Bright Lights, Big Names and Ordinary Lives

Vivid2-croppedThe bright lights of Sydney’s Vivid festival drew moths to flaming landmarks around the city. It is spectacular, the harbour dark and cold brought to life reflecting the hyper flickering.  The Museum of Contemporary Art was perfectly packaged in light on the outside by Gemma Smith and the Spinifex Group. Inside two major exhibitions made the lights seem frivolous somehow.

Exhuming Gluttony: Another Requiem 2011

Exhuming Gluttony: Another Requiem 2011

The first show was Wangechi Mutu, an American based Kenyan artist whose work felt dark and heavy behind the facade of lights. A reminder that not all the world is beautiful.

The other show was Jeff Wall: Photographs. This was a remarkable exhibition and once again proves that visiting a gallery with no specific purpose can sometimes be for the best.  I don’t know a lot about photography but was curious to find out more from his work. There was an overriding feeling for me that I could use these works as a basis for a painting, especially so with Diagonal Composition. A simple photo but so right in all aspects.  It reminded me of photographs I have taken prior to developing a painting, the subject almost irrelevant and the focus more about the shapes within that area and how or whether the colour could be used at all.

One of my photos for Garage Sale series.

One of my photos for Garage Sale series.

Study for a Sudden Gust of Wind

Study for a Sudden Gust of Wind

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai).  







His larger  highly staged works such as After the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) feel effortless.  Once again the lights outside seemed a flash outside of reality compared to the world of Jeff Wall.

Diagonal Composition 1993

Diagonal Composition 1993


That Messy Abstractionist Drawer

Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell

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

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.

Fairweather, All Dry No Rain

Ian Fairweather: War and Peace 1959

Ian Fairweather: War and Peace 1959

IMG_0632 IMG_0687 IMG_0688 Painting (detail) 1961Yes, I know Fairweather is an important artist in Australian abstraction.  Yes, I do like his work. Yes, I would go out of my way to see an exhibition of his work…and I did. But he has never been one of my great influences, not on the list of  draw-card artists.  So I was curious whether a roomful of works might  change my view of his oeuvre. It did.

Queensland Art Gallery was host to an exhibition by Ian Fairweather – Late Works 1953-1974. My trip to Brisbane was primarily to see this exhibition it was just a bonus that the APT7 was on at the same time. Following the vibrancy and colour of the Asia Pacific Triennial at first the paintings seemed flat and muted. The longer I looked the more subtle they became.

A lot of Fairweather’s works were painted on cardboard. His gallery would send canvas or linen to his remote home on Bribie Island and he would use the canvas on his make-shift home and paint on the cardboard it arrived in.  I wonder how different these works would be on canvas.

Their appeal to me has always been the dryness of the paint. There was also a letter from an art supplier giving Fairweather student paints to trial. Perhaps the intensity of pigment also is an added attraction. I love colour but these muted earthy colours exaggerate the feel of the arid surfaces.

I came away feeling greater admiration for his work. I feel I understand his work better, I think I was caught up in his fascinating personal story but seeing his works all together changed the focus rightfully back to his painting.


It has made me feel like squeezing the wet from the oil maybe that’s why I love gouache, that opaque dryness.

Ian Fairweather: Composition I 1961

Ian Fairweather: Composition I 1961

Photo: Hut (detail) by Robert Walker 1966 Fairweathers home on Bribie Island Qld

Photo: Hut (detail) by Robert Walker 1966 Fairweathers home on Bribie Island QED

Painted Bacon

Art Gallery of NSW

Art Gallery of NSW

I was in the zone. That magic moment when you are deep within the work in front of you. I hadn’t expected that of Bacon.  The Art Gallery of New South Wales luckily could fit the letters of his name nicely between the columns and I like that drama of a new exhibition. I love the crossing directly in front of the gallery and when I stepped out alone, no cars, no crowds and mounted the stairs I had that inkling it was to be wonderful.

Francis Bacon Study of Human Figure after Muybridge

Study from the Human Body after Muybridge 1988 Francis Bacon

I had done my homework: read a little, been to an Anthony Bond (director of International art  AGNSW) talk weeks before, downloaded an app and was ready to take what Francis Bacon could dish up.  Like Bacon when I first saw Muybridge’s work I felt compelled to work from his studies of the human form so going in, I wanted to see  that connection.

I had just been to the APT7 in Brisbane and coming down from that artphoria and I wasn’t prepared to be scooped up once more. This time it was good old-fashioned use of paint and there was something Fred Williams-like in large flat expanses of pure thin colour and small slashes of sculptured coloured marks, in Bacon’s case fleshy pinks and whitish greys. His influence on Whiteley was blindingly obvious and I too became absorbed. I felt his fascination with Muybridge and Russian film the The Battleship Potemkin. But it was in Triptych 1987 where his intense brilliant orange ground captured the intensity of Frederico Lorca’s words in “Lament for Ignazio Sanchez Mejias” a matador’s death that gave a clue to depth and passion of his work.

When the bull ring was covered with iodine at five in the afternoon

Death laid eggs in the wound at five in the afternoon

Francis Bacon Dog

Untitled (dog) c1967 Francis Bacon

A great exhibition and one that I have definitely learnt from.  I feel the need to re-visit some of my earlier works on Muybridge and perhaps begin to introduce colour and scale and move on from the smaller studies of individual plates.

