Saturday, 31 January 2015


“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted'’period that I see what I have been about… The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.” - Jackson Pollock

Paul Jackson Pollock was born on January 28, 1912, in Cody, Wyoming. He grew up in Arizona and California and in 1928 began to study painting at the Manual Arts High School, Los Angeles. During the Autumn of 1930 Pollock moved to New York and studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. Benton encouraged him throughout the succeeding decade.

By the early 1930s Pollock knew and admired the murals of José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. Although he travelled widely throughout the United States during the 1930s, much of Pollock’s time was spent in New York, where he settled permanently in 1934 and worked on the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project (1935–42) and in David Alfaro Siqueiros’s experimental workshop in New York (1936).

In 1943, Pollock briefly worked as a maintenance man at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (forerunner to the Guggenheim Museum). Later that year, Peggy Guggenheim gave him a contract that lasted through 1947, permitting him to devote all his time to painting. His first solo show was held at Guggenheim’s “Art of This Century”, New York (1943). Prior to 1947 Pollock’s work reflected the influence of Pablo Picasso and Surrealism. During the early 1940s he contributed paintings to several exhibitions of Surrealist and abstract art, including “Natural”, “Insane”, “Surrealist Art” (1943) at “Art of This Century”, and “Abstract and Surrealist Art in America” (1944), organised by Sidney Janis at the Mortimer Brandt Gallery, New York.

By the mid-1940s, Pollock was painting in a completely abstract manner, liberating himself from the vertical constraints of an easel by affixing unstretched raw canvas to the floor. In 1947, his “drip style,” marked by the use of sticks, trowels, or knives to drip and splatter paint, as well as pouring paint directly from the can, emerged. Reminiscent of the Surrealist notions of the subconscious and automatic painting, Pollock’s drips, also called “action paintings,” revolutionised the potential for contemporary art and furthered the development of Abstract Expressionism.

From the Autumn of 1945, when artist Lee Krasner and Pollock were married, they lived in the Springs, East Hampton, New York. Peggy Guggenheim organised his first European solo exhibition at the Museo Correr, Venice, in 1950. In 1952 Pollock’s first solo show in Paris opened at the Studio Paul Facchetti, and critic Clement Greenberg organised his first retrospective at Bennington College, Vermont. He was included in many group exhibitions, including the Whitney Annual (later Whitney Biennial) from 1946 and the Venice Biennale in 1950. Although his work was widely known and exhibited internationally, the artist never travelled outside the United States. He was killed in a car accident on August 11, 1956, in East Hampton.

In 1973, “Blue Poles” (Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952 – shown above), was purchased by the Australian Whitlam Government for the National Gallery of Australia for US $2 million (A$1.3 million at the time of payment). At the time, this was the highest price ever paid for a modern painting. The painting is now one of the most popular exhibits in the gallery. It was a centrepiece of the Museum of Modern Art’s 1998 retrospective in New York, the first time the painting had been shown in America since its purchase.

Pollock’s work has polarised art critics and public, with vehemently expressed opinions both for and against the paintings of this artist. The critic Robert Coates once derided a number of Pollock’s works as “mere unorganized explosions of random energy, and therefore meaningless.” In a famous 1952 article in ARTnews, Harold Rosenberg coined the term “action painting”, and wrote that “what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The big moment came when it was decided to paint ‘just to paint’. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation from value—political, aesthetic, moral.”

Clement Greenberg supported Pollock’s work on formalistic grounds. It fitted well with Greenberg’s view of art history as a progressive purification in form and elimination of historical content. He considered Pollock’s work to be the best painting of its day and the culmination of the Western tradition via Cubism and Cézanne to Manet. Reynold’s News in a 1959 headline said: “This is not art – it’s a joke in bad taste.”

The Congress for Cultural Freedom, an organisation to promote American culture and values, backed by the CIA, sponsored exhibitions of Pollock’s work. Certain left-wing scholars, most prominently Eva Cockcroft, have argued that the U.S. government and wealthy elite embraced Pollock and abstract expressionism in order to place the United States in the forefront of global art and devalue socialist realism. Cockcroft wrote that Pollock became a “weapon of the Cold War”…


“If you do not like this piece, I will no longer write music.” – Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (4 March 1678 – 28 July 1741) was an Italian Baroque composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher and cleric. Born in Venice, he is recognised as one of the greatest Baroque composers, and his influence during his lifetime was widespread across Europe. He is known mainly for composing many instrumental concertos, for the violin and a variety of other instruments, as well as sacred choral works and more than forty operas.

His best-known work is a series of violin concertos known as “The Four Seasons”. Many of his compositions were written for the female music ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned children where Vivaldi (who had been ordained as a Catholic priest) was employed from 1703 to 1715 and from 1723 to 1740.

