Does creativity evaporate, or become submerged?
Alas, now that my 2011 iMac is kaput, I grab a moment or two on my partner’s machine to write this post, but guiltily getting in the way of her creation of book illustrations while a replacement computer is delivered…at snail’s pace during the pandemic lockdowns.
In the meantime, as part of my volunteering as a guide there, I’ve been familiarising myself with the Castlemaine Art Museum collection and hours vanish as the images and objects spin me into their vortices of history and association.
Here is one that exerted such a centrifugal force; an oddly static WW1 scene with an excess of sky, blank but for plumes of smoke from exploding shells. I can’t remember ever seeing it on display and it was not a work I had photographed for their History and Collections publication.
Chasing up the artist, I found a brief Wikipedia entry on him – trained at the National Gallery school Frank Crozier signed up with the A.I.F. in March 1915. He started making sketches of the Egyptian and Gallipoli battles, which were noticed by official military historian the journalist C. E. W. Bean who appointed him in 1918 as an offical Australian war artist.
In adding an exhibitions list to to his entry in the encyclopaedia, amongst others I found this cutting online at the National Library. Names jumped out; Harold Herbert, and Velasquez gallery, which are both becoming familiar to me, and then this phrase; “Cecily Crozier, who helped to arrange the exhibition.” Coincidentally I’d been reading a striking article by Gordon Darling Graduate Internship recipient and now Melbourne University PhD candidate Victoria Perin in the July edition of art guide to which she is a regular and readable contributor. A specialist in printmaking, she writes about the hand-printed linocut covers of a literary magazine I had not encountered; aCOMMENT.
That sent me off to find out more about this extraordinary woman, first via Alister Kershaw, mentioned in the article, whose book Hey Days, anecdotal first-hand reminiscences of 1930s and 1940s Melbourne, I purchased for abut $5 as an ebook; worth more for all its wit and insights, including impressions of the personality of Cecily and her quixotic venture in publishing;
It’s possible that Cecily’s eccentric decision to start a cultural magazine had something to do with her cosmopolitan background. She was born in Australia but between the ages of ten and seventeen had lived in the South of France—and you could learn a lot in the South of France at seventeen. She spent the next six years in London, followed by two years in Alexandria where you could learn even more than in the South of France. These were the days when an Australian who had visited New Zealand was looked on with awe as having made the Grand Tour. Anyone who got as far as Fiji qualified as a seasoned globe-trotter. We didn’t let on, of course, but we were immensely impressed by Cecily’s gallivantings around the world. She must have got quite a jolt when she finally returned to Australia in 1938. It wasn’t the South of France by a long chalk and it certainly wasn’t Alexandria.
As Kershaw points out, wartime was not an auspicious setting in which to release an avant-garde modernist magazine, and when the meteoric career of Art in Australia was to come to an anticlimactic end two years later;
Such was the dispiriting atmosphere prevailing when Cecily Crozier took it into her head to launch her Comment. She must have been raving mad. I’ve been delicately hinting that there was never a good moment at which to start a highbrow magazine but Cecily chose the very worst. As Karl Shapiro was to find out, there was a war on, and in wartime it seems to be generally agreed that there’s something unpatriotic, something downright subversive, about any cultural activity other than painting portraits of generals or writing dispatches as a war correspondent. To her credit, Cecily didn’t give a hoot for whatever tut-tutting disapproval she may have encountered but she must have felt tempted on occasion to call the whole harebrained enterprise off when she came up against the material difficulties involved. For another wartime phenomenon is that, within minutes of hostilities breaking out, everything, from bootlaces to wheelbarrows, and everybody, from circus acrobats to monumental masons, virtually disappear overnight. When Comment came in to existence there was a shortage of printers and a shortage of type, a shortage of staples, a shortage, for all I know, of ink.
And, first and foremost, there was a shortage of paper. That was needed for hortatory posters telling us to keep our traps shut in case the enemy was listening, for pamphlets instructing housewives how to camouflage their front porches, and for Top Secret reports on improved techniques for digging trenches. What was left for Comment was wrapping paper, blotting paper, lavatory paper and whatever other scraps the dauntless Cecily could wrench from the reluctant claws of the rationing authorities. It certainly doesn’t do any harm for an avant-garde magazine to look out of the ordinary but looked rather more out of the ordinary than most.
