Month: October 2009

Our Kayaks



Our prevailing passion – to be on the water  – together

Levi van Veluw

Sometimes you stumble across something and you just want to share it

From his website – ‘Levi van Veluw´s photo series are self-portraits, drawn and photographed by himself: a one-man-process. His works constitute elemental transfers; modifying the face as object; combining it with other stylistic elements to create a third visual object of great visual impact. The work you see therefore is not a portrait, but an information-rich image of colour, form, texture, and content. The image contains the history of a short creative process, with the artist shifting between the entities of subject and object.’

Start off the Way You Would Like to Finish

Inspired by Glen [Murcutt] and David’s [Malouf] insights drawn from two different fields of creative practice I reflected on the diverse number of ways creative processes capture the principles of what is universally true.

David Malouf

David Malouf

When road conditions are good, operating a car takes very little effort. And as such, time spent travelling alone can provide an opportunity for contemplation and solitude. It is also possible to invite others into this state of reverie by tuning the car radio to a program that fits the mood. This was the case recently on the run home after a daylong appointment on the other side of town. I tuned into a conversation between two prominent Australians: Architect Glen Murcutt, 2002 Pritzker Prize winner (the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Architecture) and David Malouf, celebrated as one of Australia’s finest authors. The recording was part of the 3rd Annual Sydney Architecture Festival held this year.

As the speakers shared their views on topics such as how ‘good architecture can help define and lift the human spirit’, ‘how houses we grew up in shape our way of using space’, and other matters to do with the human condition and the creative process, I was taken by the wisdom of both men and the accessibility of their language. I was also drawn in by the observations and insights they shared when speaking of the creative process. While they operate in entirely different artistic practices it struck me how closely aligned they were.

The host of the conversation, Julianne Schultz, drew together elements of Glenn and David’s ways of working as architect and author. She made the observation that for Glen, he is constantly dealing with complexity and working with the desire to find a core essence in his work and for David he is doing something similar as he works to reach an emotional essence, a core body, within his writing.

I was fascinated by Glen’s response which in summary was that: Architecture needed to contain emotion such as serenity and ultimately joy and within it the elements of light and shade and that inevitably architecture [like any art form] must go beyond the rational. He went on to say that for him: simplicity is the other face of complexity, he used the analogy of the beautiful meal being reduced to a simple stock, and in that reduction is the essence of all the flavours, in other words, complexity is embodied in simplicity. For him, good architecture is not dissimilar.


Glenn Murcutt

One might ask, could this be another way of describing the mastery attained from hours and hours of work, be it writing, rehearsing or designing when less does eventually become more?

David added that the purpose of emotion for him is to take the reader back to the body, which is where the emotion comes from.

I was also taken by another part of the conversation when Glenn and David spoke about the way they dealt with obstacles that arose within the creative process. When a client, in Glenn’s case, created an obstacle that could potentially lead to a compromise of artistic integrity, he held the view that this actually created opportunity.

To illustrate this point he told the story of receiving a piece of advice from his father. Who had told him that you should always: “…start off the way you would like to finish. And for every compromise you knowingly make in the work, the result represents the quality of your next client.” Compromise (Glenn continued) is not about arrogance, it’s about doing something you absolutely ought not to be doing.

Glen’s attitude was to ‘allow the issue (not seen as a problem) to give you the opportunity to make it better. You satisfy the need the client is asking for and the opportunity has been made by the client to make it better. If you consistently do the level of work you want to do you are likely to attract that level of clients that you want.’

David added that in his writing, ‘When you hit an obstacle you are forced to find a way that is more imaginative.’

I see that here both Glen and David are talking not only about solutions that arise from creative tension. They are describing the process of integrative thinking that sees an opposing view or an obstacle to a process as an opportunity to become even more creative and imaginative. Their attitude to an obstacle is not one of egotistical defiance but rather an inquisitive and inclusive curiosity.

Both men also agreed that their best work comes when they move into a creative state of discovering the work they are making, almost seeing it as it unfolds. This state has been described by many including Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as a state of flow or ‘flow-state’. David described it as ‘the state you are in that takes you so completely’, where time passes and you unaware. Glen also suspected that, ‘we think that we make things with our conscious mind…[and that perhaps] everything that is best takes place when we working in the subconscious.’

Inspired by Glen and David’s insights drawn from two different fields of creative practice I reflected on the diverse number of ways creative processes capture the principles of what is universally true. Absorbed and intrigued by the discussion I found myself turning the corner at the end of our street. Safely traversing our city streets and absorbed in my travel companion’s conversation the contemplation had brought me all the way home.

