Graduation time

Art Life , Op-ed Dec 03, 2010 1 Comment

Wendy Meares goes to the COFA Annual where she is impressed by a number of paintings and reveals she still has a trick or two up her sleeve…

It’s not as though I’d wished my son was gay it’s just as a parent you want what’s best for your children. I’m sure he’d be having a much happier life than the rather drab existence he has now working for Telstra. Eric and I had had high hopes for Roger’s plan to be an artist. We took him to all the art school open days when he was a teenager and when he was a child we gave him boxes and boxes of coloured pencils and paints and goodness knows what else for birthdays. When he was at Cranbrook he was very enthusiastic in his art classes and he had a lovely friend named Horatio who he used to bring home for sleepovers on the weekends. I can tell, you I was delighted. Two lovely boys offering to stack the dishwasher even when we have help to do that sort of thing, going out for brunch in Potts Point… or perhaps going to Roger’s first opening of his paintings at a smart contemporary art gallery with all his clever friends. That would have been wonderful. It’s true, I had imagined it but I know Eric wouldn’t have been keen… but then Eric is always afraid of new things. He once told me his mother forbade him to even look at cabanossi.

But of course it all came to nothing. Roger went over to do his national service and ended up spending most of his time working in a hospital in Haifa, smoking pot and surfing, and then when he came home he got married to Horatio’s sister Alba. And now Roger works for customer complaints. Really, is this the best for him? I doubt it. Melanie on the other hand embraced the whole artistic lifestyle. She went to Sydney College of The Arts [which I have never really understood at all], changed her name and now she lives with her partner in Summer Hill. They do performances. Melanie, who I just can’t bring myself to call ‘Mole’, has this little friend who I think is called Sheltie who won some sort of award to go and build a yurt in Tragickistan or some such place that’s very, very cold and they’re going off together with a camera to document it. Then they’re going to have a show. It’s not just the generation gap I think.

Catherine Kennedy, “Do what thou willt “, 2009.

All of this was very much on my mind when Melanie talked me into going to the COFA Annual at Carriage Works to see little Sheltie’s final year art project. Normally, I’m not that interested in avant garde art but I was told there would be a lot of painting and some photography too which is always very interesting. It was a ticketed affair and as we stood in line to get in Melanie started telling me that I really ought to consider extending my own education. She’s just so confident she can be very persuasive when she wants to be. At COFA there’s this funny little rivalry with the National Art School which, since I’m a NAS “old girl” myself, strikes me as a little silly. NAS has the nicer buildings and most of the staff there were always very sweet to me, which as an older student was welcome, but COFA has a certain enthusiasm in everything they do that’s confusing because, as far as I can tell, they don’t have that much to crow about. But you had to admire how excited everyone was at the big show.

When your children try to play a trick on you it’s always rather obvious. Melanie was working up to asking me to pay for her ticket for the yurt excursion but instead of just coming straight out and asking me she was talking up the advantages of further education, extracurricular and so forth. When she was a child she’d always be offering me extra servings of dessert because it’s what she wanted. When we were inside the show it was just so crowded it was very hard to see the art. There was a lot of art, photography and video and some lovely jewelery. It was all quite splendid. I was taken with a rather wonderful painting that was like a collage of images put together by an artist named Catherine Kennedy, who is obviously a big fan of Bob Dylan, whose head was floating top right. I mentioned this to Melanie but she went off chatting to a young woman who’d constructed an installation of what appeared to be giant h’orderves bristling with a million or so toothpicks.

I lost Melanie in the crush and found myself drinking wine alone. A very pleasant man named Peter Sharpe began chatting to me asking me if I was the mother of one of the students. I couldn’t quite bring myself to explain the complicated relationship I have with the art school and so I said I was an artist. The one thing you can say about Peter Sharpe, who I later learned is a painter and lecturer at COFA, is that he’s very handsome and very polite. Not at all like some of the lecturers when I was at NAS. They were always quite short with me, telling me to “look at my palette” and other less complimentary pieces of advice. Then a rather sly thought popped into my head. I began to ask Mr Sharpe about the possibilities of further education and he told me a wonderful story about the painting camp the students go on out bush to a place called Fowlers Gap, all bunking in together… I have to say I rather fancied it.

I gave Melanie and Sheltie a lift to a pub in Newtown where an “after party” was apparently about to start although the actual opening hadn’t officially ended. On the way I informed Melanie that I have decided not to go to Tuscany next year as planned but instead enrol in the Masters Program at COFA. You should have seen the look on her face! I had to laugh a little. She’s no doubt thinking that the money for yurt trip is out but I’ll probably pop it in an envelope she can open at Christmas. I know what’s best for my children. Most mothers do.

Wendy Meares

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