Archive for the ‘Exhibitions I’ve seen recently’ Category

…and Great they truly are.


Rembrandt van Rjin, 'Sarah waiting for Tobias'

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 -1669)  Sarah waiting for Tobias, 1647, oil on canvas, 81.3 x 68 cm


We trekked up to AGNSW for the second time to see The Greats – masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland. It’s this year’s summer blockbuster and well worth the repeat visit.

Works on show were from the 16th to late 19th century, including not only outstanding Scottish practitioners such as Raeburn but Titian, Botticelli and Velasquez.

My favourite, though, was always going to be Rembrandt. Sarah waiting for Tobias is  a moving and intimate painting, most likely based on the history subject of Sarah from the Old Testament, whose 7 husbands were each killed by a demon on their wedding night. She is portrayed  looking, it is thought, at the 8th (and ultimately successful)husband.

The intimate portrait of a young woman, probably Rembrandt’s mistress, looking out from her bed, is typical Rembrandt – marvellously but not meticulously described, fleshily mortal and full of character. I love her clunky, human hands. I love her tremulous face, which holds so many emotions.


John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892, oil on canvas, 124 x 99.7 cm

The sexy star of the show, featured in so much of the promotional material, was the famous portrait of Lady Agnew by John Singer Sargent.

It was necessary to literally drag oneself away from this work, such was the compelling nature of the piece. What a babe!  And how wonderfully described. When you get up close to the work, the brushwork is actually quite loose and even the carefully worked face bears no trace of being overly laboured.

There were many brilliant works of art. The technical virtuosity was breathtaking and at the same time, inspiring. (I must get back to the studio. I must do better.)

Lastly though, check out the composition of this fabulous piece, really one of my favourites. Degas was well known for his unusual choice of perspective and compositional decisions.


Edgar Degas (French, 1834 – 1917) Diego Martelli, 1879, oil on canvas 110.4 x 99.8cm

This long commanding blue column on the right, with it’s ‘return’ along the back; the warm earth tones on the left side of the canvas answering. The mass of chattering angles on the objects on the bed, echoed by the angle of the figure and that wonderful, only-just-adequate seat. And lastly a blast of red/orange from the insides of the slippers. The whole thing is masterfully held together and yet the subject matter is so apparently prosaic. Genius.


Bright stars in the Archibald firmament

I went up to AGNSW recently to check out the annual Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes. As always, there was much to enjoy, as well as some that maybe didn’t truly deserve to be there.


Andrew Sayers, Portrait of Tim Bonyhady, oil on canvas, 100 x 75cm

Andrew Sayers’ piece was an understated charmer. I enjoyed the tight little triangle of composition and the no-fuss content. The downward pointing finger was marvellous.

I wasn’t wild about Nigel Milsom’s winning portrait of Charles Waterstreet, Judo House pt 6 (the white bird.) I enjoyed the pattern of his sewn-up mouth; his collar and the repetition of the motif in his monster hands; his diagonal line of buttons. The surface though, especially as the eye travels down the canvas, seemed too flat; too thin. I didn’t find it satisfying to spend time with.


Nigel Milsom, Judo House pt 6 (the white bird), oil on canvas, 232 x 190cm


Jeremy Kibel’s mixed-media portrait of Dr Dick Kwan was surprisingly interesting to examine. Multiple collage elements, a bright red horizontal at the top and blue around the other 3 edges along with the economical, stencil-style description of the head. A variety of surfaces made this an enjoyable work.



Kerry McInnis’s portrait of Omar Musa was characterised by qualities I’ve come to expect – understated, beautifully observed and not at all laboured. It got my vote in the end. She’s a consistent performer, though her work perhaps lacks the sense of spectacle that many Archibald winners possess. I’d like to see her make it one year though.


Kerry McInnis, Omar Musa, poetry of unease, 230 x 165.9cm







Works on Paper that truly work.

It was great to see this year’s Hazelhurst Works on Paper Award. Every time I don’t get selected, I have to swallow my disappointment and with good grace go and spend time with the show. And every time I walk away humbled and reminded what truly excellent work looks like. Back to the drawing board for me, eh?

