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Tag Archives: oil painting

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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Art Architecture @ fortyfivedownstairs

Stephen Nova “The Architectural Uncanny” and Dayne Trower “External Walls” at fortyfivedownstairs are two exhibitions that combine art and architecture. Art about architecture and architectural models as art are not unusual but that is because the subject is so important to us.

In the side gallery is Dayne Trower, a graduate of RMIT of Architectural Design, “External Walls”. “External Walls” is 24 almost identical plywood objects in wooden frames. I didn’t think at first that I would enjoy this minimalist work but Trower’s small models of external walls and stairs have methodical variations and alternatives to a defined site that work in a pleasing narrative sequence. “Put together as a whole, the sequence also presents an argument for an approach to architecture and a way of building.”

In the main gallery “The Architectural Uncanny” features five large works on paper in various media and seven large oil paintings on canvas by Stephen Nova.

The suburban house is a psychic icon, or as Nova describes them, in the title of one of his paintings, “The Memory Cathedral”. And Nova explores the inherent surrealism in these sombulist dormitory suburbs.

Nova depicts his architecture on a featureless tabletop or stage set, the atomistic nowhere of the suburbs. Combined with toys and other things Nova’s images are reassuring paintings of models of houses, often under construction and not inhabited. They are imaginary architectural models or architecture as child’s play.

The traditional imaginary home is surrounded by the white picket fence but what is underneath the artificial landscape of suburbia? Along with the comforting familiarity there is a threatening uncertain element to Nova’s images. In “House and Garden (See/Saw)” a diving board off the back porch leads to a trapeze bar, both suspended above a hedge maze. This hint of menace is part of the current tradition of the portrayals of uncanny suburbs.

(For more and photos of these two exhibitions see Habitus Living.)


“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


Bloody Awful

For an artist to produce a bad painting is inevitable, it happens all the time. There is even a Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Massachusetts. The curator of the Museum of Bad Art, Michael Frank says that bad art “must have been created by someone who was seriously attempting to make an artistic statement – on that has gone horribly awry in either its concept or execution.” And a good artist can still create a bad painting – creating bad art is a risk that every artist must accept.

Gordon Hookey “Blood on the wattle. Blood on the palm” 2009

Gordon Hookey’s oil painting “Blood on the wattle. Blood on the palm” 2009 has gone horribly awry in both its concept and its execution. It is possibly the worst painting created in Australia in 2009 and yet it is in GoMA’s collection. I have, unfortunately, seen a couple of uglier paintings last year, exhibited in artist run spaces but none of these had the size, the lofty ambitions nor the important subject of Hookey’s painting.

“Blood on the wattle. Blood on the palm” is a terrible painting because it should have been Australia’s Geurnica. At approximately 3m x 5m, it almost has the size of Guernica. It is intended to be a great history painting to mark the homicidal, racist and unjust behaviour of the Queensland Police Force on Palm Island in 2004.

In 2005 and Robert Nelson (in a review of Gordon Hookey’s exhibition at Nellie Castan Gallery) wrote: “Gordon Hookey has fun with his medium, his ideas and his background.” ‘Fun’ is one of my favorite words for art and I have no doubt that in the paintings that Nelson was reviewing Hookey was having fun for Hookey is capable of having fun with images, as I’ve seen it in his other paintings. Perhaps the horror and injustice of the events on Palm Island are too awful a situation for fun images.

The painting itself has problems from its design of a V shape dividing the mob of kangaroos from the Tazer wielding force arrayed against them. The mix of literal and metaphorical images has been poorly thought out. There is blood dripping from a palm tree but where it has come from is not clear. The mob of kangaroos is well armed with gun/spears and appears a formidable force in tightly packed wedge. These mutant aggressive kangaroos appear to be something out of the comic book Tank Girl. In the foreground there are few menacing figures with their large sparking tasers; why these figures are not shown in police uniforms is a mystery when they are meant to represent the Queensland Police Force. It appears that the painting avoids representing any of the people or any of the events.

Hookey’s painting crudely illustrative style of painting with its dark outlines and bright colours has its inherent risks – it can easily become ugly. The colour in the painting have been chosen for their illustrative quality, the kangaroos are in a variety of different colours of brown to help define one from another. I presume that the kangaroo’s eyes have been painted blue to make them a different colour from the brown.

The didactic panel at GoMA did much more to explain the horror and injustice on Palm Island than the painting. It did not explain why the artist had chosen to represent the events in this peculiar way. I don’t want to blame Gordon Hookey entirely for this very ugly painting; it is not entirely his responsibility that I was exposed to such an ugly painting, it might be decaying in storage. It is the curators and acquisition committee of GoMA that are responsible for its exhibition. I presume that GoMA purchased it for historic references rather than artistic merit.

It is a shame that the events on Palm Island, yet another death of an Aboriginal man in custody, part of the continuing genocide in Australia, is trivialized with a bad painting. If only Hookey had seen Juan Davila’s scathing versions of Australian history paintings. But the first solo public gallery exhibition of Juan Davila in Brisbane only took place at Griffith University in 2009.  Davila’s history paintings are full of transgressive references to art history and Australian history. They are full of details that build a complex of ideas about the historic event and relate it to the contemporary world. Hookey has simplified the history into a ‘them and us’ position; the painting becomes a simple partisan illustration. The title “Blood on the wattle” is a Henry Lawson reference that falls as flat irony in the face of the current Queensland Labor Party government. This is not a rally to insurrection that the line in Lawson’s poem proposes but a way to support the state’s image of being a liberal democracy by having critical art in GOMA.

“Like charging a regiment of tanks with a defective sanitary device from 1920.” Wm. Burroughs commenting on John Hartsfield’s photomontages.


