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

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.



Robert Clinch ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ at Wollongong Art Gallery

We recently caught the final weekend of a major retrospective of the work of Melbourne artist Robert Clinch  in Wollongong. It is a touring exhibition organised by Art Gallery of Ballarat.  I had no idea Clinch was so well known and established, but a look at the show justified any and all recognition he has received to date.

Clinch probably gets sick of comparisons with the late great Australian Jeffrey Smart, but it’s hard to avoid them. Like Smart, he paints very detailed realistic urban scapes. Indeed the detail is way beyond what the eye would normally see and stretches out into the far distance, so the idea of ‘realistic’ is a stylised one in fact. From memory Clinch’s work is in fact much more complex and detailed than Smart tends to be.  It smacks of obsession, but this obsession delievers a marvel for the audience.

And like Smart his works are not only beautifully seen but carefully constructed, often with whimsical additions or puns. There are serious comments too, on our abuse of planet Earth.








Salad sandwhich, 1987, gouache, watercolour & drybrush, 25 x 48cm















The Grand Reading Room, 1998, egg tempera on panel, 107 x 105cm


Apart from watercolour/gouache/drybrush work, he also paints with egg tempera, an ancient medium that acts as the vehicle for powdered pigment when painting. The works have a tremendous glow about them because of this. With all the glory and colour of these works though,  I ended up enjoying the finely drawn black and white lithographs the most. These too are carefully composed and beautifully executed. The series using paper aeroplanes is not only fun, but satisfying to look at as well.














Pot-pourri, 2007, lithograph, 43x42cm

Our humanity through the lens – Richard Avedon at the National Portrait Gallery Canberra

Last week I got down to the Nation’s Capital and visited People, the current Richard Avedon show and the first exhibition of his work in Australia.

Avedon’s career spanned many decades and he photographed some  of the best known figures of the day. He worked for Harper’s Bazaar during the 1940s, and developed a minimalist aesthetic using a stark white featureless background. This was avant-garde for the day and became his signature.

There were some iconic images there – Twiggy in a back-revealing dress; Elizabeth Taylor, young and so voluptuous, surrounded by the curves of a cock -feather hat.


Avedon, Richard_Elizabeth Taylor_cock feathes by Anello of Emme_1964












Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Enello of Emme, 1964.

Avedon created technically marvelous portraits, so I’m told. They certainly looked  clear and interestingly composed. My favourites included four separate images of poignantly young and serious men who were known as the Beatles, and an image of Warhol with Candy Darling and Jay Johnson from 1969. He had several of people with their eyes closed, which seems to give the viewer a voyeuristic license somehow.

Avedon, Richard_Andy Warhol with Candy Darling and Jay Johnson_1969









Andy Warhol with Candy Darling and Jay Johnson, 1969


A magnificent Marian Anderson, the first Afro-American to sing at the New York Metropolitan Opera. She is all hair, lips, jewellery and he captured her whilst she was singing for him in 1955

Avedon, Richard_MARIAN ANDERSON_1955








Marian Anderson, 1955.


There was also a magnificent, and again painfully young Nureyev – lean, hard with an enormous cock.


Avedon, Richard_rudolph nureyev  1961

Quiet genius at Janet Clayton Gallery

I visited the James Blackwell exhibition The Native Grid this week. I’d never heard of James before, but the invite looked – well, inviting.  The show was wonderful.













James Blackwell, Native Grid 0612.1, mixed media, image 44 x 44cm


The artist uses natural organic matter – seed pods, thorns, bits of flora – to create assemblages, held in place by paper or clear plastic pillars.  They are held  proud of the paper surface. They are organised into grid formations, or else a field. Shadows resulting from these  intricate constructions are cast onto the paper.

There was also a lovely field created solely by tear-shaped paper pieces, glued separately onto the paper.










James Blackwell, My Sistine (thanks Mouse), detail.