The good folks at Hazelhurst always put on a good show but the array of works this year emphasised the spectacular. It wasn’t all just bells and whistles though; not by a long shot.

Helen Mueller’s work was one of my favourites. A beautiful reflection on mortality, with the little vessels shaped out of cast paper, from the darkest tones to the lightest, and lit from above so every slightly different vessel had 3 shadows.  I could have stayed with that work all day.



Helen Mueller, Earthen Wear, cast Hsien paper, intaglio printed from seawater etched plates – 80 pieces
148.5 x 127 x 6cm variable


I enjoyed the simple ink drawings by Helen Eager too. Most understated, and drawn on A4 paper which was pinned to the wall. Funny how simple and apparently humble works like this can be so refreshing in a large show where there are many  intricate and technically marvellous works on display. They can get very wearying. There, I’ve said it.

Helen-Eager-Untitled3_inkjet print on paper 21 x 29.7cm

It was very similar work to this – Helen Eager, Untitled, this piece 2015, inkjet print on A4 paper.

There were many works that showed wonderful observational skills and attention to detail. These always make for popular viewing, but never quite do it for me. Give me some expression, ok? Like Tom Polo’s quirky head portraits. Half abstract, half monsters; wonderful shapes and visually arresting colours.

Polo, Tom_head theatre


Tom Polo, Head Theatre, 5 small format paintings.

Drawing as a life-long practice

We visited AGNSW this week to check out the new-look Dobell Drawing Biennial.  Up until a couple of years back, the Dobell has been a Drawing Prize, with submissions from all and sundry.  The final show  was a selection of high quality works which made up a varied, interesting show. (Find out more about the history of the Dobell Prize here.) As Sydney artist Jane Bennett has pointed out, it also gave a wide spectrum of artists the opportunity to be recognised in this major Australian venue. It was always a favourite of mine, and I never felt it was promoted as effectively as it could have been.

Ivy Pareroultja_JAMES RANGE 2010









Ivy Pareroultja, James Range, 2010, watercolour on paper on board, 26 x 36cm.


However all that’s history, and now AGNSW presents a biennial event with a showcase of 10 established artists chosen by a Guest Curator. This year that person was Anne Ryan,  currently Curator Australian prints, drawings and watercolours at the Gallery. All this year’s chosen artists are well established Australians, some familiar to me and some not:  Tom Carment;  Joe Furlonger;  Ross Laurie;  Ivy Pareroultja (an example of her work above):  Ana Pollak;  Peter Sharp;  Mary Tonkin;  John R Walker;  Gosia Wlodarczak;  and John Wolseley.


Wlodarczak’s work was unfolding before us as she drew on the glass walls of the Gallery. Her work is always very busy; an intense linear exploration, here responding in an intuitive way to what she was seeing through the glass. It is more than simply this though. She works at being in the moment  and responding to all that her senses may bring to her. She says:  

I try to look at the reality in a non-hierarchical way, and to grasp an impression registered by my eye before my brain applies to it filters of our social and cultural knowledge. (

It’s fascinating and immersive, as though we are getting an intimate view of her mind.










Gosia Wlodarczak working on her installation during the opening week of the show, in situ  on one of the Gallery glass walls.

John Wolseley too, has a mystical kind of approach to his work. He sees himself as a ‘hybrid mix of artist and scientist.’ He has a deep love of the Australian flora and fauna and seeks to collaborate in some way with the world when he describes it. This often involves an abrogation of control, directly rubbing  his paper supports against trees and plants, using the random marks that result.


John Wolseley A Clarence Galaxia in the Ancient Sphagnum Bogs – Skullbone Plains, Tasmania 2013 (detail), watercolor, graphite on paper, 140 × 300 cm






John Wolseley (U.K. b.1938)A Clarence Galaxia in the Ancient Spagnum Bogs, Skullbone Plains, Tasmania, 2013   (detail), watercolor, graphite on paper, 140 × 300 cm.


