Covering Ground

'I found a line and I followed it a little'- Sam Holt

I found a line and I followed it a little  
Sam Holt

Spring has well and truly sprung here in Sydney.  Things are starting to thaw out slowly in my head and limbs after a long winter!  It started with a slow trickle- I realised I didn’t have to don a heavy coat in the mornings anymore to walk Chilli and the sun has started to burst in the windows with more gusto.  This trickle will soon louden to a rush that I’m sure will carry me in a current quicker then I would have liked to Summer, Christmas and the conclusion of another year.  Last week was a special one not only because it was the first week of Spring.  I got to catch up with some dear friends and family, see some sights in and out of Sydney and spend quality time with Grace who is going over to China with her grandfather at the end of this week.


Lonsdale Street Traders


Lonsdale Street Art Posters

My mate Sam and I made a pilgrimage down to our Nation’s capital to catch the J.M.W Turner exhibition before it closes up this week on Sunday 15th.  We did it all in one day, which was a bit of an undertaking especially considering I can’t drive a stick so certainly couldn’t help out driving Sam’s trusty hilux ute.  Several Maccas hashbrown stops & photo taking stops and we made it.  It was well worth it- Turner’s paintings are luminous, broiling, heaving things painted in pursuit of the sublime, which in aesthetic theory is understood as some elusive element of greatness in art, music and literature.  Turner’s works have the power to draw you in- squinting to make out the finer details of figures and movements- and then expel you back out again, like the ocean, to reconsider his whole composition, how the multitude of oil paint strokes make the ships in the harbour shimmer, or the Venetian turrets gleam.


The Harbour of Brest


Disaster at Sea




View from St Peter’s Basilica

Sam is a painter himself.  He works with large oil canvases in an abstract expressionist style and recently has started branching into some more landscape style painting.  He was looking at Turner’s skies and clouds, his brush strokes and use of blissful pastel colour combinations.  I was looking at his people, the way three or four crude marks could suddenly form the face of an adoring mother or squalling infant.  The ease with which the emotion is rendered.  Sam is planning a solo art show for later in the year, I’ll keep you posted on that.  His paintings in this post are from an earlier exhibition at Janet Clayton Gallery in Waterloo. You can follow him on insty (@samholtart) or read a bio on him here.

'Immersed in the unfamiliar'- Sam Holt

Immersed in the unfamiliar Sam Holt

'Release' - Sam Holt

Release Sam Holt


From Sam’s sketchbook

The next day Grace and I ventured over to the north side of Sydney to visit our friend Davina who is home from NZ for a short break from skiing.  Davina is a very busy girl training for something really exciting and you can follow her journey here.  We had lunch at the Boathouse, Palm Beach and I was expecting it to be super posh and la-dee-dah.  But it was the most perfect, chillaxed spot to have a mid week lunch.  We want to go back soon and do the walk up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse which you can see from the Boathouse back deck- more info about that here if you are interested.

Lunch at the Boathouse with Davina

Lunch at the Boathouse with Davina

On our drive back Dav took us on the scenic route around all the beautiful Northen Beaches viewpoints- at one point you can see all the way up to the central coast!  After we dropped Dav off I jumped into the sea pool at Dee Why.  Grace said I was crazy but the water was actually warm (ish) and the car heater afterwards was even warmer 😀

Dee Why at Dusk

Dee Why at Dusk

In amongst all of this I also squeezed in (in no particular order):

  1. Late afternoon sun and a strolls in beautiful Centennial Park.
  2. Working at the Apple Spiral Stall for Real Food Projects at Dress Up Attack kids fest in Marrickville.
  3. Delicious dinner at Hartsyard, Enmore Road.
  4. A bit of spring cleaning, clothes chucking & spring cleansing.
  5. Getting really behind in all of my uni work.
  6. Reading
  7. Watching Julia Child make croissants and hollandaise and cracking up laughing doing impressions of her (bless!)
  8. Making said hollandaise and consuming on top of Eggs Benedict for a lazy sunday brunch- scrumptious.