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)

 


Exhibitions – September & October

I have managed to see a few exhibitions on Flinders Lane (Arc One and forty-five downstairs) in the city and Albert St. in East Richmond (Karen Woodbury Gallery, John Buckley Gallery and Shifted) in between the many meetings, emails, phone calls and wrangling with the Melbourne Stencil Festival website.

David Ralph exhibition ‘Extension’ at Arc One’s small “and” gallery space is just a couple of small paintings but Ralph’s paintings are always worth seeing. David Ralph’s painting is a marvel of contemporary techniques, drips and scraps and squeegeed of paint scatter the canvas. The images appear to be cut into the surface of the paint. The eccentric temporary imaginary architecture, tree houses with a space shuttle built on the back, the caravan for which Ralph is becoming known. The scenes are like something from Wm Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. “…houses in trees and river boats, wood houses one hundred foot long sheltering entire tribes, house of boxes and corrugated iron where old men sit in rotten rags cooking down canned heat, great rusty iron racks rising two hundred feet into the air from swamps and rubbish with perilous partitions built on multi-levelled platforms, and hammocks swinging over the void.” (p.90) Ralph could have found his palette of iridescent and nitrous colours on the pages of the Naked Lunch too.

“Tiny Tunes for Wee Australians” is an exhibition of small works on paper by Mexican artist Roberto Márquez at forty-five downstairs in Flinders Lane. Roberto Márquez has created an exhibition of Mexican surreal comments on Australia in mixed media collages with added illustrations. His tiny paintings of skeletons on pressed tree leaves are very Mexican.

Megan Evans “The Fall” in the side gallery at forty-five downstairs was using more dried leaves arranging them in post-minimalist ways in wall pieces, a framed arrangement and in a DVD.

The AK44, the Blackwater AR15, the Saber Defense Elite 5.56 and the Patriot P414 (US$1,125 RRP) sounds like the catalogue of a gun show rather than a description of an art exhibition. eX de Medici exhibition, “sweet complicity” at Karen Woodbury Gallery features delicately drawn images of all of these weapons. The pictures are drawn in a mixture of ink and mica that creates a thick and glittery line. The machineguns are set amidst neo-Rocco tattoo influenced background and wrapped in garlands. The background luxuriates in an excess of detail, dragons and waves or swallows and stars, completely fill the large sheets of paper. eX de Medici is a tattoo and fine artist which explains the tattoo motifs and the ironic machismo of titles, including “American Sex/Funky Beat Machine”.

Janenne Eaton’s “Bella Vista” is a fun exhibition at John Buckley Gallery. Janenne Eaton is Head of Painting at the Victorian College of the Arts. I thought that I was going to get away from the Melbourne Stencil Festival but there was more stencil and enamel aerosol paint in this exhibition. In “Only sleep cures fatigue” (2009) Easton uses a real bamboo blind as a stencil for the image of a window blind. Eaton also uses vinyl and decal bullet hole decals, LED lights and even rhinestones in her paintings contributing to their fun.

Shifted had two exhibitions Paul Batt’s “Mountain Portrait Series” and Andrew Gutteridge’s “A Linear Collection”. Batt’s “Mountain Portrait Series” is a series of photographs of the back of different peoples heads as they looked out over a view. It is a study in looking at someone looking at a landscape. Andrew Gutteridge’s “A Linear Collection” is a scatter of minimalist sculptures and or paintings. And it was hard to tell the Gutteridge’s sculptures from his paintings, a canvas with a twisted corner or another with diagonal cut into the surface. Lots of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines that Gutteridge has collected together and played with. Much of this play is about perspective and the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional plane.


Figuration?

“Figuration Now” is a group exhibition of four notable contemporary figurative artists at the Karen Woodbury Gallery.

There seems to be some confusion in the title of this exhibition between the words ‘figuration’ and ‘figurative’. Figuration is the giving an allegorical form by representing it using human or animal forms. Figurative is the depiction of human or animal figures in art, with or without an allegoric or emblematic meaning. Figurative art is common now and this exhibition is able to presents a broad range of styles and techniques from traditional to idiosyncratic. However, to describe all of the work on exhibition as figuration is to erroneously conflate all figurative art with figuration.

Del Kathryn Barton, the winner of the 2008 Archibald Prize, is influenced by the elongated figures of Egon Schiele and the work of famous, American, outsider artist, Henry Darger. Although her multi-media paintings and drawings are figurative her one sculpture in the exhibition is clearly figuration. The tower of baby doll arms growing out of the pumpkin is a surreal allegory of fecundity.

McLean Edwards makes fun allusions to the history of European portraiture and in turn Australian painter, William Dobell’s controversial 1944 Archibald prize-winning portrait of Joshua Smith. The figures in Edwards’s paintings represent the idea of European portraits; the dark background giving form to his figure is an attribute of portraiture not just a ground for the figure. Edwards’s figures are dressed in what are clearly costumes and costumes are tools of figuration, a means of creating an allegorical or emblematic figure.

Nusra Latif Qureshi uses the Pakistani tradition of musaviri (miniature painting) to paint ideas about the post-colonial world. In this exhibition Nusra Latif Qureshi uses figures of iconic Australian beach culture as ironic symbols for boat people. Her delicate paintings of outlines are like diagrams that have become so full of lacunas that it is hard to see what they depict, a further allegory on the post-colonial world. Diagrams are another kind of figure, where ideas are represented. In her paintings the diagrams of dhows or the line of dashes to indicate distance travelled or borders crossed amplifies the figuration.

The paintings of Jonathan Nichols are clearly figurative. An argument that his paintings of women are emblematic of limited knowledge and therefore figuration could be made but it would be torturous.


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