Jun 22, 2016

Goosebumps: Frisson from Art

Goosebumps: Frisson from Art

Still Life with Apples and a Pomegranate. 1871-2. Gustave Courbet 
at the National Gallery London

I've often wondered, how or why this rather dingy picture gave me goosebumps, every time I go to London I visit it, but no goosebumps since, just the once when I was 17 or 18. Obviously it's surrounded by many other masterpieces, Goya's haunting portrait of The Duke of Wellington, comes to mind but no goosebumps for me from that picture.

I had every reason to completely ignore this still-life, I was, after all, an art student at the time and felt forced to draw and paint what I thought was the pretty mindless subject of rotting apples on a regular basis. On the same day that this picture got to me I could have just come from seeing my first full blown show of Robert Rauschenburg's work at the Whitechapel, Feb - March 1964, which also stays firmly planted in my mind (though no goosebumps), or the best survey show I've ever seen, Painting & Sculpture of a Decade 54 64 organised by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation at the Tate April - June 1964.

Before writing this I Googled "Goosebumps from Art" and learned a bit, not much actually talking about visual art but mostly about music's ability to cause goosebumps. Amusingly, to distinguish between normal goosebumps caused by coldness, the French word "Frisson" (a sudden shiver or thrill) became a popular name for the phenomena.............of course someone had to bump up the heat a bit and cheapen it by calling it "Skin Orgasms"!

Over the years I've loaded this humble picture up with all sorts of heavy interpretations, like, here's Courbet's way of expressing what it's like to be in prison, the apples represent the rotting people huddled together etc etc, and the two standing on their own are really having a bad time of it....enough, enough already. Anthropomorphising apples is just going too far.

But really, the answer to why Mr Courbet got me that day is amazingly simple, it was most likely the split second when I was introduced to all those things art didn't always need, like big pronouncements, heavy meaningful subjects, huge inventions, grandeur or even intentional expression. 

It has probably led me to prefer the quiet artists like Alberto Giacometti and Giorgio Morandi.

There is a lot to be said for that once compulsory raft of art school studies, you know the kinds of thing, still-lives, figures, heads, interiors and landscapes.

May 14, 2016

Small Town Transformations 2016 Winners


Any reader of my blog will know from past posts that Regional Arts Victoria's Small Town Transformation project makes my blood boil; its badly designed, it is based on a poor concept and benefits no one. What makes it appropriate to revisit this topic at this time is that the second incarnation of this monstrous project should be announced in the very near future against the backdrop of massive cuts to arts funding in Australia. This recurrent project is Federally funded and is a complete waste of arts funding money.

What is also appropriate to mention is that this project enshrines many of the arguments that claim the value of arts to society as providing quantifiable benefits. Coincidentally I stumbled across this article discussing the findings of a UK government commissioned study by the Arts and Humanities Research Council - they completely debunk the quantifiable concepts and prove them to be false without implying that the arts serve no purpose at all. They are, instead, necessary expressions of our level of civilsation:

How we’ve got it wrong about the arts by Ivan Hewett

In reality the idea of suggesting to small Victorian towns that they should transform themselves in some artistic way is grossly insulting as it implies that they are sub-standard. Many small towns see themselves as living national treasures and, for this reason, would prefer to maintain that status. That said there wouldn't be a small town in Victoria that couldn't identify all sorts of items, services, facilites or policies that would improve their lot. The glaring problem with this project is that it is a classic example of the highly patronising and elitist, "let them eat cake" approach.

My view is that through a very aggressive advertising campaign Regional Arts Victoria appealed to the greed/desperation of the small towns that did apply with a $325,000 carrot. 

So congratulations to all the small towns who had the moral and ethical strength to turn their backs on this one. You are the real winners.

May 1, 2016

NGV Australia: Heads Up

Any regular reader of this blog will know that I have quite a soft spot for sculpture coexisting with architecture, many of my own exhibitions have concentrated on this, like, The Temple of the Southern Cross, Museum and most recently Walking Women - Standing Monash - they will also know that I'm prone to criticising the habit of creating art museums in which the "exciting" architecture puts individual artworks under what I usually think of as unnecessary pressure.  My usual opinion about The National Gallery of Victoria Australia, The Ian Potter Centre is just that, so you can imagine my surprise, and apprehension, when I heard that I was in 2 non-White Cube exhibitions there.

