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Europe Sketches 1975: the ghosts of Venice

FIGURE 1.01. Isola Tiberina SOURCE: Europe Sketches

n a chance conversation on my mobile phone with Keith Hansen about how there was a new publication entitled: Brett Whiteley: Art, Life and the Other Thing, by Ashleigh Wilson which was due to be released in 2016. Keith always feels overlooked within the daunting shadow of his second cousin Brett, who was extremely gifted, but cursed genius, afflicted with too many inner daemons and addictions. I decided on an impulse to request the loan of one of Keith’s art journals such as Europe Sketches, circa 1975. This artistic rendition of an ancient Roman bridge over the river Tiber, leading onto the ‘Isola Tiberina,’ an island shaped like a boat is just the foretaste of one sample of this said art journal: please refer to figure 1.01., above. My intention is to extract the creative life-force of an artist embedded within the retained memories of Keith’s text and imagery on the individual pages of his art journal. I also wish to relish the unexpected fillip of the accessibility of his European portfolio of artwork consisting of other sketches and paintings such as the example of the San Giorgio Maggiore Church - Dusk: please refer to figure 1.02., below. 

FIGURE 1.02. San Giorgio Maggiore Church - Dusk SOURCE: European Portfolio

The Catalina seaplane, creamy white, thus being the main focus of attention, in this painting, taking off from the reddish-orange-hued water of the Grand Canal – Venice. The application of the dusk-like shades to almost everything on the canvas, highlights the subtle blending of the twilight just before the sunset. One can almost imagine the rocking motion of the gondola on this watery space as the sense of the weirdness of the mermaid figurehead lurking in the corner of the painting.  There is the creepy aspect of carving the life-force of the feminine siren into the ancient wood with the end-result of predatory features and wiles. This mascot of protection derived from a mythical creature supposedly offered up to the gods of the ocean as tribute for a safe journey for the all-male crew of sea-farers. In the background the San Giorgio Maggiore Church stands as the majestic statement of an iconic landmark of the Roman Catholic religion within the watery locality of Venice. Although for Keith Hansen as the artist, he does seem to be somewhat obsessed, with this particular church built on an island as a source of inspiration? Various paintings and sketches of the San Giorgio Maggiore Church will be showcased throughout this creative project yet to be defined. This particular church has also been extensively painted by a diverse palette of artists such as the following: Claude Monet, Canaletto, J.M.W. Turner and Raoul Dufy. Therefore. I have explained to Keith Hansen, I intend to to create the sense of the Gothic-like atmosphere of the floating city of Venice. Within the uncanny themes of Greek mythology, Egyptology, daemonology, witchcraft, history, architecture, and art - so Sigmund Freud. There has to be just the hint of the very creepy factor in the recreation of the haunted text on the page - the ghosts of Venice in this art journal Europe Sketches: please refer to figure 1.03 - 1.04. below.

FIGURE 1.03. Europe Sketches: front cover SOURCE: Keith Hansen

FIGURE 1.04. Europe Sketches: back cover SOURCE: Keith Hansen

There is an element of the cloak and dagger intrigue as I stepped down onto the railway platform at Circular Quay, Sydney, Australia. This overly cautious man who regards himself as an authentic artist of the old school in the twenty-first century. Today, he was in possession of a treasured personal artifact over forty-one years old such as the example of Europe Sketches. This art journal is filled to the brim with tantalising promise of artwork hand-drawn which is sometimes splashed with ink pen, Conte crayons, charcoal, watercolour and gouache paints. There is the intriguing text hinting at the poetic and the very personal reflections yet to be transcribed as this artist's handwriting is somewhat difficult to decipher. The premise here is the still living artist (Keith Hansen) will be able to behold, my own unbiased interpretation of both the text and the imagery pertaining to the art journal and his European portfolio of artwork. His teacher's quotation was that:"the greatest compliment to any artist is the re-interpretation of the concepts of genius belonging to another." This was the advice of Brett Whiteley regarding his student Keith Hansen the 'Sorcerer's Apprentice of Art.' The ability to turn magic into art and poetic prose is indeed the craft of Alchemy for the artist. One has to gifted, in the arts', to be ab;e to call forth the magical elements of fire, air, earth and water from the depths of the inkwell of creation. Such as the example of the black ink drawing of Keith's muse complete with wings - materialising out of the ink-bottle as well as showcasing the old-fashioned pen with metal nib: please refer to figure 1.05., below.

