Archive for the 'Joseph Cornell' Category

15
Jun
11

Exhibition: ‘Robyn Stacey: Tall Tales and True’ at Stills Gallery, Paddington, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 18th May – 25th June 2011

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Many thankx to Jessica Howard for her help and to Stills Gallery and Peter Timms for allowing me to publish the text and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Ozymandias

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I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
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Percy Bysshe Shelley 1818

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Robyn Stacey
Come unto me
2011
84 x 120cm
type C print
edition of 5 + 2/3 AP

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Robyn Stacey
Help yourself
2011
90 x 120cm
type C print
edition of 5 + 2/3 AP

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“Working extensively with historic collections since 2000, Robyn Stacey’s early projects dealt with Australian flora and fauna, exploring the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney and the Macleay collection at the University of Sydney. Over the last three years she has worked closely the NSW Historic Houses Trust to produce a series of artworks and a book focusing on three of their properties, Elizabeth Bay House, Vaucluse House, and Rouse Hill estate as well as the Caroline Simpson Research Collection and Library. In these works Stacey reveals her fascination with the still life tradition but also speaks about the Australian notion of home and what it means to our national psyche.

Stacey’s transformation of these historic spaces and objects allows us not only to glance into earlier worlds but also to consider hierarchies of taste, culture and knowledge. By using the still life to re-work and re-view the Trust’s collection she aims to deconstruct the traditional museum display. The objects are returned to an approximate albeit fictional reality, creating a sense that the settings have been left only momentarily and that people are never far away.

In this latest exhibition Stacey looks at the traces of inhabitation. Chatelaine for example, features a sumptuous collection of objects including Wisteria spilling out of an ornate vase on top of a beautifully carved side table. The objects are from the collection of Vaucluse House having belonged to its inhabitant Sarah Wentworth. Her convict past prevented easy entry into high society at the time. In this accumulation of tasteful things we see evidence of Sarah Wentworth’s attempts to assert her social position within a society that spurned her. In other works, which draw from the collection at Rouse Hill estate we bear witness to the varying fortunes of the Rouse family.

As well as being a reflection upon the nature and minutiae of nineteenth century domesticity these still lives also reflect our colonial history; the desire for betterment and the need to re-create what has been left behind through the transport of taste and knowledge systems.”

Text from the Stills Gallery website

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Robyn Stacey
Presentation (Apple)
2011
90 x 74cm
type C print
edition of 5 + 2/3 AP

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Robyn Stacey
Presentation (Pear)
2011
90 x 74cm
type C print
edition of 5 + 2/3 AP

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Playing a double game

We all have a penchant for hidden essences. They spur our desires. Sometimes, of course, a thing is just a thing: a cup merely a convenient way of getting coffee to our mouths; a car no more than a machine to get around in. Often, however, (surprisingly often in fact) we choose to invest such apparently lifeless objects with little souls, or what the psychologist Paul Bloom calls ‘realities that are not present to the senses’. Almost everything, it seems, is capable of leading a double life.

And where better to seek out these double lives than in the historic house museum? Here the Regency candlesticks, the ormolu clocks, even the gardening tools and saucepans, come already imbued with a special significance, for here the domestic has been raised to the level of theatre.

The choices Robyn Stacey has made from the wealth of objects at Elizabeth Bay House, Vaucluse House and Rouse Hill Estate are by no means the obvious ones. They are not necessarily things of high status or great beauty. She is equally attracted to the rusted sickle, the well-thumbed book, the peeling painting and the old postcard: everyday things that bear the traces of long usage. Through judicious juxtaposition, dramatic lighting, and the addition of her own evocative flourishes, she dramatises these humble items, teasing out their souls and revealing their double lives.

What Robyn is doing is transforming inanimate objects into surrogate people. In the absence of their corporeal selves, those who made their lives in these houses are reborn through what they owned, loved, used and made. And, in the process, their stories are expanded into the realm of cultural history.