Cecily was a stong-willed and worldly twenty-nine when she launched this seven-year enterprise, beating Max Harris’s (friendly) competition Angry Penguins onto the scene and seeing it out by a year. Complicating her efforts as editor, publisher and occasional contributor of free verse (printed all in lower case), was her marriage to her cousin, and then affairs with two Yanks, Karl Shapiro and Harry Roskolenko serving in New Guinea and who, spending their R&R in Melbourne, discovered aCOMMENT, wrote more free verse for it, and shared what was then known as ‘free love’ with Cecily. The result was her divorce from her cousin and, according to Kershaw and David Rainey, the birth in 1947 of her daughter by Roskolenko, and the departure back home—to writing careers—for both American boys, probably last straws that spelt the end, in the face of falling sales, of an audacious, temerarious magazine, as all settled into colourless and suburban normality after the war.
Her cousin, two years her younger, was Irvine Green (1913-1997) to whom she was married when she modelled for his Passion Waiting, an in-camera montage with the lips overlaid from an internegative in the darkroom. He was the designer of aCOMMENT and provided many of the linocuts for its hand-printed covers.
The photo was tipped in on page 11 of Comment No. 12. and it was the first photograph to be hung as an exhibit by the Contemporary Arts Society, thereby indicating an acceptance, at least amongst Melbourne modern artists, that the medium counted as art. Its surrealism is reminiscent of Man Ray‘s of the 1930s which influenced Max Dupain‘s often (unconsciously?) erotic advertising imagery in Sydney, and his (and Olive Cotton’s) assistant Geoffrey Powell, and also Laurence Le Guay‘s fashion photography, but the style was still to become apparent in Melbourne.
Green had been photographing since at least 1937 when the Victorian Salon of Photography first hosted the International Camera Pictures and as reported in The Bulletin his work was hung beside that of overseas photographers and that of Dr. Julian Smith, “whose F.R.P.S. was noticed on four studies,” and Olive Cotton (one of few women). That the exhibition was approvingly opened by soon-to-be conservative Prime Minister, the interminable Robert Menzies, is a confirmation of the stultifying camera club, late Pictorialist, aesthetic that prevailed. Indeed, in the very year before aCOMMENT folded Irvine, regarded no doubt as an upstart, was a member of the Melbourne Camera Club in whose newsletter it is recorded that “A provocative subject recently presented by club member, Irvine Green, was “Criticism of our Competition System.” This aroused spirited discussion.”
He must have succeeded with his proposal as the Australasian photo-review of 21 February 1947 reports; “A new competition system based on suggestions by Mr. Irvine Green will be used this year. It is hoped that this will provide greater opportunities in Club competitions for all branches of photography,” though the nature of the reform is not recorded.
Where then did Green derive his surrealist imagery? His linocuts certainly fit a biomorphic interpretation of the style, and, as one of the artists most involved with aCOMMENT was painter and decalcomanist extraordinaire James Gleeson, was feasibly inspired by him.
His inspiration to work at the cutting edge of the medium seems to have evaporated at the same time as did aCOMMENT. His appearances in Australian Photography and Australasian photo-review show overt modernist traits abandoned between 1947 and 1950.
Green vanishes from view, though no doubt was still practicing, until in 1965 when he takes over Edwin Adamson‘s portrait studio at 229 Collins Street, Melbourne and his clients the State Electricity Commission, Gas and Fuel Corporation and sections of the motor trade, appearing again as photographer for architectural historian Suzanne Forge‘s 1981, Victorian splendour: Australian interior decoration, 1837-1901 (Oxford University Press).
Living in leafy Templestowe, which during the 1970s was becoming just another suburb, Green became a dedicated historian of the area, producing a number of monographs on the district for which he received an OAM, and joined Rotary. Is his ponytail in this photograph taken just before his death a vestige of his nonconformism?
After 1950 Cecily Crozier married Ernst Heydeman, a Jewish-German chemist and over the next fifty years she immersed herself in showing Arab stallions, and breeding Dachshunds at her Longlo Kennels in Central Ave., Croydon, and later in Adelaide.
Where did it go, this wave of creativity, its bold experiment in seven years of aCOMMENT?