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Exhibition: ‘A Perfect Price For Donny’ by Martin Smith at Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane

Exhibition dates: 12th October – 12th November 2011

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Martin Smith is one of my favourite photo artists working in Australia at the moment. Smith produces consistently intriguing, stimulating art. Having had a particularly fractious relationship with my own father I appreciate the pathos and humour that Smith achieves in his work. Fantastic!

Many thankx to Ryan Renshaw gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Martin Smith
My Father Doesn’t Relate Well With Other Men
2011

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Martin Smith
My Father is a Deeply Flawed Human Being
2011

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“Martin Smith’s artwork focuses on those small moments that glance into a life. Tending to gather photographs as opposed to taking them, his works offer wry observations rather than grand statements. The loss or absence inherent in photographic images, which are suggestive of another time and place, is echoed in the physical loss of the words cut into the surface of the works. One story is inscribed on another; just like one memory is laid upon another or one version of a story embellishes another. The resulting works are replete with the same ambiguity, melancholy and richness as one’s memory.

‘The storytelling came from when I started looking at my old family photos and thinking about what goes with them,’ Smith explains. ‘You know when you’re looking at family photos, there are particular stories that go with them – that’s that person, that’s the time when your uncle turned up for Christmas, and so on.’

Smith’s stories that are painstakingly hand-cut into the photographic image give a whimsical and highly personal account of his life, like his ill-fated attempt to become an actor with the Sandgate Amateur Theatre Group or the time he worked in the cutlery crew at Australian Airlines, combining the text of these stories with photographs. The scarring of the photographic image with Smith’s scalpel blade ensures a unique artwork, a notion at odds with the reproducible aspects of photography.

Martin’s exhibition stems from his reflection of his experiences as an actor in Roger Fagan’s play A Perfect Price For Donny and questions the legacy of what we ‘leave behind’ for others to read.

‘Tanya was from the past of my amateur theatre days when I was 17 years old and possessed with deluded dreams of being an actor. We were both new members of the Sacred Heart Players and we both landed the leads in the production of ‘A Perfect Price for Donny’ written by Roger Fagan. Roger was an elderly member of the group and had joined years earlier to gain practical experience so he could finish his play. ‘The Perfect Price for Donny’ was his first and only play. Roger had worked at the Railways for 32 years and had been writing ‘A Perfect Price for Donny’ on and off over the 32 years. He had not started another play, he hadn’t written any short stories, prose or even a Haiku. Since he had retired two years ago he was finally able to realise his dream of finishing ‘A Perfect Price for Donny’ at the age of 68.’

‘The memories are left behind and then reconstituted and turned into other things, it’s a language constantly getting churned up. Memories are things that inform taking the photo,’ Smith says ‘and I’m bringing some of the intrinsic aspects of the photograph with me. Photography captures the classic moments of life, like your first day at school,’ he continues, ‘but it doesn’t capture the other parts of your life that are sometimes way more significant.’

People spend a lot of time in a Martin Smith exhibition reading the works and then laughing or sighing in recognition. The photographs are all of fairly impersonal exteriors, almost crime scenes, not postcards, not picturesque snaps but odd disregarded corners of the world. In some way they are reminiscent of album covers or slightly lame posters but are brought into the present by Smith’s honest and often very funny tales of modern living.”

Press release from the Ryan Renshaw Gallery website

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Martin Smith
My Father’s Talents Will Never Make Me Wealthy
2011

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Martin Smith
My Father Fails
2011

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Ryan Renshaw Gallery
137 Warry Street
Fortitude Valley Queensland 4006
T: 07 3666 0350

Opening hours:
Wednesday-Saturday 11am-5pm

Ryan Renshaw Gallery 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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