Nobody looks at the moon in the afternoon

I never intended this blog to be about my work, but things change and the opportunity to exhibit presented itself, so why not? My latest exhibition has been some time in the making. I haven’t exhibited in this way for some years; recent exhibitions have been group, stock shows or competitions, not a considered, solo show of an integrated body of work. That raised a question; how do I get back into this with purpose? Set some goals, I thought. So, the works for Nobody looks at the moon in the afternoon were made with three goals in mind. The first, was to develop and refine my skills through the discipline of observation – really looking at something. Looking so hard that that you start to break down what you usually take for granted into geometry, into abstract, separated form. The second, dealing with the technical problems of watercolour painting.

All good there then, but what to paint? A recent question I keep asking myself found its way to the front of my mind. How do we present ourselves? What face do we put on each morning to face the world and what mask do we show in our various guises ­- parent, professional, friend or just plain person in the street? How is it (or perhaps more accurately, are they) interpreted, perceived, accepted (or not) by the rest of the world? Sometimes of course, the mask slips. When we are tired, overtaken by emotion, delighted by happy outcome, angered by the opposite, piqued by criticism, vexed or uncertain, different countenances appear – perhaps three or five in quick, split-second sequence before the acceptable, reasonable mask returns. To catch those other, raw, unfettered faces isn’t easy – you have to really look – and often they are so fleeting you feel you have missed them somehow – that they weren’t real, it didn’t happen, that such emotion couldn’t possibly be expressed. And that gave the third goal – what happens when the expression we make when the subtler emotions we experience are recorded (or at least, attempt to be recorded) in the form a painting?

So, with all that on board, what do you see on the gallery walls? The 15 or so works in this exhibition are all comparatively small works on paper. They are not intended to impress through huge scale. The likes of It might be too, doubtless it was so, is roughly snapshot sized; even the largest, The mystic shadow of suspicion possesses modest dimensions; the scale asks the viewer to approach and investigate. This is intentional – and reflects my first goal of observation; the works ask the same concentration of observation of the viewer that I felt I needed to make in creating these works. The idea is to create a sequence of experience; engagement, discourse/exchange and finally, reflection and resolution.

DSC_0197 (2)
John Rabling It might be too, doubtless it was so. Watercolour on paper, 2018.


DSC_0204 (2)
John Rabling The mystic shadow of suspicion. Watercolour on paper, 2018.

This idea of observation is shamelessly taken from one of my favourite authors, Italo Calvino. In the 1980s, he published Mr Palomar, a book where the main character, Palomar, seeks to find universal truths through careful observation and consideration of the world around him. Moon in the afternoon is one of the earlier chapters in the book and in it, Calvino describes Mr Palomar taking the time really to look at the moon, starting when conditions are probably the least suitable – in the middle of a bright afternoon – and progressing until early evening. In the course of doing so, Palomar realises that, even as he observes, …it (the moon) has already changed its pose, a little or a lot. In any case, following it steadily, you do not realize that it is imperceptibly eluding you.

This group of work then, is my Mr Palomar. By creating a fixed image of something that is fleeting, transient, all too easy to miss – the split second that the subjects (humans in my case, not the moon) might not want to consciously show the world – that instant where emotion, response to stimulus or dismay at their current condition is briefly visible before the mask returns and the public face is fixed firmly back for the world to peruse, is where the conversation between creator, image and viewer begins and gives us all the opportunity to slow down the action, take time to absorb and for the viewer to decide on what he or she sees and to gauge their responses to the visage in the painting.

It does beg a question though – if it’s so hard, why not just take a photo and be done with it? Surely, that will solve the problem. It is true, the camera would help – and many of these images are not solely the result of ‘live’ observation; photos, drawings, found images all contribute. In the end though, I wanted my hand to co-ordinate and make the record; not the pixels of a camera, not someone else’s vision or interpretation. In addition, I wonder at the skill of those photographers that do manage to capture what I seek, using a machine, that if spotted by the subject, can change and hide exactly what I wished to see.

