American Knife: A Jog and Black Crosses

Every large food supermarket in America has a section selling kitchen utensils like soup ladles and cheese graters but you will never find a knife for sale. I aways forget this and fail to put a bread knife in our luggage.

One time in Chicago I went on a quest for a serrated bread knife. Shop attendants looked at me with fear in their eyes, shaking their heads when I told them what I wanted. I finally found one in a locked cabinet at a hardware store. Two security guards were sent to unlock it and accompanied me to the check out.

The Chelsea Savoy Hotel offers a breakfast with a choice of either assorted bagels or sweat muffins. A person stands behind a counter to cut the bagels and we are made to queue while this ritual is performed. For the first week, a kind of guillotine was used but as it became blunt if began squashing the bagels into oval shapes. Today the attendant was taking forever to cut them using a small, thin bladed, steak knife. When I told him not to bother, as I have a knife in my room, he and the other guests looked at me with suspicion.

On the same day that students were protesting in Nashville, pleading for the right not to fear attending classes after another school shooting, the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, held a closed meeting, attended by the NRA, to announce the lessening of restrictions on concealed weapons. People in Florida are now allowed to carry concealed and loaded guns without having to own a gun license. DeSantis sat smiling at his desk as he signed off on this with a phalanx of suited gun supporters standing behind him.

It sounds like a contradiction, but knives are not available because Americans fear one another so much and guns are available for the same reason.


DeSantis is the most likely Republican GOP alternative to Trump. Yesterday, the 9th April, just before we switched our TV off to catch a plane to Poland he voiced his opposition to further assistant to Ukraine, saying “Protecting our own borders should be our priority, not those of Ukraine.” This is welcome music for Putin’s ears, he simply needs to wait it out.  He is counting on the decline of American resolve. He wants to show he has the stomach for a long-protracted conflict and prove his strongman image to the world. 

When we first went to Ukraine in March 2022, public interest was at its peak and people hungrily shared our experiences. This time, in a slightly bored tone, they ask, “What is happening there now, it has dropped off he news?” I tell them that the “experts” from western military generals to Intelligence Analysts are predicting a certain victory for Ukraine, but I feel this advice is as dangerous as Chamberlain’s assessment of Hitler and the Nazi war machine. Complacency benefits Putin. The chance of Ukrainian defeat has been the motivating factor that has gained the support Ukraine needs to hold the Russians off.

We arrived in Warsaw Poland 5 hours ago. From our 6th floor hotel balcony, we look down on a burnt railway carriage, that sits on tracks that end here.  It carries dozens of charred blackened crosses, that lean onto one another suggesting a mass gravesite. But it is not a commemoration of the Jews exterminated in Polish concentration camps by the Nazis in WWll. It is Monument to the Fallen and Murdered in the East, commemorating Polish victims of the Soviets, in Skwer Matki Sybiraczki (Mother Sybiraczki Square), . The monument is designed by Maksymilian Biskupski. Poland was invaded by the Russians in 1939, occupied until 1941 and finally taken over in 1945. Thousands of young Poles who resisted were either killed or sent to life sentences in labour camps in Siberia. More than citizens in any other country, the Poles understand the gravity of last year’s invasion of Ukraine.

We walked around this sombre monument, through drizzling rain and felt the darkness that has descended, again, over Europe. There is a palpable sense of foreboding in the air as Poles brace themselves for the full-scale Russian offensive which will arrive, soon, with summer.

Hellen and I will be there, taking the long train journey from Warsaw to Kyiv.

My life journey through art started in New York in 1968 after Clement Greenberg encouraged me to leave Australia and embrace what was new in American Art.  Pollock was already “old hat” and minimalism was having its moment.

I celebrated my 19th Birthday by making my first visit to the Museum of Modern Art. There were two paintings there that, the sight of which, would be my planned birthday present, Guernica, 1937, and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. Faced with the “Demoiselles” I could not resist and planted a kiss on the lips of the crouching lady with an African Mask for a face. The gallery guards “freaked out” and rushed to restrain me. But I smiled and told them how I had come all the way from Australia, and it was my birthday. They laughed and waved me on.

