Monday, December 13, 2010

My current bedside book is Henry Miller’s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch (1957). Although not the book I was looking for last week (that would have been The Air-Conditioned Nightmare [1945]), I am enjoying it, in the way Miller enjoyed Big Sur after growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (“the sky which was always hacked to pieces by roof-tops and hideous smoking chimneys”) and all those years abroad.

It was George Orwell’s 1935 review of Tropic of Cancer (New English Weekly) that got me thinking of Miller again, someone I read quite a bit of while bumming around Europe and North Africa in 1980. I had read the bigger books (Orwell liked Black Spring [1936] best), but this time I wanted the author’s thoughts on the country that spawned him. Big Sur seemed like the second-best place to start.

Last night I reread a passage that reminded me of a place I visit two or three times a year, a forty-three-year-old artist colony at Downes Point, Hornby Island, co-founded by Tom Burrows, Wayne Ngan, Gordon Payne and the colony’s most senior artists, Doris and Jack Shadbolt, in whose former home I stay.

“Almost every art colony owes its inception to the longing of a mature artist who felt the need to break with the clique surrounding him. The location chosen was usually an ideal one, particularly to the discoverer who had spent the better years of his life in dingy holes and garrets. The would-be artists, for whom place and atmosphere are all-important, always contrive to convert these havens of retreat into boisterous, merry-making colonies. Whether this will happen to Big Sur remains to be seen. Fortunately there are certain deterrents.”

Not sure Downes Point could ever be described as “merry-making,” given its many conflicts over water consumption, broom plantings, and the erection of out-buildings, but the "colonists" have learned to care for one another, and as a location it is “ideal.”

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