Patterns of Recognition

Patterns of Recognition:
Our brain builds patterns as we learn and our brain looks for patterns in order to learn. Some of our learning is known as conditioning. Conditioning we receive from a range of sociological, environmental and familial influences. Some of our learning is more primal; we learn quickly to locate the source of fulfillment of basic needs such as shelter, food and warmth. Other sources of learning are self-directed; we identify the gaps between the ideal and the actual self (Goleman, Boyatzis) and take steps to follow our interests and passions and pursue knowledge in order to gain understanding and expertise.

As an event, situation or symbol of communication is repeated or re-occurs, neural networks fire and pathways connect. Over time some become indelible and stay close to the surface while others recede into lower levels of our awareness. These levels are referred to, as levels of consciousness or levels of awareness. Patterns that form over time that have moved down or situated themselves in lower levels of consciousness inform what we call habits. As humans we develop habitual thinking and habitual behaviour. One central reason this occurs is that habits tend to create familiarity, familiarity tends to create security and security tends to create comfort.

The upside of habits is that they create predictability; we can be reasonably sure that things will go as planned. The motor skills for driving a car for example (pun intended), are habitual and reliable; we’re assured of our ability to repeat these motor skills and this offers us re-assurance and a sense of confidence. The downside of these habits is that they can cause us to exclude input that might be beneficial to us. Beneficial from an evolutionary perspective and from the perspective of our wellbeing.

Essence of my Love

you have given me the gift of love
abundant and imperishable
and with it I embrace the world
you have shown me love unshackled
cherishing every second of existence
a smiling love that warms the heart
linking friend with foe
burying all enmity and acrimony

governing and determining to brinks of passion
where sights unseen are revealed in glorious circumstance
your abundant love holds me high
and I walk strong in your praises

you have smiled in me, and
held me briefly in this perpetuity of millennia
you have removed soiled garments
and found a shining naked newness
I am bathed in the glory of your love
and am welcomed unto my saviours

guardian angels steer fate’s course
and in celebrity hold cathedrals
full of chapels full of abundant joy
where bravery goes you are my courage
where subtlety lies you’re my discretion
where strength is needed you are my sinew
where succour goes you are my comfort
where fate leads I will follow
you will always be the essence of my love

Martin Challis © 2009



A broken spiral-shell
A stream of moonlight through the
imperfect aperture – the delicate intention.

The sure clutch of a seagull that turns this
in the foam of low tide. And
the sandy-wind turning out the dried-up husks of baby turtles,
once clutched surely.


A fisher-man turns,
squinting from the moon to the sun.
Down through his nets are nests of old fish tales
and an old wife waiting for his return.
Ever awatch for a silver sprinkle under the wave-crest, and for
a basket of fat herring
to be thumped proudly on the table-top.


A crane steps lightly on its mirror behind the sea,
fishes the land locked pocket with a spear in his beak.
An albatross,
no time for gulls or cranes and less for yearning nets, encircles.
The fisherman is for his pipe.
Fishing in his pocket for a pouch of backy.

For waves.

For wind.

And for silver.

Martin Challis © 2009

The Gentleness of Contemplation

Listening to the first awareness of morning
I sense the kind of clarity elusive
at other times of day.
She is still, a singular breath, formless,
offering insight into the endlessness
of something pure.
Yet she moves away as thoughts come:
those dissenting armies that tramp in
to involve me in the containment of opposites.
She will not be held in place by argument.
I long for her when she leaves.
She has opened up a space in me
And I’ve glimpsed a purpose.
My intention is to attend to her throughout the day.
To be the gardener who loves the flower.
That she might touch me when she will
That she mind find me, often
In the gentleness of contemplation.

Martin Challis © 2009

In the Dream

In the dream of death

where I surrender

the fall to earth completes me

and I learn

the last breath

precedes the first.


In the dream of life when I have given names to all I fear

I call to them, and in so doing

begin to dance with my enemies

embracing  them

as worthy opponents

as teachers

who bring me fortune

Martinos © 2009- 2017

Artistry as Capital

How do we begin to see our Artistry as Capital? How do we locate ourselves as artists in a global economy? What are some considerations for reframing or re-purposing our skill sets in order to survive the changing nature of the world market?

Firstly, we need to set aside traditional structures where art making has existing commercial value such as the film and television industry. We also need to fully consider the growing importance and valuing of artistic practice and artistic thinking as we leave the Information Age and enter the Conceptual Age where creators, innovators and empathisers are pre-eminent.

