An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of art & life ...

An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of life ... or just ramblings from the mind of a working Mum with far too little time to think!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Magnificent QVB

I am always enthusing about the magnificence and abundance of beauty in nature .... however I am equally in awe of the incredible works of art conceived and constructed by man’s own hands.

And although there are very many amazing modern architectural wonders all over the world to be overwhelmed by, I still love that humbled feeling you get when walking into an old, heritage-listed building.

The soaring ceilings, the intricate decorative work and the absolute wonder of the shapes, patterns,  materials and craftsmanship that were in vogue so far in the past, are still an integral part of our world’s rich and diverse cultural inheritance.

If only the walls could speak, they could tell us so many fascinating stories about the many thousands of people who have entered the rooms or walked the hallways of these old buildings over the decades.

The impressive Queen Victoria Building in the city of Sydney is one such building.  It never ceases to give me a sense of awe each time I wander through.

Built in the late 1800’s and affectionately known as the QVB, this elaborate Romanesque building was constructed as a monument to the long-reigning Monarch, Queen Victoria.

Construction of the massive building took place in dire times, when Sydney was suffering the depths of a severe recession and something grand was desperately needed to lift the population out of widespread depression.

Originally the building, which occupies an entire street block, included a concert hall, tearooms, offices, show rooms, warehouses and shop fronts for a wide variety of trades people such as tailors, hairdressers, boot makers, fruiterers, tobacconists, chemists, florists and toymakers.

However, the passing decades saw many changes of tenants, with the concert hall being overtaken by the city library at one time and winemakers, teachers of dance, piano tuners, palmists and clairvoyants occupying the shop fronts.

Gradually, as the years passed by, the once magnificent building fell into disrepair and in 1959, the iconic building was threatened with demolition. Thankfully, various important citizens took up the cause and the decision was finally made to restore and preserve the QVB as a historically significant site.

Today, after a $75million refurbishment, the QVB is at once a magnificent multi-leveled luxury shopping mall with all the exclusive international fashion names represented, and a Federation Romanesque architectural wonder.

The dominant feature of the sandstone building is the huge 20-meter in diameter central glass dome, with its copper sheathed exterior topped by a domed copula.

The interior features elaborate arched skylights leading out in both directions from the central dome, creating great light wells for the shopping arcades on either side.

Magnificent stained glass, including a cartwheel window depicting the ancient arms of the city of Sydney, allow light to filter over the sweeping staircases, hand crafted wrought-iron balustrades and beautiful wood paneling.

Many of the thousands of tiles on the intricately patterned mosaic floors are the originals, as is the beautiful 19th century spiral staircase.

The QVB has been faithfully restored to all of its former glory and is something not to be missed during a visit to Sydney - not for the shopping, or for the great coffee or food - but for the spectacular visual feast of the interior d├ęcor of this incredibly beautiful building.

Fashion designer great, Pierre Cardin, whose idea of beauty is much admired everywhere, aptly described the QVB as: “The most beautiful shopping centre in the world.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Curiosity is Key

There is so much more to the visual world than what we see as we fly through our increasingly busy lives, bombarded by visual stimuli from every direction in the form of billboards, TV, cinema, lighted signs and a myriad of other man-made images that cross our paths each and every day.

It is sad that the majority of us miss out on so much pleasure by dismissing the ordinary in our lives and prioritizing our time so effectively that we have nothing left for simple observation.

Often it is in the ordinary that the extraordinary is found and looking at the world through the lens of a camera has forever changed the way I see.  Now, even without the camera around my neck, I find myself looking in places I never would have before.

Down at my feet, at the tiny, but intricately designed clover and dandelions that we all too often trample underfoot as we hurry across a grassy footpath on the way to a meeting.

Up above my head, at the striking architectural shapes formed by the leafless trees lining the streets in anticipation of the coming Winter ...

... or the strange, twisted shapes formed by the Mangroves surrounding and encroaching upon a wooden walkway.

Learning how to see through the lens has taught me how to look beyond the musician on the stage, and instead to see the beauty in the shape of his hand drawing the bow across the strings ...

... and it has given me a new appreciation of all that is involved in producing the spectacular colours of the sunsets we glance at and take for granted each evening.

Whilst it is impractical to stop and carefully observe everything we see on a daily basis, it is something we all need to do regularly to put our lives into perspective.

The world is such a spectacular place in all of its diversity, especially in the detail!  

We are all guilty of skating through life, looking only at the ‘big things’ that grab our attention – the magnificent blue ocean crashing onto the coastline, the stunning architecture of the ancient Colosseum or the majestic Eiffel Tower ...

... the showiness of a bed of vibrant red Canna Lillies, the visually arresting black and white stripes of a herd of African Zebra, or the spectacular sight of a Jacaranda tree in full bloom.

Very few of us look also at the detail, the minutae, and so we miss out on the many layers that can make the world look so amazingly different and that gives so much more depth, interest, inspiration, meaning and pleasure to our experiences.

Have you ever sat and really looked at a sunset … as the sun lowers ever so slowly and gently towards the horizon, making its daily journey from late afternoon … to evening … to night-time?

Have you noticed how the colours change from yellows to golds, to oranges, to reds, to purples ... all dependent upon the type and number of clouds in the sky and how much light is reflected? Have you observed how just a few moments before the sun sets, the earth’s shadow begins to rise into the atmosphere, and then as the sun sets behind the horizon, there is a faint glow that seems to exist around the edges, disappearing just before the first pin-pricks of starlight appear?

