Battle of the Centaurs

by Les Walkling on September 4, 2015


The Battle of the Centaurs, Silver Gelatin Print, 198mm x 248mm, 1981

Wonderful surprises are not always when you need them, but recently while working at the National Gallery of Victoria I was asked had I seen my work in The Horse exhibition (14 August – 08 November 2015). I knew the show was on and had been looking forward to visiting it later that day, But what I didn’t know was that I had a work in it. To my surprise a little 8×10 contact print, The Battle of the Centaurs, that I had almost forgotten was in the NGV collection, was hanging in the middle of the exhibition’s mythological section. I hadn’t seen this work for nearly thirty years, and it gave me pause to reflect on all that time, and all the work made since, but most especially on my surprise that I had forgotten. When works leave our possession they take a little piece of us with them, or if you like, when we leave places where we once lived and worked, a little piece of us remains behind, and we often have to return to those places to reclaim that part of ourselves. Such was my relationship with this new found image of mine. Before long I noticed the wall plaque listed ‘Les Walkling 1953 -’ while the authors of the surrounding works had long departed. I don’t know if it was my general tiredness, but the fact that I was not dead, that I was still making pictures. caused me to pause, as if observing a minutes silence. I couldn’t help but wonder at this little print of mine, long lost to me but still a part of me that I had brought into this world. I then recalled overhearing Frederick Sommer, also nearly thirty years ago, on the phone to a curator telling her to ‘write about him as though he were dead’. Finally that request made sense, for I now understood the importance of being ‘a ghost in your own time’.

My image is actually a gorgeous thing; a simple collage of tacky wall paper that I can’t remember finding, though it must have been somewhere in St Kilda during my pop culture years, that became a transformed and transforming little print. I can remember cutting up and assembling the wall paper, and sure enough the print itself reminded me of everything else, but the ‘not remembering it until I saw it’ was a surprising revelation for me. I often speak of borrowing from others, and about spending my youth talking to ‘dead  people’. That is, conversing with past artists who while they didn’t write down their deeds, nevertheless managed to transcribe and project their thoughts, findings, fears and trepidations into pictures, spaces and places. These overflowing conversations that sustained my early life, and still do, have been some of the most perfectly engaging and engrossing conversations I have ever had. But this moment at the NGV was different, because I was now conversing with myself as if dead, but not entirely forgotten. It was a wonderfully sweet mortal moment. Reacquainted and reclaimed. Not lost, just misplaced in a misplaced world.

Though we have no power over the future, and though our hopes may be deluded and the fruits of our labour rejected or forgotten, we should like to believe that the past and the present will always contribute to the future, and be encompassed in it, and that what is past has a life of its own.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Beth Baker October 17, 2015 at 11:27 am

Love your stories Les!
What a surreal experience that must have been for you, but then, such a buzz to know your work is still appreciated 30 years since its creation. That is a true test for any artist.
Please keep reflecting, creating and sharing your works and wonders with us mere mortals!


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