I was so engaged by the marvellous attention to detail the work reflected. They were complex, totally away from representation of any sort. They were a quiet thought.













James Blackwell, Silent 0612.1, (detail).



Sculpture by the Sea 2012

This annual outdoor sculpture exhibition is now in its 16th year,  stringing  out along the cliff walk from Tamarama Beach to Bondi Beach. These days they have expectations  of a cool half  million people attending over the 3 week season!

This year I’ve been up there as  Volunteer Crew, a great experience in itself. I’m loving being a useful cog in that massive creative wheel. Naturally, not  all the pieces appeal, but there are  some seriously good works. About one third of the entries for the show are International entries, which allows a comfortable (and justified) dominance by the locals.









Cave Urban, Mengenang (Memories)


This piece is one of my faves this year. It sits in Mark’s Park right at the verge of the grass. It comprises 222 bamboo verticals (memorialising the Bali Bombing victims) and has a sort of wind-pipe attached at the top of each pole, which vocalises in the wind. A feather is attached to each. The audience can walk amongst these poles which are about 10-12 feet high, I guess.  It is a forest of voices, rising and falling in volume at the whim of the breeze.

Often the pieces that I enjoy the most are very simple and respond to the site. Many others are oblivious to the setting, and  would be equally at home in a Gallery space. This does not mean they are not quality pieces of course.










Ruth Downes & Geoff Webster, Casting Around. Another favourite, due to its simplicity and relevance to the site.










David Horton, Chardin’s Table. Horton won SxS a couple of year’s back. His work sits beautifully, whatever the location. A classic.

The gals have it: Portia Geach 2012

I visited the SH Ervin Gallery this week to see the Portia Geach Memorial Awards. This is an annual Portraiture Exhibition  for women artists, focussed on painting.

There is generally  a good smattering of self-portraits in the mix. I suspect most of us are pleased with  that, for the psychological insight it affords. Sophie Cape’s Highly Commended piece Stormfront was pretty dramatic, and was a good follow-up to her powerful portrayal of Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson  (Master and Commander) from last year, which was also Highly Commended (and which I prefer.)












Stormfront (Self-portrait), charcoal, acrylic, ink, blood, soil, bone, 232 x 190cm, 2012










From last year….Master and Commander (Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd founder), 2011


Sophie’s mother Ann Cape also had a lovely work submitted.  A portrait of NAS Professor Anita Taylor, it’s economical, with wonderfully strong diagonals.










Ann Cape, Anita (Professor Anita Taylor)


My personal favourite was Kerry McInnis’ piece of Mike le Grand, sculptor. I so admire Kerry’s masterful observation, which never seems to look forced or laboured….and check out the lyricism she’s managed to introduce into the way he’s positioned his feet. She’s a magician, I tell you…












Kerry McInnis, Mike le Grand.

Mosman Art Prize – where the big kids play.

One of these days, dammit, I’ll get hung in the Mosman Art Prize. Until that day, I must be content to go to the Opening Night, pay my fifteen bucks for next to no food, a drink, and a huge crowd that really makes it hard to see anything.  Despite these hardships I can’t stay away, as it’s a big buzz and, it’s an inspiration to applaud the winner (actually, ALL the finalists, of course) and be part of the night.   This year saw some wonderful work selected again.

David Fairbairn took away the $30,000 prize with a predictably excellent work.











David Fairbairn, Seated figure of JB with orange background.

Unfortunately, despite admiring his work and regarding it as a well-deserved win, I tend to feel like too much of Fairbairn’s work is the same. Perhaps I could be accused of the same thing. I know we all wrestle with perennial themes, sometimes despite ourselves…but there it is. It must be said.


Far more interesting to me was the work of Ken Done (yes, and I make no apology for that), Brigiat Maltese and  the wonderful Mostyn Bramley-Moore, who yet again managed to produce a work so very restricted in palette, and yet fascinating.









