Posts Tagged ‘Australian art

01
Jul
17

Review: ‘Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

This project has been supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria

 

PLEASE NOTE: I am still recovering from my hand operation which is going to take longer than expected. All of the text has been constructed using a dictation programme and corrected using only my right hand – a tedious process. I have to keep my mental faculties together, otherwise this hand will drive me to distraction… Marcus

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1-3
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type prints
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 2
C-type print
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“While I’m interested in portraiture – I don’t consider my work as portraiture because that suggests that I’m trying to portray myself, my own visage, my own image. I employ images, icons, materials, metaphors to capture and idea and moment in time. There are many different things at play; taking a picture of myself is really the last thing that’s on my mind.”

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Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

“I’m interested in simple aesthetic gestures that can say something … something quite profound about the world that we live in. I tend to build images how I create a sculpture. I borrow from the world around me.”

On being away from home: “You’re able to remove yourself from the local discourse, and romanticise home. When you’re displaced you tend to gravitate towards certain memories … But this is who I am. It would be weird not to express that somehow. I combine memories of my past with my lived experience and an idea of where I’d like to be … it’s all montaged into one.”

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Christian Thompson

 

“But Thompson makes things up. His ‘We bury our own’ does not let us see the early daguerreotype but improvises a series of fugues on its spiritual essence. This is the crucial step that Thompson has taken: if you repeat the spectacle you cannot escape the past. But if you, a spiritual descendant, transmogrify yourself in keeping with the aura of the image’s subject, during the prolonged period of encounter and immersion, you can ‘repatriate’ that forebear. Or so he desires.”

“Through these conjurings of the language his people spoke before colonisation set out to strip them of their culture as well as their land, Christian Thompson performs private ceremonies – to reach beyond visual statements of personal presence and reawaken the knowledge of his forebears, and allow us, his listeners and viewers, into their living story.”

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Marina Warner. “Magical Aesthetics,” extracts from the catalogue essay

 

 

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… not dying.

This is a strong survey exhibition of the work of contemporary Australian Indigenous artist and Bidjara man exploring the world, Christian Thompson. As with any survey exhibition, it can only give us a glimpse into the long standing development of the artist’s work, inviting the viewer to then research more fully the themes, conceptual acts and bodies (of work) that have led the artist to this point in his artistic development. Having said that the exhibition, together with its insightful catalogue essays and additional images that do not appear in the exhibition, allow the viewer to be challenged intellectually, aesthetically and most importantly … spiritually. And to be somewhat conflicted by the art as well, it has to be said.

Thompson’s “multidisciplinary practice explores notions of cultural hybridity, along with identity and history, creating works that transcend cultural boundaries.” His self-reflexive and self-referential bodies of work, often with the artist using his body as an “armature for his characters, costumes and various props,” are intuitive and imaginative in how they relate Aboriginal and Australian/European history, taking past time into present time which influences future time. Time, memory, history, space, landscape are conflated into one point, enunciated through acts of ritual intimacy. These ritual intimacies, these performative acts, are enabled through an understanding of a regularised and constrained repetition of norms (in this case, the declarative power of colonialism), where the taking of a photograph of an Aboriginal person (for example), is “a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production…” (Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 95).

What is so heartening to see in this exhibition is a contemporary Indigenous artist not relying on re-animating colonial images of past injustices, but re-imagining these images to produce a spiritual connection to Country, to place, to people in the present moment. As Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA and Hetti Perkins, guest curator observe in the wall text at the beginning of the exhibition, “Rather than appropriating or restaging problematic ethnographic images of indigenous ancestors held in the Museum’s photographic collection, Thompson has chosen to spend significant periods of time with these images, absorbing their ‘aura’ and developing a personal artistic and deferential response that is decisively empowered.” As Marina Warner states in her excellent catalogue essay “Magical Aesthetics”, these ritual intimacies are a “magical re-animation and adopt time-honoured processes of making holy – of hallowing. Adornment is central to ritual and a prime way of glorifying and consecration.” What Thompson is doing is not quoting but translating the source-text into new material. As Mary Jacobus notes of the work of the painter Cy Twombly, “Quotation involves the repurposing of an existing text: translation requires a swerve from the source-text as it finds new directions and enters unknown terrain.” (Mary Jacobus. Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint.  Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 7).

