So, today is the last day at work for my friend Craig Amos. He’s moving on to another high school up the Sunshine Coast to continue his excellent career as an Art, Humanities and English teacher. We’ve known each other for more than a decade; our desks are beside each other’s, as boarding masters we’ve even lived in the same Queensland colonial houses around our school in Ipswich. He even keeps fallen toys; matchbox cars, plastic soldiers and bits of Lego that my kids lost playing in the garden as ‘found’ objects. Some he returns. Some even end up in his art pieces.
Craig likes finding things. Horse teeth. Coins. This year for example he found a pair of old rusted scissors in the garden and brought them to school in a plastic lunch bag. When he mentioned this, our Humanities Head of Department immediately clicked and told us that years ago the daughter of a prominent Ipswich family (maybe a Foote) thought that bad spirits were entering her family’s mansion, so she buried iron scissors all around their vast garden to ward off these spiritual interlopers. The mansion is still there, but the vast gardens were subdivided years ago. Maybe the scissors Craig found were buried by the wayward Clarissa Foote all those years ago. Fairies and ghosts can’t stand the taste/smell/presence of iron, so I believe it could be true.
Craig, as mentioned is a visual artist and has over the years designed the covers of a few of my poetry collections – and flyers and such out of the sheer goodness of his heart, and around his busy work/life/art/family schedule. He designs the retro sci-fi album covers for the Brisbane band, Drawn From Bees. He even designed the front cover for our school’s 150th anniversary book. Craig also puts together a Christmas CD of his favourite music each year and gifts it to staff members and friends for free. Of course he does the covers. It can be a hard gig – having a full-time job and trying to do ‘art’ on the side, but we persevere. Craig designed the front cover of my last published poetry book – Weranga and a previous chapbook, The Negativity Bin and for that I thank him eternally.
Now, I heard someone on the radio last week suggesting that your longevity is based on the quality of your friendships in life. I’m a Gen-X, cis white male (as my daughter keeps on reminding me) and I don’t have a lot of close male friends anymore. You know how it goes, your high school friendships can peter out in your thirties and forties when work and circumstance split you apart. Then you realise that most of your work colleagues are acquaintances really, your core values slightly adjacent to each other. When you find that kindred spirit though, you cling almightily to them. Now, it’s not like Craig and I called each other on the phone everyday, but when I was running late to work on a Tuesday or a Thursday morning, the person I’d text first to grab me a coffee from the van before it left at 8am, was always Craig. If what I heard is true, then perhaps I’ll live a little bit longer because of the quality of my friendship with Craig over the last decade.
Now teaching is a funny career. You work with adolescents and their comic sensibility sometimes rubs off on you. As for practical jokes, I returned to my desk around my birthday once (our birthdays are two days apart – both Leos) and I found twenty pictures of the late Burt Reynolds on my desk, but my face had been photoshopped and inserted over the visages of Burt’s beautiful female companions. Another time, I walked into the staffroom to find my whole desk packed up and reconstituted beside a work fremeny, whose space I’d vacated from…..
When days at school had been tough, the teaching perhaps challenging, Craig and I used to cheer each other up by quoting that famous line of the late Bill Paxton’s great character from Aliens, (Private Hudson) when he says; How do I get out of this chickenshit outfit? We didn’t really believe it would come to this, but Craig has finally discovered the means to do exactly this. And no, it’s not by being taken by an xenomorph through the floor.
Anyhow, below is a kooky poem I wrote as an artist’s statement for Craig’s latest art exhibition – ‘Mal de mer’ which means seasickness and yes, my stomach churns for the loss of my best friend at work and perhaps in my entire life to date. Craig, I salute you!
Mal de mer
Craig was once behind a classroom desk, carving his initials into
the immovable wood, first canvas for youth, band names & genitalia
(early dictation). He was well-armed for the job, free buck knives for all
passed under desks like love notes between children. Girls didn’t carve;
they had germs that deflected boys’ steel. Toilet cubicle walls & park
benches were early defamation & analogue Tinder. Sprogholes Craig called
them, inventing names for things as he dug out his peepshow in the asbestos
gallery. RAAF bases had their own versions of Billy Barbwire & Lenny Ovaltine
those small town, creepy old guys who grabbed your hand & drew a finger along
your lifeline whispering Vera Lyn war tunes. His first show was a collaborative
sculpture with the other boys, peeing on the yellow/blue bricks in the urinal,
the slow erosion of form as social entropy. He still exhibits there sometimes.
Craig was the leader of a gang called the Knifes & they ruled the Amberley
playground, covered in their graffiti love bites. You scrag! You mole! You slut!
Swearwords have lost all their power like booster rockets falling away from
the main tank. He has already outlived some books he read as a child – he is
older than the shuttle program; everything in The Usborne Book of the Future
has come true except for robots with faces. There are some machines with
multiple limbs that he must build himself, mostly at night. Nakedness will never
go out of fashion & outsider art is really on the inside of the things that count;
naivety is taking the lightness of the world seriously & concrete is still the best
material to do art. He found the names for his kids by looking at the initials
inside love hearts baked into council footpaths. Once, Peter the Great came
to Amsterdam & bought up all the grotesque specimens he could find. He
was great at collecting conjoined animals, twins; taxidermied arms of children
holding feathers. Craig collects the marginalia of fallen moments like photos
of Burt Reynolds; his dates all have Brett’s face. Giant carnivorous wallabies
lost their teeth during the Pleistocene, but Craig found them. It took three
days for the Heaven’s Gate travellers to prepare to meet the mothership,
ingesting fruity cocktails laced with horse drugs; but art can be impatient,
so they ended their performance with plastic bags tied over their heads.
You can often find Craig in dry creek beds studying sand, grain by grain.
He often stops to pick up objects others don’t even see. Chickens are
the dinosaurs we deserve, he says. Art is when you feel the sickest.