Seeing Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That foats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.            

In another lifetime I read this poem of Wordsworth's in a tutorial I gave on Rosalie Gascoigne's assemblage of the same name. It was, and seems, along time ago - I have been on many journey's since then, but this has always stayed with me, on all my travels. Not only the words, the images she created - and the magical colour photocopy of her work, "pink window", which has adorned every fridge that has been part of my life for the last eight years.

Her work constantly stood out from the rest, but in ways that I don't know that many people saw. She took those parts of her world that 'rocked' and put them together in new ways - she was a poet. She also gave me hope - that the journey I had undertaken, of life, could go somewhere. Fifty-seven when she held her first exhibition - most artists, most people are slowing down, or established at the very least. She was just beginning - bringing together the lessons she had learnt - what she had seen. Yes, she studied Ikebana, yes she knew of Romantic poetry - she knew what it was like to be alone in a strange place, and to have nothing but your eyes and your 'wonder' as your companions.

It was these elements that made her see the world in ways that can be so resonant. The detritus that most of us walk by, ignore in our 'perfect' landscapes, she saw as inextricably part of those landscapes. Not generally as a didactic comment upon our, humanity's, abuse of the land, but as a fact - as real, as much part of anything as the mountains or trees - or daffodils.

The day I learnt of her death I was on a journey - with my dearest friend, travelling to our Chinese class, to prepare us for another journey. On the motorway I saw a truck, stacked with pallettes - wooden, multicolured. I turned to Christine and said - look, it's a Rosalie ? that's when she told me - I cried - how ridiculous, I didn't know you - but you made me see these things in ways that no-one else could. I was not sad for your death - you weren't a young woman - I was sad because magic had been taken away, from me, but from all of us.

On the day she died another, much more famous, male, Australian artist died. Albert Tucker was the 'old man' of Australian art, part of the 'Angry Penguins', artists and writers who in many ways were the first real Australian story-tellers - their cynicism was obvious, as was there love for the land. Their urban(e) eyes - Nolan, Boyd, Perceval - all looked upon our myths and our beliefs in paradoxical fashions. But they became popular - from being paupers in the forties, reliant on the auspices of John and Sunday Reed, and their home, Heide, these men took control of the national artistic psyche, being put in the place of the visual laureates of generations.

But their images were two-dimensional - and inexorably tied to the visions they created in their youth. Gascoigne's visions were rounded, borne out in her daily wanderings to find the things that spoke to her of her environment. Gascoigne travelled within an eighty kilometre radius of her home to find the 'stuff' that made her work. Her local focus perhaps gave her the space to speak of wider things. She was a scavenger, choosing things because of their beauty, of how they have weathered, how their colour has changed. She never tried to rewrite their history, rather, just put them together in ways that would let them speak.

In 1987 she wrote of one of her trips:
On the way back to Canberra I came upon a road gang sitting among the winter tussocks having a smoko. I pulled up. Heads turned. Six men, one stare, closed ranks . . . 'I want, I NEED some broken retro-reflective road signs. I am a sculptor.' They looked concertedly amused and sceptical. ?The foreman detached himself, sorted through his signs , and offered me one I didn't want. I accepted gratefully. 'Maybe,' I suggested, 'I could have that lovely yellow one? It does, after all, have a hole in it.' He stretched a point and let me have it. He carried it to my car. I was touched. In the scavenging business one usually lugs ones own.

Gascoigne carried her own work - or perhaps, more correctly, she created an individual view that many can see. Her 'tactile poetry' takes objects out of their contexts and manipulates them so that new meanings, new beauties are created.

January 2000