Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Art of My Mother

My mother Lise with 'Rio' her pet iguana

 My mother Lise comes to live with us for 3 months of the year. She isn't your typical mother or grandmother (the kids are forbidden from calling her 'grandmother' and have always called her Lise (you pronounce the e). She is a true eccentric - you would never catch her reading anything as mundane as a 'Womans Day' or watching soaps like other mere mortals- more likely it would be listening to the radio for the daily science quiz or checking the Internet for updates on tectonic plate movements. She would never eat anything as boring as a sandwich if something more interesting like skewered BBQ ed goat lungs were on offer. The other 9 months of the year she spends travelling, usually up in Asia, painting and exhibiting. She is part of a group of international women artists that exhibit in a different country every two years. Her artist name is Nurlisa. Watching my mothers paintings evolve over the years has been an interesting process. She painted ever since was given an artists box of colours and palette as a young teenager in Copenhagen by her parents. After finishing school she went to work for the Royal Copenhagen porcelain factory hand painting their fine china collection.
When we moved to Melbourne my mum would occassionally produce an oil painting in a naive style. Her painting started to shift into high gear once she moved up to Bali to live in 1992. She found a group of local artists to hang out with who lived up in the art community of Ubud, taking Baderose as her lover.
Simple Fisherman in pen & acrylic
Artists in Ubud, Baderose behind right, 1992.

  After living in Bali she moved to Lake Toba in central Sumatra where she lived in a Batak house on the edge of the lake, making trips over to Penang every 3 months to renew her visa. She painted what she saw around her and started to take a particular interest in the run down heritage buildings of Penang almost two decades before Penang was World Heritage listed for its buildings.
Old Penang heritage building.
Stilt houses on the river in Sumatra

Luckily the director of the Penang Conservatory of Fine Arts Yuen Chee Ling saw the eccentric worth of my mother and her works and gave her a solo exhibition where she showcased one hundred of her paintings.
The opening of her first exhibition in Penang 2002
She managed to collect an eccentric group of friends over in Penang including Ibrahim the snake man who kept hundreds of pet snakes at his home, a squatter house along the river. My mother took me there once for tea. Ibrahim brought out his favourite python and let it sit around my shoulders for the stay. He lived in poverty with his wife, the loveliest couple, an un cherished treasure of Penang. My mother has had a few strange pets of her own over the years including Rio the iguana pictured above that she used to carry around in her handbag, a rather large one, and take in taxis with her, and this owl. She tried to keep a bat once but it died so she made bat stew and ate it.
Ibrahim the famous 'snake man' of Penang

My mother with a pet owl

 My mother moved after five years in Lake Toba to Aceh where she built a house backing into the jungle and overlooking the ocean. The front balcony was to become her painting studio.

The Aceh house
Nurlisas studio on the balcony
Water buffaloes seen from her balcony
Painting on her balcony in Aceh

She exhibited the Grandmother Buffalo painting in Melbourne in 2004. This is the painting of the old grandmother who every day walks the buffaloes along the beach to the fresh water stream and home again in the evening.
Grandmother Buffalo
'Where I live in war torn Aceh, in the north of Sumatra, amidst all the soldiers, machine guns and tanks rolling my house there comes every day and old woman to tend buffaloes. They bath freely in stream that flows from a mountain waterfall out into the ocean. This daily ritual remains constant despite the sounds of war nearby. I have tried to capture the peace and tranquillity of the bond the old woman shares with her buffaloes'

The fresh water stream that flows out to the ocean near my mothers house
Her painting 'Satellite City' won the Technology  award at the  annual Cairns Art Society exhibition in 2004. A comment on the prolific embracing of technology by tin shanty towns in what we would consider third world.
Satellite City 2004
In Indonesia the majority of the population, even in what we would consider underprivileged areas, have a satellite antennae, and I'm not talking paid for pissy little Foxtel/Austar or equivalent antennas, the  pay through the nose for channels Big brother will tell you you'll like. I'm talking 200+ countries here (U.N. listed or not) and you thought we were up with technology, ha!
Tsunami 2005
 After the tsunami in Aceh in 2004 (see post standard-police-procedure!) my mother started to really get interested in natural and man-made disasters and created an entire collection of what she called her 'Disaster paintings'. The painting titled 'Tsunami' was exhibited in Cairns at the annual Cairns Art Society exhibition in 2005, though it was typically little understood. It depicted the fact that the first communication about the tsunami that the west coast of Aceh received was after the third day by mobile telephone, hence the satellite tower (typically painted red and white in Indonesia - the Indonesian colours) It also shows mother earth as per Indonesian legend as a giant turtle upholding the innocent school girl who cries out for help from her mother.
The Boulders at Babinda exhibited 2006
The last exhibition she did in Cairns where she spends three months of every year as a local  artist was in 2006.
Global Warming 2006
In 2006 she also exhibited in Korea for the 'Her Presence in Colours VII'' with one of her series of global disaster paintings.

