I went to see the 2009 Metro Art Award exhibition at Metro Gallery in Armadale. It is an exhibition that has some of the best painters under 35 and given the age of the entrants this exhibition is an indication of the future of painting. And the quality of the paintings in this exhibition is magnificent. I had seen some of the entries in the last year and I knew some of the artists (Stephen Giblett and Grant Nimmo were both involved with the gallery, No Vacancy, where I had my last exhibition).
Most of the paintings in the exhibition are self-portraits, tromp l’oeil and dark images and some of the best paintings combining all three elements. Gold Coast artist Victoria Riechelt’s “Self Portrait – A Stack Of Books Crowded In A Bookshelf” was the People’s Choice winner. It is a grid of a bookcase containing Riechelt’s books. If we are what we have read then this is a portrait of Riechelt including many art/text references and “French Phrases for Dummies”,
There were so many self-portraits: Dane Lovett (highly commended), Julian Smith, and Michael Brennan’s “Me at the (Circle, Triangles & Squares)”. Michael Brennan’s triptych depicts his residence in Tokyo. Katherine Edney “Self Portrait (Time & Time Again)” has four images of her hands holding fabric gesturing towards the almost as many tromp l’oeil paintings.
Peter Tankey’s “Gregor’s Metamorphis” is the contents of a recycling bin: bottles, cans and boxes. The pile of beautiful, glistening objects is a treasure trove in a Kafkaesque world. Tully Moore’s diptych “Double Debris” plays with tromp l’oeil painting depicting paper and masking-tape. Stevan Jacks’s painting “Family Tree” is like a proverb: origami birds playing with matches against a slick dark background.
And so many dark scenes, obscure uncertain landscapes and images. The gathering darkness is evident in Vincent Fantauzzo’s scene “Out of the Dark” has two women in the white dresses at the edge of a suggested grave. The paintings of Grant Nimmo’s and Andre Piguet are full of black paint. Is the darkness in these paintings a sense of mystery or a desire for obscurity?
There is an odd kind allegory or moral voice in many of the paintings, not a pedantic Victorian depiction of virtue and vices, but a subjective and introspective reflection. Stephen Giblett’s painting “Walk On By” contains an allegory on gossip in a seaside setting typical of Giblett’s paintings. In the background the Norman Rockwell style images of the man and woman on the beach shack doors along with the rowboat named ‘gossip’. What is there left to say about the sexy girl in a swimsuit in the foreground? Likewise in Julian Meager’s “Aon (Gimmie a Chance)”, a portrait of a tattoo torso with the tattoo slogan on his chest, appeals for a chance not to be judged on appearances. Are these paintings speaking about the judging of the exhibition and the rush to judgment in the contemporary life.
There were only two abstract paintings by Fiona Halse and Ry David Bradley. The winner was, of course, nothing like the majority of the exhibition a small, pale, monotone watercolor of men praying at Mecca Our Plastic Everything is Broken by Jackson Slattery.