I was particularly worried about how this work, The Alfred Felton Memorial Sculpture, would fare in a new style place - I shouldn't have. When I was commissioned by the Felton Bequest to create this work there were 2 rather daunting conditions, he would be on constant display and could be displayed anywhere inside or outside the NGV International or Australia. For those that don't know Alfred Felton's massive bequest is the reason that the NGV has Australia's most significant art collection.

Here he is glimpsed from one of the "White Cube" style spaces looking very happy that he's surrounded by other people in Heads Up: Sculptural Portraiture and Representations of the Human Face. I love the fact that real sunlight finds it's way into this delightful architectural oasis.

and again from inside the more formal "gallery" space. Followed by some views of the show.

Me and Mr Felton in architecture

Given that it costs a small fortune to move this work, I'm guessing he'll be here for quite sometime, maybe they'll put some of the sculptural works that his bequest has funded in there with him next time, or little cameo shows of ceramics or sculpture, or even single short and sharp single artist surveys - who knows, but I did enjoy this outing for Mr Felton.

Mar 15, 2016


W I S H 

 when you are here

ways of wishing

Write your wishes on a fluro ribbon (pink, blue, orange or green) 
and tie it on to the fluro wishing person


Tie a fluro ribbon on to the fluro wishing person 
and wish as you do it


Write your "wish" or even just your name
on our I wish I want I need banners

Tell our staff that you’d like to participate, tell them that you’d like to write on the banners or use the ribbons. For the banners they will provide you with a silver or black marking pen. For the ribbons they’ll help you choose a colour and provide you with ball point pen (easiest to write with) or a silver or black marking pen. When writing on the ribbons the trick is to keep it taut and please try to remember to leave enough blank space at beginning of your ribbon to tie it on. Take a photo, tell your friends, come back and make another wish.

This is an evolving project with new ways of wishing being added from time to time.

Aphrodite and I wish I want I need banners

The Cowwarr Art space receives no government support 
all donations gratefully received

Feb 16, 2016

HARD EDGE Abstract Sculpture 1960s-70s....deja vu NGV

HARD EDGE Abstract Sculpture 
1960s-70s....deja vu @ NGV

C. Elwyn Dennis  Evidence of origin 1971 wood, lacquer

As my title suggests this exhibition has hurtled me back to the time when I was in my 20s and I'm reminded of the great artistic arguments and conceptual battles of my youth - my generation would have questioned the abstractness of Elwyn Dennis, Inga King and Lenton Parr. To me they were always abstracted rather than abstract, the Dennis above is quite organic and seems to defer to the biomorphism of Arp, Brancusi, Calder and Moore. To me this delightful sculpture is a personage, possibly a kind warrior carrying a huge drum stick rather than a spear.

Inge King Winged image 1964 welded steel

This is an abstracted angel or bird, standing on a traditional plinth - it is what happens when sculptors discover a liberating material and process, steel and welding on this occasion - they make the old ideas in the new material. Why was steel so liberating? put simply, it meant that a sculptor could make a permanent large object more quickly and cheaply than ever before. My generation couldn't understand why these steel sculptors had what professional welders would disparagingly call "cocky shit" welds and lousy examples of oxy-acetylene cutting. Cocky shit being a reference to the incompetence of farmer's welding skills.

Lenton Parr  Daedalus 1965 steel, enamel paint
To me this is a more abstracted person than the Inga King work, a kind of skeletal Henry Moore made of steel, interestingly both Lenton Parr and Ron Robertson-Swann spent time as Henry Moore's assistants. And while we're on interesting groupings in the exhibition, Robertson-Swann, David Wilson and I were the 3 sculptors invited by Denton Corker and Marshall to submit ideas for the Melbourne City Square sculpture, won by Ron with Vault. Wilson, Parr and I all lived within a short distance of each other in Hampton/Sandringham and were rudely called by Patrick McCaughey members of the Bayside Mafia. Robertson-Swann and Coleing disagreed so much about what contemporary steel sculpture should be that they once came to blows. 

What we really see in this exhibition is an evolution from abstracted to abstract.