Chatelaine, for example, enlists flowers, a silk shawl, a richly decorated Staffordshire jar and the titular chatelaine itself (a sort of female version of the Swiss army knife) to reconstruct nineteenth-century ideals of femininity. Only when we discover that it is intended, in part, as a homage to Sarah Wentworth, the mistress of Vaucluse House, does its gentle irony morph into poignant masquerade. For, despite being married to one of early Sydney’s richest and most powerful men, Sarah’s impoverished and morally compromised background led to her rejection by polite society. So these outwardly vivacious mementos also serve as emblems of one woman’s tragedy and, by extension, the tragedy of many women’s lives at the time.

What could be more richly evocative than the cornucopia of flowers, fruits, grains and agricultural implements assembled for Rouse and the Cumberland Plain? What, indeed, could be more shamelessly calculated to provoke astonishment? This virtuosic picture is at once a homage to and a respectful parody of the European still-life tradition. Ostensibly it sets out, in almost forensic detail, what was once grown in the gardens and fields around Rouse Hill House, every leaf and petal historically accurate as to species and type. In that sense, it can be appreciated as an authentic record of nineteenth-century colonial gardening and agriculture. But of course it is much more than that.

We don’t have to be au fait with seventeenth-century Dutch iconography to be able to tease out the allusions in those overturned baskets, those pomegranates spilling their seeds, those provocative little asparagus spears, the decaying timber and the butterflies, nor to be touched by the pathos of that hand-made house-brick in the foreground, impressed with a heart. These symbolic clues qualify and complicate our initial response of unguarded optimism. Here and there, melancholy and loss begin to intrude. And the longer we look, the more enveloped we become by a stifling air of artificiality, as if everything has been stilled and embalmed. Initial delight slowly morphs into an eerie silence. It is in their delicate balance of abundance and ruin that all these photographs find their moral core. They are awe-inspiring, in the eighteenth-century meaning of the term.

This is true even of apparently simple works such as, for example, Presentation (Pear). While its reticence seems a world away from the fecundity of Rouse and the Cumberland Plain or Chatelaine, the underlying themes correspond. In fact, Presentation (Pear) is a composition of such elegant straightforwardness that we might suspect a trap. And indeed we might be right.

On a substantial marble pedestal sits, somewhat incongruously, a ripe pear with a fly on it. A butterfly has come to rest nearby. There are just these four individual components, each with its own tale to tell. Combined, however, into a Joseph-Cornell-like assemblage, they assume an almost mythical dimension. The massive plinth, its pomposity worthy of an Ozymandias, can be seen as representing the vanity of human ambition. The pear has long been a symbol of birth and fecundity, the fly represents decay, and the butterfly the brevity of life. Yet such pat interpretations will probably strike a modern sensibility as overdetermined or too reductive. These days we are not inclined to take this sort of thing too seriously, and the very transparency of the symbolism in Presentation (Pear) is perhaps a warning that we should not. There is a good deal of self-referentiality here. The symbols keep turning in on themselves.

What these photographs are, in fact, inviting us to do is to momentarily assume a double life, to surrender to the romantic perceptions of past generations without abandoning our modern scepticism, to experience a pre-scientific world through a post-scientific consciousness so as to understand not just the material world of past generations but also to enter into their way of thinking. As in the cinema (and these photographs are nothing if not cinematic) we are being invited to suspend our disbelief and imagine ourselves in another time, not for nostalgia’s sake, but for the opposite – to strip away sentiment and to see ourselves more clearly.

Thus, beneath their apparent sumptuousness, Robyn’s artfully contrived tableaux are playing a crafty double game of de-familiarisation.

