Tuesday, October 25, 2011


  1. (verb) To transform into some other person or thing, as by magic; convert or transform in general.
  2. To completely alter the form of. 
'Transmogrify' was coined around the 1650s, and is perhaps a combination of 'transmigrate,' pass from one country or jurisdiction to another; to pass from one body into another; to cause to pass or migrate from one region or state of existence to another; and 'modify,' to change the properties, form, or function of
Starting painting  "Panorama of Moore's Wharf and ships" oil on canvas 25 x 152cm
This canvas was started on 2 August 2011, but has been through quite a number of permutations and still isn't finished. I wanted a record of the hidden side, the working side of this lovely heritage sandstone building, and I kept changing my mind about what to include or leave out. So buildings, boats and trucks got painted in and out dozens of times. It's been quite a wrestling match between me, the surroundings, the workers and the canvas!
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Monday, October 17, 2011


  1. A stalemate
  2. Warfare marked by a lack of aggression or progress.
  3. inaction, doing little or nothing
  4. phoney war


Coined on the model of blitzkrieg : German Sitz, act of sitting; see sitz bath + German Krieg, war; see blitzkrieg.

 For almost a year there has been an eerie paralysis at Barangaroo. After the last wharf was demolished, the excavators went home.
Nothing much has been happening. Just waiting.
Waiting for court challenges to be resolved, waiting for a change of government, waiting for a "short, sharp" review of the project.
Now the phoney war is over.
The calm before the storm has ended. 
The demolition has finished. Barangaroo has begun.
LendLease has started deep excavation at the southern end.The excavators have reawakened from their hibernation, and the first crane has arrived.
At the northern end, a ziggurat of sandstone blocks has appeared. Sheets of black plastic cover the holes in the ground from where they have been extracted.  The quantity of high quality yellowblock here could refurbish every heritage sandstone building from Macquarie Street to Sydney University, but that won't be its fate. It is doomed to become the Barangaroo Headland Park. Quarrying beautiful yellowblock sandstone, only to cover it with grass or throw it in the water - it's a crying shame.
North Barangaroo Headland Park from my studio in the loft at Moore's Wharf
Painting of "North Barangaroo Headland Park from my studio in the loft at Moore's Wharf "31 x 61cm oil on canvas 2011
"The North Barangaroo Headland Park painted  from my studio in the loft at Moore's Wharf "31 x 61cm oil on canvas 2011
And the sinister blue border line wiggles ever closer to Moore's Wharf, home of Sydney Ports Corporation's Emergency Response Tugs.
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cut off

  1. To remove via cutting.
  2. To isolate or remove from contact
  3. To end abruptly.
  4. A designated limit beyond which something cannot function or must be terminated
  5.  Break a small piece off from

At 4pm last Friday afternoon, I arrived back at Moore's Wharf after a day spent putting the finishing touches on my enormous painting of White Bay Power Station.
I saw a crane through the trees of Clyne Reserve, the pocket hankerchief size park next to the Sydney Harbour Control Tower.
The men in the workbox were from Telstra. They were removing Telstra's communications equipment from the strange little "belt" around the waistline of the Tower.
There is something symbolic about the phones being cut off in a building devoted to communications. 
"Sydney Harbour Control Tower and Clyne reserve" 2007 oil painting on canvas 46 x 36 cm SOLD
This is the Tower in earlier days when East Darling Harbour Wharves were still operational.
I have been told that everything has to be stripped out of there by the end of September.

The Barangaroo Development Corporation want to buy it, if they haven't already done so.
The prospect of its demolition inches ever closer.
Won't be long now.
I wonder if it will last until the opening of my exhibition?
I'll be showing other Barangaroo paintings from the 11th -30th October 2011 in my solo exhibition "May close without warning" at the Frances Keevil Gallery,Bay Village, 28-34 Cross St, Double Bay 2028.