FIGURE 1.05 Keith's Muse of the Ink-Bottle SOURCE: Europe Sketches

These rare sepia-toned photographs of Keith Hansen show the other side of his creative psyche of being too human as the much younger man in possession of his fiery passion for life like the true Spaniard of times past. Therefore the creative process of composing both the musical notes and the lyrics was for Keith a further extension of his artistic expression as the adventurer in search of inspiration. It appears that in both these photographs of Keith in the 1970s - there is the variations of the mood of this man of being either pensive or happy. In both photographs he is also posing with his vintage Maton guitar which was brought second-hand in the 1960s with the sunburst logo on the head-stock: please refer to figures 1.06 - 1.07., below. This artist's alter ego namely his guitar travelled all over Europe with him and this finely tuned instrument of Australian design was left behind in Berlin, Germany. This guitar was named Brumby - definitely a free spirit with a taste for  exotic places. There is however, an interesting twist to this story, as another yet unnamed musician now resides in Morocco with this somewhat preloved guitar still fondly remembered by Keith. This overly sensitive artist who feels his emotions too deeply as he embraced the concept of his European experiences within the culinary delights, the wine and other things too risque of an adult nature to mention here in this creative project.

FIGURE 1.06 First photograph SOURCE: Keith Hansen

FIGURE 1.07 Second photograph SOURCE: Keith Hansen

I would like to draw attention to an amazing sensual visual of the female nude and the dolphin executed within the minimalist's approach: please refer to figure 1.08., below. Just the unfussed simplicity, of a few lines of black ink on the white paper, this is the succinct outcome of how the female form can be so uncomplicated and yet still respected as artwork. An ancient Grecian urn - the fountainhead of inspiration for Keith Hansen. The imagery of the young naked man named Phalanthos riding a dolphin holding out in his hand a shallow saucer (phiale) - at the Sydney University Nicholson Museum: please refer to figure 1.09., below. What is the significance of this drinking vessel and as yet there is no answer forthcoming? This type of painting on the ancient Grecian urn is attributed to the Athena-Bowdoin painters dating from 500 - 475 B.C., showcasing the artwork of the past-tense. The reconstruction of this particular ancient Grecian urn from the fragments of pottery are somewhat flawed because of two uncanny facts relating to the back of this urn: please refer to figure 1.10., below. Firstly, the head is missing and secondly some of the drapery of the flowing robes appears not to be there. I have taken several photographs which should further enhance the narrative of this ancient Grecian urn and the skull of the saw-toothed dolphin. There are many tales relating to Greek mythology about the gods, dolphins and mortal men with the maim emphasis on the Sun God Apollo. This Olympian solar deity was able to shape-shift into the nature of wither the dolphin or the wolf. There is however one legend with a sinister aspect about Apollo being the second plague-god, "who inflicts death and pestilence with his arrows, he was apparently modelled on the Semitic plague-god Reshep,who caused disease by shooting firebrands, " as inferred by Robin Hard. One wonders if this hearsay reference to the bubonic plague in ancient Rome is hinting at the first known record of the science of germ warfare, deemed to be anecdotal. On the positive side worth considering is that Apollo loved to pluck the strings of the lyre (kithara)to invoke the music of the divine. Although I do wonder as a researcher what is the significance of the statue which implies that perhaps Apollo was also a cross-dresser: please refer to figure 1.11., below. One has to consider the feminine nature of the garment and the way the hair is arranged - quite a few pottery rollers would have to been employed to create this effect be it somewhat effeminate.

