John Peart Tribute

John Peart was a close friend for thirty years. He died recently. I wanted to present a tribute to him at The National Art School's celebration of his life, but could not quite find the courage  on the day. My failure of nerve would have been a minor disappointment to John but it has found a forum here on my blog. 

Imagine then, if you will, The Cell Block at East Sydney, filled with his family, friends and colleagues  on 7th November, 2013.

I am on the stage, speaking into the microphone.

One of John's strengths was to wait and watch. He was not inclined to insinuate himself into a painting. His work emerged from silence, from space and from time.

Silence (5 seconds)

As part of today's celebration of John's life, I would like to engineer a Peart painting made from sound. We are specially qualified today here, as a group, to know how a Peart painting would sound, even if sound lies outside our normal field of expertise of the seen. The dimensions of the Peart canvas is the time we have, times the number of people here assembled. The shapes, colours, textures and relationships are generated by each of you in the Cell Block by the sounds you make and also, quite critically, by the spaces you leave by your silences. Often, John's works were large. Today is one such work.

Silence (5 seconds)

In keeping with the spirit of John's works, each sound is made in the context of all the other sounds. From waiting and watching, we become aware of the canvas, its size and texture. The rustling ease and disease in the Cell Block tightens the canvas against the stretcher's frame. We can flick it to confirm. As the seconds pass, we can get a sense of the possibility of it.

Silence (5 seconds)

The canvas stretches to the left and to the right and to the top and to the base. We are enabled in our conception by the scale of the room, by the natural acoustics and also by the history as we know it. As we listen now, the memories we have work themselves to the sounds.

Silence wanes (5 seconds)

Our task today and pleasure too, is to stay with the work, to build the work, to allow the work to build itself. The foreground silence is busy with the muscle of mind at work. Throats are cleared, leather jackets squeak, alarmed. A chair scrapes to sudden steps withdrawing and we have to make each part count, because you can't discriminate. To the dim distance of traffic, a bird calls in the garden. That is John. Between background and foreground a discussion takes root.

Traffic and bird (5 seconds)

The canvas is alive and each sound enriches the whole. In listening, no sound overpowers any other sound. That smile, that glint of teeth we cannot hear adds to the picture. Soft clapping makes a lie of an imminent conclusion. Soft voices now in conversation bring an area an attention.

The picture builds (5 seconds)

As the silence drops away, the whiteness of the canvas brightens as colours and shapes of sounds are added. A program drops, tissues filled with mucus and tears, someone deigns to laugh and John's chuckling in our memory joins the surface throng.

The picture builds (5 seconds)

One of you, foolish and courageous, hoops. The sound rattles us, but we cannot remember it now as another hoop answers it. Soft hoops, man hoops and woman hoops eliminate an anticipation of being caught out unawares.

The picture speaks (5 seconds)

John would never let a melody impose itself to disrupt an even spread across the canvas. So now, scattered sounds break any such possibility. Scattered silences too, add to it.

White noise browned lightly (10 seconds)

As we come to listen, we can wonder now what it is. Where is this place the music describes? Are we in the Cell Block, or are we at Wedderburn? Is this necessarily Australia, or is it anywhere? We are in the zone. Mistakes are natives here. This is 4 wheel drive joy.

Listening, mentally looking (5 seconds)

Pop music offers a climax in keeping with its duration. Mostly, you cannot dance to this painting. It has the sobriety of classical music and serious art. Just as we are not inclined to clap a painting, neither can we clap here, even if we are celebrating. If John is not laughing now, his eyes at least are that little bit bluer from the moisture.

Music (10 seconds).

Thank you John.