Vivaldi also had some success with expensive stagings of his operas in Venice, Mantua and Vienna. After meeting the Emperor Charles VI, Vivaldi moved to Vienna, hoping for preferment. However, the Emperor died soon after Vivaldi’s arrival, and Vivaldi himself died less than a year later in poverty. After his death, Vivaldi’s music slid into obscurity until a vigorous revival in the 20th century. Today, he ranks among the most popular and widely recorded of Baroque composers, second perhaps only to Johann Sebastian Bach, who himself was deeply influenced by Vivaldi’s work.

For Music Saturday, one of my favourite Vivaldi concerti, the Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor (RV 522) from “L’ Estro Armonico”, Op.3.No.8, with Willi Boskowsky, Jan Tomasow (solo violins).
0:00 1st movement
3:59 2nd movement
8:02 3rd movement

Johann Sebastian Bach thought highly of this concerto, enough to arrange it for keyboard, which I am sure he had great delight in playing.

I love the classical music YouTube videos such as this, which include the score to follow along as one is listening!

Friday, 30 January 2015


“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” - Carl Sandburg

It has been rather cool in Melbourne the last few days and while we can enjoy the sunshine, it is not so hot that it is uncomfortable. The nights are lovely and cool so a restful sleep is assured. With the cooler weather we took the opportunity to make French Onion Soup, which is an oldie but a goodie!

French Onion Soup
60g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1kg onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Pinch of dried thyme
Pinch of ground mace
1 tsp dry mustard powder
2 tbsp plain flour
250ml dry white wine
1.3 L hot vegetable stock
4-8 slices French bread (depending on size)
140g Gruyère cheese, finely grated
Salt to taste.

Melt the butter with the oil in a large heavy-based pan. Add the onions and fry with the lid on for 15 minutes until soft. Add the herbs and spices and cook for 15 minutes more, stirring frequently, until caramelised. The onions should be really golden, full of flavour and soft when pinched between your fingers.
Take care towards the end to ensure that they don’t burn. Add the garlic for the final few minutes of the onions’ cooking time, then sprinkle in the flour and stir well.
Increase the heat and keep stirring as you gradually add the wine, followed by the hot stock. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
To serve, turn on the grill, and toast the bread. Ladle the soup into heatproof bowls. Put a slice or two of toast on top of the bowls of soup, and pile on the cheese. Grill until melted. Alternatively, you can complete the toasts under the grill, then serve them on top. 

Add your own favourite recipe below, using the Linky tool:

Thursday, 29 January 2015


"The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery." – Anaïs Nin

SETI is an acronym that stands for “Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence”, the designation of a series of projects based mainly on attempts to detect artificial radio transmissions from outer space. Here is the web page of the SETI organisation:

I was reminded of this word by a report in the news that yet another batch of new Earth-like planet was discovered close to us, in our backyard, so to speak (in cosmic terms!). Astrophysicists from around the world, including a team from the University of Sydney, have found a Sun-like star with five orbiting planets, which dates back to the dawn of the galaxy. The scientists have determined that the star is 11.2 billion years old, making it the oldest system with Earth-sized planets ever discovered.

The certainty of finding other intelligent life forms in the universe was established by the Drake Equation, which was developed by Frank Drake in 1961 as a way to focus on the factors which determine how many intelligent, communicating civilizations there are in our galaxy. The Drake Equation is:
N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL

The equation can really be looked at as a number of questions:
N* represents the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy
Question: How many stars are in the Milky Way Galaxy?
Answer: Current estimates are 100 billion.

fp is the fraction of stars that have planets around them
Question: What percentage of stars have planetary systems?
Answer: Current estimates range from 20% to 50%.

ne is the number of planets per star that are capable of sustaining life
Question: For each star that does have a planetary system, how many planets are capable of sustaining life?
Answer: Current estimates range from 1 to 5.

fl is the fraction of planets in ne where life evolves
Question: On what percentage of the planets that are capable of sustaining life does life actually evolve?
Answer: Current estimates range from 100% (where life can evolve it will) down to close to 0%.

fi is the fraction of fl where intelligent life evolves
Question: On the planets where life does evolve, what percentage evolves intelligent life?
Answer: Estimates range from 100% (intelligence is such a survival advantage that it will certainly evolve) down to near 0%.

fc is the fraction of fi that communicate
Question: What percentage of intelligent races have the means and the desire to communicate?
Answer: 10% to 20%

fL is fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating civilisations live
Question: For each civilization that does communicate, for what fraction of the planet's life does the civilisation survive?
Answer: This is the toughest of the questions. If we take Earth as an example, the expected lifetime of our Sun and the Earth is roughly 10 billion years. So far we've been communicating with radio waves for less than 100 years. How long will our civilization survive? Will we destroy ourselves in a few years like some predict or will we overcome our problems and survive for millennia? If we were destroyed tomorrow the answer to this question would be 1/100,000,000th. If we survive for 10,000 years the answer will be 1/1,000,000th.