Ron Robertson-Swann Maquette for Vault 1978 synthetic polymer paint on balsa wood

Clearly this doesn't appear to be representing any known thing, it is a group of related shapes that wander around engagingly in space. At the time we believed we were participating in a compositional revolution based on the idea that instead making a sculpture where the parts were subordinate to the whole (as with traditional thinking) our works were made up of parts that remained themselves, like words in a sentence, and were held together by the same kind of logic. 

David Wilson Untitled sculpture 12.71 1971 welded steel, lacquer

See what I mean? Wilson's work is just like a sentence, linear, logical and written on the ground - which in itself was a very exciting discovery for us. There was something very subversive about making flat sculpture, it was a kind of, Q: "when is a painting a sculpture?" A: "when it's lying flat on the floor", moment for us. 

Clive Murray-White Untitled yellow sculpture 1970 spun steel, paint

I've always claimed that this wasn't abstract at all, it is real things, doing real things in real space, one section is flat and just covers up a significant area of floor, the middle section appears capable of having grown up through the floor like a sort of bubble, so maybe there's a hole under it blowing stuff into it and the third section does the unthinkable, it flies. I'm very glad the NGV photographer got it dead right (thanks), perfectly arranged on the perfect white ground which allows viewers to see the other main concept in the work which only comes into view from this angle. From the way I see it, the middle section appears capable of hovering above the flat one, and the flying section hovers over the middle one - so in a sense, visually we have an impossible cone like form where slices fly above each other. 

I hope I'm not imagining this but, I do seem to remember one other thing that excited me a great deal 45 odd years ago, I think there's a little dent in the smallest flying section, it is as if the shape had taken off on its own and bumped into something pretty hard, a bit like an out of control drone.  

All photos courtesy of the NGV

Jan 3, 2016

Here's Why You Shouldn't Stop Saying 'I Could Do That' About Art

Just read this article - Here's Why You Should Stop Saying 'I Could Do That' About Art The Huffington Post Australia by Katherine Brooks 09/042015. Of course she's and everybody who agrees with her is wrong but as artists, for some very strange reason, we staunchly protect this untruth - it should read - Here's Why You Shouldn't Stop Saying 'I Could Do That' About Art. Just for the record I've been involved with this issue for an awfully long time - since 1967 to be exact, when the work shown above was conceived and exhibited, titled "Fragments of a larger system" it was not offered for sale but people were given permission to get their own version from their local plumbing suppliers. It is in fact a work that anyone can make but differs from most others because I've actually authorised you to do so. 

There's always a funny side to things like this - when the National Gallery of Victoria wanted it for their collection they approached me and I said, "Just go down to the nearest plumbing supplies and get your own." "No no," they replied "we must buy it from you". Me - "OK then, this is what I'll do - I'll go out and buy them and charge you exactly what they cost me"....... National Gallery Happy. 

There are countless works like this that anyone could make, just check out the Carl Andre catalogue on the net for a start. You could graduate to single colour paintings just buy ready made canvases and pots of ready mixed colours, browse the internet for anything that may be dead easy to get.

Ah but there's only one catch, never claim that it is YOUR art, it isn't, it is, instead, a forgery. But like with most things there is even a away around that little problem. There is a very long tradition in art of permitting and even encouraging people to copy other artist's work, it is seen as an important educative tool, but there is a convention that goes with it, you are obliged to declare that it is a copy by using the word "after" in your title, so if you make your own  Carl Andre Equivalent V111 brick work, you should call it Equivalent V111 after Carl Andre 1966-69.

Oct 21, 2015

Senior Company Artist - Loy Yang Power

Georgie Mattingley, our current artist in residence, came home from a day’s photographic shoot at Loy Yang power station to excitedly tell us that everyone still remembers my time out there as Senior Company Artist – Loy Yang Power, nearly 20 years ago. The memories came flooding back for me, I’ve always seen that period as one of the most influential in my life as an artist.

