Cranes building the new Footscray Hospital dominate the Western skyline. To me they are spires speaking of human aspiration. Sculptures beyond sculpture, they represent and embody a collective determination to ameliorate human suffering. They are the fruit of courage and human ingenuity, ever-present reminders of a conviction and collective endeavour toward a compassionate future. They reach to the cosmos as a witness to hope. June 2023
Since coming to Melbourne just over a year ago, I have been fascinated by the cranes majestically standing tall above the new Footscray Hospital under construction.
It’s a long build. Day after day, night after night they arrest my gaze, implacable reminders of human creativity and resolve, miracles of engineering taking place right in front of me.
I’m reminded of the Sagrada Familia – the Church of the Holy Family – in Barcelona.
Of course the vision Antoni Gaudi had for his cathedral is of another order to the more pragmatic one of constructing a hospital. And more’s the pity, no doubt the cranes will go in the end and cease to adorn the project. Nevertheless, while they stand, like Gaudi’s spires, they inspire me.
Starting with these feelings of inspiration and the symbolism of a project of alleviating human suffering, the black-night canvas questioned me. I would be rusty, having been preoccupied by the demands of my vocation as a university chaplain over the last decade or so. I decided to do two paintings – the one to portray what I saw, the other to describe my feelings of awe. Along the way there would be little experimental canvases to test ideas and techniques. And I would have to create a studio at the back of the house we are renting while we are in Melbourne, a space where I would feel free from distractions.
As I was bringing my first ‘what I see’ painting to some kind of conclusion I was not happy with it. It was not ‘me’. Nor were the crane towers dominant enough. I gave it away for the day and the next day, hoping to redeem the painting with persistence, I did some bleach tests on the side to see how the cranes could be emphasised. That worked pretty well. But when I applied the bleach to the cranes on the canvas the bleach bled and it did not give me what I was looking for. So, that was it. This was a good ‘getting back into it’ exercise but the painting was ‘past it’ for me. I should stick with painting feelings – meditation on the conversation between canvas, paint and intuition.
As I was putting things away for the day, I noticed the other side of the painting – it was exactly what I was after all along! Such a strong simple statement! The bleach I had just applied had come through strongly on the other side. That was it! The feelings of inspiration were captured. So all that was left was to reverse the canvas and reframe it.
Contemplating the reframed piece, it needed a ‘disruption’. This could be a minuscule red dot on one of the towers (the flashing red light to warn aircraft). I had noticed one such red light when I took the original photo and that the timing of the flashes on all the cranes did not coincide.
No need to start off on the intended second ‘feeling’ canvas. The ‘what I see’ and the ‘how I feel’ are on either side! And if anyone wants the more realist version, I’d be happy to reframe it for them!