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Tag Archives: Juan Ford

Imperfection @ Trocadero

“A small show of imperfect paintings” at Trocadero Art Space is a unique and must see exhibition.

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Juan Ford, Untitled, 2007, oil and acrylic on linen

Twenty-one failed paintings is not a great advertisement for an exhibition but twenty-one failures by notable Melbourne artists is worth seeing. Curator Chris Bond has done what must have first appeared both impossible and crazy. The fantastic negotiation and diplomatic skill involved in asking artists, including perfectionists like Juan Ford or Sam Leach for failures. There is dust breeding on the glossy resin varnish of Sam Leach’s painting as it waits “under the bed to wait for the next consignment of work to the skip.”

Twenty-one rare examples of failures, and a variety of failures from abandoned efforts and bad ideas to technical failures. Good artists try not to exhibit bad art so failures rarely survive, they are either destroyed or repainting; so these are twenty-one rare paintings.

For once the artist’s statements accompanying the exhibition contained no art speak, only honest confessions about why their paintings failed and survived. There are tragic abandoned efforts, I know that Yvette Coppersmith can paint much better than that. And the even more tragic completed effort of Michael Brennan accurately reproducing two pages of text in his painting, Entry Form and CV for the 2005 Metro 5 Art Prize, for which he list 5 failures. There are technical failures: Louise Blyton managed to cut through the middle of her canvas and Lynette Smith’s badly cracked first attempt at egg tempera. And failures of composition, like Darren Wardle’s Swampland.

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Darren Wardle, Swampland, 2017, oil and acrylic on linen

“The composition is too rigid and corresponds to the limits of the stretcher so there are no dynamics in play. The work seems flat in a boring way, which isn’t helped by the background paint application having no depth. I tried to rectify this by inserting a stick, or crutch, with a shadow in the left foreground to provide a sense of dimensionality but it looks clumsy and obvious.” Wardle explains in his statement.

Every artist, art critic and art teacher in Melbourne should go to see this exhibition because it is a learning experience. The paintings demonstrate a benchmark of quality only they all fall on the wrong side of it, sometimes just shy of it. It is rare to see examples of failure exhibited yet failure is so common in painting that it is inevitable so this exhibition serves to correct that bias.

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Michael Brennan, Entry Form and CV, 2005, oil on canvas

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Melbourne Now

Thirty-three years after that tumultuous turning point in Melbourne’s culture when Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka “The Yellow Peril”) was installed and then removed from the City Square. Melbourne Now is yellow; the exhibition’s logo is yellow, at the launch of the exhibition the Minister for the Arts, Heidi Victoria was dressed in yellow complete with yellow nail polish. Back in the 1980s Barry Humphries suggested that Melbourne should be called “the big Orange”, in reference to NYC moniker, “the big Apple”, but the orange trams are no longer on Melbourne’s streets. In Peter Tyndall blog post for 21/11/13 (reproduced in Melbourne Now) Tyndall suggests that Melbourne’s colour is black – that appeals to me (ha ha).

Thirty-three years ago it would have been impossible to have an exhibition of the quality and scale of Melbourne Now. There were not enough quality artists or gallery space in Melbourne then. Now Melbourne has become the city that Robertson-Swann’s sculpture anticipated, a city where the arts and design flourish.

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Melbourne Now is huge exhibition covering 8000 square meters of gallery space in both of the NGV galleries, and extending out of the galleries into the sculpture garden at the back of the NGV International and onto Melbourne’s streets. It is all free and will occupy most of a day; it took me over three hours to just to get an impression of the exhibition. I’m sure that I must have missed something and I will happily to go back for another look.

The exhibition includes so much – painting, sculpture, drawing, art publications, design, architecture, fashion, music, and dance. I will try to focus on a just couple of aspects.