So, to the second goal, dealing with watercolour. All (with a couple of exceptions, notably Hid the secret from herself) are completed in watercolour on paper. These paintings attempt to use the advantages of the medium – its immediacy, fluidity and luminousness to portray a transient moment. It was chosen because, at first pass, it appears to compliment what I am trying to capture – fleeting pigment for fleeting appearances. In reality watercolour presents a number of technical difficulties; you need a plan – while improvisation in construction and exploiting ‘accidents’ is always a goal for me (and I am a firm believer in letting the image take its own course – well, up to a point), watercolour is often unforgiving and not easily corrected once a decision is made. In addition, watercolour is notorious for not staying where it was put, for blending and merging with itself when delineation and line were intended and for turning to mud if overly layered or laboured. In order to even the odds, I’ve deliberately restricted myself to a fairly limited palette of colours, earthy siennas and umbers, cobalt blue or ultramarine, alizarin and, sparingly, cadmium red and Naples yellow. In addition, by limiting the size, it meant I had less real estate to manage – and less chance of losing the plot, compositionally. Happily, enough works turned out much as I intended, however, it wasn’t all success – more lie in the bottom of the recycle bin than made the walls of the gallery.


DSC_0192 (2)
John Rabling Hid the secret from herself, Watercolour, acrylic paint and glazes, on paper, 2018.

Which brings me to the third goal, what happens if I achieve some success with objectives one and two? I have created these characters (again perhaps more accurately, they have arrived, with a little management and guidance from me), to show their response to what the world flings at them. I don’t think their journey has been easy; these individuals carry marks from their experiences.

Damage is a recurring theme in this body of works. While the overarching objective revolves around individual, physical responses to occurrences at the edge of pleasant normality, the cumulative effect of multiple such experiences mount up. And collectively, these faces still hold back from the viewer; while they may show something that was not intended, there’s still the nagging thought that the real feeling is not fully revealed; there’s still more to know. For example, there’s something of the thousand-mile stare in some of these works; the gaze of And she is, exactly as she appears is direct, penetrating, confident – a gaze that could pierce concrete, traverse continents. Under a familiar sky records similar strength – learnt strength – and the strength of these faces are in counter point to the floating washes and delicate rendering of the subject.

John Rabling And she is, exactly as she appears. Watercolour on paper, 2018


DSC_0200 (2)
John Rabling Under a familiar sky Watercolour on paper, 2018

Others show less of a record. What lens is this? and the title work, Nobody looks at the moon in the afternoon present something else and are modulated with comparative youth, unlike for example, It is only after you know the surface of things that ventures underneath are possible. Perhaps there’s the point – we all deal with our challenges differently – and in that difference there’s no better or perfect way, only the way that enables individual progression and understanding.

DSC_0201 (2)
John Rabling Nobody looks at the moon in the afternoon Watercolour on paper, 2018

DSC_0181 (2)

John Rabling It is only after you know the surface of things that ventures underneath are possible. Watercolour on paper, 2018

Of course, this (and they) are a manifestation of my truth, not, the truth. Collectively, I hope my truth illuminates for others the difficulties of everyday existence, which sounds like waving a faltering torch on the all-pervading gloom, but I hope it also reminds those who care to look that, in the end, we usually succeed in dealing with the challenges we face – we find the best of sometimes daunting and difficult times and move forward – and that is what really matters.

September 2018.

Art Art History Printmaking

That Wave

That wave
Pulled me right overboard
Into permanent morgasm
Emotional action painting
I flew down to the bottom of the sea
Where I questioned the fishes all about it
I was in heaven
Address cloud eleven
They danced and laughed spelling all I fell into was love.

That Wave, Andy Partridge (from Nonsuch, 1992).

Strange to think in this day and age that there might once have been a time when buying or even seeing something Japanese might be near impossible. Sakoku, as it was known, commenced around 1635 and remained state policy for over 200 years. In that time, the Japanese government prevented foreigners from entering and citizens from leaving. Export and import was non-existent; the legal exchange of ideas, culture and goods were non-events. So, while Ukiyo-e prints could be found in Europe from around 1795 in Paris (through diplomatic and personal contacts, rather than commercial trade) it was not until the 1850s when Japan relaxed its laws and trade began to flourish that the craze for things Japanese began to go, well, crazy.

The story goes that French printmaker Felix Bracquemond (1833-1914) encountered a picture-book by Katsushika Hokusai that arrived in France with a shipment of porcelain in the late 1850s. In 1859, a sourcebook by the potter and designer Eugene Collinot and Adalbert de Beaumont included Hokusai’s imagery.

