The AGNSW series Site Specific: The power of place continues. Each lecturer has a different style, and has interpreted the brief differently. Sometimes the connection of artist and place is at the core of their work – for example Constable: Flatford Mill and the River Stour as discussed by Lorraine Kypiotis. Constable’s images of the Stour are deeply felt, emotion invested in each scene, not idealised and not confirming to the academic hierarchy of the day. Kypiotis is an entertaining speaker, throwing herself into every subject she undertakes.
Deborah Edwards speaking on John Olsen: the littoral and the void; A journey into the ‘you beaut’ country gave the perspective of a curator (the exhibition John Olsen:the you beaut country had just opened at AGNSW). Edwards gave a lucid account of Olsen’s influences, development, and place in Australian art. Everywhere in Australia is Olsen’s place, and he responds with imagination and emotion.
During the lecture my mind was playing with ideas with wire and literal space. Energetic line, surrounding the void… I need to return to this, perhaps develop a brief and respond in my own work.
Vitalism was mentioned in the lecture, and by chance in my current reading, Passages in modern sculpture by Rosalind Krauss, I’d just reached a section discussing the influence of vitalism in the work of Jean Arp. Abstraction as a means of creating new forms, the act of creation in which the inert is given animate properties. Flux from vegetable to animal, bone to tissue, an instability or flexibility of surface, exterior disconnected from core. Ideas to explore.
Unfortunately we didn’t hear all of Dr Andrew Yip’s lecture For nation and Empire: George Lambert and İbrahim Çallı at Gallipoli. He simply ran out of time, so the complex story was unbalanced. The action at Gallipoli plays a significant part in a particular perspective on Australian national identity. Lambert’s war paintings feed into ideas of frontiers where nationhood was asserted, a field of masculine energy, the ingenuity of the bushmen, the grand coming man of the bush. These are the stories told to justify war – Over There, or here (intrepid colonial explorers – see below). Visual culture takes the facts of the moment and creates and legitimises narratives, Diggers taking part in the great landscape of history.
The balancing part would be the works of a loose group of Turkish modernist artists, themselves part of the last great Ottoman cultural project before the fall of the Empire.
I seem to be sitting back and sneering, taking cheap shots at the sacrifice of a generation. It’s the futility, the shortsightedness, the manipulation, the myth-making, the way we repeat the same mistakes…
Conrad Martens and Burragalong Cavern, presented by Dr Kathleen Davidson, focused on a particular painting by Martens from 1843, putting it in context with other works by Martens and by others in Australia at the time. Scientific accuracy and the use of drawings and painting as a form of “virtual witnessing” were part of the scientific process of validating the “discoveries” of colonial explorers (my modern mind requires the inverted commas, the caves surely known to generations before them).
ReCollection lunchtime talk: Rayner Hoff Australian Venus
I’ve written about this work before, 7-Sept-2014 and 13-Jun-2014. Deborah Beck clearly has an incredible depth of knowledge not only about Hoff but about the period of the development of the National Art School and many of the personalities of the times in the Sydney art scene.
Hoff started the sculpture in clay, then a plaster mould was made, and the actual carving was done by Julius Henschke – that last more a time management decision than any question of skill. Beck has also identified the model for the work – Beatrice Williams -although Hoff did choose to veer from the model, enhancing some curves.
Again a link to reading Krauss. Henry Moore worked directly with materials, responding to the individual qualities of the grain of wood, the striation of stone. Carving stone to match a plaster cast would have no place in this.
Susannah Fullerton: Jonathan Swift
This was one of a series of lectures on Dublin writers, presented at the State Library of NSW. Satirist, moralist, campaigner, clergyman, writer, and it seems a grumpy, irascible, opinionated and disappointed man. I only know his writing from bowdlerized versions of Gulliver’s Travels.
Opening drinks of this exhibition by Nicole Robins and Brenda Livermoe was great fun. Studio 20/17 Project Space is a small shopfront with a tiny back courtyard in North Sydney. It’s an area with great personal resonance as I went to school nearby and as a young adult lived on the same street.
