Ghost signs are the faded remnants of old hand-painted advertising signs. You usually see them on the side brick wall of a building. Sometimes the state of their preservation is quite remarkable, and the sign is clear and legible. Other times just a hint of worn and weathered lettering remains. This one was uncovered by a restaurant in Cabarita when they removed some tiles in the process of renovating. It is from an advertisement for Rosella, best known for its tomato soup and tomato sauce, and while I can’t make out much of the text, I can clearly see the trademark bird and appreciate the beautiful patina.
Gough Whitlam, 21st Prime Minister of Australia, has impacted the lives of every Australian, whether they realise it or not. He ended conscription, recognised Aboriginal land rights and introduced universal health care. I, for one, can thank him for my tertiary education, which may well have been out of financial reach had he not abolished university fees. And the art world also has much to thank him for. It seems almost impossible to fathom now, but his approval of the purchase of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, in 1973, created a scandal. The National Gallery of Australia was only able to authorise purchases up to $1 million, so Blue Poles, at $1.3 million (a world record for a contemporary American painting), required Whitlam’s approval. The purchase brought into question the perceived financial ineptitude of the government and elicited public debate about the value of abstract art. Blue Poles is on permanent display at the NGA now, but I first saw it at the Art Gallery of NSW during its first showing. I don’t remember how I got there—I can only think that my mother took me—but I do remember the long line of people waiting to view it. The line snaked out of the front door and down the steps, and we had to wait patiently, shuffling along until it was our turn in front of the great work. I loved it then and I love it now. As for Gough’s investment, Blue Poles has gained status as one of the major works of abstract expressionism, is significant in terms of Australia’s politics and history, and is now valued at many more millions of dollars than the purchase price.
This is more secco than fresco, but it hardly matters how the wall ended up as this—to my eye—aesthetically beautiful work of art. Fresco is a technique where pigment, using water as a medium, is applied to wet plaster, so that when the plaster sets, the paint becomes an integral part of the wall. Secco is done on dry plaster and needs a medium such as tempera to make the pigment stick to the wall. I can hardly imagine that the Renaissance painters would share my appreciation of this cracked, chipped and crazed masterpiece, but fortunately they are not here right now to fix it.
From the distance all I could see in this was several rows of Mr Burns at the cinema. Up a little closer it appears to me as some painted remnant from Ottoman times, and an even closer look at the top half reveals a landscape from the Kimberley region of Western Australia. I doubt it was intended to be any of those things and the apparently random nature of how it appeared on a column in an old railway workshop is a complete mystery to me, which of course adds to its appeal.