Review of June Perkins’s Words and Pictures Tour (Queensland Art Gallery, Sept-November 2018)
French artist Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917) famously said ‘Art is not what you see, but what you make others see’.
This was truly my experience when I joined June Perkins’s tour of Words & Pictures. June’s interactive journey through the Australian Collection features poetry and micro stories inspired by 12 different artworks. Her responses are written for visitors of all ages, with particular appeal to children and families; a delightful glimpse of art through the eyes of a poet and children’s author.
Words & Pictures is part of an ongoing project to increase engagement with artworks in QAG. Local artists and writers are invited to respond to artworks in the Australia Collection. June was thrilled to be commissioned to do this work. ‘This was one of the best emails in relation to my work I’ve ever received,’ she said.
June had complete freedom over her choice of artworks. Each response was limited to a maximum of 80 words and everything had to be completed in three weeks with a couple more weeks for editing! She spent a lot of time in the gallery, finding works that appealed to her, thinking of a child’s perspective (choosing works above and below their eye level and in a variety of media) and developing a concept for her poetic responses. The result is engaging, inspiring and easily accessible to children and adults.
June’s poetry appears in a display adjacent to author information beside each artwork. Each poem carries a delicate feather motif. This is a reference to an imaginary character that June created – Perceval’s Angel, inspired by John Perceval’s Herald Angel, a richly glazed sculpture.
June imagined the tour like a giant picture book with Perceval’s Angel guiding viewers through the pages. June was delighted to tell John Perceval’s grandson, a friend from her university days, that she was using the angel in her creative pieces for the gallery. Some of her poetry pieces begin with a quote from Perceval’s Angel who speaks directly to the viewers, guiding them to the next artwork or helping them interact with it.
‘Hop on board’ the angel invites viewers of Yvonne Koolmatrie’s Hot Air Balloon, and June adds: ‘Take yourself to the balloon’s edge, Feel the breezes, through the sedge’
This is an enticing invitation to adventure and travel, and lets the imagination ride free in this sedge grass, coil woven work suspended in space.
On a time travel wall displaying different artists’ approaches to the Australian landscape, the angel says: ‘Listen to the music of landscapes through the portal of Australia’s artists’
One of June’s choices on this wall is Rosalie Gascoigne’s Lamp Lit, a large work made up of letters and shapes from cut up road signs. June’s response draws on the personal experience of destruction and loss wrought by Cyclone Yasi in 2011 when a road sign ended up in her front yard; or as angel says: ‘But the real question is what will you design in response to loss?’
And so, the adventure in art continues, stopping by at Ian Fairweather’s Epiphany, Sydney Long’s romantic and ethereally beautiful Spirit of the Plains, Sonya Carmichael’s colourful Baskets of Culture, Fred William’s vivid EchucaLandscape, Irene Chou’s suggestive Universe within Our Hearts, William Delafield Cook’s amazingly detailed and skilfully toned A Haystack, and Ray Crooke’s Woman with blossoms, reminiscent of Gauguin. June said she saw her identity in this particular work.
Our tour ended as it had begun with an invitation to travel on in the imagination, this time on a representation of Ian Fairweather’s ramshackle craft; the one he used at the age of 60 to make a potentially suicidal 16 day crossing of the Timor Sea from Darwin to a remote coral island west of Timor in 1952.
June’s verse reads: ‘You can do anything, be anything travel anywhere…’ The child in her poem makes the sacrifice necessary to travel to Kudusur – a reference to the dramatic mural visible through the hole in the craft’s sail. Painted by Torres Strait islander Alick Tipoti, it references paddling a canoe, seasons, ocean currents, journeying between islands and spiritual ancestors – the universal journey through life.
Don’t miss this Words and Pictures journey. Grab a child or find your inner child; help yourself to the drawing board, paper and pencils, and create your own responses.
You can take yourself on a tour anytime between 10 am to 5 pm, until the end of November.
June’s final in person tour will be on November 17th 2 pm(contact email@example.com for more information).
You won’t regret it. All those attending on 17th Nov are invited to sponsor Magic Fish Dreaming books to go to PNG.
Dr June Perkins is a Brisbane-based poet, blogger and children’s author, of Indigenous Papua New Guinean and Australian background, raised in Tasmania by Baha’i parents. She utilizes multiarts and multicultural stories to inspire an enriched sense of belonging and compassion in those who encounter her work. She was recently invited to share Magic Fish Dreaming at the Asia Pacific Triennial, Summer Program 2019 and became a member of Mana Pasifika research Institute. She maintains an interest and dedication to promoting diversity in the Australian literary landscape. Her first children’s book was the award-winning poetry collection, Magic Fish Dreaming (2016) illustrated by Helene Magisson.
Renee Hills has always loved words and writing. A founding member of Write Links, she writes picture books (Turtle Love was published in 2017); flash fiction (Proof was published in Short and Twisted,Celapene Press 2017); and a short fantasy is to be included in the Rainforest Writing Retreat Anthology 2018.
To take the point of view of a curtain fig tree
or a wallaby
I become part of the ecosystem
and see myself a part of it
not the ruler of it.
To take the point of view of a refugee
coming by air, or boat
from a camp or via an escape however they can
I see common humanity
and that fate could place me
there but somehow I was
given a home here through my
migrant mother marrying one
To take the point of view of the
woman with her hijab hassled
in the streets because she represents
what some people fear makes
me wonder what I would feel and do.
To take the point of view of someone
who truly believes they are better
than me because of their colour
because someone told them so
and they were surrounded by others who believed…
The earth we stand on
whether sand, grass, concrete, gravel, dust
is the same earth;
it’s our common ground.
Can you hear it breathe?
I am always inspired by its sounds
ocean, train, nightingale, gospel song
and a little bit of country and blues.
The common ground feels the ache of
salt tears given in hunger and loss
to those who feel invisible
who want shelter
and safety and the transformation of visionary
art that no one should be kept from;
you can’t silence the poets and songwriters
and the painters of truth.
Maya Angelou, Albert Namatjira’s, Tahirih
so many more heroes I could name,
they remind us of the common ground.
But to honour them our lives might
find the profound and make it live.
The common ground says, ‘Tell me your story
I care, and
wisdom will be our friend through
dialogue where I listen and…