When all of these variables are multiplied together we come up with: N, the number of communicating civilisations in the galaxy.

Considerable disagreement on the values of most of these parameters exists, but the values used by Drake and his colleagues in 1961 were: 
    * R* = 10/year (10 stars formed per year)
    * fp = 0.5 (half of all stars formed will have planets)
    * ne = 2 (2 planets per star will be able to develop life)
    * fl = 1 (100% of the planets will develop life)
    * fi = 0.01 (1% of which will be intelligent life)
    * fc = 0.01 (1% of which will be able to communicate)
    * L = 10,000 years (which will last 10,000 years)

Drake's values give N = 10 × 0.5 × 2 × 1 × 0.01 × 0.01 × 10,000 = 10 communicating civilisations in the galaxy.

Some people may shrug off the whole SETI project as a pointless exercise and a waste of time, money, people power. Many more say that it takes up valuable resources that could be used better elsewhere, improving the lot of the underprivileged in this world, for example. Fundamentalists may say that the earth is the only place created by God and hence the only one populated by sentient beings with a soul. Others may object to the search on the grounds that even if many civilizations are there in the stars, they are so far form us that it does not make any difference to us one way or another, as we may never contact them.

As for myself, I am a rational, sentient, logical being who has been trained in the sciences. I possess an inordinate amount of curiosity and my imagination is boundless. I support SETI as I think it utilises only a small fraction of resources compared to the enormous amounts that are spent on other less necessary endeavours - say, military spending. I would like us to find evidence of life elsewhere in the Universe, as the Drake Equation predicts that this is a distinct possibility. Even if we never contact other sentient beings in the universe directly, I think that knowing certainly that they exist will change us as a species…

What do you think? Do you think there is extraterrestrial life? Do you support SETI?


“Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail.” - Thomas Jefferson

Most people confuse two words that are related, but which have a distinct and important difference in meaning:

ethical |ˈeθikəl| adjective

Of or relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these: Ethical issues in nursing | Ethical churchgoing men.
• morally correct: Can a profitable business be ethical?
• [ attrib. ] (of a medicine) legally available only on a doctor's prescription and usually not advertised to the general public.
ethicality |ˌeθəˈkalitē| noun
ethically |-ik(ə)lē|  adverb : [ sentence adverb ] is capitalism ethically justifiable?
ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting ethics or moral philosophy; also used attributively): from Old French éthique, from Latin ethice, from Greek (hē) ēthikē (tekhnē) ‘(the science of) morals,’ based on ēthos (see ethos).

It is related of course to moral:

moral |ˈmôrəl| adjective
Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour and the goodness or badness of human character : The moral dimensions of medical intervention | a moral judgment.
• concerned with or adhering to the code of interpersonal behaviour that is considered right or acceptable in a particular society : An individual's ambitions may get out of step with the general moral code.
• holding or manifesting high principles for proper conduct: He is a caring, efficient, moral man.
• derived from or based on ethical principles or a sense of these: The moral obligation of society to do something about the inner city's problems.
• [ attrib. ] examining the nature of ethics and the foundations of good and bad character and conduct: Moral philosophers.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin moralis, from mos, mor- ‘custom,’ (plural) mores ‘morals.’ As a noun the word was first used to translate Latin Moralia, the title of St. Gregory the Great's moral exposition of the Book of Job, and was subsequently applied to the works of various classical writers.

You can be an ethical person without necessarily being a moral one, since ethical implies conformity with a code of fair and honest behaviour, particularly in business or in a profession (an ethical legislator who didn't believe in cutting deals), while moral refers to generally accepted standards of goodness and rightness in character and conduct—especially sexual conduct (the moral values she'd learned from her mother).

And to illustrate my point, here is a scenario you may like to consider:
“As a nurse, you are the last person to see Mr. Doe before he dies in hospital. You are certain that he has become mentally incompetent in the last few hours and in that time he has rewritten his will. In the new will he viciously attacks each member of his adopted family and reveals that he actually was born a woman. He then cuts every family member out of the will leaving his fortune to a Psychic Chatline . Mr. Doe asks you to make sure that the new will gets to his lawyer. Knowing that the document will most likely be thrown out of court but not before the damage to Mr. Doe's family is done, do you carry out Mr. Doe's last request?”

What is the morally right thing to do in the following cases and what is ethically correct? Is what you would 'actually' do different from what you 'should' do? If so, why?
Tell me about it!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015


“Ecstasy! In common parlance ecstasy is fun. But ecstasy is not fun. Your very soul is seized and shaken until it tingles. After all, who will choose to feel undiluted awe? The unknowing vulgar abuse the word; we must recapture its full and terrifying sense.” - R. Gordon Wasson

There are some places around the world where the very ground seems to be suffused with energy and where there is an electricity in the air. The wind soughing through tree branches seems to whisper in ancient tongues and echoes of forgotten music still vibrate in the air. The right place and right season combine and if we are in a receptive frame of mind, we can feel awe and an ecstasy of the soul that can be a life-changing experience.

