It is honour to open this one nighter for my very good mates – and rouges – and exceptional artists Nic Plowman and Jan van Dijk.
I would like you to walk into this painting with me.
I would like you to turn around and face away from the painting.
We are all here now, in our imaginations, in this painting, in this mystery.
What do you see there?
Now turn around. Take another look. What catches your eye? What colour, form, shape, figure? Look at the floor and look up again – what takes your attention?
We live in a highly stimulated and stimulating visual world, a world run by advertisers who feed our greed and pull us to yield to consume for me and for mine.
The external world of our tablets and Google and smart phones and big screens in every bar and bowsers and waiting room and in the dentist’s chair.
And we can’t quite work out – if we even try to work out – why we keep buying and travelling and doing and looking and buying and working harder but rarely seeing and being.
And then along comes a painting like this and we will secretly be glad when this speech is over and this night is finished because there’s not enough colour in it and it doesn’t make us feel happy. And we wouldn’t hang it in the lounge room. Maybe we should send it to Canberra!
The mastery of this painting is that it is painted by two artists, that the idea for it grew out of Nic’s and Jan’s conversations and that what you see is not how it began.
I have been involved in the installation of public art murals around Brisbane for a long time now. We recently completed a beautiful work in the Creek Street Tunnel by Mjik Shida and Johnny Beer [Gimiks Born]. The original design submitted to the planning authority was rejected because it wasn’t happy enough. In the conversation with the planning authority there was no conversation, no co -construction and reflection around building a vibrant public art oeuvre. Thankfully, the redesigned and executed Creek Street art work is one of great beauty.
Nic and Jan, however, found that as they talked and drew and sketched and redrew and repainted that the big themes of the big social themes in our country, in Australia, informed their painting. Their process can be reflected in Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence”:
*“And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no-one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
Fools said you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
In the wells of silence.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the ne_on god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said:
“The words of the prophets are
written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.”*
Nic and Jan have given us all here tonight – the only audience to see this work – a glimpse into their conversations, their minds, their hearts, their souls and their strong and mature artistic talent. They are affected by advertising and the consumer driven world we are all in and all affected by, that external world that like a cancer has eaten its way into our internal world, and theirs.
But they have found a prophetic heart to make a clear statement – or maybe even a veiled one for those who cannot see – about the state, the internal state of the heart of our country, Australia.
The words of the prophets are painted on this canvas wall.
As Tom Waits says:
“We are buried beneath the weight of information which is being confused with knowledge. Quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness. We are monkeys with money and guns. “