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Tag Archives: painting

Robert Nelson is grumpy

“When there bursts froth from one mansion a song of youth and originality, even though harsh and discordant, it should be received not with howls of fury but with reasonable attention and criticism.” Max Rothschild

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Ronnie van Hout, You!, 2016 (at Gertrude Contemporary)

I don’t want to be one of those old critics who go on about how art has lost its path and that some boring, old artist is that last real artist. I don’t want to be Clement Greenberg, Robert Hughes, or, to be more current, Robert Nelson who this week brought out the old complaint about painting being dead.

I have lived a long time and I’ve yet to see the death of painting, although it has been talked about for longer than I have lived.

Nor do I expect to see contemporary art creating an infinite regression of self-referentiality that swallows up all meaning.

Like Nelson I had also seen Nicholas Mangan’s video of the endlessly spinning coin, Ancient Lights at Monash University Museum of Art. I agree with Nelson that it is ingenious and beautiful but where we differ is over Nelson’s conclusion that video has  replaced painting, or that this means that now “most painters lack most skills in painting”.

The critics who thought that modernism would crash like a Ponzi scheme have been exposed as simply conservative. The fact is that the apocalypse will not occur and there will never be a final revelation that modernism or contemporary art are a load of rubbish. This is because art is not like a cult or even a pseudo-science, like phrenology, it lacks the definition of such organisations, it is more nebulous, living and growing, like fungus.

I am sure based on population size that the greatest artist who ever lived is probably alive today. When you consider increased education, social mobility, women’s rights and other factors it is more than likely that this is the case. Now I can’t tell you who this artist is with the same certainty but I am certain that they are out there and I am looking for them.

I am equally sure that the worst artist who ever lived is also probably alive today but what does that prove? I am not renouncing writing bad reviews; if you see a bad exhibition then give it a bad review just don’t see it as some general example of the decline of art.

I am sure that there were awful, dross fourteenth century altar pieces and frescos because I have seen some of them. Four headless saints their necks still spurting arcs of blood bowing to the crucifixion while their heads sit on the ground in a neat arrangement around the cross. Others of it were probably painted over or replaced and thrown out, like an old TV sets.

To go from specific examples to generalisations is always a mistake but when the size of the present from which to cherry pick examples is so large compared to the smaller sample of memories of the past it is absurd to believe that you have evidence of any value.

Although I am now antique I don’t want to be a grumpy old man. The only problem with current music is that it isn’t loud enough. Or, maybe I now need hearing aids.

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Vexta’s Wildness

Veteran Melbourne street artist Vexta is now based in Brooklyn, New York, but is currently back where she started her street art career, painting a police station wall and exhibiting at Mars Gallery in Windsor.

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Earlier this week The Age reported on Vexta painting a wall on the St Kilda police station. The level of contradictions in this act, part of the City of Port Phillip program to reduce graffiti, would be mind boggling if I wasn’t, at least partially, immersed in Melbourne’s graffiti and street art scene. So for me it is just more of the spectacle and the situation of street art. For Vexta it was just another wall.

Street artists exhibiting in a gallery is a different challenge to the street. Basically it is an issue of managing expectations; in the street we are surprised by street art because we didn’t expect any whereas we do expect art in an art gallery. Off the street the same images can appear limited, repetitious, or otherwise lose their charm. Despite this many of Melbourne’s commercial galleries have one or two street artists in their stable.

Fortunately Vexta for her exhibition, The Wildness Beneath, at Mars Gallery has more than figures painted with mix of a brushes and spray cans in her psychedelic palette of black and florescent colours. The paintings on canvas are hung as diamonds, their corners emphasising the round form within. On one wall they are framed with florescent builder’s twine creating geometric patterns around them.

The women in Vexta’s paintings stare out at the viewer. Are they powerful witches with animal familiars or are they nymphs and victims, like Leda and the swan?

Silk screen images of cicadas feature on several of the paintings reminding me of the cryptic nature of cicadas. The long underground life of 13 or 17 years of cicadas reminded me of the development of an artist.  Vexta must have done that many years, so perhaps it is time for her to emerge from the underground.

Vexta explained that the exhibition was getting back to her roots in collage. All of the images started as collages before being translated into paint, even the painting the cut-out words and phrases.

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Vexta’s painted copies of collaged words have a strong sense of poetics of the nocturnal urban world of street art missions or psychedelic trips. Not everything worked the decorated skulls hanging from the ceiling looked hackneyed and odd (skulls are so common in art and especially street art, see my post Melbourne Skull).


Magical Illusions

Walking between the art galleries on Flinders Lane and thinking about the uncanny nature of a thing that looks like another thing but is made out of completely different material. This uncanny illusion is a trick that many artists use, along with lots of other people from cake decorators to topiary gardeners. Illusions are only one trick and a good artist will use more than one trick. (Who wants a one trick pony?) Two exhibitions had spurred these thoughts.

