Life is a Big Canvas
Art should be experienced first hand
I recently picked up a greeting card which had a quote from actor, Danny Kay, that read, ’life is a great big canvas and you should throw all the paint on it you can’, I read this card about the same time I heard the news that Inge King, a prolific sculptor, had died at 100 years of age.
It made me ponder the life and accomplishments of this significant Australian sculptor whose oeuvre has influenced many artists including several sculptural projects at St Catherine’s School. As a sculptor who minimalised and controlled colour, King definitely ‘threw paint’ at her life canvas.
As a teacher, I believe students should experience Art first hand. While the internet has empowered us to become much more visually sophisticated by enabling artworks to be viewed from around the world, it also packages the artwork up neatly with back light shining through the image giving the artworks a sense of sameness, almost as a commodity.
Unlike seeing it on a screen, real art is complex and the tactility, scale and form of sculpture can be challenging. The current Year 10 cohort went to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to experience Inge King’s work two years ago and were faced with mostly highly abstract, often minimalist, artworks that were lacking in a subject matter. The ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ were more pertinent walking around the forms of these sculptures.
When one realises King was a 98 year old Jewish woman who had fled Nazi Germany, married an Australian artist in London and emigrated to Melbourne, one ponders why this woman continued to make sculpture after facing such adverse conditions. Impressively, King was able to refine and develop her art ideas to the extent that her accomplishments were acknowledged with a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in January 1984.
Melbourne in 1951 was vastly different to the thriving arts scene evident today. In fact, King was quoted saying that Melbourne was ‘like a can of flat beer’. On arrival, King found groups of painters but not sculptors. Faced with a new country, little resources, speaking another language, isolated from an artistic community and bringing up a young family, did she stop making art? Not at all. King started the hugely influential sculpture group called ‘Centre 5’. She made beautiful jewellery to make ends meet and developed sculptural maquettes which cut down the costs of foundry and construction until she could find funding for more permanent work such as Forward Surge, 1976 outside of the NGV and Rings of Saturn, 2006 at Heide Museum of Modern Art.
I wonder what it was about King that prevented her from giving up. Sculpture is so physical and an artist needs space, technology and money to create these artforms. I have watched videos about King available online that portray her on a construction site building large scale public artworks and I also wonder how she obtained the technical expertise to pull off such sculptures.
The answer is most likely what we consistently teach our Art students:
- work at it;
- refine your ideas;
- trial your techniques;
- pay attention to your processes; and
- look for the unexpected successes.
When it goes wrong:
- see if you can modify it or rework it;
- expect it to go wrong; and
- learn from it.
Do not plan in your head:
- document your journey;
- learn the characteristics of your materials and media intimately; and
- expect to get better at art making with experience and practice.
It will not happen without hard work:
- do not give up;
- refine; and most of all
- make art, make art and make art.
Inge King had a long career making art but it does not matter what your career may be – learning and practising art develops life skills. Just like in art, in life you have to work at it, refine your ideas, trial your techniques, pay attention to your processes and look for the unexpected successes.
In life when it goes wrong, see if you can modify or rework what you are facing. Expect things to go wrong and learn from it. Do not plan in your head. Document your journey. Do not give up. Push, develop, refine because ‘life is a great big canvas and you should throw all the paint on it you can’.