Never a Wrong Time for Fiona Hall

“Time is marching on, but we seem to be going the other way”
Fiona Hall

IMG_3837 IMG_3836 IMG_3850 Fiona Hall was a very early influence on the way I thought about art.  I had first seen her work “Dead in the Water” at the Art Gallery of NSW more than 15 years ago in a group exhibition and can’t recall the theme of the exhibition. She had drilled small holes in plastic piping and suspended them in a glass tank. I was impressed with the way she was able to get her message across and the skill in presentation. She was selected to represent Australia in the 2015 Venice Biennale and the show, Wrong Way Time, was displayed at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra along with her earlier works in the NGA collection.



The exhibition reminded me of her early exquisite drawings over bank notes that had made me first explore the qualities of gouache. Her ability ranges from the attention to the minutae to large sculptural installations such as Folly for Mrs Macquarie.

The trip to the gallery reminded me of much I drew from her work and the idea of always experimenting with materials. The play may not come to fruition but there is never a wrong way.

IMG_3843 IMG_3845 IMG_3846



I’d Rather Go by Motherwell than a Stairwell…

“The wind carried away the cottonwool

At five in the afternoon.

And the oxide scattered crystal and nickel

At five in the afternoon”.  Garcia Lorca: Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias.

Motherwell 1

Burning elegy artists proof

Canberra in winter is bitingly cold, a stark blue sky and cool grey concrete of the National Gallery seems like a world away from Spain and New York but the last couple of days I’ve felt the intensity of bullfights and the pain in painting.



photo(91)Robert Motherwell : At Five in the Afternoon currently at the National Gallery is a selection of prints from the Gallery’s collection and the curator Jane Kinsman gave a talk and some insight into Motherwells practice of printmaking.  The works spread across three rooms were brilliantly curated and each work was fabulous but a selection of small lithographs were simple and exquisite and captured the same emotions of the larger striking painterly works.

Lament for Lorca:

Lament for Lorca:


Some of the larger prints utilising graphics from cigarette packets reinforced that peculiar artist habit of finding inspiration in the mundane.  I remember as a child enamoured with the cigarette packets we used to sell in the boat hire business, Camel and Fiesta were my favourites but later I photographed old packets a friend had in their scrapbook for painted works not realising Motherwell too was drawn by the colour and shape.  Up until stumbling across John’s curious arty collection, I had tried to draw a camel packet from memory.


Motherwell: Hermitage

Motherwell: Hermitage

John's cigarette scrapbookMotherwell’s prints incorporating imagery and my painted works, now capture a lost period.  Smoking was acceptable and a filthy dangerous habit that I (for a short time) and Motherwell embraced.  Packets were bright and engaging. Cigarette packaging in Australia is now a dark, dull, khaki green and the only images gangrenous limbs and health warnings.  And I guess like any image, even cancerous body parts and minimalist packaging will provide some sort of inspiration for other artists down the line.




After the talk, we hit the wine and felt glad Motherwell had chosen drinking and painting over suicide. We are so much richer for his work and his immersion in the poetry of Lorca. We went back again the next day for another hit before heading home, did a swing by the Indigenous and Australian gallery and we had a choice – down the stairs or back through the exhibition?



Peter Stuyvesant

Detail from my Peter Stuyvesant painting

Without Guston

Philip Guston work at SFMOMASo far I have explored the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra room by room.  My last blog, in the End of the Y I left out  one very important painting. It was Philip Guston’s Prospect.


I couldn’t wait to get to New York, home of the expressionists but Philip Guston was not on my wish list of art heroes like De Kooning and Diebenkorn.  I’d always been drawn to his work but it wasn’t until I saw his early works en masse that I was hit hard by the oily Guston stick.  Paintings on the wall never compare to books.  This painting and all I saw of Gustons were fresh, like he painted them and left the room for a break and he would be back soon.  It was also the area he left surrounding the push and pull of paint.

It was difficult for others to understand why he left this abstractionist style behind but in the book Night Studio by his daughter Musa Mayer it was what he wanted to do, to take himself out of what was expected by him.  So I was pretty impressed by the inclusion of this work of his in the abstract expressionist group. Books just don’t cut it, you have to see the paint strokes.   Somewhere in a sketchbook I have made a scribbled note of which painting the one above was but I do know it was a super close up of a work in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Philip Guston Prospects 1964The work here is entitled Prospects dated 1964.