This auto-ethnographic exploration and adornment leads to a deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of time in a heterotopic space, juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites of contestation – Thompson’s travels and research from around the world, the embodiment in his own culture and that of contemporary Australia, pop culture, fashion, music and language – where, as Hetti Perkins says, “the unknowable is a lovely thing” and where Thompson can affect and influence “the Zeitgeist through more subversive means.” These spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia, these fragmented images, become a process and a performance in which Thompson seeks to ameliorate the objects aura through a process of ‘spiritual repatriation’. Thompson’s performativity is where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Here, in terms of ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’, I am interested in the word “repatriation”. Repatriation means to send (someone) back to their own country – from the verb repatriare, from re- ‘back’ + Latin patria ‘native land’. It has an etymological link to the word “patriot” – from late Latin patriota ‘fellow countryman’, from Greek patriōtēs, from patrios ‘of one’s fathers’, from patris ‘fatherland’ – and all the imperial connotations that are associated with the word. So, to send someone back (against their own will? by force?) or to be patriotic, as belonging to or coming from, the fatherland. A land that is father, farther away. Therefore, it is with regard to a centralised, monolithic body and its materialities (for the body is usually centrally placed in Thompson’s work) in Thompson’s instinctive works, that relations of discourse and power will always produce hierarchies and overlappings which are going to be contested. As Judith Butler notes,

“That each of those categories [body and materiality] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.” (Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp. 66-67)

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Thus performativity is the power of discourse, the politicisation of abjection, and the ritual of being.

This is where I become conflicted by much of this work. Intellectually and conceptually I fully understand the instinctive, intuitive elements behind the work (crystals, flowers, maps, butterflies, dreams) but aesthetically I feel little ‘aura’ emanating from the photographs. Thompson’s “peripatetic life and your bowerbird, magpie-like fascination” (p. 107) lead to all sorts of influences emerging in the work – orange from The Netherlands, Morris dancers from England, Jewish heritage, Aboriginal and Australian heritage, fashion, pop culture, music, language – all evidenced through “acts of concealment in his self-portraits.” (p. 75). Now there’s the rub!

In Thompson’s ritual intimacies the intimacy is performed only once, for the camera. It is not didactic, but it is interior and hidden, leaving much to the feelings of the viewer, looking. The re-presentation of that intimacy is performed by the viewer every time they look at the art. I think of the work of one of my favourite performance artists, Claude Cahun, where the artist inhabits her personas, adorning her androgynous face with costume after costume to become something that she wants to become – a buddha, a double, a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. Cahun is always and emphatically herself, undermining a certain authority… and she produces indelible images that sear the mind.

I don’t get that from Thompson. I don’t know who he really is. Does it matter? Yes it does. In supposedly his most autobiographic work (according to Hetti Perkins), the video Heat (2010, below) the work emerges out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland where “heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair.” Perhaps for him or someone from the desert country like Hetti Perkins (as she states in the catalogue), but not for me. I feel no ‘heat’ from these three beautiful woman standing in a contextless background with a wind machine blowing their hair. The only ‘heat’ I felt was perhaps the metaphoric heat of colonisation, violence and abuse thrust on a vulnerable culture.

Talking of vulnerable cultures, in the work Polari (2014, below) Thompson invokes the history of languages in an intimate ritual “as he seeks to reanimate and repossess vanishing knowledge. Polari is a private language … a kind of code used by sailors, circus and fairground folk, and in gay circles. … Thompson’s Polari series warns us that the artist has a language of his own, which we can overhear but not fully understand: something is withheld, in contrast to the imposed and implacable exposure which the subjects of scientific collections were made to suffer in the past.” (Warner, p. 74) But why is he using Polari specifically, a language that is strongly associated with the libertine gay culture of the 1950s-70s? Does he have a right to use this word and its linguistic heritage because he is gay? It is never stated, again another thing left hidden, concealed and unresolved.

Although no culture can ever fully own its language (language is a construct after all) … if Thompson is not gay, then I would take exception to his invoking the Polari language, just as an Indigenous artist would take exception to me using Bidjara language in an art work of my own. I remember coming out in London in 1975 and speaking Polari myself when it was still being used in pubs and clubs such as the A + B club in Soho. It was not being used as a language of resistance, far from it, but as a language of desire. It was a language used to inculcate that desire. As a video on YouTube observes of speaking Polari, “you didn’t think, oh God I’m so oppressed I can never speak about myself, you just did it, you just slipped into it without thinking.” It was your own language, like a comfortable pair of slippers. Does Thompson understand how using that word to title a body of work could be as offensive to some people as he finds the denaturing of his own culture? For me this is where the work really becomes problematic, when an artist does not enunciate these connections, where things, like sexuality, remain hidden. Similarly, with historical photographs of Indigenous people taken for ethnographic study, Thompson fails to acknowledge the work of academics such as Jane Lydon and her important books Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians (2005) and Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (2016) where she unpacks the historical baggage of the images and notes that the photographs were not solely a tool of colonial exploitation. Lydon articulates an understanding in Eye Contact that the residents of Coranderrk, an Aboriginal settlement near Healsville, Melbourne, “had a sophisticated understanding of how they were portrayed, and they became adept at manipulating their representations.” Again, there is more than meets the eye, more than just ‘spiritual repatriation’ of aura.