Parents take your children to this exhibition; later in life they might thank you for it when it is mentioned in Australian art history and there is plenty to keep kids engaged with this exhibition at the present. Children’s activities include making experimental music with The Donkey Tail Jr. on the mezzanine gallery of the NGV (St. Kilda Road) and adding silhouette bird stickers to the sky of Juan Ford’s huge work You, me and the flock. The Dewhurst Family supported both these features of the exhibition. Much of this exhibition is interactive; you can also make your own jewellery, design your own shoes out of cardboard or sketch in the beautiful room of taxidermy work by Julia DeVille (sketching materials: black paper, gold and silver pencils and boards provided).

Street art is a major part of Melbourne’s current art scene and the influence of street art, graffiti and tagging is clear in Melbourne Now. There is Ponch Hawkes photographs of tree tagging, Stieg Persson’s paintings, Reko Rennie’s paintings, Ash Keating’s video and Lush’s installation: Graffiti doesn’t belong in the gallery? It is typical of Lush to get his tag up everywhere. Daniel Crooks’ a great video installation A garden of parallel paths and a Rick Amor painting Mobile Call also present views of Melbourne’s graffiti covered laneways. The walls of Hosier Lane, with All Your Walls, are also part of Melbourne Now. (I will write about All Your Walls in a later blog post when the project is complete on Friday 29th of November.)

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Finally with such a large collection of contemporary artists it is worth doing a bit of statistical examination: 56% of the artists are men, 44% are women and 11% identify as indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians are well represented in the exhibition given that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics “Victoria had the lowest proportion of people of indigenous origin at 0.6% of the total state population”. I only counted individually named artists and not groups. Compared to statistical break down of the artists to be included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial with only 32% women and 7.6% artists of African descent (see Hyperallergic “The Depressing Stats of the 2014 Whitney Biennial”) Melbourne Now is very balanced and representative.


“Last Laugh” Recent Acquisition

It is good to see that the National Gallery of Victoria has purchased “Last Laugh” from Juan Ford’s recent exhibition at the Dianne Tanzer Gallery. The NGV has given me several pleasant surprises recently and I am warming to its new director, Tony Ellwood (see: The Trojan Petition).

Juan Ford, Last Laugh, 2012 (oil on linen, 107 x 92 cm)

“Last Laugh” is a realist painting about painting, a painting of paint – modernists do not have a monopoly on uniting materials and subject. The red painted paint is marking and smothering the plant as the man-made smothers the planet. It not easy to paint something that comments on the slow destruction of the planet but this painting comes close. This is not exactly Henry Lawson’s “blood on the wattle” as it is paint and not blood, and the botanical specimen is a eucalypt not a wattle; there are twists and turns in the narrative of all of Ford’s paintings. It is not a joyous image even though the sky is still bright blue for Juan Ford is an intelligent man and understands what sciences forecasts. The last laugh is the longest but also bitter and twisted.

Juan Ford’s “Last Laugh” is representative of many of Ford’s recent paintings as it is part of a series of similar paintings in his current exhibition and is similar to several paintings featuring Australian plants in his last exhibition. And there is no doubt, after a long string of awards, grants, commissions and group institutional exhibitions that Juan Ford is an artist that should be included in the NGV’s collection

The oil painting will fit into NGV’s collection in several ways and continue its narrative into contemporary painting. The question of genre is raised by these paintings, are they still life or landscapes or portraits of the nation through its flora emblems? Genre is one of those great post-modern subjects and genre mixes are a feature of post-modern art. “Last Laugh” is so much of this time and yet it obviously has many lasting qualities that will serve the NGV’s collection well in future.

As a long time fan of Ford’s work I wish, like all fans do, that he did more like his early work with engrave anamorphic images. His ability to paint that once was great has improved so much since then. (See my earlier post on Juan Ford.) But I can see why the NGV decided to acquire this strange and beautiful painting.

See also “In the Studio with Juan Ford” on Vimeo. http://vimeo.com/46172316


More winners

On Wednesday, the final night at the Basil Sellers Art Prize 2010 two associated awards were presented. Ponch Hawkes won the 2010 Basil Sellers National Sports Museum Creative Arts Fellowship. The fellowship is valued at $50,000 dollars. And Juan Ford for won the $5,000 Yarra Trams People’s Choice Award voted by the visitors to the exhibition.