Peter Timms

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Robyn Stacey
Early morning Rouse
2010
110 x 75.6cm
type C print
edition of 5 + 2/3 AP

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Robyn Stacey
Chatelaine
2010
110 x 82.5cm
type C print
edition of 5 + 2/3 AP

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Robyn Stacey
The Royal Guard
2011
90 x 76cm
type C print
edition of 5 + 2/3 AP

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Robyn Stacey
Venetian Beauty
2011
120 x 107.7cm
type C print
edition of 5 + 2/3 AP

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Stills Gallery
36 Gosbell Street
Paddington NSW 2021
Australia
T: 61 2 9331 7775

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

Stills Gallery website

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01
Oct
09

Review: ‘Diction’ by Stormie Mills at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran, Melbourne

16th September – 10th October 2009

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Stormie Mills. 'Some days all my shadow are behind me' 2009

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Stormie Mills
‘Some days all my shadows are behind me’
2009

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Stormie Mills. 'Not yet ready to quit' 2009

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Stormie Mills
‘Not yet ready to quit’
2009

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Stormie Mills. 'Come on mate, Get up' 2009

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Stormie Mills
‘Come on mate, Get up’
2009

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This is a hit and miss show by Stormie Mills at Helen Gory Galerie in Prahran, Melbourne. Some pieces (mainly the smaller paintings) work incredibly well whilst others (mainly the larger paintings such as ‘There is an unkroken continuity’ and ‘Here I stand’) fail to inspire, laden as they are with much dourness and lacking a lightness of touch.

Mill’s uses a palette of greys, blacks and whites to create layered, dripping contextless backgrounds against which his characters tell their prophetic stories. His laconic figures offer a knowing stoicism, surviving everything the world throws at them. The best work made me chuckle humorously at their delicious ironies: I feel how the character is in ‘Some days all my shadows are behind me’ (2009, above). ‘Not yet ready to quit’ (2009, above) portrays a boxer slumped on his stool surrounded in a halo of white paint. The heavy remarkably wax-like black carved frame reminds me of Victorian mourning frames and works well with the sentiment proposed by the painting: again I feel a direct response. Elsewhere the use of these heavy black frames less suits the work, even overpowers the delicacy of some of the paintings (for example in ‘Fabrique de Pain’ and ‘Summer Solitude’ (both 2009).

The best grouping in the exhibition are eight works painted on the bottom of old drawers, complete with handles and hung together (three of which are pictured below). This cohesion of concept, painting and intensities seems to bring all the ideas together in a satisfying whole, the characters trapped by the four walls of the drawers, insulated in their contextless worlds. I adored ‘5 fathoms’ for the simplicity of it’s design and execution, the use of the box reminding me of the work of Joseph Cornell and the drawing Banksy at one and the same time. Here in this work there is a generosity of spirit which some of the other work lacks, a balance between dark and light, empathy and hope.

Overall some interesting work that had me thinking and feeling but ultimately failed to convince with their melancholic melange.

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Stormie Mills. '5 fathoms' 2009

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Stormie Mills
‘5 fathoms’
2009

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Stormie Mills. The pesca costume' 2009

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Stormie Mills
‘The pesca costume’
2009

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Stormie Mills. 'Wiping the smile from his face' 2009

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Stormie Mills
‘Wiping the smile from his face’
2009

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Helen Gory Galerie

25, St. Edmonds Road,
Prahran, Vic 3181
Opening hours: Wed – Fri 11 – 5pm, Sat 10 – 4pm

Helen Gory Galerie website

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04
Feb
09

Review: Rosalie Gascoigne at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

9 December 2008 – 15 March 2009

 

“Rosalie Gascoigne’s art comes from, is inspired by, and in turn reflects the spare countryside of the southern tablelands and the Monaro district, a unique natural environment that lies relatively close to Canberra, the artist’s home of more than fifty years. Gascoigne’s transformation and re-investment in her work of battered and weathered materials sourced in the landscape surrounding Canberra also highlights the importance of collecting to her oeuvre, as different materials appear in works from across the decades …
Gascoigne’s knowledge and love of language and of Romantic poetry is evident in many of her works as she aspired to make art that achieved ‘allusive and illusive’ qualities that she experienced in this form. Through the artist’s skill in making poetry of the commonplace and her intrinsic response to both her chosen materials and the particularities of the Australian landscape, we are able to witness her unique ability to evocatively capture and convey the essence of nature and the transitory and captivating effects of light, air and space.” 

