Sydney’s Three Winds

Sydney’s Three Winds

I’ve been savoring, thinking about and writing on the unique seasons we experience here in Bayarea.

It reminded me of the classic essay  (which I will reproduce here in full, as I can’t find it anywhere else online) by J.D. Pringle. Pringle was a long time editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and this piece on the distinctive winds of Sydney was reproduced in ‘Austrian Accent’ (Chatto and Windus, London, 1958).


SYDNEY is ruled by three winds, which command the City in turn like the chiefs of an invading army.

The first is the north-easter, the prevailing wind of summer. It is a fair-weather wind, a lazy, languorous wind, which comes in from the long reaches of the South Pacific heavy with moisture and sticky with salt. This is the wind which drives the great Pacific rollers on to the open beaches before leaping over the narrow barrier of land, making the pines of Manly sing as it passes and ruffling the calmer waters of the Harbour on the other side. On Sundays the crews of the 18-foot yachts catch it as they round the buoy for the long run home and push out their bellying spinnakers which lift the small hulls out of the water until they seem to be flying.

The north-easter is a sea-breeze and is out of its element on dry land. As soon as it reaches the brick-and-concrete towers of the City it begins to flag, though it still has the strength to rustle the skirts of the palm trees on Macquarie Street and to fan the foreheads of the drinkers squatting on their haunches outside the pubs in Balmain and Woolloomooloo. A few miles inland the north-easter fades away altogether, daunted by the size of the continent before it. To the western suburbs it brings no relief from the heat but to the more favoured eastern suburbs it is a source of pride and joy; and the wealthy citizens of Bellevue Hill and Point Piper set their houses to catch it like the yachts on the Harbour set their sails. But the north-easter is not an unmixed blessing. If it brings coolness, it also brings the humidity which is the curse of Sydney’s summer.

The north-easter has a rhythm of its own. It starts gently in the morning, the merest sea-breeze, and grows stronger all day until by six o’clock in the evening it is blowing half a gale and sending the more timorous yachtsmen in for shelter. Then it dies away as the sun goes down. Sometimes, too, it seems to grow stronger each day, while the temperature climbs steadily and Sydney swelters in sticky heat. Then suddenly it drops and there is a great calm. In the City the heat seems unbearable.

Women sit outside their terraced houses in the inner suburbs and lean over their cast-iron balconies, unwilling to go indoors. Pale-faced children play languidly in the streets. But the men look to where great clouds are building up in the south or turn on the wireless to listen for the weather forecast. They know that the time has come for the north-easter to give way to the second of the three winds – the southerly.

The southerly comes with a rush of cold air and a splatter of rain. The Sydneysiders call it the “southerly buster,” because it arrives with a banging of doors and windows like a train coming into the station. It can be fierce for a few hours, bowling over the yachts in the Harbour like ninepins and dexterously removing loose tiles from the house-roofs; but it is a much-loved wind in summer, bringing down the temperature with a bump, cooling the sultry streets and sending fretful babies to sleep. Generally it blows itself out in the night and Sydney wakes up in the morning to blue skies and brilliant sun as the north-easter resumes its sway over the City. In winter, however, it may blow for days, bringing cold Melbourne weather and a hint of snow to Sydney.

The third wind is the westerly, a gusty, dusty wind blowing from the heart of the continent. It- is an unpredictable wind, following no rhythm and obeying no laws, but in summer dry and hot as the blast from an oven door, it pounces on the City and worries it. It is an uncomfortable, penetrating wind, which gets through clothes and windows, forcing dust into the eyes and nose. Like the sirocco of the Mediterranean, its extreme dryness seems to irritate people, making the easy-going Sydneysiders bad-tempered.

In winter the southerly may blow for weeks on end, but in summer, fortunately, it rarely lasts more than a day or two – fortunately because it is only when the westerly is blowing that Sydney gets truly hot. The temperature climbs into the hundreds; the tar melts on the roads; and those who go down to the beaches for relief find that they cannot run bare-foot across the burning sand to the water. Worse still, it is the bush-fire wind. If you look up at the sky during a hot westerly, you will see a curious reddish- orange haze on the horizon. This is the smoke of bush-fires burning beyond the City boundaries. On a bad day, when the City is ringed with fires, the sky is half obscured with smoke and the sun glares down on the City like a blood-shot eye.


Wandering the streets of the Lower Bottoms (LoBo) district of West Oakland every afternoon with my hairy pal Nico I get to see some great street art; both intentional and accidental. Here’s a taste!

All but the last 4 images are of work created by local poet, artist, activist and character, Marcel Diallo. Check out his Black New World site for more on LoBo.