Enquiries : info@franceskeevilart.com.au
"Sydney Harbour Control Tower is looking at a fall"
Henry Budd: The Daily Telegraph August 05, 2011
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Friday, August 26, 2011

View from the ivory tower

Millers Point from top of Harbour Tower ink acrylic gouache on paper 120 x 131cm
HIGHLY COMMENDED : 2011 Royal Easter Show

A moody charcoal and ink drawing of a bird's eye view of Miller's Point in the early morning from the Harbour Control Tower. This panorama is a study for an even larger oil painting on canvas, which could be my farewell to the Tower. Every time I go up there may be my last, so I treasure every moment.
If I arrive early enough at Moore's Wharf, I've been allowed to tag along when people from Sydney Ports Corporation have to pack up and remove various bits of flotsam and jetsam from the Tower. On my last visit, the first aid and cardiac equipment was removed, so that gives everyone extra incentive to watch their cholestrol and not to hoe into the chocolate cornettos kept temptingly in the fridge at Moore's Wharf.
Now the entrance is from the bottom level via the Barangaroo gatehouse on Hickson Road, as the entrance from the Merriman Street level has been shut and locked. Merriman Street has a charming cluster of heritage terraces perched on top of the sandstone escarpment and is bordered by the now empty Palisade Hotel at one end and Clyne Reserve at the other.
At least 2 people have to be present on a Harbour Tower visit, just in case the lift packs up, although exactly what the second person could do if anything happened except sympathize is anyone's guess. It's a frightening thought, as mobile phone reception is not too good in there at the best of times.
The lifts always seemed to be out of order whenever I had an especially large canvas. 4 separate trips up the interminable flights of stairs to the amenities floor (canvases, table and chair, easel, trolley luggage with my painting medium and brushes and lunch) then 2 extra flights to the top floor to sign the register book, then back down to the amenities block to get some painting done. And then at the end of the day, the journey in reverse - but with an extra trip, as a large wet painting has to be kept away from anything else.
The tower sways in the wind, sometimes almost imperceptively, and sometimes with a rolling motion that can induce seasickness. It can be distracting when trying to paint fine details.
The perspective is made more complex by the landbridges over the twisting streets winding their way from the angled rows of Walsh Bay Wharves up the hills. The entire suburb of Millers Point lies at my feet.
There was such an overwhelming mass of tiny details that I needed to tackle this subject in tone and line before risking getting bogged down in an oil painting. I wanted to understand the rhythm of the landscape. Previously I had painted many sections of this scene, but this was an ambitious attempt to unify the views from 4 windows in 3 separate rooms into a single cohesive work.
Unfortunately this drawing's frame was badly scratched at the Royal Easter Show, so I'm getting my gallery to re-frame it. It's expensive to frame large works on paper and I try to avoid it when possible, but I think that this will be one of the key works in my solo exhibition. The title of the exhibition is  "May close without Warning" and will be held from the 13th - 30th October 2011 at the Frances Keevil Gallery, Bay Village, 28- 34 Cross Street, Double Bay 2028. 
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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bacon and eggs in Miller's Point Part 2

I finished my painting of the Harbour Control Tower by lunchtime. At last I was able to move my cramped, chilly limbs and choose a position for the afternoon painting where I could bask in the feeble winter sunlight.
The brickwork of the Argyle Cafe actually is quite dark, but it glows burnt orange as it was caught in the afternoon sun. The warmth contrasts beautifully with the deep green awnings and timberwork of the windows.

Painting the 'Argyle Cafe, late afternoon Millers Point'2011 oil on canvas 31 x 31cm
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Bacon and Eggs in Miller's Point

After hearing disturbing rumours about the future of the Harbour Control Tower, I arrived at the crack of dawn  to check that my easels on the top floor and the Tower itself were still standing.
By 8am I was tempted by the delicious aroma of a breakfast fryup of bacon and eggs wafting from the Argyle Cafe on the corner of Argyle and High Streets.
A good old fashioned breakfast in a good old fashioned suburb.
After breakfast I decided to look for a spot to paint and wandered only a couple of metres away from the doorstep.
The giant mushroom head of the Harbour Control Tower loomed over Munn's Reserve, the odd little park I had so often noticed without bothering to find out its name. It perches on top of the land bridge above Hickson's Road and consists of a couple of trees, a patch of lawn, a seat or two in the middle of heritage cobblestones and railings.
On the western edge of Munn's Reserve, is the Palisade Hotel, which has recently been renovated with a charmless canopy that sits like a badly fitting cap over its crenallated roof. Now it lies dormant, its future as uncertain as the rest of the suburb.
Yet another "pub with no beer". I have just completed a painting of the "Terminus Hotel", a derelict hotel in Pyrmont, another former working class suburb which has been gentrified beyond belief.
If the Tower is demolished for access to the Barangaroo Headland Park, it would be difficult to predict the effect on the surrounding streets.It wouldn't make economic sense to start trading amidst all the confusion and noise of demolition and construction.
I thought that I should take the opportunity to paint the area in what might be some of its final moments of peace and quiet.