 In 2008 she exhibited 'Incognito' in Beijing for the 'Her Presence in Colours VIII' exhibition during the Olympic year in China. This was an extremely subtle comment on the prior occupation of Aceh by the Indonesian military forces of G.U.M.

Incognito 2008 Beijing Olympic Art Exhibition
Catalogue entry from this exhibition:
Nurlisa was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1945. As an only child, she displayed her artistic talents from early age. At 12 , she received her first “Artists box & palette” made from Teak wood and complete with famous French oil paints. When she was 16 she began German studies.  When she was 17 years old, she became a professional painter for the Royal Danish Porcelain company.After married and had her first child, she moved to Australia in 1968, where she began her post-graduate studies in anthropology & culture. Living in Melbourne she studied with local artists in oil painting and taught Danish. The family then moved to Perth in Western Australia in 1974, where Nurlisa studied with local artists in oil painting and ceramics and with a master in Chinese coloured ink painting. In 1984 Nurlisa lived for three years in Germany studying watercolour painting. In 1991 Nurlisa spent a year in Melbourne studying art and Arabic.In 1992 Nurlisa moved to Indonesia to further her studies in art and cultural anthropology, settling initially in the Lake Toba region of Sumatra before moving to a remote area in the south-west of Aceh.She has hosted many interesting people at her house, including members of the military and representatives of the Aceh Monitoring Mission. A Dutch Admiral visiting commented that her house was far more interesting than Karen von Blixen’s in Africa.Present during the 2004 tsunami and the only western woman allowed to remain in Aceh during the state of martial law freedom fighting conflict for independence from the rest of Indonesia, Nurlisa was inspired to move beyond the realm of realistic watercolour painting and into fantasy-realism to express "disasters and their resolutions”.
Fisherman Aceh
'Hysteria' girls put into a trance before circumcision in Indonesia

In 2009 a special exhibition was held in Penang that I attended with my mother called '100 ExcellentArtists' The previous year, 2008, Georgetown Penang had been declared a World
Heritage Site and my mother painted the bats that are featured on the beloved 'Blue Mansion' walls. She had already been painting the heritage buildings that were suddenly 'de riguer' for more than a decade, as usual ahead of her time.

Shaking hands with the Minister of Culture at the exhibition
Painting of the bats from the Cheong_Fatt_Tze_Mansion heritage building Penang
In 2010 she exhibited her self portrait in Portland, Oregon, USA in the 'Her Presence in Colours IX' exhibition producing the below painting which was then displayed in the catalogue but she couldn't retrieve the painting from Aceh in time for the exhibition so she had to quickly whip up the second self portrait shown below in black and white with the orange background.

Initial self-portrait for the Portland exhibition 2011

At the Portland exhibition with the 'stand-in' self-portrait 2011

In 2011 she exhibited 'Recycled' at the 'Her Presence in Colours X' exhibition in Ho Chi Min city, Vietnam. This was a scene from her travels to Morocco where car tyres were used to produce footwear and sold on the side of the street in the typical scene below.
Painting for Vietnam exhibition 2011
Being presented with flowers from the Indonesian consulate
for representing Indonesia at the Vietnam exhibition
Something different - 'Greek Ruins' popular with the multitudes
 Today she continues to travel and paint prolifically - a modern day Karen von Blixen only more eccentric.Indonesian Television has made several documentary interviews with her on her life and painting in Aceh. This year she moved to Penang so she doesn't have to endure the 10 hour jeep drive across the mountains to get from her port of entry, Medan, on the east coast over to Air Dingin on the west coast every three months to renew her visa. At the next International Womens Art-her exhibition to be held in Mongolia 2014 as an Australian citizen now she might represent Australia, or maybe her country of birth Denmark?
Painting by the pool 2012
Dry brush chickens on balcony 2012

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