For me, the magic of this exhibition arrives when Thompson lets go all obfuscation, let’s go all actions that make something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible. Where his ritual intimacies become grounded in language, earth and spirit. This happens in the video works, Desert slippers (2006, below), Refuge (2014, below), Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) (2011) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) (2011, below). In these videos, the Other’s gaze disintegrates and we are left with poignant, heart felt words and actions that engage history, emotion, family and Country.

The video Desert slippers “features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.” It is simple, eloquent, powerful, present. The other videos feature two baroque singers from Europe and Thompson singing in his native tongue Bidjara (Bidyara, Pitjara), a language that Wikipedia states “is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language. In 1980 it was spoken by twenty elders in Queensland, between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers.” Spelt out in black and white. Extinct. To hear Thompson sing a berceuse (French, from bercer ‘to rock’), or lullaby in his native language, a language taught to him by his father, is the most emotional of experiences. The work “combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture,” and “is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.” Amen to that.

This is the real hallowing, not the dress ups or the concealments. It is in these videos that the raw material of his and his cultures experience is transmuted into living, breathing stories, in an alchemical transmutation, a magical re-animation of past time into present and future time. My transfiguration into a more spiritual state was complete when listening in quiet contemplation. For I was given, if only for a very brief moment, access to the pain of our first peoples and a vision of hope for their future healing.

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… and certainly not dying.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the photographs and videos in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“At the heart of my practice is a concern with aura: what it is, how it can be photographed and how it can be repatriated.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled #6
2010
From the series King Billy
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Berceuse (2017)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse (extract installation view)
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

In this newly commissioned work, Thompson sings a berceuse – a cradle song or lullaby – that combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture. Intended as a gesture of re-imagining his traditional Bidjara language, which is been categorised as extinct, the work is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.

Thompson makes subtle reference to his maternal Sephardic Jewish roots by ruminating in this work on the lullaby Nani Nani:

 

Lullaby, lullaby
The boy wants a lullaby,
The mother’s son,
Who although small will grow.

Oh, oh my lady open,
Open the door,
I come home tired,
From ploughing the fields.

Oh, I won’t open them,
You don’t come home tired,
You’ve just come back,
From seeing your new lover.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Museum of Others (2016)

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Equilibrium
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

 

Museum of others is Thompson’s most recent photographic series and continues to reflect on his time at the University of Oxford. It features several ‘dead white males’ from the pantheon of British and Australian culture. The explorer, the ethnologist and the anthropologist all had roles in the process of colonisation in Australia but the art critic is particular to Thompson; Ruskin was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at University of Oxford, just as Thompson was one of its first Australian Aboriginal students. Thompson explains his motivation for the series:

“Historically, it was the western gaze that was projected onto the ethnic other and I thought I’ll create a ‘museum of others’ and I’ll be the one othering, so to speak. ‘Equilibrium’ is based around the idea that the vessel is the equaliser. The vessel is the cradle of all civilisations. We all have that in common.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series We bury our own 2010 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

We bury our own is a body of work that was developed in response to the historic collection of photography, featuring Aboriginal people from the late nineteenth century, at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Thompson noted in 2012 that these early images “have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and they have pushed me into new territory, they have travelled with me… I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs…”

Each of Thompson’s lyrical photographic images from We bury our own and Pagan sun feature himself partially disguised with props and costumes. The works are virtually monochromatic with elements highlighted in full colour, and his eyes, or face, are partially concealed or painted. The use of votive objects is explained in his equally lyrical 2012 statement: “I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Energy Matter
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Lamenting the flowers
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Forgiveness of Land
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Down Under World
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

 

“I conceived the We Bury Our Own series in 2010 after curator Christopher Morton invited me to develop a body of work that would be inspired by and in dialogue with the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum…

The archival images have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and pushed me into new territory; they have travelled with me to residencies at the Fonderie Darling in Montreal and Greene Street Studio, New York. I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs. The simplicity of a monochrome and sepia palette, the frayed delicate edges and the cracks on the surface like a dry desert floor that reminded me of the salt plains of my own traditional lands.

I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt, employing crystals and other votive objects that emit frequencies that can heal, ward off negative energies, psychic attack, geopathic stress and electro magnetic fields, and, importantly, transmit ideas.

I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work, I think with surprising results. Perhaps this is what art is able to do, perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present?