Seeing Demoiselles this time was very special for two reasons. Firstly because the large oil painting, Warhouse, which I finished before leaving my Werri Beach studio, is a reinterpretation of the Picasso composition, through the lens of Ukraine, and because my birthday present to my 23 year old, adopted, Aboriginal granddaughter, Serika Shillingsworth, was a guided tour through MoMA; climaxing with a shared viewing of the Ladies of Avignon. Serika is both gay and Indigenous. She has been bravely surviving, for the last year from the sale of her paintings.

To find out where art is going, New York is still as much my guide in 2023, as it was in 1968. But I was not expecting to be “blown away” by a work in the Museum’s lobby, so powerful it made me rethink everything. A gigantic screen was showing Refik Anadol’s, AI generated, Unsupervised, 2022. Anadol has trained a sophisticated machine-learning model to interpret the publicly available data of MoMA’s collection. This program reimagines and animates the history of modern art as well as incorporating site-specific input from the environment of the museum’s lobby and outside sculpture court. Anadol is quoted as saying “I am trying to find ways to connect memories with the future and make the invisible visible.” That is what I tried to do with my first film, Rainbow Way, 1975 – using prisms, optical science, and the movements of the sea. Rainbow Way ran for years at the Filmmakers Cinema where viewers came to have a psychedelic expedience, often dropping acid to enhance it. It was what Kandinsky was aiming for, with his Concerning the Spiritual abstracts. Unsupervised is like Kandinsky’s mystical abstracts, animated on steroids. The impact is no less profound because it is machine generated.

Hellen and I stay at the Chelsea Savoy on 23rd St which is close to the family eating restaurant Dallas Barbecue. We are usually the only white patrons in this working class friendly and low-cost establishment. A large flat screen hangs from the ceiling with an ever-changing abstract display so similar to Anadol’s that it could be his work. Normally there would be American football or basketball like at an Australian pub or club, but this is New York! While we sipped our frozen margaritas and waited for grilled salmon and shrimp, I took out my camera and photographed the ever changing and moving abstracts in large cafeteria like eating area.  Dallas Barbeque was showing me how the best in new digital art can reach the people while sidestepping the market, dealers and galleries. I am not suggesting that static painting and drawing is finished but this revelation was as exciting for me as my first up close kiss on the canvas and oil lips of Demoiselles Avignon.

But art does not have to serve to decorate or give an escape from the harshness of life. The natural environment is in crisis and the threat of World War has returned stronger than ever. Art can help lead the way out to a better future for our kids and grandkids.


Joe Biden was born on Nov 20, 1942, making him 81, and Vladimir Putin was born Oct 7 1952.

When Joe was weighing up whether to run for President his age was a consideration so it was decided whenever he was arriving at a campaign rally, he would do a jog up to the microphone demonstrating his agility. The reason for this was transparently obvious but I have never heard or read anyone comment on it. At a recent Presidential Press Conference, the stage was empty while the cameras while rolled waiting for him to arrive. A side door opened, and Joe appeared very slowly from a darkened room and closed it unsteadily. He took a few decrepit steps before remembering to do his jog. The distance to the podium was so short his attempt looked beyond ridiculous.

Donald Trump was born 14 June 1946 and is only 4 years younger but appears stronger and does not need written notes to speak at rallies or to the press.

When Trump began his run for President, he was aware that a large proportion of his base were Evangelic Christians and he worried that stories of his infidelities could weaken his chances. His cure was hush money while Biden’s was the jog.

The scandals around his sex life, with Stormy Daniels and others no longer seem to be a worry for Trump. At 77 they advertise his ability to “still get it up.” What matters more is appearing virile and potent.

Wisely, Biden has decided he is better off not to comment on any of this.

Outside Manhattan Criminal Court on 30th March, when Trump arrived for his Indictment, over concealing the hush money payments, the pro-Trump supporters and the anti-Trump protestors were held apart by cops and barricade’s making a narrow pathway or “no man’s land” between the two sides.

What we caught on our cameras was a divided America, as split down the middle as these two angry mobs, with their placards, screaming abuse at one another, irreconcilable.

Every news network in the world was there to enable Putin to watch with a reptilian grin on his face.

Hellen and I had witnessed a giant serrated knife cutting America apart. Divide and rule. American Knife and more black crosses for Ukraine.

Putin 5 feet 7 inches. Biden 1.87 metres. Zelensky 1.7 metres.

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