You can see why I called this post covering ground 🙂 This week is shaping up very differently with a multitude of deadlines and tasks and plenty of prep to be done for Gracie before she jets off to China.

Til next time kiddos!

Em x

Po Boys at Hartsyard, Enmore Road- delicious

Po Boys at Hartsyard, Enmore Road- delicious

Organic Blood Orange Cordial from Real Food Projects

Organic Blood Orange Cordial from Real Food Projects

Free Range Eggs

Free Range Eggs

Iced VoVo Pie @ Hartsyard- ridiculous !

Iced VoVo Pie @ Hartsyard- ridiculous !


Nothing says spring like strawberries

Afternoon in Centennial Park

Afternoon in Centennial Park

Centennial Park with Federation Pavilion in  the background

Centennial Park with Federation Pavilion in the background

Pathways in Centennial

Pathways in Centennial

Light in Centennial Park

Light in Centennial Park

Fresh Lemonade at the Dress Up Attack Festival

Fresh Lemonade at the Dress Up Attack Festival

Apple Spirals- whodathunkit

Apple Spirals- whodathunkit

Kids Parade at Dress Up Attack

Kids Parade at Dress Up Attack- too much cuteness



The ‘I’ Factor

Thanks to Nat Miller for the use of her images in this post. Find her at :

I know this is a blog about cities- but I want to diverge briefly and write about a whole country.  I did say that this was going to be an overly ambitious urbanism blog from the get go didn’t I?

What is the Italian equivalent of a Francophile? An Italian-ophile?  Is there any such term? I’m not sure.  For now let me tell you a story about how much I love Italy.  First of all I loved Italy long before I had ever even been there.

I loved it through the dusty blue and white picture of Venice that hung in our living room in the 50’s fibro house where I grew up.  I wondered how a city could meld with the water so convincingly- so differently from the harbour city I knew dotted with its coves and impenetrable cliffs.  I loved it through the stories of my Mother and Father, who eloped and were married in St Peter’s Basilica in 1986, the year the Challenger went down, the year the UN designated as the International Year of Peace.

Italy became a country that was embedded in our family mythology- not just the birthplace of the Catholic Church but of our own little gene pool.  I loved Italy through the mini Pieta that sat on my father’s bookshelf, through the Virgin’s face, through the hand that said ‘look, here is my son’ to the entire world.  Later I learnt that Michelangelo had smoothed the wrinkles from her face and sculpted her young, against contemporary convention and biblical logic. I loved Italy even more when I started to love cooking, when I came to understand flavour and simplicity and ‘temple food’- and the moments of quiet standing at the stove simmering.

I loved Italy when I came to study Art History at University, some 500 odd years of Western tradition dominated by the workshops of Florence, Venice, Rome, Sienna and Bologna.  Our class sat on the cusp of the transition from slide to digital but even well into the 21st Century the institution I attended clung to such traditions. Only in first year were we treated to a lecture using slides.  In the dark,  the mechanical rolling of the changing images was mesmerising.  Granted, I wasn’t always listening intently to the professor, and my mind wandered just as I’m sure trecento pilgram’s minds would have wandered standing under a Giotto ceiling- across the angular faces and elongated hands to my own hands and the lines and marks I might make myself- on my page, on my life, on the people around me….

And then almost two years ago I went to Italy with my parter.  It was the last country of a long journey together. We flew into Rome, jumped into a taxi complete with a handsome young Italian driver, arrived at our accommodation in the dead of night, exchanged whispered “Bongiorno”, glimpsed red bedspreads, stone walls.  Again, the quiet.  When morning came we entered the breakfast room to the sound of a young Australian chef and a 60 year old Napoli woman bantering about bread. Light streaming into windows that looked out on a large interior courtyard.  Crooning pigeons.