By the early 1860s, French intellectuals such as Charles Baudelaire and Edmond de Goncourt began to take interest. Of course, it is well documented that his work landed in the hands of a whole raft of French artists such as Claude Monet, who acquired 23 of the Japanese artist’s prints and Edgar Degas, who took cues from Hokusai, in particular his thousands of sketches of the human form. The rapid embrace of his prints by European artists may have been in part due to his use of a Western-style vanishing point perspective. Other print designers in Japan employed the Asian perspective, which positioned far-away objects higher on the picture plane, an effect that, to a Western eye, made it appear as though the ground was tilting upwards.

Now you may not know the name Katsushika Hokusai. But I’m prepared to bet that you know at least one of his works: The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa (Kanagawa-oki Nami-ura)’ from the series ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku Sanjurokkei) (c.1830–32), more commonly known as The Great Wave. Arguably the most famous image in all of Japanese art, this iconic woodblock print depicts a huge, frothing wave that belittles and diminishes that other famous symbol of Japan, Mount Fuji – reduced in this image to an impotent ant hill. To reinforce the power of the wave, frightened and cowed fishermen cling for dear life to their boats, expecting the worse, praying for salvation.

Katushika Hokusai: The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa, 1830. Woodblock print on paper.

Born in Edo (modern Tokyo) in 1760, Hokusai (to use one of his names) led a life that was both intensely productive and undeniably eccentric. I say one of his names because he used Hokusai (Studio of the North Star) from about 1798, when he was in his mid ‘40s and continued for a decade or so, through his 50s. This coincided with a time when his commercial output greatly diminished—a series of setbacks—intermittent paralysis, the death of his second wife, and serious misconduct by his wayward grandson—left him in financial straits. He changed his name in around 1725 to Iitsu and in response to his later life problems, funneled his energy into his work, beginning his famous series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” (which included The Great Wave) in 1830. He went on to produce a vast output of ukiyo-e prints that have today come to define our modern view of him.

Hokusai’s final period began in 1834 when he started using his last name Gakyo-rojin Manji (Old Man Mad About Art). Here, he turned from commercial prints to book illustration and brush paintings. While these are powerful and message-laden creations, they somehow don’t match his peak period —the time of That Wave.

Art Exhibitions Galleries in Melbourne Modern Art Painting Printmaking


T J Bateson – Iteration Part II.V
Tacit Contemporary Art
312 Johnston Street Abbotsford VIC 3067
Closed October 16

TJ 2.jpg
T J Bateson: Drill Wire Polyhedron I (2016). Synthetic polymer on canvas. 190 x 160cm (approx). © T J Bateson and Tacit Contemporary Art, all rights reserved.

A CURSORY glance at current, contemporary gallery exhibitions (and the comments of curators and critics who should know better) might lead one to believe that painting is on life-support, out of fashion, is mute with nothing left to say. It seems in today’s art world, if you want to succeed, you need to construct art from found and ready-made objects that can be manipulated, styled, reproduced and displayed with as much techno-trickery as you can find  (note: no creation here, just finding and endlessly reinterpreting – a recipe for self-consumption to the point of non-existence if ever there was one). But I digress; my point is that Bateson’s work, happily, disproves that idea.

Sometimes the best thing about art is the initial response you have to seeing it. Iteration Part II.V, by T J Bateson at Tacit Gallery is something to behold. My response is calm. Endless visage. Panorama. An unshaking belief that it’ll all be alright in the end. Bateson’s works – both paintings and prints, are entities of themselves. They ask for nothing – not approval, recognition, permission or acceptance. They just, like those famous monoliths on Easter Island, are. These works are meditative and reflective spaces, they encourage introspection, considered thought, calm and peace. They are salves, gentle oil for the soul. There is no answer here, other than the one you bring yourself. There is no salvation here, other than the one you find for yourself. This makes for a contemplative and near-out-of-world experience.

