Art Requires, A Long Look

Gig Ryan at The Sydney Review of Books:

So much has been written on the Heide group of artists, Nolan, Tucker, Hester, and their patrons John and Sunday Reed that it is hard to imagine anything more could be added. π.ο.’s Heide however, though holding this group of communalism, camaraderie, and free love as its centre, radiates backwards to the history that precedes the Reeds’ utopian endeavour, and continues into its aftermath. One epigraph from Oscar Wilde signals Heide’s intent: ‘The only duty we have to history is to rewrite it.’ Artists tumble out in artistic lineage from Buvelot to the Heidelberg School to Heide, along with numerous glancing biographies of influential patrons and politicians, William Barak, Ned Kelly, Albert Namatjira, Patrick White, Billy Hyde, Eliza Fraser, and many others. Through these intersecting histories, Heide also depicts the struggle between the conservation of the past and revolt against it, as epitomised in the Ern Malley hoax, with Angry Penguins magazine briefly funded by the Reeds, and the recurring compromises that swing between capital and art; ‘Only an Artist, can break out of / a straight-jacket.’. But it is his poetic technique that most energetically enacts these struggles, forging a dense amalgam in which past and present continually invade each other. Where π.ο.’s earlier Fitzroy: The Biography catalogued portraits of famous, notorious, and lesser known characters, Heide commences with ‘Terra Australis’ that cryptically lampoons its title, then to Cook’s voyage, and gradually progresses to the establishment of the State Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in 1850s colonial Melbourne, and eventually to the artists hammering to enter or exit those institutions. Escapee William Buckley and explorers Leichhardt and Burke and Wills are also among these seekers of the new: ‘On the horizon: / 23 horses, 19 men, and 26 camels on / a slow walk across / a blank slate.’ This imaginary ‘blank slate’ is equivalent to the unpolished metropolis without its establishments of arts and learning, and these doomed or heralded figures parallel the relentless pursuit of art.

more here.