65th Blake Prize: thoughtful, but the numinous was hard to find

We visited  Casula Powerhouse this week to see the Blake Prize.

I’m always delighted to reach this quiet bushy spot so close to Liverpool, with its own bell-bird glen. I enjoy the venue, with its soaring ceilings and the indigenous map built into the floor.

The exhibition this year was thoughtfully presented but to me it largely lacked depth, or sometimes relevance.  I have to agree with the oft-curmudgeonly John McDonald here. Moving away from an insistence on Christian expression (which was the original premise of the prize, back in 1949) was of course both necessary and appropriate if the Prize was to remain in any way relevant.

 

This year’s winner: Tina Havelock Stevens, Giant Rock, 2017 (still from video)

 

 

No problem there, but many of the works just failed to engage me. McDonald rightly notes that ‘religion’ is all about a group of believers, whereas ‘spirituality’ is a more individual idea. Again, that’s not necessarily a problem.

Many people nowadays weave their own sense of the sacred from whatever scraps they can find – bits of childhood magic, the rise of a post-institutional animism arising from ecological concerns; feminist practices that overlap with neo-paganism. There is also aesthetics and the consoling power of beauty.

I have found some new (to me) artists however, whose work is well worth mentioning and following.

I enjoyed the video by Nasim Nasr 33 beads (unworried) # 2 showing an anonymous woman, her face totally obliterated by her hair, with spotlit  hands holding and working worry beads – traditionally a male practice. Gradually other women’s hands appear and also work the multiple strings. In the end the beads are violently torn apart.

Still from the video 33 beads (unworried) 3 #2 by Nasim Nasr

Nasr is an internationally recognised Iranian artist now living in Australia.

 

I was disturbed and I guess, diverted  by Greg Semu’s   Dead body of Christ in two parts, a photographic self-portrait in two frames, referencing Holbein the Younger’s astounding ‘coffin-cam’ work from 1521.

 

Hans Holbein the Younger, The body of the dead Christ in the tomb, oil and tempera on board, 1521.

 

 

Greg Semu, Dead body of Christ in two parts, photograph in two frames.

 

The image I’ve had to use here was an earlier iteration, in one piece. The Blake entry  is literally in two framed pieces -one piece is his head, neck and shoulder, the other has the remainder of the body.

The pieces sit either side of a corner,  accentuating the unusual proportions. Float mounted against a blood red mat with lush, cinematic lighting a la Bill Viola , it features Semu’s Samoan body tattoos and opaque contact lenses so he looks rather shockingly like a doll.

Semu uses his own body and that of other indigenous people in some interesting video and photographic works  referencing and  deconstructing Christian iconography.

My own favourite though was far from sensational. Mark Tweedie had two entries in the show, both understated and painterly.

I loved ‘Now I lay me down’, a modest size painting of his dying grandmother in bed.

Mark Tweedie, Now I lay me down, oil on canvas, 41 x 31cm

Quiet, economical, calm and contemplative, it  brought me closer to prayer than anything else.

TOUCH OF RED: – two anniversary shows

Turns out there are two significant anniversaries this year:

Red Point Artists Association celebrates 10 years of hard work that have resulted in an arts hub in the middle of slowly – gentrifying Port Kembla. A touch of red celebrates this with a group show at the Red Point Gallery featuring sculpture, ceramics, assemblages and painting. I have a piece in this show which is sensitively  curated by Kathy Orton and  Janette Loughrey.

 

The idea of requiring everyone to include the colour red in their work wasn’t universally welcomed and not everyone held to the brief, but the ubiquity of red throughout the gallery certainly contributes to a feeling of dynamism and excitement.

Opening Event: Saturday 12 May @ 2.30pm

Show runs Wed-Sun, 10 till 4,  and is on till Sun May 20

 

Meanwhile, in the Wollongong CBD, Wollongong Art Gallery is celebrating 40 years as an art institution by inviting various community groups to hold exhibitions in the upstairs Community Gallery, rolling out over the year. Red Point Artists are continuing with their ‘Touch of Red’ theme for this show which opens Saturday 19 May @ 6pm.

Wollongong Art Gallery, cnr Burelli & Kembla Streets Wollongong

Touch of Red Opening Event Saturday 19 May @ 6pm

Show opens Tues-Fri 10am till 4pm; Sat/Sun 12-4

Show runs Saturday 19 May till 1 July

ALL WELCOME

 

 

There’s gonna be a hangin’….

For the past several years I’ve curated a local community art show. It was an honour to be asked to perform this important task and I’ve been glad to do it. My dear partner acts as my ‘gopher’ during the day, helping me position, re-position and re-re-position  the many artworks over and over. By the end of the day we are totally trashed.

