“Once or twice in my student days I was known to say, de Kooning, can you please leave my studio now!” Ann Thomson Monograph 2012.
I think at some point in art school we were discussing art made for living rooms. I had bought a small painting and it didn’t matter where it was hung, it worked. It was a good painting. The same applies for Ann Thomson. Her exhibition in the Drill Hall at ANU last year had the same affect on me as the one in the National Art School in Sydney. Her work is fabulous. This exhibition was titled Ann Thomson & Contemporaries so it had even more bang for the buck. The exhibition was spread over two floors of the magnificent old National Art School.
The lower level comprising teachers and contemporaries gave a clue as to the vibe of art during her time as a student and teacher and provided an understanding of the strength in her work. Moving upstairs, the old building provided a lofty open space large enough to take her slashes of paint and freedom of marks.
The bombardment of information through internet sources has meant that I hear about more and more artists that I like. “Great!” You might say. I’m not so sure. My current reading material is an essay by Elaine De Kooning on the artist Earl Kerkham and I had earlier read an article on American abstractionist Joan Mitchell. I really didn’t know about these artists and rather than just a name printed in black and white, I wanted to see their works, give them time and recognition.
I was really enamoured with Joan Mitchells work and was surprised that I had not discovered her work earlier. I don’t know if it was a case of seeing and forgetting or never looking. How many others have escaped me?
Earl Kerkham Head 1962
The trouble is there are so many artists out there past and present and the more time spent looking means less time spent doing. I admire artists who are single-minded and focus on one or maybe two artists and can develop their own work as a result. I thought I could do that and if I really had to choose, I could only narrow it to three – De Kooning, Giacometti and Antony Gormley.
But what happens to all the others I discard to focus on the big 3? Do I chuck them all into the second drawer that is my head and rummage through it when I’m working on a painting or series? That scares me, I know what that drawer is like and there is always a fabulous instrument that lurks at the bottom, sharp and edgy and when you go in to retrieve it you could possibly be hurt or come out with something you really can’t use.
My Lake series is bubbling and I am looking at artists that I think might be relevant to what I need – Puccini, Arthur Boyd, Rembrandt and Elisabeth Cummings are in the pot. And if I could give them a stir with the tool at the bottom of the drawer it would be Rauschenberg.
Hans Hofmann’s painting is in the middle room in the Abstract Expressionism Exhibition at the National Gallery Canberra. I think if the room was full of the artists themselves, Pollock, De Kooning, Motherwell, you know -all of them, it’s Hans Hofmann I’d want to sit with. Each time you study a great New York painter he has some connection, a thread of influence. My painting teacher, Barbara Hilder had that same effect on a whole group of south coast artists. Her words echo Hofmann “push and pull”. Passmore had the same effect on early Australian abstractionists.
Clyfford Still’s work is reminiscent of our indigenous artist Sally Gabori’s My Grandfathers Country and Watkins work Anniversary produced in 1973 shows a continuum of work through the years.
“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.
“Louis’ Veils was to see a smoothing out of experience, an eradication of the very knottedness that pulled the viewer in…” This phrase by Jed Perl in New Art City referred to the departure of the knottedness of De Kooning works. I called this the big room. There is no publication for this exhibition Abstract Expressionism at the National Gallery of Australia but there is information online.
I like the layout and links between artists in each room so this is how the exhibition appears room by room. The paintings are immense. All I can say is the size of these works and the feeling when you are alone in the room with them is amazing*. Morris Louis’ veil paintings wash over you with their space and the acknowledgement of Helen Frankenthaler as an influence is there on the wall without words. Standing looking up at Jules Olitski is like looking into a blood red space and I felt I might, devoid of gravity, slowly floated upward.
*Louis’ Beta Nu painting is almost 3 metres high by 7 metres wide.
All doubts left when I wandered into this exhibition. I felt a sense of belonging, I was with my people, my painters. I was intimidated, thinking maybe I didn’t belong, that the discussions were above my level of understanding. I could feel the PhD’s in the room like a blast of heat from the urn at morning registration.
I took my seat in the symposium Fairfax Theatre, took out my little sketch book for the odd notes and when Richard Shiff began, my insecurities melted like a De Kooning woman.
As the bulk of people meandered to the grazing room for lunch, I took the opportunity to seek out my De Kooning (Woman V) only to find the room had been transformed into the Abstract Expressionism Exhibition and I was there alone. I was drawn to the end room to find a huge tonal Guston and a work by Peter Upward that left me gobsmacked.
I can’t begin to think how this will inform my work, whether the words of Dr Michael Hill or the analogy of Rothko and the Great Barrier Reef from Michael Leja will impact or whether it’s the unsaid hanging on the walls. As Richard Shiff said – art nestled in silence.
My car is white. I think if I had a choice I might paint it green, lime green. Lately cars have been getting less and less colourful. This quiz is based on some BMW’s that have been given a coat by some major artists. Ready to give it a spin? Put yourself into gear and put you fingers to the metal. See if you can match the artist to the car.
I would say that BMW may just supply the artist with a car but I’m afraid there are no prizes in this game except for the absolute glory of getting past the winning flag. Give it a try and click here
After the quiz you can click on this link and see how you fared.
Sydney is alive with Elisabeth pink. Luminous Landscapes at the SH Ervin and Monotypes at King St on William. Her monotypes are the skeletons ,the bare bones of her work. We get to see her paintings in a state of undress. As a celebration I have edited this post that I originally wrote a long time ago. It goes like this……..
My first Elisabeth Cummings was a huge pink job. I walked into an exhibition of works held by the Shoalhaven City Council; the odd local landmarks, a few portraits and then wham! The Wedderburn Bush. A Cummings completed in the 70’s. Not only was I drawn by the size and colour, it was the clarity of the bush that I had seen in Fred Williams. A simplicity that captured the essence- Whiteley called it Quiditass.
Since then I have delved further looking for her influences in the effort to understand what I want– try and follow the path in the hope that the paint comes off and I find her primer- what has driven her to that point. It turned out to be not a path but a bit of crazy paving. One artist led to the next –Whisson, Fairweather, Bonnard & Cezanne until I’m back where I started. Cumming’s Arakoola Landscape at the AGNSW has allowed me to study the technical process in the same way I’ve looked at De Kooning, Olsen and Tony Tuckson at the NGA. Studying slashes of thick seemingly unpredicted colour over delicately built glazes. Unexpected marks in response to an observation. I feel that there is an advantage being a regional artist, the limited exposure to these important artists means that I have to work harder at finding my own way through paint. My influences are my own environment and the subject at hand. My paintings are the result of intuition and bravery and willingness to accept a loss. By studying Cumming’s works I will still never know whether that shard of Bonnardish colour was a confident knowledgable action or an instinctive reaction.
The results are in! Check out the answers for How About an Art Quiz. There is also still time for the second quiz Who Painted This for all those who haven’t tried their luck. It’s multiple choice give it a shot!
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.