Rumored to be the oldest African american house in LoBo. Recently shifted to this site.

Imagined Construction 1

Imagined Construction 2

Imagined Construction 3

New additions

Nico approves!

Who can fill this seat?

Local deity

"Get the hell on!"

A place we all need to visit from time to time.

And now some less intentional local art – not authored by Mr. Diallo.

The corner scrap-yard.

Jonah in the whale

LoBo Blues

You are now leaving LoBo - in style!


New Materiality at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Over the weekend of April 16/17, Lawrence La Bianca and I flew to Milwaukee to participate in the ‘Dialogues on Innovation’ lecture series at the Milwaukee Museum of Art in conjunction with the New Materiality exhibition. It turned out to be an amazing and rewarding weekend. Several other artists who participated in New Materiality were invited as well, so it was a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow artists, hear about their work directly and to have multi-layered conversations about the parallels between our works and the engagement of the digital in contemporary craft. The other artists invited were Sonya Clark (chair of the craft/material studies program at Virginia Commonwealth University), Tim Tate (glass and video artist and rambunctious bad boy), Christy Matson (textile and sound artist and CCA alumna, currently at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and Nathalie Miebach (basketmaker, sculptor, composer and data juggler). Its hard to know where to start in giving you a taste of a rich and multilayered weekend amongst creative thinkers and makers.

A good place to start is where Lawrence and I did, walking along the bridge towards Calatrava’s sculpted, white-boned building; like two Jonah’s about to be swallowed by the whale.

Santiago Calatravas extraordinary extension to MAM on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The lofty atrium space during the MAM After Dark soiree

The greatest treat for Lawrence and I was seeing our work ‘Soundings’ in situ. We haven’t seen the piece for a while and the last time we saw it we had loaded it into a packing crate in SF bound for Boston. So we were interested to see how it had survived its travels. We were delighted to see that the curaors had chosen to place it on the level above the rest of the New Materiality exhibition along with work by Christy Matson and Sony Clark to give all three works a bit more breathing room. We found ourselves in illustrious company among the MAM permanent collection of contemporary, adjacent to other inspiring and cross fertilizing works

Fortescue, LaBianca, Matson, Puryear – niiice!

Beth Lipman’s delightful work was secreted away in the tiny, cramped ‘Glass and Studio Craft Gallery’ nearby. So the floor admonition not to ‘cross the line’ had obviously been violated by someone!

Beth Lipmans delightfully baroque Laid Table (Still Life with Metal Pitcher), 2007

The separation of Lipman’s work from the main galleries is even stranger considering the adjacent (non-segregated) glass work by Josiah McElheny.

Josiah McElhenys Modernity circa 1952, Mirrored and Reflected Infinitely, 2004

Clearly occupying the main stream art discourse was Robert Gober’s Untitled, 1997. The open suitcase reveals a storm water grate through which we can see a weedy rockpool and glimpses of a mysterious bathing/birthing woman. I love the parallels with Soundings in this piece located just a few feet away. The mundane object (suitcase or occasional table) hacked to reveal a constructed liminal landscape/soundscape suggesting something deeper and darker while being superficially seductive.

Robert Gobers Untitled, 1997. Revealing a deep view into…

… pellucid pools of seaweed wafting in the current.

The Milwaukee Museum is such a great gallery. Every time I come visit I’m presented with new juxtapositions of works and get to see new art that I’ve never even known of previously. This visit introduced me to the work of Martha Glowacki.  A new addition to my roster of artists working in and with museums and the histories of scientific views of the world – along with Mark Dion, Fred Wilson, Rosamond Purcell and of course, yours truly.

Glowacki collaborated with the Chipstone Foundation to create a richly embroidered and captivating installation entitled “Loca Miraculi: Rooms of Wonder”. There’s a dense and very nicely crafted catalog/gallery guide available which you can view here. The objects on show are mostly derived from the Chipstone’s unrivaled collection of early American decorative arts which are housed in this exhibition in immaculately crafted interactive cabinets made especially for the exhibition. Each drawer has its own unique display often accompanied by a sound element triggered by its opening. I really appreciate that the display, the historical works and the contemporary art pieces are seamlessly woven together in this exhibition. All in keeping with the spirit of the Wunderkammern where the works of man and of nature (both imagined and real) were given equal weight.

The first room of Loca Miraculi

The Animalia display including an hermaphrodite deer.

One of the beautifully designed and crafted cabinets with openable drawers

The Grotto of Tethys by Mary Dickey imbedded in one of the drawers.