Unlike The Gaurdian’s art critic, Adrian Searle, who recently wrote about this year’s Turner Prize, I do not prejudge the judges of art prizes. I do not think that it is the art critic’s role to do this (unless they are the appointed judge) any more than it is a crime reporter’s role to judge the case (if they did it would be contempt of court). It is the art critic’s role to explain, examine and comment on the art prizes and awards not to prejudge them.

The novelty of Juan Ford’s series of anamorphic images proved popular with the visitors to the exhibition. The visitors would have been familiar with the use of anamorphic images employed by advertisers in major sporting events – the logos that are designed to be viewed at particular angles. The visitors might have also been comforted by Ford’s familiar reference to sports art history with his anamorphic version of ancient Greek runners. Or, maybe they just enjoyed the theme of running.

The openings of Juan Ford’s exhibitions have always been packed with people – his art is popular. This is not just because of his fine figurative painting technique but because his engages the viewer with anamorphic images that emphasising the viewer’s relationship to the image.

Melbourne photographer Ponch Hawkes has worked with Circus Oz since its inception, the unresolved narratives in her photographs invite the viewer to speculate. So expect to see some of Hawkes dramatic photographs at the National Sports Museum at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It is good to know that art at the MCG extends beyond the dozen bronze statues of sporting heroes by Louis Laumen.

My congratulations to Juan Ford and Ponch Hawkes.


My Cup of Tea

This week cups of tea have featured in many of the public discussions about art in the media. Painter, Juan Ford advised the public to have “a nice cup of tea” and calm down about the Sam Leach painting that won the Wynne Prize for landscapes (Gabriella Coslovich “Genius of Copycat?” The Age 15/4/10). And Melbourne Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle described Carl Mitchael von Hausswolff’s Red Fragments as “not my cup of tea” (MX 15/4/10). So what is it with all this talk of tea and art?

I like a good cup of tea, black; I consider myself a connoisseur of tea. No milk, no sugar (except with chai), preferably a Ceylon tea in the morning and Chinese teas later in the day. No Earl Grey tea, please but I am particularly partial to the smoke flavour of Lapsang Souchong. Tea is both relaxing and mildly stimulating drink – a good metaphor for art.

Art doesn’t do much really, very mild effects on the body, like a laugh or cry, is about the most that you can expect from it. Tea doesn’t do that much either; there isn’t that much caffeine in it. But both are pleasant catalysts for social interaction.

The controversy approach of the mainstream media is shallow winner and loser approach whereas a good conversation about art can have a win win situation. If the person who noticed the resemblance between Sam Leech’s Proposal for Landscaped Cosmos and the 17th Century Adam Pynacker’s Boatmen Moored on a Lake Shore had simply pointed this out, rather than trying to generate a controversy, I would have thought that they were at least as clever and knowledgeable about art history as Sam Leech. Trying to make this a controversy makes the person look like an idiot with an agenda.

A better approach was Lord Mayor Robert Doyle smoothly handled the media’s attempt at controversy over Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s Red Fragments. He opened up the discussion and acknowledged that art can be challenging, creating a win win outcome. I assume from his statement that Mayor Doyle does find some art his “a cup tea”.

I do not think that art is controversial not compared to the serious crimes committed by institutions, church and state, held sacred in our society – don’t get me started on what I regard as real controversies. Controversies are a debate about winners and losers, heroes and villains, and they reduce interest in the subtle qualities of the topic. And this is a serious deficit when discussing art.

To imagine that art is controversial and shocking is so 20th Century. From Marcel Duchamp to Tracey Emin, artists have been systematically breaking imaginary rules, making rude jokes and turning things upside down – shocking! This approach perceives a controversy as the validation of the quality of the art; to do this Mark Kostabi sold the idea of his controversy to 60 Minutes. Art as controversy plays to the most grandiose and paranoid of fantasies of both artists and public. They all need a good cup of tea, even if they will insist on drinking it from Méret Oppenheim’s fur lined teacup just to be controversial.

