the ghosts of Venice
|Figure 1.1. Isola Tiberina Source: Europe Sketches 1975|
I 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 diaries such as Europe Sketches, circa 1975. This artistic rendition of an ancient Roman bridge over the Tiber River, leading onto the 'Isola Tiberina,' an island shaped like a boat is just the foretaste of one sample of this said diary, refer to figure 1.1., above. My intention is to extract the life-force of an artist embedded within the retained memories of Keith's text and imagery on the individual pages of his art diary. 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 at Dawn - Venice: refer to figure 1.2., below.
|Figure 1.2. San Giorgio Maggiore Church at Dawn - Venice Source: Keith Hansen|
The Catalina seaplane, being the main focus of attention in this painting, taking off from the pastel-shaded bluish water of the Grand Canal, against the washed-out sky, of non-descript greyish-blue. The application of the mauve-like blue to almost everything on the canvas, highlights the blending of the dawn just before the sunrise. Although, for Keith Hansen, as the artist, he does seem to be somewhat obsessed, with this iconic landmark of religion, built on an island as a source of inspiration? The gondolas floating in the foreground on the surface of this watery space of the Grand Canal - Venice, painted with such succinct dabs of watercolour. 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, that I intend to create the sense of the Gothic-like atmosphere of the floating city of Venice within the uncanny themes of mythology, history, architecture and art - so Sigmund Freud. There has to be just the hint of the very factor within the recreation of the haunted text on the page - the ghosts of Venice in this artist diary.
|Figure 1.3. Europe Sketches front cover: 1975 Source: Keith Hansen|
There was an element of the cloak and dagger as I stepped down onto the railway platform of Circular Quay in search of this overly cautious man who regards himself as a real artist in the twenty-first century. Today, he is in possession of a treasured personal artifact over forty-one years old such as the example of the Europe Sketches: refer to figure 1.3., above. This artist's diary is filled to the brim with tantalising promise of artwork hand-drawn which is sometimes splashed with pen ink, Conte crayons, charcoal, watercolour and gouache paints. There is also the intriguing text hinting at the poetic and the very personal reflections yet to be transcribed as the artist's handwriting is somewhat difficult to decipher. The premise here is that the still living artist will be able to behold, my own unbiased interpretation of both the text and the imagery pertaining to Europe Sketches. 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 be gifted, in the arts', to be able to call on, 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 angelic muse materialising out of the ink-bottle alongside his old-fashioned ink pen with metal nib: refer to figure 1.4., below.
|Figure 1.4. Keith's muse of the ink-bottle Source: Europe Sketches 1975.|
These rare sepia-toned photographs of Keith Hansen show the other sider of his creative psyche as the musician in possession of his fiery passion like the true Spaniard of times past. Therefore the creative process of writing the musical notes and poetic prose was for Keith a further extension of his artistic expression. It appears that in both of these photographs of Keith as a much younger man in the 1970s - there are variations of mood of either being pensive or happy: refer to figure 1.5., below. 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. Keith's alter ego namely his guitar travelled all over Europe with him and this finely tuned stringed instrument of Australian design inspired by the traditional concept be it Spanish, was left behind in Berlin, Germany. This guitar was named Brumby - definitely a free spirit with a taste for the exotic. There is however, an interesting twist to this story as another musician now resides in Morocco with his somewhat preloved guitar still fondly remembered by Keith. This overly sensitive artist who feels his emotions too deeply embraced the concept of his European experiences within the culinary delights, the wine and other things too naughty to mention here.
|Figure 1.5. two photographs showcasing the musician Source: Keith Hansen|
I would like to draw attention to an amazing sensual visual of the female nude riding the dolphin executed within the minimalist's approach. Just, the unfussed simplicity, of a few lines of black ink on the paper, for this the succinct outcome, of how the female form can be so uncomplicated and yet still respected as artwork: refer to figure 1.6, below. An ancient Grecian Urn - this artist was inspired by the imagery of the young naked man Phalanthos riding a dolphin at the Sydney University: Nicholson Museum in creating his artistic interpretation. This style of painting on the Grecian Urn is attributed to the Athena-Bowdoin painters dated from 500 - 475 B.C., showcasing the artwork from the past.1 The reconstruction of this particular Grecian Urn from the fragments of pottery are somewhat flawed because of two uncanny facts relating to the back of this pottery vessel. Firstly, the head is missing from the older man and secondly some of the drapery of his flowing robes appears not to be there. I have taken several photographs of this Grecian Urn displayed with the skull of the saw-toothed dolphin: refer to figure 1.7., below. What is the significance of the phiale (shallow saucer), in the outstretched hand of the young naked man riding the dolphin and as yet there is no answer forthcoming, yes I do know that this item is a drinking vessel.
|Figure 1.6. female nude riding the dolphin Source: Keith Hansen|
|Figure 1.7. Grecian Urn: Front and back view Source: Nicholson Museum|
To be continued ...........