The Yellow One

“I always seem to be wrapped up in the melodrama of vulgarity.”*

Normally a trip to the National Gallery in Canberra (a couple of hours drive) involves me standing in front of De Koonings Woman V for an inordinate amount of time. Studying the colour, the way the paint is laid, where it is scraped, the bones of the work. I find it difficult to move away and would like it if they moved the bench away from the front of Blue Poles so that I could have a seat.  For the Abstract Expressionism exhibition my old fave has been moved and sits entwined with other works and partially obscured by an enormous yellow painting.  Moving from “the big room” where Morris Louis pre’veiled’ Rothko gently lures you through, De Kooning sets your heart racing and them BAM! Yellow! The work above here by David Seery. So despite the Rothko, De Koonings and Gorkys I call this the yellow room, there’s no mistaking it.

* De Kooning: Collected Writings

Rothko #20Rothko MultiformRothko UntitledDe Kooning Two Figures in LandscapeDe Kooning July 4thDe Kooning Woman V (MY WOMAN FIVE!!)De Kooning Untitled (figure in landscape)Gorky Untitled 1944Gorky Plumage Landscape

A Surreal Experience in Abstraction

Canberra is a funny place at the best of times. Surreal I would say.
Driving in yesterday to prepare for the symposium on Abstract Expressionists I pulled into the traffic behind a smick minimalist Lexus with HAWKE as the number plate.
Bob HAWKE, former Prime Minister was a beer drinking Labour legend- Pollock would have liked him in his early days.
I think the abstract expressionists would have been more at home in Sydney, it’s about the space.
Maybe Canberra is hard edge abstraction- clean lines, crisp edges. Today there is a cold crispness to the light against concrete edges here.
Today I will be lost amongst the abstract expressionists at the National Gallery. At last.


Roadtrip between the Old and New

Last weekend it was the new MCA on Sydney Harbour, all white and glittering, smick and slick.

This weekend was the National Gallery Canberra, all orange and autumnal, crackling underfoot, old and gold.

They are about  280 kms in difference but as they say, a world away, a pack of Jelly Belly Jellybeans, mandarins and a couple of Freakonomics podcasts.

I enjoyed the Renaissance, I was desperate to see Titian and Raphael but was more impressed with the early gothic painters and some of the lesser known. Of course Titians’ composition was important – Aida Tomescu had shared her passion of his structure that influences her work- the old meets the new. There was one small Titian painting and there would have to be more to make any sort of lasting impact on me.Fortunately composition can be studied in books and on-line but in the flesh it is so much more important about the quality of the paint.

This is why I felt drawn more towards the Gothic art, small tightly fascinating work, textural and smoothed, glistening and flat.  It’s the sort of art that has always held a fascination for me, perhaps it may be the flattened areas compositionally that has proven intriguing. I did reference this art in a previous work of mine for the Meroogal Womens Art Prize but I am also fascinated by the small Persian paintings that have the same appeal.

Once again the NGA had the drama of deep dark colours but that’s whole other freakonomic blog!

By the way thanks Artshub for the tickets that I won – almost as good as the years supply of Tim Tams I won a while back.

Bears in my Storage Shed.

Despite the rain I was determined to clear paintings out of the storage shed. The crud at the bottom of the roller door was an indication of what lay inside.  Moving so often combined with a tad of forgetfulness (or youthful loss of brain cells) has it’s advantages, you forget what you paint.  My idea was to take as many paintings as possible in the wagon, take them off the stretchers and be ruthless as possible and roll the rest. I grabbed a pile of small ones first, about a dozen. Our painting teacher said it was a ratio of about 1 in 10 to get a decent painting. Damn! I’d forgotten about that one. In amongst that dozen there was a jewel, a small 10 x 10 canvas, I tried to place where I was at when I painted it.