Plate 13 from Muybridge Studies

Plate 13 from Muybridge Studies

We All Like Robert Juniper…

Ferns & Flowers 1968 Robert JuniperI stumbled on the news that Australian artist Robert Juniper had died just before Christmas on the 21st December 2012. Being a Western Australian artist we unfortunately didn’t get to see much of his work over this side of the island.

I was saddened and wanted to share my admiration of his work. I had blogged about him previously in “No, He’s Not the Black Wiggle.”

Robert Juniper Desert Edge 1961I copied this work from Australian Painting Today an old and treasured book and it taught me a lot in early painting days about colour. My teacher had commented, “Robert Juniper, we all love Robert Juniper at some stage…”

Post Christmas Colour

The Xmas PaintingEach Christmas gets curiouser and curiouser. This year was shared with my painter friend, Jane.  Rather than a traditional Christmas, we ate BBQ sausage sandwiches and painted and drank.  Trying to get back into some semblance of order post-Christmas and cleaning up the studio a tad, I decided to show my daughter my Christmas painting (as I had dubbed it).

Declaring to her “This is my Xmas painting.” I realised I had painted it primarily red and green. Maybe the result of too many Xmas mojitos, the heat and lamb and rosemary sausages but I can’t remember the original subject. Jane’s subject was the lake where we had walked the day before and I’m guessing mine had also originated from the same area. I do remember referring to a sketchbook. But the colours certainly aren’t relevant.

WindangI had also lost a day in the midst of a week and fortunately collected my daughter from the airport on the right day (just!). So now I’m getting back into order, righting the chaos and so this painting is now half done, red and green, unwrapped but needs to be finished. I just don’t know what I’m finishing.



The Lake?

The Light and Dark

My last post was the third room of the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the National Gallery Australia.  Like a cartoon story of a superhero, I had left you in that room, waiting. The next painting was by Lee Krasner Combat 1965 and I just couldn’t tackle that painting in a couple of words. All pink and orange and light, open and crisp and on the opposite wall Cool White painted in 1959 and separating those opposite ends is Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles and Totem Lesson 2.

Cool White was painted by Krasner after the death of Jackson Pollock and her mother. The muted colours were the result of painting in the dark, suffering insomnia.  She chose to limit colour that was better tackled in the daylight.

I guess I was impressed with the difference in these works knowing our paintings are victims of circumstance.

Big Names, Big Boots, Small Paintings

At the Abstract Expressionism Symposium this was certainly the drawcard room.  The big names Pollock and Krasner dominate this room and Blue Poles is certainly hard to ignore but my two favourite works were…no! they were….no! Damn. I can’t pick. Each work was important as the next. Maybe after loading these works I can make a more informed decision.

 I have put the majority of works in this room on this post but I stopped. The last work a collage by Lee Krasner felt enough for now, the next two walls were works that deserved a separate post. And I didn’t make up my mind about the best work after all, but I’m leaning towards Hans Hofmann, it feels very important spatially to me. I think I have learnt in the last few posts more about Hofmanns work than I expected and where I thought it was about the colour it turns out to be about the space. I love seeing artists in unexpected ways.

Art Sux

This is my pencil-case. Art Sux. Well it does. Saturday was sunny, a day off and what did I do? Back to see an exhibition I had already seen, what 3 times? Blogged about before….I don’t know what I expect, for it to rub off on me? make me brilliant? more informed? more intelligent?

Then after swearing “no more art, enough!”. I come up with another concept. Maybe I can collect every map of every gallery I go to and eventually make an artwork from that. So now I have a folder and have scanned the images and have then collaged them into a book.  As if I don’t have enough to do.

So after spending a sunny afternoon inside the same exhibition, did I waste yet another day on art? Sure of course. It was a wonderful waste of a day and this time I mapped a plan of the exhibition so I can recreate it and relive it til I see it again and waste even more time.

The Bare Bones of Winter

I smelt John R Walker’s paintings before I ever saw them.  I have a feeling it was the Wynne and whatever else was there that year was eclipsed by his work for me.  Luscious, precarious oil seemingly hanging from the canvas.  Later at a group show in Hazelhurst Gallery I saw his gouaches and scribbled in my sketchbook “JR Walkers Bare bones of a painting.”, a reminder to myself to consider my subject before being seduced by the oil.

Little did I think I would be at Bundanon in a studio adjoining where JR Walker had given thanks to Arthur Boyd in paint.  When given access to the wonderful Boyd archives, I had carefully slid a painting out to reveal Gary’s (the caretaker and great guy) thonged feet and lower limbs akin to a great white fleshy twisted gum left by Walker.

Years later I still find his work gives me the same thrill. This current exhibition at Utopia Gallery: Winter in the Fire Forest feels like his gouache and oil have collided. The bare bones are now the oils. His titles indicate that his East has met West and there is definitely a paring down to the essence of landscape and the familiarity of the subject.  Small delicate twists of lavenderish oil over grey-green feel tenuous but confident. I imagined myself back in Braidwood, in the landscape, back in Bundanon by the Shoalhaven a grey green wash of oily history in paint.