Retrospective

This piece comes from an exhibition of the work of celebrated Australian artist and sculptor Brett Whiteley. Parts of his enormous masterwork "Alchemy" can be found on the cover artwork of Dire Straits' album of the same name. A long-term drug user, he died in 1992 from a heroin overdose.

 

Retrospective

A metaphor for clear technique,

the Gallery (patrolled, secure,

well-scrubbed, ambiguous)

hides Brett in thrall -

displayed for all, beyond critique;

 

hung out to dry, remaining wet,

crucified on temple walls

with narrow, appraiseful eyes

looking for arch, hi-tech Art

to spout at lovers barely met.

 

His Tunis eyes are gates of fire

or maybe just the heroin

that made him crazy or kept him sane

enough to leave this life

before it left him for a liar.

 

And harsh, irrelevant crowds slide by,

juxtaposing, inclining the head,

shuffling through, blocking the view;

being Gallery People of purpose and hue

enough alike to question why

 

he fashioned, created, sculpted, bled

in chiaroscuro, beyond the grab

of sleeve-pullers; the risks

of obsequious ignorance

when half are living, and half are dead.

 

And you are, too (aren't you?)

a styx pole-vaulter with clear technique

to spear a squirmer with the deftest flick

of Titanium White or Vincent's yellow,

in liquid depths of Harbour blue.

 

Dissolve to canvas, wood,

bird-of-paradise feathers,

light-flashes, glass eyes, careful twigs,

a laugh, a swig of very good wine

(you to yours, I drank what I could) ...

 

of the needle of life, the birth of pleasure

which burns like honesty in gates of fire,

make love of Art imperfect shrine.

 

Chris Hubbard

Perth, 2018

ambiguousArtchiaroscurocritiquecrucifiedfeathersignoranceimperfectliarpole-vaulterpurposetechniqueTunis

◄ The Meaningless Surface of Life

The Goddess is Dancing ►

Comments

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Chris Hubbard

Tue 9th Jan 2018 22:34

Hi Stu,
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I certainly try to choose words which not only work intrinsically, but set up the tone I'm looking for. I also think about the structure of the piece on the page as an integral element of the finished work.

Chris

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Stu Buck

Tue 9th Jan 2018 13:46

so good chris. i love the dark vein (excuse the pun) running through the whole thing, much like the heroin itself. it works beautifully with the more standard (in language not in quality) words you use to describe the galleries and public. really good. i hope that makes sense, i'm a little tired.

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Chris Hubbard

Tue 9th Jan 2018 13:18

Hi Keith,

Thank you for these comments. They are much appreciated.

Whiteley's images and his sculpture left a lasting effect on my mind, now some twenty years ago in that Gallery. Their sheer power was visually overwhelming.

I sometimes think that the most maddening part of this art form is the way it impels you forward in search of some perfect poetical nirvana. As a reformed perfectionist I know that "down this road be dragons".

But still I try.

Chris

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keith jeffries

Tue 9th Jan 2018 10:49

Chris, this poem evokes many images of galleries, art and their impression on us, but the poem is a focus on the artist, his struggle which eventually resulted in his death. So many gifted, talented musicians and artists share this fate. The poem poses many questions as to the nature and burden of creativity and genius. I enjoyed it enormously as you have reached beneath the surface and discovered the kernel. Keith

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Chris Hubbard

Tue 9th Jan 2018 10:01

Hi Col,
This poem has had a long gestation period since I saw the Whiteley retrospective in the late nineteen nineties. I still remember the almost electric effect it had on me.

In those days I was only starting out in poetry and did not know how to approach the structure or atmospherics. I recently dusted it off, gave it a thorough renovation and launched it on an unsuspecting audience.

The exhibition was in Perth though, at the Art Gallery of Western Australia - it caused quite a stir at the time.

Best wishes,

Chris

<Deleted User> (13762)

Tue 9th Jan 2018 08:48

this is an excellent and well-constructed poem Chris with so much going on - the art, the gallery, the artist's life, the critics, the public - all skillfully thrown onto your writing canvas. I would have loved to have seen the exhibition. Was it in Perth recently? Cheers, Col.

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