Oct 4, 2016

Little Lincoln leaves lasting impression

Kevin Lincoln Burning off - Gippsland 1997
3 panels each 38.5 x 46cm overall 38.5 x 138cm
Watercolour and charcoal on paper
col: Gippsland Art Gallery

A friend and I spent a couple of hours intently the studying the John Leslie Art Prize (for landscapes) at the Gippsland Art Gallery a week or so ago. To get into the main gallery we had to pass a small show of works on paper, mainly drawings from the gallery's collection titled A Fine Line and one work jumped off the walls at us, it is shown above. We looked at it, discussed it at length and wandered off wondering what was making this rather feint scratchy little work stand out so much.


The more closely we looked at it the less we found that could possibly be the cause of its power, and maybe worse as drawing lecturers there were many aspects of this work that we would have advised any student to avoid, these could include lack of focus, form, structure, purposefulness or high quality line, shape and tonal delineation. It is probably a good candidate to be called "a bit soft" (about the worst thing any drawing can be called).

Maybe that's a rather perverse way of looking at it, a naughty kind of criticism; choosing a whole lot of things that this work doesn't even attempt to include and then bag it for their omission.

Still marveling we made our way into the John Leslie Art Prize, dutifully looking at each entry and discussing our perceptions of the intentions, degrees of difficulty, levels of achievement, place in historical thinking and even whether we felt it was even worth making in 2016. 

Things weren't going well for most of the entries in this process of our's! I've written a short piece on the winner, Amelda Read-Forsythe's Under the Storm, in my previous blog post which is coincidentally another quiet understated masterly work. And unsurprisingly we both gravitated towards what we thought of as the more classy controlled and reserved works that often take a hammering from the often cynically conceived blockbusters all too well represented in prize shows.With me getting very excited by Tim Bukovic's 2 little entries and my friend spending a great deal of time pointing out the sheer class of Ken Smith's The Road to the Sea 1.

Deep in conversation and deep into the body of the prize show we glanced at the little Lincoln that seems miles away down the other end of the gallery, it was still weaving its magic.

Maybe this was one of those “don’t try this at home until you really know what you’re doing” artworks, there’s more integrity in it than most artists will muster in their lifetimes, and more class, control and restraint than most will ever be able to see.

Sep 4, 2016

Amelda Read-Forythe: Under the Storm

Amelda Read-Forythe: Under the Storm 
winner of the John Leslie Art Prize - 2016 
oil on wood 60 x 90cm

I’ve been away from my blog for a while and was contemplating presenting a recent work from day one to completion but this picture by Amelda Read-Forythe has infiltrated itself into my mind in such a big way that I feel it takes precedence.

The John Leslie Art Prize is held every two years at the Gippsland Art Gallery and just like every time before, prior to the prize announcement, I and many others attempt to pick the winner. This year I did and it surprised me because it was the kind of painting that I wanted to win but felt that other more obvious blockbuster entries may overpower it.

And as I try to work out what’s going in this picture and why it’s a puzzle to me I start to realise that it may be because it’s a work that only a woman could make, and I find that very exciting indeed.

There are two distinct components in this picture, the way it is actually painted and the historical precedents that it alludes to.

In terms of technique it has a very large dose of the, “how the hell did she do that”, that’s always a major suck-in, its surface is perfectly flat and eggshell smooth; there’s no evidence of actual brush strokes, they just seem to be embedded in the picture’s ground! The physicality or is it material quality is truly arresting. Possibly more interesting is the fact that this surface takes our memories to places we don’t expect in painting. For me it’s directly to my Mother and Aunt, decorated porcelain and nice silk scarves.

I have to admit I love art that can trigger me to think of other places, times and artists and it is this area that Under the Storm really excels. Way beyond my childhood memories of the scent of my Mother this picture has taken me to the first colonial efforts to comprehend what they thought was an alien landscape comprised of formless fauna and impenetrable space, the artistic nightmare that confronted our ancestors. Where they tried to shackle that amorphous and maybe hostile landscape into the Western tradition Read-Forsythe simply accepts it and lets it live.

Once I had traveled back to John Glover and the colonialists the dominoes of time rocketed me past the Rococo all the way back to Roman frescos. Once there I was pointed forward to Milton Avery, Arthur Boyd, Vincent Van Gogh, some Symbolists and maybe the Nabis.

The strongest reaction I had to this picture was emotional; It reminded me of a strange short story by Raold Dahl about a canoe trip on the Danube where the paddlers were being brushed by hanging willows, making them feel as if the trees were the spirits of some malevolent ancestors, intent on their destruction. 

Under the Storm, under which storm I ask? The storm of the artist’s daily existence? The storms that shape the future and on we can go, not bad eh! for a sparsely painted 60 x 90cm piece of wood.

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