Painting 'Munn's reserve Millers Point'2011 oil on canvas 31 x 31cm

Some of the patrons of the Argyle are watching me paint while they polish off their breakfast. I can hear fragments of muttering "Wonder when she'll stick the trees in...not bad...is she going to put the old Palisade in? And then a few familiar voices - a couple of people who bought some of my paintings at the "Trains, Cranes and Ships" exhibition on Observatory Hill, which is just a couple of hundred metres up the road. This show was in December 2007, just after the wharfies left the East Darling Harbour Wharves for Port Kembla and Port Botany, not really that long ago, but already it seems like a bygone era.
More familiar faces - some of the Sydney Ports  workers from Moores Wharf just down the hill have also been raising their cholesterol with a bacon and egg breakfast. Apparently they had also bought some of my paintings from the same show.
I must really take up the kind invitation to paint Moore's Wharf as soon as possible.
If the Harbour Tower goes, there could be increased pressure to vacate Moore's Wharf. After all, it has been moved once already, so the precedent has been set.
Starting the Painting 'Munn's reserve Millers Point'2011 oil on canvas 31 x 31cm

A calm winter morning. Sunny, but clear, crisp and cold. I think that you can tell this with the colour palette of this canvas. Unfortunately I have chosen a shaded spot which makes it even colder. I rush to finish and choose another position for the afternoon painting, but the chill is making my fingers slow and clumsy.

Painting 'Munn's reserve Millers Point'2011 oil on canvas 31 x 31cm
I use the cold as an excuse to drink some more of the Argyle's delicious coffee. It warms up my fingers and I finally get my act together and finish my canvas.
'Munn's reserve Millers Point' 2011 oil on canvas 31 x 31cm
Enquiries about similar paintings

I've just sold this little painting at my exhibition "May close without warning" in the Frances Keevil Gallery.
To the far left is a sliver of the Palisade Hotel, but in this work I wanted to dwell on the unexpected aspects of Miller's Point rather than the more obviously famous landmarks.Behind the gnarled trees and sandstone pavers, the workers terraces of Merriman Street are bathed in the cool winter morning light.
At the moment Miller's Point still possesses the raffish charm that its more famous and uglier sister suburb, The Rocks, has now totally lost. It is still quiet and quaint, and the people in the streets are mostly residents and local workers rather than tourists. What a difference a couple of hundred metres can make.
But for how long?
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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Empty Wharf

Ghost Tower
The empty wharf' oil on canvas 25 x 51 cm 2009

It's finally happened.
Sydney Ports Corporation has moved out of the Sydney Harbour Control Tower at Barangaroo and into their spiffy new purple and silver premises at Port Botany.

The mushroom head of the tower now stands, isolated on the empty wharf, looming above the holes and piles of demolition rubble starting to accumulate around its base.
The construction workers and excavators appear like rats nibbling away here and there until the entire complex collapses.

There was no fanfare or publicity to mark the end of an era.

Only an eerie silence.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Painting Miller's Point from the top of Harbour Control Tower New Year's Eve 2010- Part 4:Through a glass darkly

Painting on New Year's Eve 2010 from Amenities Level at the top of the Sydney Port's Harbour Control Tower.
Painting on New Year's Eve 2010 from Amenities Level at the top of the Sydney Port's Harbour Control Tower Painting of Barangaroo at sunset, waiting for the fireworks. 

People have gathered on the 'knuckle' of North Barangaroo to see the fireworks. When this area was still an operational port, the wharfies and their families used to sit here and have a picnic outside the now demolished Shed 3.  