My 4 assistants Anton Vardy, Chris Roe, Drew Cole & Philip Toth 
paid for by Monash University - photo Angela Lynkushka
we used some of those cylinders (idlers) for the base of the big public sculpture

It is a grand title, but how it came to be is just as interesting as what we wound up doing with the big Power Co. It all started with Loy Yang Power approaching the head of the art school at Monash University Gippsland Campus in 1995 asking if they could develop a relationship. Put bluntly Monash didn’t really know what a relationship was and assumed that it meant Loy Yang giving the art school money for something like a scholarship and in return the school would badge exhibition catalogues with Loy Yang’s logo. Eventually after both Deputy and Head of school made no progress, the head, possibly in desperation, asked me to try to work out what all this relationship talk was really about.

I soon discovered that both Loy Yang’s CEO, Bob Patterson and head of Corporate Relations and Environment, Richard Elkington were extremely imaginative and creative people who had a vague hunch that artists and possibly their problem solving processes may in some way be harnessed for the company’s good. I should add they had employed my now partner Carolyn Crossley as their Art Consultant, “hmmm,” I thought, “a big power company with its own art consultant now that’s not quite in the stereotypical script”.  Over the occasional chat, the odd invitation to an event or informal lunch with Elkington I soon started to realise what all this relationship stuff actually meant, he would describe some of the company’s problems, I’d do the same from an artist’s perspective and we’d both contribute ideas for making things better for each other. Simple really.

Richard Elkington had an idea that I and some of my students could “style” their big Christmas corporate function and as we discussed it further I realised that he asking us to create an event that expressed the company identity and lurking in this was a genuine belief in being as environmentally responsible as a coal fired power station could ever be, so without either being literal or ramming the message in the faces of their guests we designed the function. First little job a big success, and the students were nearly overwhelmed at being paid properly.

In our workshop - photo Angela Lynkushka

At roughly the same time Carolyn had suggested that the company apply to the Australia Council for a “partnership” grant, she and I designed and wrote it around the general idea that the both company and artist would explore the notion that an artist could be very useful to a company and Loy Yang submitted it. The concept of Senior Company Artist – Loy Yang Power was born and coincidentally CEO Patterson during his dinner speech announced its success. He added that he’d been to another function full of major company CEOs a few days earlier, the conversation had got round to “corporate citizenship” and of course he was able to announce that they not only had a Senior Company Artist! but they’d also got a government grant to pay for it; a cause for significant adoration from his peers.

In a way we’d just proved how useful an artist could be, and this was before we’d really started.

Philip and Chris at work

The financial breakdown of the deal deserves a mention, my wages were paid for with the Australia Council grant, topped up to some extent by my main employer, Monash University, and Loy Yang supplied materials, tools, logistics, studio space, engineering, fabrication, documentation etc  which are, in effect, mostly in-kind costs using their own expertise and resources.

Finished major work prior to installation - photo The Visual Resource

The project was to run for 2 years and during the first we would concentrate on the company’s own identity and its ability to communicate more effectively with all levels of government, whilst the second year was primarily devoted to the Latrobe Valley community.

We kicked–off by suggesting that Loy Yang Power place advertisements in the Saturday art pages of the Age and Australian newspapers thanking the Australia Council for their grant, it turned out, so the council told us, that this was first time that anybody had thanked them publicly, which was a big surprise to us.

The finished major work - Lars Compitalis 
in Victory Park Traralgon 
Loy Yang Power's gift to the La Trobe community
The Visual Resource

Underpinning the whole idea behind the Senior Company Artist model was the belief that pre-20th Century patronage may not have been quite as bad for the artists as we’d led ourselves to believe and that an up-dated version could be very useful in achieving things that many companies found very difficult.

The Federal Minister for the Arts the Hon Peter McGauran 
and Anton Vardy unveil - photo The Visual Resource

The sorts of questions senior management asked me to look at, were, most often, about improving its communication and access to all levels of government, it turned out that a reasonably well known artist could procure a cabinet minister far more easily than a big power company. For one smallish project we got personal signed letters of thanks from both the State Premier and Prime Minister.

The most interesting request came from the CEO who felt that the morale in a certain section could be improved, so he suggested that we move my studio nearer to them, just to see what might happen, again a huge success.

My art was never compromised in any way during the project, in fact I learned that the company had realised that the better I did as an artist the better it would be for them.

The nicest compliment we got was “He’s a lot more useful than a tennis player and a damn sight cheaper” (from a middle level company engineer)

CEO, Mayor, Minister and me (our kids in the background)