Carly Fischer, Kangaroo Sign, 2014

Carly Fischer, Kangaroo Sign, 2014

Carly Fischer’s five installations, Magic Dirt in Gallery 1 of Craft Victoria look like arrangements of rubbish. But are all made from paper and foam core, even the plastic bags and barbed wire. The illusion is even more uncanny because paper is such a familiar material. However, the magic of the illusion is only part of the magic of this installation. Fischer reflects on Australia as an enormous rubbish dump; the outback is littered with empty cans, hubcaps and empty bags. The irony of the reuse and recycle labels on this packaging. Fischer reflects on the way that we arrange our detritus and the primitive magical thinking behind the piercing a KFC pack with sticks or the bullet holes in the kangaroo sign.

Peter Daverington

Peter Daverington

Peter Daverington’s exhibition Because Painting at Arc One is about illusions in paint. Daverington reflects on the tradition of these artistic illusion with references to illusionistic art in Western painting from the Bosch through to op-art. Geometric exploding planes combine with the baroque over the top drama of the illusions. Daverington is also interested in where the illusion breaks down on the edge of the canvas, where it becomes drips, scraped back or great spreads of solidified paint.

Because Painting is a home coming exhibition for Daverington who is Melbourne-born but now based in New York.


Underground Indonesian Art

Fort Delta is an underground gallery down a flight of stairs at the back of the Capitol Arcade in Melbourne; it is an appropriate location for New Underground: Indonesian Contemporary. It is Fort Delta’s first collaborative exhibition with MiFA Gallery that represents artists from the Asia Pacific region.

Lugas Syllabus, Step By Step, My Friend, 2011

Lugas Syllabus, Step By Step, My Friend, 2011

This is a great exhibition of contemporary Indonesian art featuring work by work by Soni Irawan, Iyok Prayogo, and Lugas Syllabus. Prayogo and Syllabus are both graduates of The Indonesian Institute Of The Arts, Yogyakarta. Irawan completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Indonesian Art Institute in Jogjakarta. According to the exhibition notes they are all “emerged from the Indo Punk scene” hence “New Underground”.

I laugh out loud when I look at Lugas Syllabus’s mixed media sculpture Step by Step, My Friend (2011) a cartoon rabbit is progressively jumping into a trap baited with carrots. It is so funny, so funky inexplicable with a clearly wise message about progress all at the same time.

Most of the exhibition is filled with paintings by Soni Irawan. His painting are intense; the accretion of layers of images, in layers of different media, is a urban experience and vision. He spray paints aerosol enamel over his own work in bubble graffiti for Fake Fact (2012), stencils in the Chupa Chups logo on Lady Candy (2013) and pastes on embroidery patches on Ultra Flat Black (2011). All on top of his line drawings of strange creatures, people with faces in their torsos, Blemmyae, masked and animal headed figures.

Soni Irawan, Fake Fact, 2012

Soni Irawan, Fake Fact, 2012

Iyok Prayogo’s two light boxes in hard road cases, Walk on By (2009) and Going Metal (2012), were a bit too mainstream rock’n’roll for my taste.

I don’t get to see much Indonesian contemporary art here in Melbourne but what I have seen, like the New Underground has been very worth while.


Black Mark in Chelsea

Most Thursdays I do a gallery crawl, but not today, in Melbourne the rain pouring down every hour. I regularly do a gallery crawl on a Thursdays, going around to as many different galleries as possible to get good sample of what is showing, a quest to discover something new. A few weeks ago I was in New York on a Thursday and the weather was cool and sunny. And there are a lot more galleries a few blocks in Chelsea than there are in all of Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond and the CBD combined.

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There was not much different in the exhibitions, the same range of art from the brash and kitsch, the bland and commercial, and the ordinary to the exceptional. And there were usual percentage of galleries closed for installations or other reasons.

I had already been out to the Dumbo district, I didn’t get out to the artist run galleries and other more alternative spaces in Brooklyn, as many weren’t open until the weekend. I liked what I saw in Dumbo, not just in the galleries there was quality art everywhere, in bookshops, on the streets and on hoarding around a building site. It had the best stencil art that I saw in NYC. I buy two second hand books: a biography of Gilbert and George and a book about Banksy. It is sweet district. Most of the galleries in the Dumbo district are in one building at 111 Front Street, it was like a warm up for what I was to see in Chelsea.

Super heroes exhibition in Dumbo, NYC

Super heroes exhibition in Dumbo, NYC

Every building in a few blocks of Chelsea is full of galleries, sometimes two or four floors of galleries. Street after street, from West 19th St. up 29th St., ten blocks of galleries. I picked up a map of the galleries by Art in America magazine but I didn’t need it, as the streets were full of them. 181 galleries were listed on the map. There really aren’t many other businesses on these streets but on 10th Avenue at the end of each block you wouldn’t know that it was a gallery district, it is all car repairs, taxi businesses and gas stations. Up above this is the strange overhead park, the High Line, built on a disused elevated train line. I would have stayed longer on the High Line but it was more crowded with pedestrians than the street below.

Chelsea’s street level galleries are big and brash, when they do installations at a Chelsea gallery there is a truck with a crane and plywood sheets laid down to protect the gallery’s polished concrete or wood floor. On one block there were limos lined up from one end of the block to the other on one street, waiting for some event to finish. The galleries on the floors are more varied in their style and content.

