performance. It was truly a special experience seeing them so captivated and happy. I felt exhilarated, light headed, like I had been taken on a wild magical ride, good – scared. I had lost myself for a moment, experienced an ‘Effie’ with a voice that I had not heard before.
This is how the Fisherman and Mermaid’s Tale came to be. The two hotel paintings provided me with a theme and a striking beginning and an ending, but it was for my Brazilian family that I painted in words, dozens of pictures ; pictures that would take another 2 years for me to create in a studio.
MELBOURNE: I left the art behind in Brazil, but brought the story back home with me as well as the imagery in my minds eye and the magical storytelling experience . Eventually In December 2017 I felt ready to revisit it so I booked an exhibition in my suburb of Melbourne for October the following year. I then set to work on a retelling of the story, but this time through art. What had emerged spontaneously whilst painting far from home, culminated in a gallery space full of sculptures and paintings that told a fuller story, largely on their own terms. Improvising allowed more flow and telling eager happy children gave it substance. Now from my studio in West Brunswick, I took it and told it again, in a different space and with different mediums and process at hand, to discover even more of the tale.
THE INTELLIGENCE IN ART: Because I had such a powerful experience of the art leading me to the story I continued on this path and allowed all manner of things to unfold in the studio through the creative process. This is why i say that art has its “own intelligence” and can tell its own story. Apart from trusting the process (I paid particular attention to the happenstance that is part of most creative processes),even when it seemed to be lead me astray, I also employed dialoguing and asking questions of the artworks. The characters, symbols, objects, shapes, colours in the finished piece offered developments to a story by evoking feelings, meanings, scenarios, insights; things that had never occurred to me or seemed related to the story from Brazil.
Here is a 3 part video series of me in my studio a few weeks after the exhibition telling the story, where it stood at the time of filming
BELLINGEN: “One morning the winds whispered to a fisherman that something special was coming to him …” This is how ‘the fisherman and mermaid’s tale’ starts. After a year together she asks to walk beside her lover, to walk on the earth. Variations on this story exist in many cultures since ancient times. It is a theme that continues to captivate writers, artists and storytellers. Mine differs in that it has no tragedy, danger, sacrifice, or irony, instead it speaks of balance, love, wonder, transformation and growth. In fact after an 8 year cycle: “the fisherman transforms into a dolphin and brings them both back to the sea…”
“In a sacred ceremony called the ‘princess’s throne’, the mermaid transforms her tail into legs and feet..Her first steps are taken standing on his feet as he teaches her how to walk:” Once she gets the hang of walking, for a short time, the mermaid ventures alone into the land surrounding the fisherman’s hut; and this is where Bellingen comes into the picture…
Midway through 2020 I was led to NSW and this hinterland town whose natural landscape and close proximity to a coastline seemed likely to be the area the mermaid first explored soon after gaining her feet. it wasn’t long before the ‘green’ of Bellingen provided me with the ideal inspiration to delve into this part of the story in more detail.
My 2018 exhibition The Fisherman and Mermaid’s Tale that debuted my story in Australia, had presented an overview of this love story, with the potential for more of it to unfold in the future. A recent offer by the Federal Hotel to exhibit in Bellingen does just that. Preparation for INTO THE LUSH GREEN, a new solo show in the Art Space of the hotel has given me the opportunity to explore in more detail the days soon after the fisherman has taught the mermaid how to walk. This exhibition will have paintings and drawings exploring the mermaid’s journey into lush green forests, mountains, waterfalls and rivers, to get a feel ‘for her feet’ and an earthbound connection to nature.
The show will run from Wed. December 2nd, 2020 – Tues. January 5th, 2021