Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
(Traveller there is no path, 
the path is made by walking.)

Antonio Machado, ‘Caminante’. 

The seminal painting for The Lost Hours, WalkWithMe, rehearses the events of 1984 when McCahon went missing in the Botanical Gardens in Sydney on the eve of his Sydney Biennale satellite retrospective I will need words. He was found the next day disoriented and with no identification five kilometres away in Centennial Park and eventually located by his family at St Vincent’s Hospital. The painting is in four parts that reflect significant episodes of ‘the missing hours’: in the Gardens in the blue of evening; at night a long black section charts McCahon’s wandering; followed by a green panel when he is found in the park; and finally the last brown panel reflects the moment of care in hospital.

1. See Merlin Coverley, Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2006). Martin Edmond also titles one of his chapters ‘Psychogeography’.

2. Walter Benjamin, Walter Benjamin’s Archive, edited by Ursula Marx, Gundrun Schwarz, Michael Schwarz and Erdmut Wizisla, translated by Esther Leslie (London: Verso, 2015).

Among many things Reynolds’ WalkWithMe is a dossier. A dossier is a repository of otherwise loose relevant material, a file on a subject. Usually a human subject. The term is professional, and maybe primarily legal even forensic. It has currency in the world of espionage. One might keep a dossier on a client, or a suspect. The connection with subterfuge may not go amiss. Art history, after all, is about deciphering paintings, cracking their code in order to drag absconded, perhaps even illicit meanings into view. Dossier, denoting a bundle of papers with a label on the back, from dos ‘back’, based on Latin dorsum. Perhaps, dossier, from the French, for ‘on one’s back’. John Reynolds is on Colin McCahon’s back and I’m on his. More than notes but short of a sustained essay or executive summary, a dossier is agile, esoteric, unsynthesised, pivoting to always consult yet another tangential text. Reynolds is both indexing McCahon’s experience and also preserving the smudged traces of what is for us now a fading world. He unpacks a kind of visual scramble, the sources for his painting are both eclectic — anecdotes, biographemes, Martin Edmond’s Dark Night: Walking with McCahon, Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings, Oliver Sacks on Hallucinations, Murray Bail’s Notebooks: 1970-2003, graffiti in Latin from Pompei, Māori rock drawing — and mischievous — Woolloomooloo in dots spelt backwards, Casper the Friendly Ghost, confusing page references (from what index?), the Australian advertising jingle ‘Where the bloody hell are ya?’. WalkWithMe as dossier is notes for a performance of interpretation, the preparation for ‘a day in the life of’, even perhaps an episode of ‘Colin McCahon: This is your Life!’. These frayed, dispersed leavings — Reynolds has described them as ‘handrails’ for McCahon during his ‘lost hours’ — also testify to a lone mind battling against its own extinction. The map of Sydney’s The Rocks is superimposed over one of Muriwai and the technique of dérive (drifting) maps out alternative or imagined geographies, what the Situationists called a psychogeography.1 The closest literary equivalent to WalkWithMe I can find is Walter Benjamin’s Archive, an audacious plotting of history, art and thought through fragments of everyday life, commentaries, scraps of things that Benjamin gathered representing experiences, ideas and hopes: Russian toys, postcards, card indexes, a list of Joycean first words used by his son, constellations of ideas, brilliant perceptions scribbled on scraps of paper like train tickets — each of which was enthusiastically logged and analysed.2 Benjamin always carried a notebook. “Let no thought pass incognito,” he counselled. In this way, as if foreseeing his own afterlife, Benjamin laid the groundwork for the salvaging of his legacy.

3. Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, translated by Harry Zohn (London: New Left Books, 1973) and The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire, edited by Michael Jennings and translated by Howard Eliand et al. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006).

4. See the small guide and booklet Reynolds has produced: McCahon’s Way: A Great New Zealand Walk (np 2019). He also describes his walk in the Kim Hill interview with Radio New Zealand.

Benjamin relished Baudelaire’s description of the poet as a ‘ragpicker’, cataloguing and collating the refuse of the city. From Baudelaire he also developed the concept of the flâneur, the casual wanderer, observer and reporter of street-life in the modern city. Benjamin does not just write about the flâneur but writes as flâneur.3 Likewise Reynolds does not just paint about McCahon as flâneur, or wanderer in the city, but paints as a flâneur himself. He buys maps, revisits the likely sites of McCahon’s ‘missing hours’, records possible itineraries with drawings, takes photographs, interviews itinerants.
He has also developed the McCahon Centennial Walk inaugurated on Saturday 1 April 2019:
This walk speculates on the possible nature of [McCahon’s] missing hours and toward a pedestrian philosophy of walking. A slow tracking of the fleeting imagery of the urban spectacle, a rummaging of hallucinations, visions and deliriums. Part missing persons archive, part pilgrimage, part art historical vagabondage. We wander with accelerations and slowings across Wolloomooloo into the ghost gums of Centennial Park.4

The flâneur’s movement as flâneur creates anachrony: he travels urban space, the space of modernity, but is forever looking to the past. He reverts to his memory of the city and rejects the self-enunciative authority of any technically reproduced image. Reynolds paints maps and takes photographs of Sydney now but his engagement with visual technology is similarly ambivalent. His photographs are a material memory which is only understood by looking away from the future, by reading retrospectively. 

Laurence Simmons