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Forty acre block' 1977

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
‘Forty acre block’
Painted wood and metal, collage
1977

 

This exhibition is a relatively small, muscular yet poetic evocation of the life and work of one of my favourite Australian artists, Rosalie Gascoigne. Perhaps I have an affinity with this artist that goes beyond words: being English I have grown to love the Australian landscape but to see the way Gascoigne visions it is a truly moving experience. I have also admired artists that can successfully combine images and sculptural elements visually in their work, language and memory impinging on consciousness (hence my infatuation with the work of Joseph Cornell).

As we enter the exhibition early constructions – wooden boxes – are presented dating from 1975 – 1984. These have a rough hewn, rustic charm to them, made as they are of weathered thick planks of wood. Less refined than the boxes of Joseph Cornell (see below) they nevertheless draw on the Australian vernacular in their use of objects. As with the Cornell boxes there is a strong element of childhood fun and games in these constructions. ‘Dolly boxes’ (1976) for example contains innumerable plastic dollies of different sizes held inside wooden boxes; ‘Black bird box’ (1976) is like a shooting gallery at a fun fair; other boxes feature birds and sea shells trapped in plastic bottles, printed images of moths, test tubes, candlesticks, metal teapots and children’s bicycle seats. ‘Cloister’ (1977) below echoes the work of Joseph Cornell in it’s use of classical Renaissance imagery but with a rustic Australian charm. Unlike Cornell’s boxes which are enclosed dreamscapes that do not live in the world, Cascoigne’s boxes are made her own by being open and receptive to the landscape from which they merge, by being open to the world.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Cloister' 1977

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
‘Cloister’
1977

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Medici Princess' 1948

 

Joseph Cornell
‘Medici Princess’
1948

 

‘Forty acre block’ (1977, see image at top of entry) is a play on the great Aussie dream of owning your own 1/4 acre block. Inside the crate like tableaux we find cardboard parrots perched menacingly on rusted cylindrical metal tubes, two cardboard cut out cows with their white faces turned towards the viewer and at the rear of the box a sun-bleached picture of an orchard and three cows with human heads: a surreal vision of the Aussie landscape. Continuing the playfulness ‘Parrot morning’ (1976, below) extends the theme, the bicycle wheel almost having elements of Duchamp’s readymades but given an Australian twist with the perching parrots.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Parrot morning' 1976

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
‘Parrot morning’
1976

 

Moving forward we find one of my favourite works, ‘Feathered chairs’ (1978), a most beautiful evocation of technology and nature. Two red rusted 1950’s office chairs sit low on the floor, their seats, back and sides replaced by four rows of dark Commorant feathers held in place by wooden slats clamped together. Simple yet eloquent these surreal chairs have a poetic rhythm of place and space, speaking of the abandonment of  technology and it’s re-habitation by a trapped but beautiful nature.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Feathered chairs' 1978       Rosalie Gascoigne. ‘Feathered chairs’ 1978

 

Other work becomes simpler, more focused around this time (and especially from 1984 onwards) as though the artist was finding her singular voice, was confident of the ‘less is more’ rhythms of the music she was creating. The essence appears of the land, artefacts and spaces. In ‘Swell’ (1984) for example two convex forms of corrugated iron (one horizontal, one vertical) play off of each other, forming an opposing flow of energies like the swelling of the sea. Nothing else is needed.

