CATCH THEM IF YOU CAN (Разве за ними угонишься)

Catch Them If You Can - Island Early Evening Cinema - Разве за ними угонишься - Oil on canvas - 70x50cm - 2016

An island outdoor beach cinema awaits its audience for the evening.  The only sound is the gentle, translucent turquoise water washing over the sand.  The early evening sun casts long, colourful shadows and it’s the time of the last, late light before twilight falls.  Everything is ready: large outdoor lamps are prepared in anticipation of the coming night and oversize cushions are scattered, for comfortable viewing.  Onscreen is an image based on a Soviet poster, which says: Soviet rockets are faster than the flying creatures of myth and fairytale; Soviet technology outflies them all.

The original USSR poster was made in c. 1959 by I M Semenov; the fairytale characters depicted are: Baba Yaga (on a broomstick), Ivan (on his humpbacked pony), Baron Munchausen (on a cannonball), Vakula the Smith (on a devil in the form of a horse) and Prince Hussain from the 1001 Arabian Nights (on a magic carpet), which all try, and fail, to catch up with Sputniks 1 & 2.


There is waiting. Waiting for the movie to start; waiting for the rocket to launch.

One can, at a very basic level, divide world history into pre-space flight and post-space flight. The world was different before humans went into orbit.  Or, pre-moon landing and post-moon landing.  I grew up on the cusp of the internet age, so this is not my era – it’s my parents’ generation.  It fascinates me.  I imagine the thoughts of some peasants one day tilling their fields with the last light of the day, looking up at the moon, thinking how far away and how eternal it is – and the next day, on the news, they hear that humans have been into space! And the amazement and wonder that they must feel. There is a Slovak film in which a lowly peasant describes how he, too, is planning to fly into space, but he must wait for his space race dreams: he follows the Soviet news and is thinking of joining the astronauts up there, although he admits that he doesn’t have a helmet*.  What an amazing time to have been alive in the history of humanity.  Since I didn’t grow up with all this, I can only imagine that heady, intense, collective excitement: “Where were you on the night of the moon landing?” Everyone I ask smiles at their memories – they all remember it quite vividly and some people even bought their first television especially to watch it.

I grew up when the image of the Earth from space was already famous, so little, so fragile and so in need of our protection – our planet as a tiny floating island in the vastness of the cosmos.  The Earth is constantly on the move, and islands are liminal, and shorelines are cusps themselves… my island cinema, in some ways, could be the cinema at the edge of the world ~

*This film by Dušan Hanák, Obrazy starého sveta (Pictures of the Old World, 1972) really touched my heart. Everything is possible. A man with no legs builds a house with two storeys by himself. If healthy and lucky enough you could be chosen to be trained as an astronaut. Until then, you live by your means. Melancholic and beautiful, it was banned until 1988, then voted the best Slovak film of all time. 





You walked into this piece in the show, as if walking into an inner temple: the inner gallery walls seem to contain you so it’s like a space set apart. Once inside, visitors always remarked on the peace in this painting and I’m sometimes surprised, as perhaps it’s only later that they only notice the frenzied city lights of Hong Kong at night in the centre!

In the foreground, a half-drowned, empty cinema. Slightly forlorn, but going down majestically. The glorious past, perhaps, making way for the future. So there is a kind of small sadness, even melancholy perhaps, in this work.

Whenever I paint Buddhas the painting always goes well. This Buddha is the world’s largest outdoor seated Buddha on my island, Lantau island, in Hong Kong. It’s also the subject of my first ever good photograph – I walked up the (endless, to me!) steps as an 8-year old and the Buddha appeared behind the mists, whereupon I quickly took a photo.  My Buddha has the face of Sook Yee, my old Chinese painting master in Hong Kong.  She passed away many years ago and in a way this is dedicated to her.

It was hung next to another Buddha painting (The Buddha of Emei Shan) on one side, and on the other side there was another cinema painting (Catch Me (them) If You Can – Разве за ними угонишься), which itself also has Soviet elements.

Like a rocket blasting into my life, the Soviet space dogs in the corner are, I realised much later, a bit like my husband (to whose era the space dogs belong) blazing into my life, disrupting it and messing it up forever… and I’m glad of it. The subjects in this painting are so intensely personal it’s actually refreshing to have something completely different as a ‘doodle’ in the corner. In the absence of a margin or frame, this work has the extra element directly within the main piece, causing chaos in art as in life. For me, it’s another world, entirely foreign and entirely fascinating. In a way, history is divided into 2 halves: pre-moon landing and post-moon landing. My husband grew up on the cusp of both. These two space dogs are Belka and Strelka (Белька и Стрелка – Little White and Little Arrow) – that were sent into space and came safely back to earth (sadly, the first dog, Laika, did not) – and were consequently immortalised in Soviet postage stamps, posters and ephemera of the time.

More to come on Soviet posters.  They are from an era just before ours when the world waited, with bated breathe, to enter the universe for real ~

Drive In - Oil on canvas - 250x180cm - 2016