FIGURE 1.08 The nude and the Dolphin SOURCE: Keith Hansen

FIGURE 1.09  Grecian Urn and dolphin's skull SOURCE: Marjorie Savill Linthwaite

FIGURE 1.10 Grecian Urn with missing head SOURCE: Marjorie Savill Linthwaite

FIGURE 1.11. Apollo seated with lyre SOURCE: Jebulon 2015

This poetic prose has been the bane of my existence throughout this semester concerning just a excerpt of this Ode on a Grecian Urn: please refer to figure 1.12., below inspired by the drawing of the Sosibios Vase by John Keats is quite exquisite: please refer to figure 1.12A., below. The author is unable to relate to the narrative or the significance of the urn - although there are two elements such as Greek mythology and the recall of memories of past civilisations. Yet in another conversation om my mobile phone about my research, with Keith Hansen, who is still the breathing subject of my archival interest in regard to my creative project? I asked his permission to re-invent one example of his poetic prose with a light touch ever so respectfully, The Lonely Bride of Winter, from one of the pages of his art journal. Keith very graciously granted his permission in regard to my request. There are two pages of the art journal which has a sketch of Sienna - Italy and the said poetic prose: please refer to figure 1.14., below. My interpretation of his poetic intent retitled The Lonely Bride of Autumn: please refer to figure 1.15., below as I am endeavouring to: "offer us the possibility of sensing the other through the enduring fabric of their material lives," as specified by Nuala Hancock. Doing justice to the recall of the nostalgia of the 1970s and always respecting the experience too precious, too personal as an artifact of memory for Keith. He was quite obviously in a melancholy mood when penning this piece of disjointed lines of poetic prose which may have been inspired by love misplaced but never forgotten. Perhaps Keith was still trying to capture the naivety of his first love affair as a teenager - this object of obsession a mature woman of twenty-plus. There is yet another example of the San Giorgio Maggiore Church - Lamp Detail, crafted in the hues of salmon-pink watercolours and black ink: please refer to figure 1.16., below. 

FIGURE 1.12 Ode on a Grecian Urn SOURCE: John Keats

FIGURE 1.12A Sosibios Vase  SOURCE: John Keats 1797-1821

FIGURE 1.14. The Lonely Bride of Winter / Sienna, Italy SOURCE: Europe Sketches

FIGURE 1.15. The Lonely Bride of Autumn SOURCE: Europe Sketches

FIGURE 1.16. San Giorgio Maggiore Church - Lamp Detail SOURCE: Europe Sketches 

Sienna proved to be an interesting experience for Keith Hansen because of the mythology of the Capitoline Wolf: please refer to figure 1.17., below. The she-wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus whose mother was the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia - quite weird when you consider the visual of this representation, which is stranger still considering the original artifact was purloined from the temple of Apollo. I made the decision not to include the sketch of the she-wolf from the art journal as the example was not up to Keith's usual standard of artistic endeavour. So I included this photograph instead. However, Keith was extremely disappointed with my choice so he decided to locate a replacement for the she-wolf: please refer to figure 1.18., below. Although I was not expecting the deamonisation of this ancient artifact of the she-wolf represented with bat-like wings.  Why were the male twins remophed  into naked female winged nymphs? Two questions which deserve answers from the artist, methinks? Apparently, this illustration outlined in black and splashed with various bluish / greenish shades of watercolour is sourced from a portfolio of drawings for a children's book which is quite bizarre as I think this image is decidedly creepy. There is the somewhat fragmented folklore, unfortunately I have not been able to find any written material about this subject as yet. There are however many gargoyles in the shape of the winged wolf, but here also the history is obscure with little information available.

FIGURE 1.17. Sienna: She-Wolf SOURCE: Mary Ann Sullivan

FIGURE 1.18. Winged She-Wolf SOURCE: Keith Hansen


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