Back in 2014, the first year I did the show. Ahn Do’s beautiful Wombat Man in the background…

It gives you an interesting take on the art though. Of course,  you can’t indulge the luxury of considering a work properly at this time. You’re mainly concerned with the formal aspects of a piece – it’s blue or red, it’s busy or spare in composition, it’s impasto or smooth – because it’s these aspects that impact on where it will look at its best and how it may effect it’s neighbours.

You do however quickly develop strong opinions about framing. There are many rubbish frames out there, people. Step away from the rubbish. Sorry. I know what it’s like to have no money for paint, let alone framing…but…well, there it is. Save your pennies and then get it done properly.

By the end of the day though, you find yourself having subconsciously absorbed the quality of some standout works and you fall in love with them, and with art generally, all over again. That’s after your third beer of course, when your feet are up.

Thread III

 

 

 

 

It’s great to be exhibiting with these four powerful women again. Thread III will be a varied and interesting show. Get on down and join us!

THREAD III

Red Point Gallery, 100 Wentworth Street Port Kembla

Opening event: Sunday 22 April @ 2pm. Artists will discuss their work.

Refreshments provided, free entry.

Show runs Wed 18 April till Sun 29 April

Gallery open Wed till Sun 10 till 4

Gallery is wheelchair accessible. Refreshments provided, all welcome.

 

Adelaide Perry Prize for Drawing 2018

Ever heard that cliche ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like’ ? Yep, me too. But rule number 1 in art criticism is to put your personal taste to the side, and try to really analyse what you’re looking at.  OK, I’m not an art critic but I do try to approach a show critically and make some kind of reasonable judgement about things.

A friend and I had a great time at this year’s Adelaide Perry Prize for Drawing and by the time we approached  Ceara Metlikovec’s winning piece, Indigo 5, we were maybe a bit over-excited. Certainly I didn’t give it the time it deserved.

 

Ceara Metlikovec, Indigo 5, 2018, graphite on Fabriano paper, 140 x 94.5cm

The piece is quiet; contemplative. It’s a closely positioned set of ruled verticals of various tones, carefully built up,  reminiscent of a barcode or a DNA read-out.  It’s also apparent how labour intensive the piece must have been, which makes it a reflection on mortality. After a while it reminded me of the transparent curtains separating the congregation from the deceased, prior to a cremation.

What I didn’t understand till later was the acres of white paper that the work didn’t cover. The drawing is reasonably substantial in size but is drawn on a huge piece of paper, and offset in the right top corner of the paper. There is more white paper than drawing. I found it unsettling, and only belatedly recognised this as a ‘masking off’ of the total reality of someone. The drawing is a kind of portrait, but as with any portrait you are seeing a mediated image; an incomplete reading of someone through the perception of the artist.  I ended up deciding this was a thoughtful and worthwhile piece.

It didn’t get my Peoples’ Choice vote though! That went to another problematic work, by  Robert Ewing:

 

Robert Ewing,  Fractured Landscape number 3

coloured pencil on cotton paper, 56 x 76cm

It’s a real testament to the power of a work when you don’t exactly enjoy it, but you can’t take your eyes off it and it makes you feel unsettled.  Ewing’s bioforms (I can’t really call them trees) are phallic and otherworldly. His colour choices are intriguing and shouldn’t add up but somehow they do.  He’s onto something.

Of course we both loved Tom Carment’s economical drawings of family around the table at Christmas time. He has a light touch and wonderful observation of the quotidian. I don’t know how often Carment actually wins awards but every exhibition he’s in is the richer for his inclusion. There will always be more spectacular works as he’s the master of understatement, but I love his quiet virtuosity.

Tom Carment, Family in Perth

dip pen and ink on paper, three sheets each 30 x 42cm

HOW THINGS GO TOGETHER II

I’ve been head down, tail up working on this solo show for the past year and suddenly, here we are….

 

1

 

For reasons best known only to my genius (see Elizabeth Gilbert’s marvellous TED talk ) I’ve become preoccupied with the tapering shape of a ceiling-fan blade. Very approximately. The fascination stems purely from the interesting shape – there is nothing deeper or more philosophical at play.

The result is that most of the works in this show incorporate the fan shape.  The works are reminiscent of way stations in a narrative – film stills, if you like –  thanks to the titles I’ve chosen for them. Waddya do? In the spirit of whimsy, I’ve serenely just run with it. Come and check them out…

 

The way things go together II

– new works by Moira Kirkwood

Red Point Gallery, 100 Wentworth Street Port Kembla NSW

OPENING EVENT: Saturday 3 Feb @ 2pm. To be opened by artist and educator Tony Hull.