 Ivy Pareroultja’s work is very reminiscent of Albert Namatjira, and this is unsurprising given that she was born in Hermannsburg in the Central Desert area of the Northern Territory, and is a descendant of the Hermannsburg Watercolour Movement painters.  This group sprang out of Namatjira’s work. (More on Albert Namatjira here.)

The champion for me though was always going  to be Tom Carment. I love how he just keeps on keeping on with his practice – a daily plein air exploration with a deft, wiggly kind of hand.  His works are so understated but beautifully seen.









Tom Carment, Coledale Beach Caravan Park, 2014


Master strokes: Cummings delivers again.














Elisabeth Cummings (Aust. b.1934) The Orange Table, 2014, monotype, 76 x 56cm

I enjoyed a Gallery crawl with friends through the Eastern suburbs today. Sydney seems to have given up on Winter and has moved straight into a clear-aired Spring.


Chien-Chi Chang












Chien chi Chang (Taiwan, b 1961) photograph of inmates from the chicken farm in Taiwan.


Of course, you spend time in Kings Cross and Paddo and you’re going to be seeing some great art. Magnum Photographer Chien chi Chang’s  sobering photographs of mentally-ill inmates at a Taiwanese chicken farm is showing at National Art School Gallery.  Couples are chained together all day, and supply unpaid labour for the chicken farm endeavour. More than a little sobering.














Fiona Hall (Aust.b 1953)Untitled, 2014, plastic toys, billiard balls, deer teeth.


Roslyn Oxley9 is hosting both Fiona Hall and Destiny Deacon at present. Hall produces work both humorous and tragic, with a variety of media from Tongan bark cloth through scrounged military camo shirts to deer teeth.  This exhibition was a bit heavy on the skulls for my taste but there were some beautiful pieces nonetheless.











Elisabeth Cummings, Coffee pot and pot plant, 2013, etching, 25 x 25cm

The stand-out winner for me though  was Elisabeth Cummings’ solo show at King St Gallery on William. Cummings, who I was lucky enough to have as my teacher back in my TAFE student days, is still powering on producing stunningly beautiful and energetic work, despite being 80. If anything, she continues to improve, which is really saying something. It seems to me that nowadays she allows more ‘air’ into her works – areas of little or no paint, negative spaces that flow around and through the work, giving pieces a certain lightness of touch. These areas act as a necessary foil to dense and sometimes brilliantly coloured areas. The show was mostly monotypes, etchings and painted ceramics (colllaborating with Louise Boscacci). There are also some luscious oil paintings out the back in the office area, and some small gouaches. Well worth the trip.  I walked away inspired and humbled.




Elisabeth Cummings, Figs and Garlic, 2013, monotype, 56 x 76cm








Creating beauty in the open air

We visited the NSW Parliament Plein Air Painting Prize last week. This annual event shows a range of works from artists who have really got stuck into the practice of plein air work.



Tom Carment, Afternoon shadow, William Street. Oil on linen, 100 x 87cm. This piece was the winner.


This type of discipline, much like painting generally I suppose, has an air of romance and glamour about it, but in fact is anything but. Even on the East coast of Australia, the perfect weather for this kind of endeavour can be elusive. It’s a practice that needs practise: lots of it, as you’re generally painting against the clock. I find (and I speak as a rank beginner) I need to shrug off self-doubt, second thoughts and everything else, and just do the bloody thing.



Susan J White, Squall Line Maitland, ink on paper 50 x 40cm. I love the simplicity of this work.


The show is hung in Parliament House; a venue I don’t inhabit apart from the annual pilgrimage to this Exhibition. It’s kind of dignified, as you would imagine. Serious; weighty with tradition, and lots of photos of old blokes in wigs. The paintings are positioned in a foyer area, encircling an central core which has a fountain and a light-well.

There is a slight air of disjunct with this show in this venue. There shouldn’t be I suppose – the Prize is designed to perpetuate the tradition of plein air painting that has been a part of Australian art since Colonisation. The other aim is to promote New South Wales as a location; a place worth thinking about. I guess maybe it’s because I imagine each of the artists out there in their paint-besmirched trakkies, cursing because the wind is coming up and they need more bulldog clips to keep their paper in place. That sort of thing. Messy reality, amongst the august traditions of Parliament.



