The Story Stones
29 March – 29 April 2017
The Story Stones explored the human desire for meaning and story by Adelaide artists Belinda Broughton and Ervin Janek.
meaning gathers —
around the hearth
we doodle in sand
for the first time
‘fire, sand, meat, light
char, flame, shadow, word’
in chaos and randomness
we find image, we find story
and meaning gathers
Through her career, Belinda Broughton has used materials that range from dirt to the finest art materials, producing work in a diversity of art forms: paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, collage, gallery installations, and installations in nature.
Thematically she has been engaged with the cycles of life/death/life and order/chaos/order, with a focus on natural and purposeful mark moving towards script and symbol, and, recently, moving towards image and story.
She has also spent the last decade focusing on poetry (with a decent publication record) and is interested in the interface between poetry and visual art.
We asked for more details about ‘The Story Stones’ and her work.
In the past you and Ervin ran a toy manufacturing company. Can you tell us more about this time in your life? Were you both practicing artists back then?
It was a good little business. It paid the mortgage; brought up the kids. We made educational jigsaw puzzles and games and, with valued employees, did everything in-house – from the ideas and artwork, through to screen printing the images and woodworking, to packaging and promotion. We were also bringing up three kids, so it was exceptionally busy. Even so, we managed a shared exhibition, and we were in a number of group shows. Ervin also held a number of solos during that time. It was great to have an income to support our art.
We downsized the business in 2001 and concentrated on art from then on. But we kept making a few of the more lucrative toy products until Ervin had a heart operation in 2006.
Your exhibition at Gallery 1855, ‘The Story Stones’ features a range of work and mediums, including artist books, drawings, prints, photography, installation and sculpture. What draws you to so many art processes?
Easily Bored? I love learning new processes and playing with materials, but I was having a hate affair with painting for a few years prior to this show, and had been concentrating on illustration, partly looking for a new business opportunity to replace the toys.
I discovered I am eminently unsuitable for doing illustrations to briefs because I found it stressful and some little saboteur in my brain kept wanting to add inappropriate things, like gumboots to wedding attire, for example. So I allowed myself to go off on tangents and a lot of this work arises from that. It is completely different to the paintings I had been doing (non-representational, formalist field paintings), but I’m loving the figurative playfulness of them. And even feel that I’d like to move into painting again.
As for the books, I am a poet, and words play a huge part in my art and life. So between words and illustration, it is natural that I would get into books. I will explore books more, both published and artist books.
Ervin has always worked in photography, block printing, and sculpture. He is very inventive and playful, especially (in my opinion) in photography.
‘The Story Stones’ is about the exploration of the human desire for story and meaning. Can you expand on this?
Well, stories are just so important to human beings aren’t they? Historically they have been used in many ways, for example, the passing down of critical survivalist information, the delivery of news, as a type of subversion against political powers, as an aid to rites of passage, and they have been used, simply, to entertain. It has been posited that there are a very few types of stories, and yet these stories have been told in infinite ways across the world throughout human history.
Ervin tells a great story, a facility I plundered to write my book Sparrow, Poems of a Refugee, (his life stories in poems). As a writer I am fascinated by story, the concept, and by individual stories. Meet me and it won’t be long before I prise your life story from you.
Ervin’s work is very often about actual stories, but also can be a suggestion or a trace of story. My newer work is often allegorical also.
A few years ago Ervin produced an exhibition called Unfinished Allegories, photographs that suggest stories, but which he invited the viewer to ‘finish’. This began a dialogue between us about the nature of story and whether stories are ever really finished.
I have a rock sculpture on which I had inscribed the word ‘story’ over and over again. As I worked, the grease from my hand smudged some of the words, and I had to work over them again. It became a sort of palimpsest of itself. Called The Story Stone, it seemed a great metaphor for stories, how they fade and keep renewing themselves. Once Ervin and I appreciated the concept of story as a connection between our practices, we went with Story Stones as an exhibition title.
Where do you take inspiration from?
Compost is quite fertile, isn’t it. Actually the cycle of life, death and renewal (or chaos-order-chaos) is one of my big themes, so compost is, in fact, quite inspirational. I love mark, accidental, natural and human. I love processes and seeing what a different process can offer. I am interested in myth and science, fibre and other crafts. I am appalled by politics. I am renewed and inspired by nature in general, and am appalled and frightened on it’s behalf too. I have very broad interests and do not separate my writing from my visual arts, so there are a lot of things at play that find themselves being expressed.
Ervin is interested in expressing his feelings, and is always exploring new ways of doing that. Also he keeps himself alert to what is happening around him, so he might, for instance, see a shape in a tree that he will photograph and team with other images in his composite photographs. Or, if he is working in wood or stone, he works with the materials to enhance what they have to offer. on occasion, from my position, Ervin’s connections seem arbitrary or unconsidered, and next thing he has expressed something so precisely with these very connections, that my jaw drops.
What’s the next thing you’re working on?
Oh, I don’t know. I think I need to have a post-exhibition crisis first! But seriously, it is too early to put rigorous demands on myself. One needs to find time to play. It invigorates whatever is coming next.
I don’t usually find out what I’m really doing until I am part way through. I have the desire to take some of my playful figurative images and see what gestural acrylic does to them. I have a collection of poetry coming out from Ginninderra Press towards the end of the year. I want to produce some artist books and I have a new blog to set up. Lots of plans, but I find that, since the exhibition, I have been drawn to writing poems, and have even written a couple that I like.
Ervin is working away on small stones. He calls them pain-killers, as the process keeps his immediate concerns at bay. We lost a son to brain cancer last year, so there is a fair amount of avoidance behaviour going on in our life. Craft helps.
He will continue to put two and two together in his photographs. at least that is how I know him; photography is a constant in his life. But his aim in the near future is to throw himself into woodblock printing again.
New website and blog: belindabroughton.com
old blog address (still active): belindabroughton.wordpress.com
Ervin’s website: ervinjanek.com