Would anyone like another cup of tea? I’m going to put the jug on.


Juan Ford

I meet Juan Ford in 1999 over several LookSmart staff lunches when he was doing his masters; his then girlfriend was a colleague of mine. Juan Ford is gregarious and we enjoyed talking about art when everyone else was talking about the internet. I saw many of Juan Ford’s exhibitions in Melbourne, the openings were always packed with people. At first these were at artist run or rental spaces and then major art galleries like Dianne Tanzer Gallery in Melbourne and Jan Manton Art in Brisbane.

The first painting of Juan Ford’s that I saw was his 1999 exhibition at TCB art Inc. “The Way It Is”. The exhibition consisted of a single canvas on an easel that faced away from the small gallery’s shopfront window; on the canvas was a view looking out of the gallery from that spot, it was like a Magritte image brought to life.

After that Juan Ford started to exhibit anamorphic images engraved through the paint onto the aluminium support. Anamorphic images are images that are not their own shape because they have been stretched or otherwise distorted. Anamorphic images are an old painting trick for creating a hidden image; most famously know with the distorted skull in Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors (1533) and Salvador Dali continued this optical tradition with a few lithographs in 1972 that have to be viewed in a reflecting cylinder, a bottle of Ponche Caballero, to be precise. Ford’s anamorphic paintings are like The Chemical Bros in paint, distorted images are scratched with a groove cutter across portraits of Juan’s friends in a daring display. And the anamorphic images produced a special kind of audience interaction with the paintings as people stood on the extreme sides of the paintings trying to find the viewing point for the anamorphic image.

Ford’s early paintings were full of darkness and chiaroscuro lighting. He put excitement and drama in figurative painting with excellent painting technique and playing with optical distortions. However, this changed with his 2002 exhibition ‘Clone’ where his images were full of a lot more light and informed by a lot more science, like clones, hybridisation and the environment.

In 2006 I saw an exhibition of Juan Ford at Dudespace in Brunswick. Juan Ford was back from a residency in Rome courtesy of the Australia Council to study severed heads. He thought that these would be the severed heads in the paintings of Caravaggio but instead he found himself painting the broken disfigured marble heads of antiquity, heads that have been broken off statues of Neptune, Venus and Hestia, with their missing noses and other chips.

 

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Juan Ford - The Shaman (Image courtesy the artist and Jan Manton Art, Brisbane)

After that Juan Ford started to paint eucalyptus leaves, or their shadows on people’s skin. Images that are obviously Australian landscapes and baked in sunlight. I asked Juan why he wanted to paint obviously Australian images? Juan Ford replied: “I’m not sure there’s an entirely obvious response to that. I did want to tap into the rich history of Australian painting, but in an oblique way that said something about our times. Also I am conscious that a lot of art strives to emulate the ‘international’ aesthetic of the biennale circuit, or that shown in Frieze or e-flux. I really didn’t want that, I don’t find that kind of approach very interesting at all. I often that work with a local flavor has a greater dimension or depth.”

 

In his latest exhibition Juan Ford continues to paint images of Australian flora and to develop the ideas behind them. Bundles of gum leaves or Banksia flowers bound up in electrical cable, cellophane packing wrap or gaffa tape. The encroaching banality of modern hardware materials on the poetic flora is shown in complex but elegant images.

 

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Juan Ford - Busted Bouquet (Image courtesy the artist and Jan Manton Art, Brisbane)

Juan Ford wrote about his 2007 exhibition in Queensland that: “The vanitas tradition used the skull to warn the viewer of the work that their soul was forever in danger from their thoughts and acts while alive. Well these are secular versions of that kind of thing, environmentally focused. I want to say that our arrogance can undo us, but life will keep going despite us. We do not own life, and never have – it flows though us, and then moves on. Wanting a 4wd and a huge plasma screen tv is just bullshit; each time this happens we a collective step closer to environmental catastrophe and subsequent annihilation.”

 

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Juan Ford - Misunderstanding Everything (Image courtesy the artist and Jan Manton Art, Brisbane)

 


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