Trains of Thought

I was a bit annoyed with myself last night. I spent the time I could have been watching a television show with real physicists but instead I was watching the one with actors pretending to be physicists.

My annoyance has evaporated as I see the wonderful ABC has made the episodes of Voyage to the Planets available online.

Man, I'd love to work for someone like the ABC, or SBS, or the Museum, or an Art Gallery. And before you leave a comment that says "well Michelle, why don't you just go work for those companies!" I've tried when positions have come up and look at me here, not working for/with them.

Mind the Gap

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I attended art classes with the extraordinary Tom Kreisler.

God, I loved that man!

I was living in Auckland at the time. My Aunt told me about painting workshops at the New Plymouth polytech that ran over a whole weekend. Even though the 5 hour drive is a long one for just a weekend, the thought of two days of painting and spending time at The Farm meant I spent little time deciding.

Looking back, it was so crazy that I would drive. I couldn't leave until my then husband arrived home from work - around 7-8pm - and then leave him and the kids to make the trip. It's not an easy drive - the Awakino Gorge is very dark - one time I remember being stopped by Police outside Pio Pio because they were looking for prisoners who had escaped from a rural 'facility'. So there was no stopping for a kip when I realised I could hardly keep my eyes open - so resorted to singing show tunes at the top of my lungs with all the windows open to the Winter night air - I am surprised I even made it!

Stopping all Stations!

Tom was like no other person I've ever met. He seemed to fade in and out of his own world - bringing back strange and uncomfortable things for us to do when he arrived back in our world.

One time, he gave us long, springy sticks - maybe from a willow tree - with blobs of foam on the end. We had to dip these meter-long 'brushes' into ink and draw from life models with them. Ink went _everywhere_ and the marks, while interesting, were not representative of our nude models.

He asked us to draw upside down, or only using three colours, or never looking at our paper. With sticks, bamboo, ink, paint, charcoal. And all the while we worked, he would talk to us; read us stuff; tell us stories.

The very first (of quite a number, it turned out) weekend workshop, Tom asked us to take a turn each to introduce ourselves to the class - but not in the usual way. He asked us to use our names, but not to say what we do, but what we sould like to do, or have done - and be that person for the duration of our introduction.

To be perfectly truthful, I think I'm the only one who actually managed to grasp the concept.

Excuse me for being a late - after 10 days in the space shuttle I forgot to wind my watch back to Earth time! Hi, my name is Michelle and I work for NASA and am an astronaut.

Michelle's Introduction

One weekend, while we were working away during the workshop, I looked up to see my old art teacher walk into the room, speak to Tom, and then leave again.

Mrs Wall was a horrible teacher. One of the worst teachers I've ever had and because she taught my favourite subject: Art - I despised her for that. I told Tom, after she had left, that she had been my art teacher at school. He said that was strange, because she knew nothing about art - I said that was the shame of my whole high school art experience with her.

Tickets Please!

The painting group mostly remained the same people at each of the weekends. So after a number of them, Tom asked us if we'd like to go to his house one Saturday evening for dinner - we could all bring something and have a shared conversation over food.

After class, we all went home and fixed some food, brushed our hair and arrived at his home. He lived in one of the five classic villas in New Plymouth - a set of beautiful old white homes, built each next to each other on large sections, by one family for each of their children.

We walked up the long leafy driveway, the garden wild but tended and rang the doorbell of his lovely home. We'd spent a lot of time, my Aunt and I, imagining what Tom's wife would be like. Tom himself was shortish, and a bit stocky, with red hair and a beard. We imagined his wife in lots of different ways - maybe looking like him; maybe dowdy and plain. My Aunt always imagined her as glamourous and beautiful.

Tom's wife opened the door. She was a tall, slender woman. Beautiful and carrying her late middle age with grace. She looked out at the gathered group of (mostly) women, all holding pots and casserole dishes, and wondered what we wanted.

We explained that Tom had invited us over for a shared dinner. This, said Mrs Kreisler, was news to her. Turns out, not only had Tom failed to inform his wife that 20 or so of his students were coming for dinner, but he'd also forgotten himself and gone out for the evening!

She graciously invited us into her home. We loitered awkwardly, as she phoned Tom and reminded him of his plans.

End of the line

A few years ago, and many years after these workshops, I heard somewhere, that the Govett Brewster was having an exhibition by Tom Kreisler - so I drove the 5 hours back to New Plymouth to see his show.

Driving down to Taranaki I wondered if I would see him, if he would remember me - I thought if I didn't see him at the Gallery I'd call by his home and say hi.

I was rocked more than I expected when, upon arriving at the show, I found out that it was a retrospective of his work, a tribute to a man who had died a few years earlier. He didn't seem to have been old enough to have died but I supposed I was still holding a mid-fifties to sixty year old man in my memory - and he had passed away in his late seventies.

His show was wonderful - infused with him. They showed a lot of his scribbled notes, quick sketches and, of course, his wonderful artwork.

Tom Kreisler taught me to see colour. He showed me how to make lines. He gave me more confidence and knowledge about art and the making of art than anyone I've ever met. He is held in my memory with great fondness, and I am so pleased to have been one of the lucky people who got to spend time in his company.