Sunday, May 16, 2010


Disappearing Perspective Oil on linen 30 x 30 cm

During the last week I spent 2 days in Sydney visiting the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes' exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, plus also seeing some of the first days of the Sydney Biennale at the Museum of Contemporary Art [MCA], Cockatoo Island and the Botanic Gardens. I did not get to see the Biennale exhibits at the other feet had already diengaged from my legs by the last remaining hours of my stay in Sydney. It is exhausting looking at art!

I will admit to not getting much joy from the Archibald Prize exhibition. The fact that the popularity of the exhibition brings multitudes of people, including school groups, to the gallery means that the viewer is forced to either view the paintings at close proximity and/or with constant obstruction. I felt many of the paintings just did not work when viewed up close, yet a few of them did work when I was able to get a longer distance view. But, for me at least, a good painting does need to 'say' something at both close and far distance.    

The Wynne Prize exhibition brought me more joy. The painting I reacted to with an immediate sense of  being in the portrayed environment was John R Walker's Plum Tree Backyard.  This painting captured the sense of warmness and light of a late Spring, early Summer Australian backyard. I could feel and smell the heat and hear the insects, yet this painting did not rely on any kind of alientating realism which seems to be the current visual mantra.

The Sulman Prize exhibition was quite a mixture to say the least. The work I responded to with a sense of wonder was Paul Sellwood's Sacred Play. This work was made from sheet metal with some kind of surface treatment. When I first glimpsed it out of the corner of my eye I thought it was a free standing 3d sculpure, but in fact, it was a flat wall piece which gave the impression of bulky monumantality. Even in the crowded space of the gallery Sellwood's artwork compelled a stillness, which evoked a sense of the sacred.

The Colour Of Knowledge Oil on linen 62 x 82 cm

The theme for the 2010 Sydney Biennale is The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age. There were a number of artworks which took and held my attention at the MCA. These included NZ artist Shane Cotton's three large paintings. I was particularly drawn into 'The Hanging Sky' which enticed  my eyes to dance across and into the image which included depictions of Maori heads, birds and leaves set against a gloriously painted dramatic dark sky. Whilst Cotton clearly makes commentary on issues around Maori history, the actual painting involved the viewer in an almost physical experience of magnitude and intimacy...which I would say dealt with concepts of distance on more than one level.

Hanging beside the Cotton paintings were paintings by South African artist Penny Siopis. They grabbed my attention when I entered the large gallery they were hanging in. In fact, I had a battle within myself as to whether I'd look at the Cotton paintings first or to look at the paintings beside them. I immediately recognised Cotton's work as I have seen it many times before, but the Siopis paintings were unknown to me. Up close her paintings did not disappoint. She combines paint and glue to create images of vulnerability, which the viewer sees more clearly once a close examination of forms reveal themselves. The images grow in magnitude as the viewer discerns the details. In this way the viewer almost feels complicit in the acts of oppression which are ultimately discovered. There is a fight between admiring the seductive and almost erotic line, shape and colour employed by Siopis and her choice of subject matter.

I just loved the 9 drawings on layers of drafting flim by Hong Kong artist Angela Su. Her drawings looked like anatomical studies of the internal human reproductive system, but the viewer could not be quite sure as she had included botanical shapes, unidentifiable anatomical looking additions etc. The images, I felt, were certainly about life. One of them depicted a tree-of-life with miniature drawings of her larger ones 'hanging' from the branches. I thought Su's work was one of the few that had overcome a dependency on depicting human fraility and suffering in all its guises to 'talk' about survival. Whilst her drawings hinted at the potential for mutation and disease, I felt this was achieved in a way which gave the viewer a choice. So, for me, her drawings were truly about survival, because there seemd to be no reliance on regurgitating, and thus holding onto, despair, disaster, mayhem, debauchery, death, destruction. In a way, she had let all of this go...thus it existed in absentia...surely 'letting go' is true survival...and in fact a true 'distancing'?

American artist, Angela Ellsworth's installation Seer Bonnets: A Continuing Offense consisted of women's bonnets made from pearl tipped corsage pins. The installation was amazing in its initial beauty which immediately draws the viewer to examine the work more closely. Once the viewer realises that the pins' sharp ends are visible inside the bonnets, the idea of beauty seems almost guilt laden. How can one think this array of bonnets is beautiful when the pins evoke sinister commentary on the history of women's submission, abuse, inequality and so on? I really liked and felt the 'distance' in Ellsworth's work.

Braid Oil on board 90 x 60 cm

So, that's just some of the art I saw in Sydney. Obviously there was a lot more, but I've written about the ones I am still thinking about!


My small exhibition PRESENCE opens on Thursday night 20 May 6-8 pm @ Maleny's Upfront Club, 31 Maple St, Maleny.

The top two paintings will be in the exhibition. Disappearing Perspective reflects my unfolding thoughts on the potential potency in collapsing traditional notions of perspective ie: points of view. For me, the 21st century needs to be a time where people can develop skills of 'seeing' multiple perspective simultaneously. I believe this is a matter of survival. The ability to 'see' multiple perspectives simultaneously needs a name that differentiates it from 'perspective'. 

The Colour of Knowledge looks at the idea of knowledge being colour which cascaded throught the world when Adam and Eve took from the 'tree-of-knowledge'. I 'see' this as a way to examine the dualities which seemingly exist. I have written about this painting's the link.

The third painting is a self portrait. Yep, the back of my head with my long plait, which I identify with more than my face!


1 comment:

Audubon Ron said...

Yes, I agree, survival.