The Incidental Artist

by Ant Stone on November 9, 2008

in Australia

She sits atop a stool. Her plump figure appearing not unlike a pumpkin, ripe for pumpkin things. Like pie. Like Hallowe’en. Like my favourite risotto. Her heels clasp the bar, forming a makeshift desk with her hearty knees. She hunches, allowing her short dark hair to tunnel her vision through her simple glasses and onto her latest piece. Her round fingers grip a skinny biro whose sticky blue nose is buried in her scrapbook. She circles, stripes and speckles with that pen, so engrossed is Emily that she has no idea I have shunned the gallery of works around me. She’s dressed in security togs. White shirt. Navy blazer. Sensible shoes. She’s supposed to be watching me! The reason I watch her for this twenty second show, is because I realise Emily is the art. She’s animated. Real. It’s when I lay this over my life, that I realise Emily is why I travel. To see and meet my life’s artists, and to frame them how I choose.

It’s with a breath of relief that I confess to my recent tour of tourist treats. A couple of weeks ago, a booze-fuelled night had somehow landed me and three others on the sticky floor of a stale backpacker bar stench pit. It was fancy dress (I watched the purple Teletubbie talking to a sheik) and I felt gross. Was this my world? The fact that I felt gross worried me. The fact that I felt worried encouraged me. The fact that I felt encouraged found me standing in the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) a couple of days later, swinging my camera at all things quaint and modernist, and then deleting them in a perfectionist fury. ‘I AM A TOURIST!’ That same morning I was in jail. Well, gaol if you want to get tasteful about it. Old Melbourne Gaol is one of those fascinating restorations that thrill us all. Stories of murderous pasts, of unkempt men and haggard women and for the old romantic, tales of lashes from the cat-o’-nine-tails. The gaol yards are still scarred by graffiti and sound bites crackle through the hushed corridors. Such was my thirst for tourism that week that within the gaol I absorbed the story of the infamous Aussie outlaw, Ned Kelly and straight after I frogmarched myself to the State Library to finger the glass cabinet housing his famous armour. I’m what you might call an opportunist tourist while here in Melbourne. I don’t so much as plan it. I just happen across it.

That wasn’t true of the day Reb and I rented a car. We snaked our way through Melbourne’s southern suburbs and onto the Mornington Peninsula. A few coffees and a lunchtime later we pulled up in a bare, dusty car park near Blairgowrie. As we took ourselves through the scrubs and into an opening it was to reveal one of the most magical places I’ve ever seen. For the writer within me, this place instantly opened up a canyon of wonder in my mind. The beached shore gave way to splendid, jagged rocks that were dimpled by rock pools, filled with diamond water, and tainted by cordial shades of seaweed. The pools crisp yellow walls had the company of small purple molluscs, as though in preparation for an impending parade. From a distance, these pools could easily be taken for an artist’s pallete. The artist who created this coastline, as Mother Nature has never shown such talent towards the frayed edges of any land I’ve seen before. I felt a full release. My inner child and all his elders were enjoying those moments. Such was my happiness, that I rid myself of clothes and submerged myself in the cold, wet ink knowing that myself and Reb were the only ones within its golden frame.

Compare this scene to one a few days later. A public holiday. For what? A horse race; The Melbourne Cup. It was a day of endless fascination, when everyone suddenly became racing fans. I’d apparently been oblivious to it before. People thought nothing of spending incredulous amounts on rigouts. I watched ladies stagger like timid deer along the railway platforms in garish blues and latte-coloured silks, and I watched them clip and clop up the streets in 4” heels before awkwardly sliding their suspiciously orange stilts into yellow taxis. Meanwhile, their gentlemanly counterparts wore shirts creased by yesterdays shelf and hid sulkily behind prized aviators. As a whole, people acted uncomfortable at best, constantly shifting collars and straightening hemlines to comply with the people they observed. This leads me to my theory of why all of the worlds big race days turn into a drinking frenzy capped by comical brawls and slanderous slurs. People drink so much so they can forget about what they look like (even though the majority were what I’d call elegant or dapper).

These are a few of the reasons I like Melbourne. As a city, she is fluid. She continues to give me inspiration from the most unlikely sources. I have to constantly fight my quill to keep this blog loosely travel based as per it’s original intent. There is so much going on for silent spectators. Maybe it’s because Melbourne heralds my return to Western society, a society I know well and through my Asian journey I am now able to act as a spectator rather than a participant. But there again, I am a participant. I’m on that tram; in that bar; in that taxi; and on that platform. In that way, I’m also an artist.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Nomadic Matt November 11, 2008 at 3:41 am

I love the writing. Wish you had some photos… come you never have photos?


Ant November 11, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Not a problem squire, all my photos for Melbourne are found here.

I’ve toyed with including imagery in the posts, but I figured as I’m more about writing, I’m a book rather than a magazine so the photos are best kept separately.

Although I’m still debating this with my management team (which is made up of the voices in my head).


[F]oxymoron December 5, 2008 at 6:13 pm

“I’m what you might call an opportunist tourist while here in Melbourne. I don’t so much as plan it. I just happen across it.”

This is my travel style… though people tend to confuse this with laziness. I’ll write about this when I return to DC.

Oh, and I’ll drop my thoughts on pics… don’t litter your posts with pics. Just my two baht!


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