Have you ever looked closely at a flower and noticed the very fine fabric of the petals, how they look like threads woven together as in silk?

Have you held a Jacaranda blossom in your hands and looked inside the trumpet-shaped flower to see the fuzzy texture of the petals – almost like felt – and observed the pure white stamens that feather out like fibre optics at the tip, sprinkled with bright yellow pollen?

Have you noticed how the paler blue skies of Spring and early Summer seem to compliment the lilac colour of the Jacaranda blossoms so perfectly, almost as if it were planned that way?

Have you looked in detail at the humble Dandelion weed, at how each fairy-like seed is attached to the stem just enough to stay in one piece until the gentle breeze blows and the seeds are mature enough to float into the air, carrying their future with them?

The natural world is so interesting and so inspiring.  If you take the time to stop and observe with curiosity, you cannot help but be uplifted by the beauty that exists in the ordinary and you will never see the world in the same way again!

Leo Burnett, one of the great creative minds of our time, once said this about the inspiration necessary for creativity:

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Out into the World!

This week my spirited middle daughter, Jess, completes 12 years of school life, and as I attend all the final ceremonies associated with the end of her childhood, my mind is flooded with flashes of all the priceless moments captured during the rollercoaster ride of her journey through school.

I can still see her bright, happy face so clearly on that very first day of ‘big’ school as she led me excitedly to the Grade 1 classroom. Jess at 5 and a half years was not the youngest in the class, but she was the smallest, and as the time for me to leave neared, she crept closer and closer to me until she was on my lap with her hand firmly in mine. I knew then that she would not let me leave without a fight.

I was so right! She was the only child who cried and cried when I left with the other mothers, and even when I reached the car park I could still hear her crying. When I returned to collect her that afternoon, she launched herself into my arms and announced to all that she was NEVER going back!
“All they do is teach you to read and write and I already know how to do that so there is no point in school for me” she proclaimed. 

Jess had attended kindergarten and pre-school at the Montessori School three days a week for the preceding two years. She had taught herself to read at 3 years old and thrived with the independent learning approach of Montessori. She expected that school would be an even more exciting version of what she had become used to.

Those early years were a trial. She spent most of the time sitting on the floor waiting for everyone else to finish their work so that the class could move on and she cried each morning when I left her at the classroom door, right through Grade 1 and most of the way through Grade 2.

And that’s the way her schooling progressed. She complained endlessly of being bored and unengaged and insisted that she could complete everything she needed to in one or two hours each day rather than the 7 hours that school demanded.  And although she excelled academically in her report cards, her teachers complained that she asked too many questions that were almost always a couple of steps ahead and to the side of where her classmates were. 

Jess stopped putting up her hand in class to answer questions as her teachers ignored her, knowing that she knew the answers. Instead she started yelling the answers out. Her teacher’s response was to provide her with a ruler with a plastic hand attached, informing her that unless she stopped yelling the answers out and used the hand instead, she would have to stand outside the classroom.

As time went on, she learned how to tolerate school but she lost the love of learning and the joy of discovery that was so lovingly developed at the Montessori kindergarten and preschool. She learned early that with minimum effort she could achieve well enough to keep everyone happy, but she was never keen to get to school and always looked for any excuse to stay home.

Her health did not help matters and she missed weeks of school each year due to protracted recoveries from flu, asthma, bronchitis and countless other childhood illnesses. She was finally diagnosed with a major immune deficiency two years ago.

Animals have always been Jess’s great love, her major interest and a lifesaver in many ways. Growing up, she spent hours and hours with our pets, playing with the dogs, stalking grasshoppers and geckos, training the chickens to perform tricks on command, and attempting to train bees to form a bee circus!  

At the age of 9 years, after begging us for many months, she started horse riding lessons and threw herself into a campaign to persuade us to buy her a horse of her own.
It took a couple of years but we relented and bought a “rescue” horse for Jess and her sister, Kathryn to ride. 

Then came the huge problem of finding suitable agistment – somewhere to keep the horse with easy access for the girls to spend time there on a daily basis.  This solved, we had to quickly become used to the idea of spending huge sums of money on agistment, horse food (as the grass was never enough), the horse dentist, worming, the farrier to reshoe the horse every few weeks when it’s feet grew or sooner if it lost a shoe or two, horse gear, show gear, … The list went on and on! 

But, we told ourselves regularly, this would not last forever as surely Jess would outgrow this phase just like most young girls. Well, that never happened! Jess is now nearly 18 years old and we are supporting three horses … and two dogs, three cats and a turkey! And the list would go on and on if we let her keep every stray animal she has brought home over the years!

Somehow, through everything, we managed to keep Jess at school, even although at times it felt as though we were literally dragging her to school each day, and the animals played a large part in giving her the sense of balance she needed to cope in a place she really did not want to be. 

And I am really proud of her. She will graduate this week with very good academic results and the opportunity to go on and do whatever she wishes to with her life.

Completing her education has given Jess the chance that so many girls in our world are never offered. It has allowed her to develop into a confident, real world ready young woman with the necessary skills of adaptivity, creativity, flexibility, autonomy and the ability to effectively communicate with others.

Though I feel sad that this child, who out of my three girls has always been the most fragile and most dependent on me, has grown up and is about to launch out into the great big world away from my constant care, I am incredibly proud of how much she has achieved and of what I know she will achieve in the future.