This poem was inspired by a midsummer visit to a such a very special place in Greece, where ruins of ancient temples visited while listening to the drone of cicadas and the gentle whistling of the wind, give rise to a special feeling of timelessness and of a communion with times past.

Poetry Jam this week asks participants to: "Write about the mid-winter or mid-summer season and what it means to you."

The Eleusinian Mysteries

The sun, wild,

Lashes without pity
Naked bodies.
The ancient marble lolls
Strewn amongst the pine trees
And the noontime stillness
Is mirrored in the
Midsummer heat.

Somewhere in the forest,

Dense and shady,
A fountain trills
Like Pan’s flute.
In the heart of the mountain,
Deep in the rocks, Cyparissus
Sleeps lightly,
Caressed by gentle Zephyr.

It’s enough to find a magic word,

A word both ancient and true,
And if you murmur it,
Twenty five centuries
Will shatter like glass
And crash in front of
The violet-tinged temple,
Which will arise from the ground built anew.

Monday, 26 January 2015


“I let the audience use their imaginations. Can I help it if they misconstrue my suggestions?” - Ernst Lubitsch

Imagine this scene: A young man is eating a pastry, walking down a fashionable boulevard in Paris. He is lost in his tumultuous thoughts and his black mood. A woman sits on the pavement, begging. She extends her hand towards him and he throws the scrunched up paper bag with the half-eaten pastry in her lap. This is one of the first few scenes at the beginning of Michael Haneke’s 2000 film, Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages, translated into English as “Code Unknown: Incomplete Tale of Several Journeys”. This early scene will return to haunt the actors in this drama and it is interwoven with other scenes of a similarly challenging type that tantalisingly shift into a pattern and are then quickly disrupted by scenes that deliberately confound our logic.

“Code Unknown” is a well-crafted film, made by an obviously gifted director, with actors who play with extraordinary talent. Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Josef Bierbichler, Alexandre Hamidi all interact wonderfully and handle each nuance of their character with aplomb. And yet the film is a strangely unsatisfying one; it is a film that frustrates and delights one at the same time. Austrian director Haneke plays with us self-indulgently, refusing to compromise his artistic ideals, unwilling to make any allowances to us, his audience. Yet, that is one of the strengths of the movie.

If one goes into a movie house and expects a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, one will be disappointed with this movie. On first viewing, especially if one is unprepared for it, it may seem like a hodge-podge of images, random threads of disparate stories that occasionally criss-cross, a device that is at risk of becoming cliché. There are stylistic links to: Magnolia (1999), Amores Perros (2000) and Crash (2004), and yet, this movie is set apart from them in that we see only little glimpses of people’s lives, incomplete and shadowy, we have to work hard in order to guess at what is going on, and as far as the end is concerned, be prepared to be let down. This is no ordinary tragedy and definitely not a happy or even hopeful end.

Several themes are explored by the film, including child abuse, illegal immigration, failure of communication, racism, prejudice, morality, homelessness, the generation gap, war, rich vs poor, the dehumanising aspect of modern urban life, lack of responsibility towards one fellow human beings… It is a clever film and one that skillfully manipulates the viewers’ emotions. Several scenes grate on our nerves, others draw out pity from us, in others we feel angry, helpless, repulsed, horrified. Yet, we are also detached and curiously uninvolved by Haneke’s characters. We cannot make up our minds if they are heroes of anti-heroes, protagonists or antagonists. We vacillate unsure of where to place our loyalties. Villains become victims, sacrificers become the sacrifice, situations that seem black or white, become curiously gray as more scenes are revealed to us.

The experience of watching the film for me was similar to experiences I have had sitting on a bus and watching the people getting on and off. Or when I am people-watching in an airport or a train station, or perhaps glimpses of lives as the train rushes past the lit windows of apartment buildings. My vivid imagination connects people and their lives and builds stories with common threads in them, significant stories of universal relevance: The search for love and acceptance, the pursuit of happiness, the need to be understood and appreciated for what one is. Haneke does this with consummate skill and in his choice of scenes, he gives the viewer significant clues to decipher.

This is no escapist flick, no pleasant tale to delight and amuse us. It is dark, confronting, intelligent and challenging. It will make you think and demand from you the viewer an active interaction. It is not a film that you will watch passively. It needs rumination upon and a second viewing that will perhaps leave you with more questions than you had when you first saw it. Perhaps that is what all great art should do, make us ask questions rather than give us answers.