Rachel Ellis, Orange house, George St Bathurst, oil on linen on board 85 x 102cm

Despite this feeling, the works look great and I enjoy the range displayed. We three friends are determined to do some plein air work in the  coming months. Susan lives at McMahon’s Point, so the harbour is likely to be a feature. If an art exhibition stimulates one to go out and create, then one could say its work is done.


At that line: Sol LeWitt’s meditative spaces at AGNSW








Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #303: Two part drawing. 1st part: circle, square, triangle, superimposed (outlines). 2nd part: rectangle, parallelogram, trapezoid, superimposed (outlines), 1977, black crayon, dimensions variable.


Recently I spent some time with the big Sol LeWitt exhibition that forms part of the Kaldor Family Collection at AGNSW. Kaldor and LeWitt were friends over many years, with Kaldor being an avid admirer and patron of LeWitt’s work. It was wonderful to spend some time amongst pieces which spanned the many decades of LeWitt’s practice.

I’ve said it before, I know , but I’m always attracted to artists who demonstrate faithfulness to their craft. It’s an attitude that sings to me, and I  find a renewed sense of dedication to my own work. LeWitt is definitely in that category.

Starting out in the 1950s with a vision that ran counter to that of the highly fashionable Abstract Expressionist painters, he was interested in objectivity and logic. He was a famous champion for conceptual practice, stating  that ‘the idea is the machine that makes art’ (‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’, 1967.) He was not interested in getting sexy with materials, nor with the trace of the artist’s presence and emotions.  He was interested in ideas about directions of lines; series and sequences – and in following these ideas to logical conclusions, a project which at times took years.












Rectangle (open), 1977.  This work invites us to consider where the art is located.


LeWitt is probably most famous for his Wall Drawings, an idea he pursued and developed over decades. Basically they consisted of instructions for the works to be manifested  onto any wall at any time, by either himself or accredited technicians. The idea was the art. The actual instrumental creation of it was a consequence of the art, not the art itself.

All his works come with a signed certificate. The instructions (as with Wall Drawing #303, top of this page) are more or less detailed, and deliberately allow for random factors due to geography or the personnel executing them. On one hand then, it’s objective; clinical even. On the other, it’s inviting the unexpected and the essentially human into the mix. It’s a curious combination of ideas that ends up, unexpectedly, being sometimes quite touching. For instance, Wall Drawing #1274, below:








Wall Drawing #1274, being executed by Jemima Flett at AGNSW. Photograph by Peter Rae.


This is a quiet giant. There is a gradation of tone from dark edges to a lightly textured, glowing centre that extends along 14 metres of wall space. This means that the viewer spends time walking along the work; there is a temporal aspect to it. It involves our bodies (as many Minimalist works did, in the 1960s/70s) and makes us aware of walls and floors in new ways. The work took a month to create and on this occasion does indeed necessarily involve the expressive hand of the technicians in the squiggles that make up the tone. It is obviously such a mammoth effort, and so much larger than life size that we are reminded of our frailty; our tendency to fatigue and error. In other words, we are at the edge of the Sacred and certainly the Romantic.

I was glad to see that it was not just me who responds in this way to LeWitt’s work. Daniel Thomas, writing in 1977 in The Bulletin, said:

   “in fact LeWitt’s art is readily experienced Romantically by the spectator. The variations with a repeatable structure can seem like Bach’s variations on a musical theme, to symbolise the wonder of creativity”.










Wall drawing #1091: arcs, circles and bands (room), 2003

Later years saw a foray into bold colour, although the geometry and the logical sequences were still there (perhaps less apparent.) AGNSW has reconstructed an installation originally created for the Kaldor home with Wall Drawing #1091, above.  It is an exuberant expression of Life something akin to the logic and beauty of a Mandelbrot unit. Mathematic; logical; sequential; vital.