In ‘Step through’ (1980) fragments of floral linoleum floor are mounted on wooden blocks at differing heights allowing the viewer to visually wander across the space of the installation as their mind wanders to memories of the floors of Australian kitchens of the 1950’s  – either seen in childhood or in photographs – their is a recognition from all ages, in all Australians.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Step through' 1980

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
‘Step through’
1980

 
This theme is further developed in the gridded ‘Inland sea’ (1986, below) patches of corrugated iron float above the ground like gently moving waves. Beautiful in it’s simplicity the colours, shapes and spaces evocatively reflect the undulating rise and fall of the landscape from which the iron has been rescued, the breath of air on the wind rippling the water.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Inland sea' 1986

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
‘Inland sea’
Weathered painted corrugated iron, wire
1986

 

The use of regularized block and grids start to appear in wall mounted vistas: of loopholes, of lovers, the metropolis and the fall, of beach houses and far views, of grasslands and medusas. ‘Promised land’ (1986) offers a vision resplendent of a far away country – the promised land abstracted to Tarax, Dales, Cottee’s, Blue Bow home deliveries of a Sparkling Fruity Flavour! box ends, the 32 Fl. Oz weight weighing the vision of the Australian landscape in the balance.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Sweet lovers' 1990

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
‘Sweet lovers’
1990

 

The most effective work uses the yellow colour of Schweppes boxes. In ‘Monaro’ (1989), one of my favourite works in the exhibition the painted blocks of yellow wood with unreadable fragmented words on them become, from a distance, like the wafting waving dried grasses of the Monaro landscape around Gascoigne’s home. Liquid music of air and place.

“I like the gold of the Schweppes boxes. I think that gold is one of the classical colours. I don’t care if it has got Schweppes written all over it, people seem to think I care. I don’t care! I just like the black and yellow. When I started I had lots of off-cuts, little pieces too good to throw away. So I started joining them up in a sort of way, walking around them, adding a few more. I soon had a 6 x 4 foot panel. In the end I realised that I needed to have four panels to say what I wanted to say. As it grew so did I. I kept thinking of the Monaro grasslands, and I thought of David Campbell saying ‘the Monaro rolls on to the sea.” 

Graeme Sullivan, Seeing Australia – Views of artists and art writers, Piper Press, Annandale, New South Wales, 1994, p. 19.

 

‘Summer swarm’ (1995) features small yellow blocks of wood an assemblage of yellow bees; ‘Grassfest’ (1999, below) like a stand of yellow grass under the Australian sun; ‘Metropolis’ (1999, below) collaged and patched road signs are worked together overlaying spaces and language. In Plenty’ (1986) yellow wood bricks mounted in panels are held in place with rusted metal nails. if you move close to the work the effect is immersive – every inflection of colour, grain of the wood, knot, nail hole, rub, scuff, daub of paint becomes evident. Every block is same but different, an almost transcendental experience.

In this work there is a refining of the essence of her vision of the world, a paring back of all extraneous elements but conversely an expansion in the energy of the work. A mature artist at the peak of their power.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Grassfest' 1999

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
‘Grassfest’
1999

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Metropolis' 1999

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
‘Metropolis’
1999

 

In the ‘white’ work ‘Star chart’ (1995), ‘Milky way’ (1995) heaven and earth reflect each other, the grids and patterns linked in a cosmic dance. ‘But mostly air’ (1994 – 1995) the large installation that closes the exhibition confirms this dance, containing as it does white blocks of wood (invisible air) with a row of weathered wooden posts propped up against the gallery wall and animal spirits made of wooden blocks: faces with wings and ears, gasping for breath, white animals on a white background hovering between here and there, between heaven and earth.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'White city' 1993

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
‘White city’
1993

 

This is a wonderful exhibition. Gascoigne rightly commands a place in the pantheon of Australian stars. She has left us with a legacy of music that evokes the rhythms, the air, the spaces and colours of our country. As she herself said,

“Look at what we have: Space, skies. You can never have too much of nothing.”

 

Nothing more, nothing less.

 

M Bunyan

 

 

More information on Rosalie Gascoigne exhibition on the The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia website




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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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