Show runs Fri 2 Feb till Sun 11 Feb

Gallery open Tues – Sun 10am till 4pm

Admission free, all welcome. Gallery is accessible.

 

 

 

Making landfall: beautiful things from the Illawarra

'SEATREE' BY ARTIST LARA SERESIN

Seatree by Lara Seresin

 

Delighted to be part of Making Landfall, an IAVA group show with Jane Bennett, Lara Seresin, Jennifer Jackson, Sky Zaracostas, Karen Hook, Diana Wood Conroy, Arja Valimaki, Libby Bloxham, Alena Kennedy, Susan McAlister, Paula Gowans and Judy Bourke.

 

Making Landfall

Waverley Library Galleries

32-48 Denison Street Bondi NSW

Artists Talks and drinks with the artists: Saturday 9 December, 12 – 3pm

Show runs till Jan 22.

 

Archibald organisers lick their chops….

Everyone loves a controversy, and especially so if you’re trying to promote the Archibald prize. John Olsen’s mean-spirited rant against this year’s winner Mitch Cairns filled the bill in that department.

Cairns_Mitch_Agatha Gothe Snape_oil on linen_140.5 x 125cm

Mitch Cairns, Agatha Goth-Snape, oil on linen, 140.5 x 125cm

There was a crowd of schoolkids pressing in around the Cairns work when I visited, and I didn’t give it the attention it deserved. I do enjoy the playful and honest approach of it and the tension inherent in the opposing forces of her arms and legs and how she obligingly has positioned  her own face to ‘suit’ the viewer (or more likely, the demands of her artist partner, for the portrait.) I enjoy how she is placed there on a floor echoing the modernist grid. There’s no escaping Modernism – we are bound to respond to it.  Read more about Mitch Cairns.

There were other works that interested me far more than Mitch’s work, good though it undoubtedly was. My personal favourite was the intimate and respectful work of Janet Dawson by Illawarra artist Ashley Frost:

Frost_Ashley_Janet Dawson at the door of her studio_oil on board_30 x 32cm

Ashley Frost, Janet Dawson at the door of her studio, oil on board, 30 x 32cm

It’s physically interesting, with Frost’s trademark impasto on a very small format, but it’s not laboured.  Frost often uses a lot of pink (we have that in common) and his landscapes sometimes end up too sweet for my taste, but this human landscape has a warmth about it that works well. More on Ashley Frost here. 

I also loved Nicholas Harding’s portrait of John Olsen, and it was amusing to note that the shape of his feet and legs and his body in relation to the chair – all those various areas, shapes and sections, as well as the colour – was where my interest lay. The least interesting part was his head and face! Maybe Harding doesn’t actually like Olsen that much?

Harding_N)John Olsen AO, OBE

Nicholas Harding, John Olsen AO, OBE, oil on linen, 198 x 138cm

More about Nicholas Harding here. 

 

Fresh like a Southerly: IAVA at Parliament House

 

 

OOTI evite-LOGOS

 

For the second time IAVA artists are exhibiting their latest works at Fountain Court, in NSW Parliament House. It’s an airy and elegant space with a central light-well and fountain. 27 of us are showing our art there and it promises to be a strong show. Janine Sager is Guest Curator and Diana Wood Conroy is not only participating as an artist, but has also written a thoughtful and erudite essay for our catalogue. Fresh….

 

Out of the Illawarra

Fountain Court, NSW Parliament House, Macquarie Street Sydney

Opening Event Thursday 3 August, 2.30-4.30pm

Exhibition runs 1 – 25 August

Gallery hours Mon-Fri 9am till 5pm

 

Wynne Prize and art from APY Lands

Pondering this week on the annual Wynne Prize. I try to submit a work every year if I can. Feeling pretty good about this year’s effort, Coastal Scape Elements, acrylic on board, 76 x 108cm:

 

Coastal scape elements

 

There are so many stunning works that get exhibited every year. My chances are hilariously tiny, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a kind of professional obligation, in a way, to enter these important shows – to somehow feel like you’re part of the whole endeavour, even if your works don’t get to be hung in those hallowed halls. This is the electric and gorgeous winner from last year, Seven sisters  from the Ken Family, acrylic on 2 canvases, overall 244 x 305cm:

 

SEVEN SISTERS_KEN FAMILY COLLECTIVE

The various styles of work from the APY lands (top left corner of SA) are mind-blowing. Check out this little clip from ABC Arts…gorgeous stuff.

http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/arts-news/AC1640H048S00