Acknowledging the shift occurring in business practice across the globe over the last ten to fifteen years, we see the advancing trend of many companies outsourcing and relocating production to countries such as India, China and Russia. In nearly all cases the motivating reason is to cut costs through significant reductions in labour and infrastructure. Any high volume and high demand product or service that can be automated is a potential candidate.

With continuing advances in information technology and more and more large corporations moving sites of production off-shore, the global market in a sense is both expanding and contracting. It is now possible to operate an enterprise at a local level and reach customers and clients world wide. Now more than ever before in history is it possible to live locally and act globally.

Automation of products and services continues to expand into countries around the globe. In order to secure their future, local entrepreneurs must look to products and services that are not so easily automated. While it is possible to print and publish a book in China for example, it is not yet possible to automate the content creation of that book. Creative knowledge is creative capital.

How much as artists do we value and appreciate our role in the global economy? How much are we prepared to think outside the square when it comes to developing and re-purposing our artistic and creative talents? How narrow or broad are our assumptions about our practice and sites of practice?

As an emerging artist in the 1980’s I saw my role clearly defined. I knew that my sites of practice were film, television and theatre. I knew I needed to get an agent and manager to represent me and I knew I needed to attend every possible audition that came my way in the hope of landing a role. I worked casual jobs to pay the rent, I waited for the phone to ring, I attended auditions and now and again I got a job.

Twenty five years later most of the emerging artists and practicing artists I know are still doing the same thing. A handful have been successful enough not to have to wait tables but essentially it is the same. Of course there are one or two exceptions. There are those that have formed their own film or theatre companies, created their own products, taken self written and self funded projects to festivals around the world. Essentially they have managed to create locally and act globally. Emerging artists Matt Zeremes and Oliver Torr’s work on their film Burke and Wills taken to Tribeca Film Festival in New York (q.v.) provides a clear example of an artist’s ability to think outside the square (in terms of standard forms of production and funding), create locally and enter a global context. These artists (actors) represent the exception and not the norm and this is one small example inside one field of artistic practice (acting).

Thinking globally is one of the elements supporting the development of Artistry as Capital. In addition to the vagaries and impacts of an expanding global economy are the increasing pressures on business remaining competitive and viable through innovation and creativity. There is also an increasing demand to create workplaces of flow and synergy where employees are respected, valued and encouraged to contribute. Creating a sense of well-being and building strong work-life balance is now seen as sound investment. It is no longer about getting the most from the least. Best business practice is centred around the creation of sustainable ‘family values’ in the workplace as opposed to more reductive work-ethic based practises of the past.

The need for creative thinking coupled with a growing recognition of the need for increasing abilities of emotional and social intelligence in communication and business practices is evidenced at all corporate levels. As leaders and managers develop and keep up to date with the technical and managerial idiosyncrasies of running a business they must also stay abreast of the growing demands of employees to secure work environments that support their health and well-being, creativity and their sense of belonging. To be creative, business must foster creativity. To excel at client and customer communication, business must foster and enhance creative communication practices. To create, maintain and sustain creative thinking and harness collective wisdom, business must develop and embed skills such as empathy, reciprocity, encouragement and thereby create a sense of belonging.

In short, the business world (it may not be fully conscious of this yet) is calling out to the world of the arts for inspiration and involvement. And in this sense our Artistry is Capital. Directly applied we can see many of these creative industries existing now: journalism, fashion, theatre, communication design, creative writing, visual arts, to name a few. Indirectly, many more creative opportunities exist for artists who are prepared to offer their artistic talents and/or re-purpose them for business. The way the world of psychology entered the sporting world is one representation of this, no sports team in the world worth their salt would consider not having a team psychologist. Whereas 10 or 15 years ago that would not have been the case.

The question arises: how many of us as artists have looked at the business world and simply not understood it or wanted to understand it? Have we played our part in maintaining a gap between the arts and what we consider to be the dry world of pragmatism, balance sheets and the bottom line? What would it take to build a bridge between the two? Of course we are talking about much more than arts companies seeking subsidies from established law and architectural firms.

As our societies move out of the Information Age, artists who are ready to move into the Conceptual Age will see expanding opportunities to apply their artistry to enhance and support innovation, creativity, communication and social networks. The arts will no doubt always have their traditional sites of practice. However as artists continue to evolve their various forms of practice they will increasingly enter the global economy building bridges between the arts and business communities where deep and fulfilling symbiosis will nourish and sustain both artistic and business practice.

© 2019 martin challis

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