What happened over the next few weeks was fairly incredible.  Italy exceeded all my expectations, and that is surprising in itself because my expectations were very high.  But it also opened some floodgates in me.  I drew and wrote more in my short time in Italy then I ever have in my life- bar only the last minute scrape to the finish line trying to complete my HSC Visual Arts Body of Work.


queuing leads to thinking




Side effects of the ‘I’ factor

Since coming home life picked up around me and swept on, leaving little to no time for such pursuits.  I’d dearly like that to change and I’ll write a bit about what I am trying to do to make those changes over the coming weeks.

I have often looked back and wondered what it was about the country, the people, the built and natural environment that so emphatically dissolved my artistic inhibitions as well as all the unwritten boundaries I had invented for myself around drawing and writing.  Like when you can do it/what it should look like/what materials you should use/what music you should listen to and most importantly: What will everyone think of it! I just let go of all that.  A big part of it was not having the luxury of picking and choosing where you could something and when.  I drew in cafes, in courtyards, on trains, in bed, on the floor, on church steps.  I drew from life, from memory and from the back of the camera looking back over the shots of the day.  And let me say this: If you think a photograph is a great way to remember a place in all it’s rich layered detail…definitely try drawing it.    

So reading over what I have just written perhaps I have answered my own questions about the ‘I’ factor (‘I’ could stand for Italy, Inspiration or just be a new way to look at the first person pronoun).  Visiting or revisiting any place that plays an important part in your own mythology becomes a pilgrimage of sorts- one that is bound to inspire you to the core of your being.  Where do you get your ‘I’ factor?

A/N Two things in particular inspired this post.

  1. Looking at my friend Natalie’s pictures of her recent trip to Italy.  Pangs of jealousy coupled by our inability to produce photos like this on our crappy 2mpxl point and shoot have prompted me to include them here.
  2. Re-reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet which I discovered online here just the other day, many of which are penned from Italy where Rilke sought solitude and respite in order to write.  And definitely a bit of the ‘I’ factor.

Til next time,

Emma x

Stoop Kids- Takie + Syke at the Tate


The only thing better than one girl street artist is two.
Last week Syke and Takie, two emerging Sydney painters joined forces to form an awesome show that takes you on a tour down the backstreets, back alleys back lanes and back sides of their beloved Inner West landscape.


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Stoop kid from Hey Arnold fame didn’t play well with others, these stoop kids do. Behind the street artist pseudonyms are two smiley and very talented lady artists with a body of work to be reckoned with.

The title of the exhibition (NEW-TOWN BEAT) is a nod to the legendary 80’s graffiti artist Jean Michel Basquiat’s pictographic inscription & title of his film NEW YORK BEAT (below) and to his collaborative, frenetic and short lived practice. Basquiat worked with Warhol amongst others to create expressive, abstracted works that can be read like codices. He was fascinated by primitive visual and symbolic forms of communication and transcribed symbols supposedly used by New York’s homeless community to pass on messages and knowledge (also below one of his sources from a Henry Dreyfus book).




Pegasus 1987- Basquiat


From an urban point of view it is impossible to look at Basquiat’s work and not feel the presence of the city, and not just any city, THE city, arguably the most iconic of modern metropolises- New York. I was given a book on Basquiat by my year 12 art teacher- I think she wanted me become bolder, more abstracted…actually I’m not sure why she gave it to me but she hit the nail on the head and I’ve been obsessed ever since.

In a similar way Syke and Takie pay tribute to Sydney, but not the sparkly harbour city of Brett Whitely and not the machinic, efficient Sydney of Herbert Badham- their works come together like a series of snap shots taken whilst skate boarding or riding down a litany of interconnected lane ways, or from the window of a moving car whilst trying to dodge some infernal Cleveland Street traffic. Sydney terraces and row houses viewed front on can be triumphs of symmetry and continuity, from the back it is a different story.


The terrace form necessitated service lanes that cut through the urban fabric and remain in use today. These chaotic geometries offered by the ‘back view’ of Sydney from these lanes are familiar to those that want to avoid main drags and those that are always on the look out for a new canvas to put up on. Sometimes it’s not even about the canvas it is about the frame (aka the city around the work) as the thing which gives rise to the unique conditions that motivate street artists to work.