I packed the rest, as many as I could without delving too far back in the storage unit where there was obviously signs of scurrying. Driving home about half an hour away gave me time to mull it over. Colours are always a way of me connecting to a place. Then it came to me, it was Bungendore – the Bungendore Bears, I loved these works. I especially loved the photos. I remember being mittened-up sketching in the car with Anne-Marie outside the Bungendore Motel – we were pondering the possibility of it being  a hot bed of sexual encounters for nearby Canberran politicians during the day. The price was right, the location far enough away. Painted in bright yellow $60 a night on the blue bin wheeled out on the kerb.

So after all that agonising about what to keep and how to cull, I ended up with more to work with, an idea unfinished, another excuse to travel and paint.

Oh, and more photos for the blog.

Fred, Fluff and a Maggotty Blue Tongue

Jane has always said any art trip with me is an adventure, this one didn’t disappoint.  Canberra is a surreal experience in itself but when we pulled up at the National Gallery we didn’t expect fluff snow. We looked skyward at Neil Dawson’s suspended sculpture at stark blue sky and it was snowing fluff with no obvious signs of where it was coming from. The foyer was a-whisp with soft white fluffy balls against cold concrete. Nature was having it’s way with those harsh surfaces.  Although we had planned to take in Fred Williams first, the new aboriginal exhibits drew us in, couldn’t help ourselves.

I can’t help but feel like the Fred Williams exhibition, although I had waited expectantly to be struck with inspiration, I found it to be like a new pair of binoculars- close-in, adjust out, focus, blink – try and get a perfected view. I can’t help but admire his handling of paint but I felt I came away with a series of dots and dashes a bit like a landscape morse code.  I was missing the pink gouache landscapes I was hunting for.

The sculpture garden however is remarkable and with the misty fog sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya  combined with grassy slopes snowed on by what we discovered to be a flowering type of gum. I couldn’t help but roll a wad and tuck it into Rodin’s clenched-ass of Jean .   Where else could you do this?

We ended the great day by meeting up in Goulburn Bakery to grab arvo tea, instead as we left for the car park- a blue tongue lizard wandered out of the garden, tail-less , terribly injured. Carla dropped instantly, grabbed it with carefully reptile-trained hands and exclaimed “I’ve got just the thing for him in my boot” Did the lizard know she was a reptile-handler with WIRES ? (an injured wildlife service)  Had he waited there all day until we were done in Canberra? Was he on his way to her house anyhow? Last report Carla had removed lot’s of maggots, injected her with antibiotics but it was all too late. I’m sorry to say the poor lizard didn’t make it but at least went peacefully.

All in all a great weekend, beautiful food, great art, amazing nature and dead lizards.

Fred, Clifford Possum & The You Yangs

Old Mans Love Story Clifford Possum

It’s not long til the Fred Williams show at The National Gallery of Australia. I’ve been waiting. This SMH article today made me even more determined to get there. To have an indigenous artist connect with your work, really means that you have captured the landscape. You’ve done it right. Especially Clifford Possum. I hope it’s not one of those moments you gear up for, building expectations, thinking it will have a miraculous impact on the way you work only to find you come away with something completely different. This happened on the trip to New York – I was expecting to be enlightened by De Koonings en masse, instead I enlightened by just a few Philip Gustons. Either way the trip to Canberra NGA in winter to breathe in that cold air and walk on crisp leaves will always motivate me – after Aida Tomescu’s talk maybe I’ll try to spend a little longer with Cezanne and Titian rather than Tuckson and De Kooning.

Pilbara Fred Williams



Where has all the white paint gone?

Someone said at art school -I can’t remember who, that Lucian Freud bought all the stock of flake white paint left in the world. Was this another urban art myth, like never use black? Was it the secret stock of flake white paint that made his bodies voluptuous? I’ve only ever seen this painting of his in the flesh After Cezanne at Canberra NGA – the cut-off piece was more of a distraction to the quality of his surface.

I think all artists become obsessive about their palettes – I know I became so distressed when Archival discontinued their range of zinc white -I mixed, manipulated, mumbled obscenities and mutilated the last canister until nothing was left. I realised that life goes on, there is always another white, another way. Perhaps sadly, Lucien had exhausted his stocks of flake white at 88. At some point we all stop painting despite our stash. Cheers Lucien Freud.