By Vita Forest
After a morning spent drawing, I met a fellow sketcher for a Show and Tell session in a cafe. Daniel had sat outside the large train station on a park bench, sketching the station façade and the people milling about it (those who didn’t move away too fast). I had sat inside, cross-legged on the floor next to the Departures board, in the vast vaulted-ceilinged hall, and drew the action around me (again the people who didn’t move too fast). After we inspected each other’s work and told our stories of the morning, Daniel told me about how he creates images for his work. How he uses a tablet and adjusts the hue to just the right red with a slide of the finger. Or find images on Google and pastes them around the edge of his grid to copy or inspire.
But today we did it old-school. Like any art students in any city in any time since the Renaissance – drawing from life. It’s the twenty-first century, but there’s something quite magical about using a pencil and paper, being in the present, and drawing what you see right at that particular moment. I had a surreal experience as the man I was drawing stopped looking at the timetable above me, and came closer and closer, as my pencil flew across the paper, trying to catch the shape of his hat and his beard, before he was right in front of me, looking down at himself on the paper. It’s certainly a good way to meet strangers.
In the afternoon, I went to see Grayson Perry’s My Pretty Little Art Career at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Again I was struck by Old meeting New in the present. Perry is interested in the place where Art and Craft meet, at using old skills to depict current issues and concerns. His work is visually delightful, full of colour, skill, wit and humour. There were vases in traditional forms and decorated using traditional techniques, but the decoration was full of subversive and surprising elements (bomber planes, skateboarders and collaged images from transvestite magazines) and lots of very funny text – there were audible guffaws from gallery goers as they strolled and looked and read. There were huge tapestries recalling those spun by hand on looms in Europe centuries ago. One series on display was The Vanity of Small Differences. Inspired by William Hogarth’s series The Rake’s Progress, the tapestries chart the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell, a self-made entrepreneur, climbing up through the British class system, acquiring all the requisite symbols of success, only to die in the arms of a stranger after his sports car crashes. The images were modern but the medium was old-school. But the tapestries were also produced by computer not by hand – another twist. Old and new were colliding everywhere. The old forms gave the new a structure where Perry’s commentary on modern times could play.
On my way out, I bought an old-school postcard from the gallery shop, and waited at Circular Quay for a very old-school train, an elderly specimen with crowded foyers, windows that opened and creaky vinyl seats. Then I changed to a modern silver number at Wynyard and sped home in air-conditioned, brightly lit comfort, while reading my old-school paperback.