Like Belgrave Cartel in the last post, the Tate is not full time gallery but a great space upstairs at the Toxteth Hotel on Glebe Point Road with one big long central wall that offers a tonne of flexibility for hanging and displaying works. Syke and Takie went for a salon style hang with two of Syke’s handcrafted wooden skateboards acting like bookends on the far left and right and letter box and stoop sculptures popping out to greet you amongst the paintings. The space is run by Lo-fi Collective who are a part gallery part studio arts collective started above Lo-Fi Bar at Taylor Square (where the Standard is now).



Lo-fi continue to collect impressive Sydney talent like it is going out of fashion, but make a point of keeping it ‘low brow’ & street art driven. The Tate space doesn’t take commission- which makes having an exhibition about 100% more attractive for about 100% of artists (yes I’ve researched those facts) but the disadvantage is that the exhibitions aren’t up for long- or at least this one isn’t so they can be short lived affairs and you have to be quick. An added advantage of the Tate’s location is the close proximity of craft/local beers on tap downstairs, yummy pub grub and the smorgasbord of Glebe just outside. Lots of dranks, lots of great art and plenty of red stickers!

You can check out Syke and Takie individually at :

Thanks to Syke for the use of her insta images!

Till next time my culture vultures,

Emma xx

Cartel Culture Club 02- Laura Ives Solo Show


A couple of weeks ago we ventured by ferry across to Manly for Laura’s first solo art show.  I mentioned Laura in the last post, she is my mate that lives in the Fonzie Flat and takes the task of being artistically awesome fairly seriously, all the time, sometimes to the point where I have to forcibly remove paint brushes from her hand and carefully broach the topic of sleep, or better still coffee.

The result of this little adventure?  Instant Manly crush. It’s no secret that Manly is on the up and up, Broadsheet is onto it and have given a good lowdown on what’s what and who’s who in this trendy little seaside corner of Sydney (good if you are from the ‘other side’ like me).  Personally I love Manly for its Muscle Beach style long public promenade where fit types get to strut their stuff.  And for its pine trees.  And for the feeling of instant relaxation that hits you as soon as you step off the ferry.  The beer-ologist in me is yearning to go back and check out the 4 Pines Brewery, in every way that a brewery can be checked out.

hjh Belgrave

But the show! Laura’s show is part of a series events called Cartel Culture Club hosted at cafe/bar Belgrave Cartel and organised by Cha-Ching Art.  Bryan Dalli (grinning below) is one of the faces behind Cha-Ching Art and was the key facilitator in making it all happen.


Cha-Ching Art are an arts collective who also make heaps of other art events and exhibitions happen, keep an eye on their facebook page for news.  What I like about Cha-Ching is they are not permanently placed at any one gallery, so each event or exhibition has a unique and exciting feel- which keeps both artists and audiences on their toes!

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In terms of the work itself, ‘Cartel’ was definitely appropriate because Laura’s subject matter all of a sudden got attitude! In the past she has painted more whimsically and mythologically but in this show gangsters rule the roost.  There were still some Adonis types haunting the back room in with their sculptural poses but I think everyone really loved the swagger that shows in this new direction.

If Laura’s paintings were the star of the show, the Cartel as a venue wins best supporting artist.  I was told the owner’s family is Sicilian, so they wanted the place to feel like a WWII Italian bunker.  With its textured walls, marble tables and lead-pressed ceilings  it does feel Roman and with the string lights & al fresco drinking corridor it even reminded me of some of the bars I visited whilst in Barcelona last year.  But the food is definitely Italian- meatballs in sauce, crunchy polenta chips, calamari, bruschetta (plus really good strong coffee) – perfect drinking and sharing food brought out speedily with a smile.





The good news is the show is on until August 14, the bad (but good for Laura!) news is that a lot of the work has already sold out.  Check out this little reel Bryan made of the night:

And for more Ives related visual feasting go to:

All photos in this post are by Sarah Christensen, Culture Club partner in crime and courtesy of Cha-Ching Art.

Till next time !