The parade of tall ships and other Heritage Fleet vessels decked out in fairy lights, sailing the length of Sydney Harbour, is my favourite part of the whole celebration.
 Self Portrait with painting of Sydney Heritage Fleet with fairy lights.

One of my traditions is to paint the fireworks on New Year's Eve and other major celebrations from the vantage point of the top of the Sydney Ports Corporation's Harbour Control Tower. 
This may be for the last time.
There are no guarantees that this Tower will have any place in the redevelopment of Barangaroo. If it is to be retained, what function will it serve?
The interior spaces of both the amenities floor, where I paint, and the top floor, where the port operations are carried out, are very snug, to say the least. There isn't much room. The Tower is a magnificent observation post with breath-taking 360 degree panoramic Sydney Harbour views, but the number of people that could visit at any one time would be severely limited. I am worried that the Tower would be seen as being not economically viable to maintain in the new Barangaroo.
It could be demolished at any time after April 2011, which is when all the port operations will be finally transferred to Port Botany. Even if it is not immediately demolished, it will be inaccessible for a couple of years while major earthworks will be disrupting the Northern end of the Barangaroo Headland. The sandstone escarpment will be buried in earth to provide a slope down from Merriman St to the new shore of the Barangaroo Headland Park. I wonder how the inhabitants of the quaint little terraces in Merriman St will cope? They are a stoic, laid back bunch, but these changes will be traumatic.
To All:

Happy New Year!

Painting Miller's Point from the top of Harbour Control Tower New Year's Eve 2010- Part 3 : Panorama

Painting Miller's Point from top of Harbour Tower.
A small study of the rooftops of the heritage Miller's Point terraces. This painting is still unfinished but is well underway, and has already helped me to sort out some potential problems with the large panorama.

'Miller's Point from the top of the Harbour Tower' 2010-11 oil painting on canvas 61 x 183cm

 Painting Miller's Point from top of Harbour Tower. This is my painting for the late afternoon, with the shadows lengthening along the roads and carving strange shapes into the tin rooftops. I want the gold of the last rays of the setting sun to glint on the rooftops and warm the cold brick and tin. For this painting marks the end of an era for Miller's Point ; possibly for Sydney itself. Love it or hate it, things will never be the same.
I can see already that this painting is going to be a lot of hard work.
The previous small studies were to give me the courage to start this.
I have chosen a panorama format canvas for this composition, 3 times as long as it is high. The vista spans the Sydney Harbour Bridge, parts of the North Shore, Miller's Point, Walsh Bay Wharves, the Rocks, Observatory Hill,some of Sydney's CBD and Barangaroo.
It will be the quintessential Sydney Harbour painting; from the old Sydney to the new; from skyscrapers to dinky terraces; from pub to park to carpark;from road to wharf to sea. From the sublime to the gorblimey: Sydney from top to bottom of the harbour.

Detail of 'Miller's Point from the top of the Harbour Tower' 2010-11 oil painting on canvas 61 x 183cm 
Detail of 'Miller's Point from the top of the Harbour Tower' 2010-11 oil painting on canvas 61 x 183cm 

A ramshackle row of terraces contrasts with the lumpen apartment blocks behind them.

Painting Miller's Point from the top of Harbour Control Tower New Year's Eve 2010- Part 2: Moore's Wharf from the eye in the sky

Painting on New Year's Eve 2010 from Amenities Level at the top of the Sydney Port's Harbour Control Tower.
Painting Moore's Wharf and the Sydney Port's Corporation Emergency Response Tugs while waiting for the 9pm fireworks

My easel is set up in the lunchroom of the amenities floor. I am short, and the window is small and tantalizingly high. I spent the next 8 hours literally standing on tip-toe, painting the view. When I was younger, I spent several years at ballet class, not realizing that training my calf muscles not to protest would ever come in handy later on as an artist.
A bird's eye view of tugs and workboats

Moore's wharf has a fascinating roof structure - very tricky  perspective from above. From ground level, the building's curve is not immediately apparent.
As expected, the parade of tugs arriving and departing drove me bonkers. When one would finally return from an outing, they would dock it in the opposite direction to how it had been when it had set out. Just to annoy.
Art and life