Most of Brenda’s pieces explored a particular form, a vessel – a shape containing space, holding experiences. Using cast paper and a wide variety of natural materials, small groupings were both serene and lively, the variations enhancing the series. Framed works continued Brenda’s experimentation with mark-making on silhouettes of the vessel form, a strategy that I found less effective as it seems to sacrifice the volume, the essence, of her subject.Nicole presented a wide variety of works, all expressing exuberance and joy working with a profusion of mainly natural materials. I particularly liked the trumpet forms, creating clear, dynamic line, and works that were hung in free space at eye-level, claiming space and attention.
John Olsen: the you beaut country
It was interesting to see some very early work by Olsen, developing quite quickly (based on works shown, not necessarily time frames) to the energetic, linear, graffiti-like works.
What draws me in to Olsen’s work is a sense of something familiar in the shapes and colours, only partly revealed. It’s a personal, autobiographic response – I move closer, looking at details, rummaging through my memories of childhood and family holidays, looking for correspondences. I enter into a world of memory – colours and shapes and often the heat of the sun, breath of wind, laughter and squabbles.
Just a few days later was a weekend with my father, siblings, extended family, celebrating dad’s 90th birthday. There were lots of shared stories and memories, often set in different parts of country NSW, we were in the Hunter Valley, staying on a vineyard property – I was very conscious of that sense of place that is being explored in the AGNSW lecture series. Perhaps that’s why Deborah Edward’s talk on Olsen had the strongest impact on me in the sense of an expression of sharing my own personal space, that of a non-indigeneous Australian.
Returning to the exhibition, I did experience a level of difficulty in seeing so many of Olsen’s works together. There is so much energetic, even chaotic, line and incident in the works that en masse I found it, at a superficial level, repetitive. Focusing on just one or two works quickly dispells that notion, it’s more that I can’t do a quick reading – it takes time to see what is in front of me.
A few ideas already circulating – signage that described the “audacity” of Spanish encounter. Presumably because that figurative, graffiti approach was so new and different, so unlike the abstract art of the time (although typing that I think of some Pollack and de Kooning and am not so sure). There was also mention of the aerial view – making apparent the nervous system of the landscape, and its unruly and untidy nature.
Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker
I did not get on well with this exhibition at the State Library of NSW (follow that link and you’ll see a large detail of the better known version, plus a version originally chosen by Dupain for exhibition). To a white Australian of my vintage it is a very familiar image, iconic. The photo was a holiday snapshot, taken in 1937. It sounds a really interesting idea to commission 15 artists to respond to it. Unfortunately I found the exhibition disorienting and unpleasant, and didn’t stay long.
In the weeks since I’ve puzzled over that reaction. It was like walking into a barrage of light and noise and conflict. Yesterday, still reading Krauss’s book, I came to Picabia’s 1924 set for Relâche – a bank of spotlights, an arsenal, suddenly lit. Unmotivated, gratuituous, disrupting, cruel. I’m sure not what the current exhibition as a whole was aiming for, although individual works such as Khaled Sabsabi’s 229 deliberately unsettle (my word carefully chosen, given the work’s title refers to the 229 years since colonisation/settlement/invasion).
I think my problem was in the main the venue. Beautiful high galleries in the old building, polished wooden floors… reflecting light and noise, crowded by works with strident messages competing for attention. I was unable to summon the focus required by the individual works. Which is a real shame and my loss, given the questioning of our history and future, reflections on environment, multiculturalism, the symbols we choose and the stories we tell.
The welded steel/random weave begun in class with Paul Hopmeier (22-Jan-2017) is progressing slowly.Celebrations of dad’s 90th birthday included bellringing (a quarter peal with dad and his five children) and a family weekend in the Hunter Valley.
Life drawing class wrapped up. Figure sculpting was a joy (1-Apr-2017)
My reading has been mentioned a few times above. Continuing her discussion of Henry Moore, Krauss writes of the tactility of sculpture. Perhaps that is part of the attraction for me, with my history of the importance of touch and hand in textiles.
Plus all the usuals of life. And tomorrow I’m off for yet more classes 🙂