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A Cultural Centre for the Blue Mountains


I grew up in the Blue Mountains, a well known National Park and World Heritage Area approximately two hours west of Sydney. My Mum and Dad still live there and I often visit, so be prepared for quite a few posts about mountain folk, mountain issues and mountain trail fables as my Dad and I make attempts at traversing the wilds together in an effort to work our way through his bible Blue Mountains Best Bushwalks by Veechi Stuart.


But last week it was Mum and I who ventured out together on a journey of the more cultural persuasion. Last year Katoomba enjoyed the Sydney arts and culture spotlight for a brief stint after the official opening of the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. The centre has been on the drawing board for over 10 years and as the Blue Mountains has a long history of being a creative hub and arts refuge many stakeholders and locals considered the addition long overdue.

Interestingly the project was jointly funded by the Blue Mountains City Council, the NSW Government and the Coles Group which explains why the gallery sits on top of the smallish shopping centre and parking lot to form a mixed use development that also includes a state of the art new library- which I’m told attracts a queue of boisterous high school students around 4pm everyday.

Whilst the location on top of a shopping centre isn’t going to seem ideal for arts purists the involvement of the Coles Group would have been key to the realisation of the project. Gone are the days of full-scale public investment in cultural infrastructure and with over 70% of the Blue Mountains Local Government Area comprising National Park revenue sourcing is an ongoing issue, as it is for many regional local councils.


The architecture by Hassel is clever, simple and successful. The barrel roofs give a spacious and light feel and establish continuity between the library and the centre successfully. Notably the centre incorporates a large amount of public open space, helping it to double as a performance space and music venue for the town. The vistas out over the surrounding township from the ‘viewing platform’ are beautiful but it is the view looking up towards the heritage facade of the Carrington Hotel which really struck me as special. Framed by the large arch windows of the centre a different, less well known view of the iconic Hotel is opened up to the public, with the raw brick wall and famous chimney emphasising the gritty, utilitarian side of the otherwise luxe building.

My friend Nicole who was in my year at high school is working as Front of House and Memberships facilitator for the Centre and as we chatted Nicole informed us that in her experience visitors were engaged and interested in the architecture and not in any way shy in expressing their opinions on what they perceived to be the centre’s design strengths and weaknesses. Thinking back now, Nicole’s observation is completely consistent with my experience of the Blue Mountains community- very hardy, down to earth, full of pride for their environment and heritage and definitely not afraid to be critical of the new.

In terms of the exhibitions themselves, Into the Blue is a transportative, interactive and multimedia exhibition celebrating the addition of the Blue Mountains to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. Featuring over 45 minutes of stunning footage, surround sound, interactive historic maps and activities as well as in depth interviews with conservationists, indigenous elders, writers and historians the exhibition appeals to all ages and categories of viewers, both tourist and local.

The National Photographic Prize 2013 is a touring exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra showcasing excellence in contemporary Australian photographic portraiture. The chosen subjects and their stories are captivating, some of them very familiar (Chris Lilley, David Stratton, Reg Mombassa etc) and others intriguing in their normality (a girl from the artist’s local cafe, Granny’s 90th etc). We concluded our visit with the Goya etchings which are on loan from Albury City Art Museum and are a disquieting introduction to enlightenment morality (and a bit too dark and gory for Mum!).

As a new institution the coming years will be challenging for the Centre as it tries to keep both the local community and the more occasional visitors as a captive and involved audience. Membership with its many perks and the diverse public program will become key, with a local poet already taking up residence in the cafe to conduct workshops. With arts in the regions flourishing as creatives are priced out of the city, venues like this also become important purchasing entities as they build up collections representative of the local artistic talent and culture.

For more information on the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre and for a cute promo video starring Lisa Mitchell visit their website:

Entry is $5 for Adults, $3 for students and free for kids under 18 and the centre is open everyday. Membership is even more reasonable, especially if (like me) you visit the mountains frequently and are a sucker for all things arts and culture.

Big Bonus = Lunch at Leura Garage on the way back down the mountain. Hello rosemary salted fries with Aioli!


Til next time culture vulturers!