As the title of the exhibition suggests, these are the latest in a line of works that Bateson has crafted – and will continue to craft into the future. Previous iterations include works that evoke the style of the American abstractionist Gene Davis, other iterations include memories of Rothko, in this spectator. But it doesn’t do to get hung up on comparisons; I only mention these because they provide a convenient way for me to start a dialog with Bateson’s works; my previous reactions to these other works guides me, and perhaps helps me from becoming lost in the language, of mistaking the translation, of misreading the music. There’s majesty and honour in iterating – a continued tradition that recognises the worth of the work, the spark of the idea, the honesty of the concept. Colour in this suite of works isn’t important – line though is, as is a continued rhythm and syncopation that is set up by the flat picture plane, and perspective-less image. This of course, leads the eye and mind to try to create an image from a non-image, and equally predictably, fails to achieve this end. As with all abstract art, Bateson’s works exist as themselves as a record of non-visual response to something, rather than as an image, reproduction or facsimile of something or someone who one has seen. These then, are responses to existence and are the reflection of sentience, knowledge, understanding and sensitivity. They, in many ways, have more in common with musical composition that they do with figurative art it this sense. So, just as a composer plays with our ability to hear, Bateson plays with the our ability to see. He creates visual hooks, rhythms and passages, just as a composer does with notes, chords and melody, that draws us to look, to survey, investigate and through these acts become enmeshed in a dialogue with the image. Once engaged, we are no longer the passive observer for we are provoked into a response, a sophisticated, ethereal response to fundamental material processes.

wire 111.jpg
T J Bateson: Iteration Noritake Wire Polyhedron III, (2016). Synthetic polymer, dry point and wood block on paper (unique state print). 57 X 76 cm (approx).© T J Bateson and Tacit Contemporary Art, all rights reserved.

These works are embedded in the history of western art – they are direct descendants of the likes of Rothko and others, mentioned earlier. In Australia, they evoke in me the late ‘seventies works of Paul Partos and the surface rhythms of Robert Jacks and Lesley Dumbrell. Unlike these last two, Bateson’s works possess a substance that seemed lacking in Dumbrell’s works from the early ‘eighties – you might accuse her of all surface and design without substance –  with some justification. Bateson’s works will bear no such label.

The Swiss painter and art teacher Johannes Itten was one of the first masters to be appointed by Walter Gropius at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar. From 1919 to 1923, with the preliminary course which he had developed, Itten influenced the principles of education in design at the Bauhaus. There, he devised a contemporary method of teaching based on insights gained from the progressive educational movement and the artistic avant-garde. Instead of urging his students to start by copying other artworks as was customary at the traditional art academies, Itten encouraged his students to explore their own subjective feelings and to bring creativity to design. He wrote, in Design and Form, his treatise on artistic design, that the basis of composition was really the establishment of contrast and the resulting tensions, balance, and dialogs that contrast creates. In his words, ‘As life and beauty unfold in the regions between the North and South Poles of our planet, so life and beauty are to be found in the graduations between the poles of contrast. In light – dark contrast, the artistic possibility of application lies in the many hues and tone values between black and white. Black and white are points of reversal, not end points of a continuum.’ These works are powerful demonstrations of that concept.

Bateson’s practice and experience  provides him with an extraordinary repertoire of techniques and processes that he manipulates to create the subtle, beautifully inflected and resonant surfaces of his works. His art is one that invites contemplation and the sensual enjoyment of the concrete materiality of the work itself. Each, be they works on paper or canvas, structured from ink or paint, in all their inventiveness and rich variety, demand close scrutiny and always repay the viewer with visual pleasure and new insights into the act of looking. Power is this, self-knowledge and peace; an opportunity to recharge, rethink, reassess. I can’t wait for the next iteration.

iteration II.jpg
T J Bateson: Iteration Noritake Wire Polyhedron II (2016). Dry point and wood block on paper (unique state print). 75 x 90 cm (approx). © T J Bateson and Tacit Contemporary Art, all rights reserved.
Art Exhibitions Galleries in Melbourne Ian Potter Museum of Art Mixed media Modern Art Painting Photography Printmaking Sculpture

Art Tackles Sport

Basil Sellers Art Prize 5
The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne
Swanston Street (Between Faraday & Elgin Streets)
Closed November 6, 2016.