I tried hard to take a photo of both the canvas on my easel with the view. The combination of the high set of the window, the narrow working space (the door is directly behind me) and the dark interior compared with the glaring light outside made this my puny Olympus camera's best effort. 
It's interesting how even in this age of digital photography, something as slow and old-fashioned as painting can still be more effective. The human eye has no trouble combining a dark interior scene with an extremely light exterior into a cohesive image - but the camera does.  People endlessly nag "Why paint on site? Why not just take photos?" Well, this is one example of the limitations of photography. Add to the dark/light problem, the glare of glass, and the smeared and grimy windows, and any photos taken through these windows are barely adequate as memories. 
It helps when painting this series of works from this vantage point that I have already painted everything in this area before. Singly, in pairs and in groups of three! The buildings, the boats, the wharf, the water - from almost every possible viewpoint and in every season and weather.

Painting Miller's Point from the top of Harbour Control Tower New Year's Eve 2010- Part 1: Nice Rooftops

I arrived at the Harbour Control Tower very early for New Year's Eve - about 10am and left after 4am. It was a very long day and a night and a day up there.
A small study of the rooftops of the heritage Miller's Point terraces. Unfinished oil painting on canvas 25 x 20 cm
Painting Miller's Point from top of Harbour Tower.
Starting a new canvas.  I'm going to paint a very large panorama of this area while I still can. The perspective is going to be very tricky so I'll try a few smaller works first. 
I can't help thinking of a hapless overseas star being asked the inevitable question by some hack before they had even got off the plane - "So....What do you think of Australia?" The snappy answer to the stupid question was "You have nice rooftops"  I can't recall who it was (John Lennon? Stephen Fry ? Worthy of either)
 Comparing art with life. I'm standing on a chair to compare my painting with the view outside.

I had to stand on a chair to paint this work as the windows are a bit too high for me to see the terraces. I'm 5'1", which is short, even for a woman. Exactly the same height as Toulouse-Lautrec reached.
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Unfinished study of the Miller's Point terraces and Walsh Bay Wharves from the top of the Harbour Control Tower 2010 oil painting on canvas 36 x 46cm
In the afternoon I start another small canvas. A small study of the rooftops of the heritage Miller's Point terraces and the former Bond stores of the Walsh Bay Wharves. The  roads curve towards the Opera House in the middle distance.

Friday, January 7, 2011

White Ship with Black Hawks-The 'Pacific Jewel' at Barangaroo

'Pacific Jewel at Wharf 5, Barangaroo, with Black Hawk helicopters
2010 oil painting on canvas 31 x 103cm

Buzzing Around

A training exercise (hopefully). This happened several times during September - November 2010. Must have scared the passengers out of their wits! The huge Black Hawk helicopters reminded me of giant blowflies buzzing around a flaked out sunbather.
Strangely enough, not long afterwards they had a real problem. Something mechanical went wrong with the Pacific Jewel. I don't know whether it was an engine problem or a propeller problem, but the ship had to cool its heels for quite a while, first at Barangaroo, then for over a week at Glebe Island and finally at Captain Cook dry dock over at Garden Island. I have painted an example of each site, and will post them at my other blog Industrial Revelation  soon.

This is painted from just inside the LendLease enclosure at the north-western end. I was chased away from the demolition activity down at the southern end and was grateful for all the aviation activity to add a different focus to the painting.
The diagonals of the white tents contrast with the darker, more classically inspired dockyard bond stores and historic hotels of Millers Point and Hickson Road to the right of the canvas. 
A light pole neatly bisects the canvas into new wharf to the left and old (or comparatively old) buildings to the right. LendLease had just finished removing all the powerpoles from their section of the wharf, leaving just a few of the yellow bollards sticking out, uselessly. In the centre distance of this painting, you can see some of these relics standing like a few jagged broken teeth in the toothless jaw of an old wharfie.
I must say that I don't care much for the Palisade Hotel's newly renovated roof garden. The shade sails might be practical but they spoil the charm of the stepped roof line, giving it a blocky, squared off look. However this will probably be the least of Millers point's architectural problems given all the changes in store for this previously sleepy and overlooked area.

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