A snippet of Brigiat Maltese’s work Who shall say where? She does wonderful pen and watercolour drawings (sorry Brigiat, they’re much more drawings than paintings to me!) and uses artists’ books that concertina out  to show us a wide, panoramic view.  Brigiat tells me she had been working with ideas of resurrection, then got involved with  Edgar Allan Poe’s Poem The Raven. Brigiat’s blog here. Wonderful, wonderful work.













Mostyn Bramley-Moore,  Eenie Creek and Sugar Road. My choice for the Prize.


Etchings and monotypes at The Hanging Space Gallery

Went to The Hanging Space Gallery at Woonona  yesterday to check out  regeneration, new offerings by Judy Bourke and Mary Wingrave.  The little gallery space is just at the back of Manic Organic health foods and organic produce on the Princes Hwy.

It’s a simple space but works well.  That dynamic and happening bunch, IAVA ( Illawarra Association for the Visual Arts) are running it these days.

I have known Judy for years as a  dedicated artist who produces a dizzying array of art in a wide spectrum of media. Producing art  is like breathing for Judy, it seems. Mary’s name was known to me, but not her art. She had some interesting etchings, mixed media and folded paper works.













Mary Wingrave, Four eyes four ears, mixed media on paper.

It was Judy’s monoprints that grabbed me though…so much that I went crazy and bought one (courtesy, it must be said, of a recent sale of a piece of my own work. It goes around…)












Judy Bourke: I feel much better now, monotype on paper.













Judy Bourke, I’ll save you, monotype on paper.

Expressions and memories in the Illawarra

We attended  Wollongong City Gallery this week  to see  the work of Illawarra painter and teacher Ron Lambert. Lambert (1923-1995) was a well – loved teacher at both West  Wollongong TAFE and the National Art School, where he won the admiration and devotion of many students over the years. I remember as a student at West Wollongong myself, hearing about Ron from teachers who knew him. I always got the impression that he was really loved.

His work is certainly impressive, working in a gestural Abstract Expressionist mode, with careful attention to underlying structure.  From the same generation as John Olsen, Arthur Boyd and Robert Dickerson, he possesses some of Boyd’s expressive vigour, as well as an adventurous and passionate relationship with colour. Some of his closely structured pieces reminded me of Jasper Johns.









Stand up close, 1970, oil on canvas, 61 x 92cm












Confront, fancy chip, 1994, oil on canvas, 76 x 76cm


That wasn’t all though. Included in the exhibition was the work of  17 ex-students and friends – all older people now as Lambert died in 1995. They presented work from their time with Ron, and then current work as well. This made for a rich and fascinating show.












Robert Hirschmann, Niemansland, 2011, oil on linen, 183 x 100cm.

Multiple worlds of steam-punk and existentialism.

I was seriously transported on Friday night. I caught the last day of Anita Larkin’s fine solo show at Defiance Gallery Newtown, Improbable Objects. Larkin is an award-winning Illawarra sculptor and felt maker whose work is immaculately crafted, with   a  steam-punk feel.  The crazy, impossible objects she creates are part found-objects and part felt, put together beautifully. They compel you to suspect another world somewhere…just out of view.











Apparatus for the repatriation of tears, 2011


Then around the corner at Gallery Red was the opening night of Stephen Hall’s Kedumba Musings. Hall has an anxious, embattled and sometimes joyous alter ego, Merry-Andrew the Limner, who populates the works  along with his faithful horse. Wavering lines make up these figures,  conveying the illusion of an uncertain grasp on  what are in fact masterful descriptions. The ground and landscape are densely woven ink marks.  As you look more closely, tiny figures emerge. Andrew and his horse are vast in relation to these earth-people. Also on display is Hall’s Dobell Drawing Prize piece from last year, a  fabulous work which reminds me of El Greco.











Stephen Hall, The eternal battle, finalist in last year’s Dobell Drawing Prize at AGNSW.