Live on, survive, for the earth gives forth wonders. It may swallow your heart, but the wonders keep on coming. You stand before them bareheaded, shriven. What is expected of you is attention. SALMAN RUSHDIE









Vyvian Wilson, Island Blazing, mixed media on canvas triptych.


Clifton School of Arts remains an under-recognised treasure in the Northern Illawarra, despite many high-quality exhibitions being held there over the past several years. As a result of the current Committee’s decision to boost the profile of this cultural venue, the CSA’s own inaugural exhibition Feeling the Heat has been born.

Curators and artists Vyvian Wilson and Ruth Harvey have populated the beautiful, light-filled space with the works of 19 invited artists. It’s a good strong mix of ideas and expressions; an evocative and sensitively hung show with some lovely rhythms and punctuation.

The ground floor space includes some works that appear light-hearted in approach but serious enough in message. David Rowe’s political cartoon afr cartoon 2014 shows a lewdly winking Tony Abbott with his pants most definitely on fire, bending over obligingly for big business, who light their cigars from the conflagration.














Lizzie Buckmaster-Dove,  Life and Its Marvels, The Natural Balance of Life 2013.


Lizzie Buckmaster-Dove’s Life and Its Marvels, The Natural Balance of Life brings us shapes cut out from a 1960s children’s encyclopedia. We can see the book; the cut-out shapes (based on small plastic items of rubbish) ands scraps of text. We gather from the imagery that what is being described are natural environments and biodiversity. We can’t make out more than a few words at a time; we gain an impression only, but are left with a sense of loss (Glenn Albrecht’s ‘solastalgia’ – a sense of loss for a changed environment that once provided solace.) [1]

This downstairs area has a kind of grumpy guardian spirit overlooking the proceedings – Alannah Dreise’s King of Green. This dominating figure, arms akimbo, was inspired by an actual theatrical character seen at local Festivals. There is a connection, though, to the ancient Pagan tradition of the “Green Man” – a pre-literary deity, the personification of all that is living, green and sacred. How appropriate that the King greets us early in a show  which contains so many works expressing ecological concerns.













Alannah Dreise, King of Green.


The temperature rises as we climb the stairs. Damian Bancks’ collage Simmer till ready is a densely convoluted, almost woven field of collage, which seems somehow to radiate heat. Its sibling, Heat of the moment, stands at the other end of the room; I see here an echo of our green guardian downstairs. This fiery-red figure, arms stretched out, centrally placed amongst a busy collage, could easily read as a burning man. He overlooks this group of works that generally has a more elemental feeling than downstairs.

There is plenty of mystery here. Lesley Goldacre’s photographic work The Spirits was created sans Photoshop jiggery-pokery, but you wouldn’t think so. It feels supernatural…it’s not clear whether we’re looking at columns of fire, or simply clouds reflecting violent and fabulous golden light. Then there are the repeated giant figures, silhouetted against this bright sky; but what they boast in size, they lack in solidity. They are only half there…almost wiped from the record. This could perhaps suggest a memory of trees, dwarfing the ‘real’ ones described in dark tracery at the top of the hill.


The Spirits








Lesley Goldacre, The Spirits


In the corner next to Vyvian Wilson’s spectacular Island Blazing (which is so compelling that the the viewer could be concerned that embers will fall on her feet where she stands) is a modest piece with content as big as the world. Annie Bourke’s Sunset Reflection is a tiny oil painting describing the light of the dying sun over the ocean. There is a tanker, an industrial ship, in the scene also which adds to the humble nature of the presentation. It is a quietly Romantic gem.

There are some welcome and necessary foils to all the heat. Arja Valimaki’s Birch Dream suggests a rhizomatic growth pattern, densely linear with muted earth tones that would probably read as warmish anywhere else; not here though. Carefully woven throughout the whole show are moist and lovely oases of various types: a cool misty Coledale by David Manks; bright, lush scenes by Tony Hull (Heat Haze, Kendall’s Beach Kiama and Summer Heat, Wombarra Pool)  and Simon Tognetti’s ceramic bowl, The Rockpool.


Birch Dream











Arja Valimaki, Birch Dream, acrylic on canvas.