Grant Hobson: Konibba Roosters 1906 to 2016, (2016). 29 panels; 95 X 80cm and 75 X 57cm (approx.), Inkjet digital print on aluminium composite, steel nails and laserjet prints on paper © Grant Hobson, all rights reserved.

‘ART is not sport’ – said Degas, disdainfully, to the son of one of his best friends who insisted on tramping around the countryside, easel and paintbox at the ready, intent on capturing and subjugating the landscape, like a hunter, in colour and form on canvas. Degas was of the view that creating images was mental exercise, not physical; an activity more about taking time to craft and refine an initial idea, rather than respond to a ball or target dangling in front of one’s eyes. Art, above all was definitely not a race for Degas. If such was the case, he’d finish stone motherless last in any speed painting competition; Monet would murder him every time.

Art Art History Exhibitions London Modern Art National Gallery, London Painting Photography Printmaking Renaissance Sculpture Tate Britain Tate Modern

..Went up to London to visit the… sunflowers

GOING to London? Great. Art is a must-see for the traveler to the heart of the new capitol of nearly-but-not-quite Europe. So much to see though and probably so little time. The biggies include the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery just around the corner in St Martin’s Place, Tate Britain at Millbank and the Tate Modern on Southwark, the Courtauld Gallery off the Strand, the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington and the summer show at the Royal Academy (RA) in Piccadilly (opposite Fortnum and Mason)

Art Art History Painting Printmaking Renaissance

Surface is illusion, but so is depth

Durer 1493
Albrecht Dürer: Self-portrait at 22, 1493. Oil on linen, 57 x 45 cm. The Louvre, Paris.

PERHAPS the finest engraver, painter and art theorist of the early Northern Renaissance was the Nuremberger, Albrecht Dürer. The range and diversity of his work is astonishing. His woodcuts made him famous across Europe, his engravings unparalleled. As a painter, he was equally successful – commissions for religious icons and portraits for the rich, powerful and cultured were abundant and diverse. He was naturally curious and well-traveled, too.

Art Cermics Exhibitions Galleries in Melbourne Mixed media Modern Art Painting Photography Sculpture

New Works

c3 Contemporary Art Space – current exhibitions
Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers St Abbotsford
Open 10.00AM-5.00PM Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday).
Closed June 12.

c3 Contemporary Art Space, Abbotsford

NESTLED in the under-story of the old convent in Abbotsford’s art precinct on the Yarra, c3 Contemporary Art Space has been a showcase for emerging artists for more than eight years. Currently, six artists are on show, presenting a veritable cornucopia of  different ideas, views, thoughts, objectives and interests. Culture, place, history and experience all provide a wealth of opportunity for artistic expression.

Art Art History Exhibitions Galleries in Melbourne National Gallery of Victoria Painting Printmaking Sculpture

M. Degas arrive en ville

Edgar Degas: <i>Frieze of Dancers</i>, oil on canvas, circa 1895
Edgar Degas: Frieze of Dancers, 1895. Oil on canvas. Cleveland Museum of Art.

IN SIX weeks, the National Gallery of Victoria International opens its latest Winter Masterpieces exhibition, Degas, a New Vision. Works have been drawn from collections across the globe and, in the words of the NGVI’s press office, offer a ‘fresh and dynamic reappraisal of this legendary artist’s genius.’

Art Art History Painting

A New Caravaggio – or not….


Caravaggio (unverified) Judith beheading Holofernes c.1604, Discovered in Toulouse, 2014.

IN recent days, news of the discovery of a painting by Caravaggio has occupied and divided arts writers and critics, world-wide. Apparently disinterred in 2014 from the roof of a house in Toulouse, France, Judith beheading Holofernes (c.1604) has been subjected to scrutiny by a number of experts, not all of whom believe the work to be genuine.

Art Exhibitions Galleries in Melbourne

If People Powered Radio

40 years of broadcasting – Radio 3CR
Gertrude Contemporary, 200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.
Closed April 23.


COMMUNITY voice, community action. For forty years, radio 3CR has provided a voice for ordinary people with something extraordinary to say. Back, as they say, in the day, 3CR on Saturday afternoons was always worth listening to for Fitzroy’s arts community – No Limits, an arts magazine broadcast from 1:00PM featured reviews of the latest exhibitions, films, books, festivals and theatre – an essential guide for those in the know.