SJ Finn eating one piece of art at a time

Week #43 Australian Scape: a series of photographs

Trent Parke, the Minutes to Midnight series

Trent Parke has been taking photographs of Australia, our land and experience of life, for a long time. We see through his lens something quintessentially recognisable about the place. I have posted his photographs of the countryside here, but I would encourage you to look at his other series: The Christmas Tree Bucket List, Welcome to Nowhere, Minutes to Midnight, Dream/Life & Beyond. The only Australian to be included as a member of the prestigious Magnum Photography Group, he’s taken some exceptional images that reflect ourselves back to us.

Trent Parke The Nullabour, Sought AustraliaTrent Parke - Stuart Highway, South Australia, 2009Trent Parke Adele Grove outback QLD 2011Trent Parke - Ghost Crabs, Quobba Beach, 2011Trent Parke - Butterfly Springs, Savannah Way, NT, 2008



Week #42 Ngak Ngak and the ruined city: a painting

The first time I saw a painting by Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, I laughed out loud. I wasn’t laughing at the painting, which was of a football match (Aussie Rules style) but laughing, joyously, with it, if you get my drift. I’d never laughed from seeing a painting before, and haven’t since. Perhaps that’s why I’ll never forget it.

All Ginger’s paintings have a shameless sense of playfulness, even mischievousness about them. This doesn’t mean that the work lacks seriousness. On the contrary, many of the images contain messages about country and creation. The totemic white-breasted sea-eagle, Ngak Ngak, for instance, is often depicted looking down over the land and its inhabitants in the role of guardian.

Ginger is most famous for painting his mother’s country, the Limmen Bight and the Limmen Bight River in the Northern Territory of Australia. Using luminous colours along with opaque flattened forms, the representation of heavy rain-filled clouds or fine rain and bright sunlight form part of his creation story.

Here, like all his work, nothing is wasted or done frivolously. But, alongside this, all of his paintings fill the heart and the mind with a colourful warmth that brings the world closer.

Week #40 Expert: a poem

Ellen van Neervan has written Expert with all the right ingredients: patience, surprise, indignation and inevitability, to give the reader a view of a current state of play. She takes the reader into an immediate situation, giving us the triggers that tell a story, read a mood, instruct us about the narrowness of perception. Simplicity and rhythm give the poem emotional depth. We become an insider to a raw and interpretable moment. This is poetry at its most touchable.



Poor me

don’t know how it happened

think I got

a non-Indigenous girlfriend

who thinks she’s an expert

don’t know how she’s got her expertise

think I’m the first one she’s met


she tells me I’m closed to other sides of the debate

that she has the answers just because she saw a television ad

for Reconciliation

and though most of the Indigenous Australians are opposed

she says it’s for our good

talks about drunks and sexual abuse ‘up north’

devalues my own knowledge (too urban)

and anything I get from black media

(not the whole truth

I wouldn’t trust it)

she likes to argue when she’s had a few

13 times more

her voice loud

(87%) of intimate partner homicides

fresh tears on my face

involving Indigenous people, are alcohol related

she’s drunk, I tell the booliman

still shaking. Sitting on the steps.

no, I haven’t had any

won’t let her forget this statistic

tonight it’s her

in the paddy wagon

Week #39 New York: a series of street photographs 1950-1960


The late Saul Leiter moved to New York City from Cleveland in 1946 at the age of 23. There, after starting out as a painter, he began to work for fashion magazines as a photographer. His legacy, however, comes from his love and eye for street photos that he took in and around East Village during the 1950s. It is a legacy that may well have slipped from notice if not for the persistence of British art historian, Martin Harrison, who tracked Saul Leiter down at the end of the 1980s.

What attracts me to the shots is there elusive and yet compelling complexity. Like none I have seen do quite as successfully, they tell a story of weather, place, people and mood. They are composed, sometimes with out-of-focus halves, or through fog or mist or snow. The images are enhanced with reflections or by juxtaposing objects that, while appearing to be randomly selected, create a balance of composition that begs for enquiry.

Often there is an abstract element to the work that has the counterintuitive outcome of deepening the experience of viewing the photographs, rather than of simplifying. And, despite the evidence of an era (clothing and automobiles leave no doubt about the decade the shots were taken in) these photographs have a timeless quality that makes them as relevant to our emotional sensibilities today as when they were taken. Here is Saul in the flesh, so to speak, and below a few of his many street snaps.



Week #38 The Natural Way of Things: a novel


The Natural Way of Things is a book that wields its power like a wrecking ball, remaining all the more affecting because of the constancy of the scene in which it’s set. Charlotte Wood has been so adept at creating enough narrative to draw the reader along a flat plain of horror while the ideas around subjugation and spirit, oppression and potency, victimhood and strength, rigidity and resilience, cohere upon a group of women imprisoned for crimes that never were, except that in our so-called post-feminist world, women are still punished for. It is a story that requires the reader to investigate their emotions, and demands of them some strength of staying power. Don’t be fooled, this book is not what it seems and can only really be judged in its aftermath.

Week #37 Filth: a novel


I’m a big fan of Irvine Welsh, and have read most of his novels. But for those reading his work for the first time, his writing can be a dense proposition. Filth, on the other hand, has all the grit of Welsh’s prose and less of the density. For this reason alone, it is a perfect introduction to his cannon of work.

Debauched, depraved and down-right filthy, Bruce Robertson is a character the reader can freely love to hate. Follow his thread through the normal immorality (expect at a level unprecedented) of a detective’s world and you come out changed. Literally this rant of Welsh’s has, I would say, a physical effect on its consumer. Be careful, but not restrained. Dive in. 

Week #36 Ghost River: a novel


Ghost River is a book that sheds its bark quickly, leaving the reader with a clear view of the smooth skin of wood underneath. Tony Birch presents us with a summer on a river that evokes post WWII Melbourne and, more particularly, Collingwood with such colour, we except it as truth and dive in willingly. In the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird and Jasper Jones, Ghost River takes the reader into the lives of young people, and through them we see a child’s view of an adult’s world. Far from being written for the young, however, this work is an educational look for adult readers into what sort of pressures cast shadows over children and how they interpret their world.

But the main purpose of the work is to remind us of what has been in our recent history as well as how much we’ve lost from throwing old history away with those who have been dispossessed from their land. This work tells a straight tale while drilling down into the bedrock of human nature.