Not that the artwork was all that great, it was the usual mix of bland commercialism to good art, emerging and established artists. Some of it was so bad that I wonder how some of these galleries pay the rent but there was enough good work to keep me interested, and walking from gallery to gallery. I’m not expecting to have an epiphany every block and there are plenty of entertaining stickers and paste-ups along the way to enjoy.

Chelsea stickers

Chelsea stickers

The new Jeff Koons exhibition wouldn’t open until next week and the gallery with the Kenny Scharf exhibition was closed so I didn’t get to see any exhibitions by any famous artists. These are some of the artists who did catch my eye like Jennifer Balkan and John McCarthy at Eleanor Ettinger Gallery. Or James Gortner’s paintings at Lyons Wier Gallery are magnificent; Gortner recycling op-shop paintings that he uses as material for a collage painting to which he adds femme fatale heads. And Randall Stoltzfus’s paintings at Black Space are beautiful, like the love child of Monet and the Klimt.

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

The Chelsea galleries are mostly commercial, some more than artistic, but I did see Doosan Gallery a Korean, not for profit space. I considered this fortuitous, as I will soon be visiting Korea and I will be writing about the art I see there.


Pigment Gallery – Misses and Hits

I saw the worst exhibition of year this week at Pigment Gallery: “small works”, an exhibition of affordable art. I’ve seen some disappointing exhibitions this year, I’ve seen some boring exhibitions this year but this was awful. I felt that I’d wandered into some high school exhibition. I tried to look around to see if I could spot something that was worth looking at but I couldn’t leave soon enough. I don’t want to pick on any of the obviously amateur artists in the exhibition but hung together in a gallery the weakest work dragged the rest down.

Pigment Gallery, a gallery for hire on the second floor of the Nicolas Building, a great location in the city. It has three gallery rooms, two white walled rooms and one small space with black walls, that works well for works on paper or photographs. I wasn’t surprised by the exhibition it is kind of un-curated, group exhibition something that rental space galleries do to pay their rent (see my post about Rental Spaces). And it is not as if all the exhibitions at Pigment Gallery are that awful; I have seen some decent exhibitions there. Earlier this year I saw an exhibition there but I didn’t get far in writing up my notes about the exhibition.

Earlier this year in Pigment’s Gallery 1 and the Black Gallery I saw an attractive exhibition by Tasmanian artist and RMIT Masters of Fine Arts graduate, Carol Batchelor. I preferred her small paintings in the Black Gallery to the large colour field oil paintings in Gallery 1 because of the variety of forms and the movement and interaction of the wet ink meeting a different dilution of wet ink.

At the same time in Pigment’s Gallery 2 a Monash Masters of Fine Arts graduate, Erica Tandori (aka Erica Peril) was exhibiting “Landscape and Desire”, a series of digital photographs about her Hungarian Australian background. The digital montage of images mixed Australian landscapes with Hungarian elements like Hungarian dancers or the long horn cattle. Some of images seemed a bit obvious: “Budapest exit 15544.44km” on road sign along an Australian highway, many were more obscure, like all the Hungarian grey cows. The digital montages were not slick, they were obvious on close inspection, but digital perfection wasn’t the point of the images.

 


Painting Techniques & Subjects

“London Works” by James Cochran at Lindberg Galleries are portraits of homeless men. What is remarkable about these paintings is that they were created primarily with aerosol paint. The faces and hair are made up of hundreds of dots of aerosol paint, each dot with its own small drip. Cochran’s paintings are like pointillism with a spray can. There are lots of drips in the paintings – drips are currently very fashionable in street art. James Cochran (aka Jimmy. C) is a veteran street artist from Adelaide. It is remarkable for how far street art techniques have permeated mainstream art in the last decade.

Cochran’s paintings are obviously clever, technically excellent but superficial and sentimental. These are the kind of paintings normally seen in commercial galleries located in the foyer of five star hotels. Perhaps the paintings could even hang in part of the hotel, a private dinning room; a place where the homeless men depicted in the paintings would never be admitted. The sentimental depiction of homeless by artists over the centuries has not helped changing the conditions that lead to homelessness. I suppose the homeless make cheap models.

You need more than one trick to make good art and technique will only get you so far. The second trick, the right subject for the art, has to work with the technique. At Flinders Lane Gallery there was an exhibition of paintings with more than one trick – Margaret Ackland “Histories”.

Margaret Ackland’s main trick of painting transparent fabric, lace, tissue paper and even plastic wrapping, with light paint strokes. Her compositions on the dark background make the cloth and paper glow like old masters. Some are dynamic flows of fabric are static and meditative. Ackland’s other trick is her references to the history of fashion; her sense of the histories that clothes tell. Not that all her clothes are old fashioned, there is a beautiful painting of an empty plastic dry cleaning bag and clothes hanger. I particularly enjoyed her paintings of pictures partially unwrapped from tissue paper that have a sense of the rediscovery of an archived image.

Both Cochran and Ackland have excellent painting techniques but Ackland does better paintings because of her choice of subjects.


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