04
May
11

Review: ‘Alan Constable: Viewfinder’ at Arts Project Australia, Northcote, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th April 2011 – 1st June 2011

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“For me, art is what is most animal in us … It is the most noble thing because it’s a celebration precisely of the forces of the body and the forces of life.”

Elizabeth Grosz

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This Saturday, after a journey around the galleries of Albert Street, Richmond (underwhelming) and a visit to Sutton Gallery to see Simon Terrill’s photographic exhibition Phantom (an exhibition that I was going to review but when I saw it I changed my mind: two excellent photographs, Balfron Tower 2010-11 and Rivoli #2 2010-11, let down by three “empty” long exposure photographs allegedly showing traces of humanity, residues of presence) had left me a little deflated, I ventured to the opening of Alan Constable’s twenty-year retrospective Viewfinder curated by Dr Cheryl Daye at Arts Project Australia.

What a breath of fresh air this exhibition is!

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The exhibition shows beautifully in the gallery space. Hung chronologically, the more tightly controlled early series feature luminous pastels that investigate themes: landscapes, birds (rarely figures) – the rubbed and layered medium building up an almost translucent surface that reminded me of the pastel work of Odilon Redon. Later work, such as the two paintings Not titled (person with binoculars) 2009 and Not titled (figure with camera) 2006 (both below) show a greater engagement with the world and a freeing up of technique – running figures, Barak Obama, Dr. Who, suited men with headdresses, football players: happenings – with exaggerated form (hands for example), wonderful spontaneity and an essential simplicity that engages the viewer directly. All the paintings evidence a spatial flatness that brings everything onto the same plane, gives everything equal importance within the image (denying Renaissance perspective; as Cliff Burtt notes in the catalogue the converging lines and horizons act as elements of design, forming the scaffolding of composition). This technique is one of the most powerful elements of Constable’s work. A wonderful understanding of light and use of colour are other essential elements. The transformational, rough hewn, playful clay cameras (such as Konica Pop, 2009, below) are a particular favourite of mine. The glazes on the cameras, their tactility, the colours – are luscious. To hold them, to pick them up and feel them in your hands is a very special experience for me. Outstanding.

Constable has a unique way of seeing and imaging the world; his working method is unique. After carefully selecting source images from journals, magazines (for example National Geographic) and newspapers, Constable visually scans the photograph from a few inches, holding it up to his eyes and carefully maneuvering his way across the surface of the image, then making what he sees – a direct pointing to reality. Without a concept to worry about, through an enabled fluidity and freedom of expression, the artist cuts to the essential form of what he wants to make and because of this directness his work contains absolute kernels of wisdom. His observation is fantastic.

These are exuberant works that are a celebration of the body and of life. They have great spontaneity. What Constable sees, he feels and makes: the mark of the maker writ bold. They made me feel so alive. After the disappointment of earlier exhibitions in the day, this work made me laugh and smile!

You really can’t ask for more. It made my day.

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Many thankx to Sue Roff, Melissa Petty, Sim Lutin and everyone at Arts Project Australia for their help and for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

View photographs of Alan Constable on the Peter Fay Galleries website, a video of Peter saying a few words at the opening together with a video on the work of Arts Project Australia and Peter’s blog with comments and more photographs of the work.

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Alan Constable
Not titled (person with binoculars)
2009
acrylic on canvas
71 x 71.5 cm

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Alan Constable
Not titled (figure with camera)
2006
gouache on paper
65.5 x 45cm

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“Alan Constable is both a painter and a ceramicist. Alan Constable: Viewfinder is a major survey exhibition that will include paintings, drawings and ceramics, opening Saturday 30 April until Wednesday 1 June 2011.

Showcasing more than 60 works selected from over a 20 year period, Viewfinder offers new and rich insights into the unique art of Alan Constable. Legally blind, Constable has been able to create a body of work that is highly regarded. He is been a  finalist in numerous Australian Art Awards and his ceramic cameras are highly collectable.

‘Often when a painter is faced with a scene, there’s simply so much that’s appealing it’s hard to choose what to focus on’, says Dr Cheryl Daye, founding director, Arts Project Australia. ‘This is where a viewfinder comes in useful; as it helps you focus on particular parts of the scene, enabling you to decide what will make the best composition, both in terms of focus and format’. Daye has worked closely with Constable from the time he joined the Arts Project studio in 1987.

Viewfinder the title of his survey suggests the artist’s process and methodology as well as the composition and subject matter of his work.

In Constable’s two-dimensional works this can be traced from very early self-portraits (1992), through to carefully observed depictions of birds and animals to the series based on silhouettes framed in industrial or stormy landscapes, a fascination with light and energy and, more recently with colourful interpretations of political and cultural figures, all of which are sourced from photographic images carefully and sometimes painstakingly selected by the artist.

Based on imagery from newspapers and magazines, Constables recent paintings are notable for their vibrant kaleidoscopic effects and strong sense colour and patterning. Though Constable’s works are often centered on political events and global figures, his thematic concerns are frequently subjugated by the pure visual experience of colour and form.

His three-dimensional works, most notably the cameras, also sit well within this theme and given the fact that Constable is legally blind is also obliquely referenced. Constable’s ceramic works reflect a life-long fascination with old cameras, which began with his making replicas from cardboard cereal boxes at the age of eight. The sculptures are lyrical interpretations of technical instruments, and the artist’s finger marks can be seen clearly on the clay surface like traces of humanity. In this way, Constable’s cameras can be viewed as extensions of the body, as much as sculptural representations of an object.

Arts Project Australia supports people with disabilities to become practitioners in the visual arts.  The studio and gallery nurtures and promotes artists with an intellectual disability as they develop their body of work.”

Press release from Arts Project Australia

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Alan Constable
Konica Pop
2009
ceramic
21 x 32 x 10 cm

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Alan Constable
Not titled (explosion II)
1996
pastel on paper
50 x 66cm

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Alan Constable
Not titled (fruit)
1993
pastel on paper
66 x 50cm
Arts Project Australia Permanent Collection

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Arts Project Australia
24 High Street
Northcote Victoria 3070
T: + 61 3 9482 4484

Gallery Hours:
Monday to Friday
 9am – 5pm
Saturday 
10am – 1pm

Arts Project Australia website

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2 Responses to “Review: ‘Alan Constable: Viewfinder’ at Arts Project Australia, Northcote, Melbourne”


  1. May 5, 2011 at 5:35 am

    Dear marcus…..just to let you know that I have put a link to your blog on my web site. Your words about Alan’s exhibition so wonderful. We will be hearing so much more of this wonderful artist. And writing like yours really helps.

    cheers
    peter fay

    • 2 Dr Marcus Bunyan
      May 5, 2011 at 9:23 am

      Hi Peter
      I bought one of his cameras from the Melbourne Art Fair last year. He really is a wonderful artist.
      I have posted links to your website in the review of Alan’s work.

      All the best
      Marcus


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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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