Context truly is everything, as Curators are well aware. Anthony Buselli’s Altar describes rock formations on the beachfront.  This prompted powerful associations, sitting as it does amongst this hot congregation. Being a Coledale local, for me the beachfront is very much a part of my Escape Plan for the inevitable “catastrophic” category fire risk days. Then I remembered those families down in Tasmania –I think last year – forced to remain standing in the ocean for hours on end simply to survive. An altar at such times might be not so unlikely a thing.



Anthony Buselli, Altar, acrylic on canvas.


[1] US National Library of Medicine; National Institutes of Health, Solastalgia,


Enchanted arena: Cassandra Kavanagh’s ‘Flights of Imagination’













Friday night was the Opening Event of Cassandra Kavanagh’s latest solo show at Art Arena Gallery. Cassandra has been a quiet  and prolific practitioner for many years, finally ‘outing’ herself as an artist last year at a highly successful Solo show at Project.

Summer of angels








Summer of angels, 2014

Art Arena is a more intimate space and in fact, suits her work much better. All her work is of modest size but her intentions are large-scale. She is a dyed-in-the wool Romantic. She uses a combination of photography, hand-drawing and collage to produce printed works which are whimsical and fetching, with good archival values.











Deer adorned with Autumn leaves, 2014


A person with intense sensibilities, she is always out in Nature. Her  images reflect this strong connection with all things natural, in particular the animal world. Some of her trademark images include human/cat hybrids,which are  fun images but lovely to look at as well.

Miss Kitty












Miss Kitty, 2014

Many of the pieces are deliberately uncertain around the edges or over-pixelated . It is a fantasy world where we are constantly reminded of the illusions. So in other words, we are left under no illusion about the fact of an illusion…so it often reads as tongue in cheek. This somehow works, and viewers on Opening Night were responding well to these pieces. At present they are priced very modestly indeed…There, I warned you!


Exhibition runs  till May 24

America the beautiful

Yesterday a buddy and I visited the Art Gallery of NSW to check out the Summer blockbuster America: painting a Nation.  The works were organised chronologically, following America’s development since white settlement. We were able to witness the changes in the way Americans have seen themselves.

Copley, John Singleton_Portrait of a Lady_1771.












John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) Portrait of a lady, 1771, oil on canvas, 126.9 x 100.3cm

The 18th century portraits were similar in style to the European ones I’m more familiar with.  Idealised, ‘airbrushed’ images of perfect flesh and immaculate rendering of fabrics. This image by Copley is an example, with the addition of a marvellous capturing of character for which he was famous. I could have sat with this image all day.

The 19th century saw a relationship with the wild landscape which was being ‘conquered’ as people moved west. There was an undercurrent of conflation of principles of liberty, a noble principle, with the right to colonise and develop the land.

We did see some images that made reference to the plight of the First Peoples, including this beauty:









Frederic Remington (1861-1909) The herd boy, c. 1905, oil on canvas, 68.9 x 114.9cm


wyeth,nc_MOVING CAMP_1908












NC Wyeth (1882-1945) Moving Camp, 1908, oil on canvas, 92.1×66.4cm

This image was amazing. It was in fact darker than it looks here. It was dim, really. But the line of bright water, aligned with the chiefs’ headgear, was really interesting. you could not take your eyes off this one. It is worth considering in more detail in terms of its composition.

It was great to see a Mary Cassatt image in the flesh. The canvas is wonderfully active. She went off to join the French Impressionists and exhibited with them several times.













Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) Mother about to wash her sleepy child, 1880, oil on canvas, 100.3 x 65.8cm

I finally got to see a work by the father of Abstract Expressionism, Hans Hofmann. The show finished with the Ab Ex painters, more or less.

Blue Monolith, 1964 (oil on canvas)












Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) Blue monolith, 1964, oil on canvas, 183.5 x 152.7cm

I did enjoy the material presence of this, although I’m not sure I really received it as he intended…the scale was relevant, it’s pretty big and…unapologetic. I enjoyed the negative space. There was depth and movement to be sure. Maybe I needed to spend more time with it.