I heard a story many years ago from some old men, they told me about a ceremony where young warriors would make incisions through the flesh exposing the joints, they would insert gems between the bones to emulate the creator spirits, often enduring infection and agonizing pain or resulting in death. The story has stuck with me for many years, one that suggests immense pain fused with intoxicating beauty. The idea of aspiring to embody the creators, to transgress the physical body by offering to our gods our spiritual heart, freeing ourselves of suffering by inducing a kind of excruciating decadent torture. This was something that played on my mind during the production of this series of photos and video work. The deliverance of the spirit back to land – the notion that art could be the vehicle for such a passage, the aspiration to occupy a space that belongs to something higher than one’s physical self.”

Christian Thompson

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints) and a still from the video dead tongue 2015
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In Dead tongue Thompson continues to interrogate the implications of England’s empirical quest on the former colonies of the British Empire through the threat to or loss of Indigenous languages. In works such as this, Thompson actively challenges the perception that Aboriginal culture has become reduced to a captured trophy of Empire.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In … Imperial relic, he continues to use himself as the ‘armature for his characters, costumes and various props’. Drawing on his background in sculpture, he has created ‘wearable sculptures’ including a trumpet shaped shirt collar, an eruption of white flowers from a union jack hoodie, and an armature of maps. In each his face is partially or fully obscured again. “I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination,” he says. “So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ancient bloom
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ship of dreams
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

The series title Imperial relic, summarises the fundamental philosophy underpinning the colonial occupation of Australia. Like the nearby series We bury our own, it is closely connected to Thompson’s studies in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum and shares with the Australian graffiti series Thomson’s physical presence is standing in for the Australian landscape.

The work Ancient bloom alludes to the phonograph horn out which might be heard the voice of Fanny Cochran Smith, who’s wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only historical audio recordings of any of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. Is also represents a Victorian-era shirt collar – a motif that has appeared in Thompson’s work since his Emotional striptease series of 2003 – but here is exaggerated into a soft-sculptural form that both projects and stifles the voice.

In Death’s second self the artist’s face is uncovered but distorted by make up and digital postproduction effects.The title quotes William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:

As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In God and Kings Thompson is cloaked with a map of Aboriginal language groups like a coat of armour. In the Ship of dreams he reprises the motif of Australian flora obscuring his face but here his hoodie is stitched together from several flags: the red ensign (flown by British registered ships), the RAAF flag and the Australian flag.

 

“I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination … So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

.
Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Isabella kept her dignity, I’m not going anywhere without you, Dead as a door nail and Hannah’s diary from the series Lost together 2009 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

On 13 February 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official apology to Aboriginal Australians for the Stolen Generations – the children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 under the respective Federal and State government policies of assimilation. At the time, Thompson was preparing to leave Australia for further studies aboard and felt this historic gesture allowed him to proudly take his culture and history with him as he ventured into the world.

Thompson photographed the series Lost together in the Netherlands while studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance at Amsterdam University. The theme of the orange throughout the series is a reference to the national colour of the Netherlands, while the tartan patterning refers to early clan societies in the United Kingdom. The combination of these different styles is based on counter-cultural aesthetics – particularly punk collage of 1970s London.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

Christian Thompson
Hannah’s Diary
2009
From the series Lost Together
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

MUMA | Monash University Museum of Art is proud to announce the first major survey exhibition of the work of Bidjara artist, Christian Thompson, one of Australia’s leading and most intriguing contemporary artists.

Thompson works across photography, video, sculpture, performance and sound, interweaving themes of identity, race and history with his lived experience. His work is held in the collections of major state and national art museums in Australia and internationally.

Thompson made history as one of the first two Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the University of Oxford as a Charlie Perkins Scholar, where he completed his Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art) in 2016. Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy opens as the artist looks forward to the graduation ceremony in July, when he will be conferred his degree.

Featuring a major new commission created for this exhibition, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy will survey Thompson’s diverse practice, spanning fifteen years, and will also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on the artist’s career and work, including essays by Brian Catling RA and Professor Dame Marina Warner DBE, CBE, FBA, FRSL.

The specially commissioned installation will be an ambitious multichannel composition, developing the sonic experimentation that is a signature of Thompson’s work. Incorporating Bidjara language, it will invite viewers into an immersive space of wall-to-wall imagery and sound:

“Bidjara is officially an endangered language but my work is motivated by the simple yet profound idea that if even one word of an endangered language is spoken it continues to be a living language,” Thompson says.

Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy explores the unique perspective and breadth of Thompson’s practice from the fashioning of identity through to his ongoing interest in Indigenous language as the expression of cultural survival. The new multichannel work will develop musical ideas Thompson has previously explored.

“It will be a much more ambitious iteration of a song in Bidjara. At one stage I’m singing on one screen and then other versions of me appear singing the melodies. I really see it as an opportunity to do something that’s more complex musically, more textured sonically – I also want it to be more intricate with my use of language,” the artist says.

Ritual Intimacy is curated by MUMA director Charlotte Day and guest curator Hetti Perkins. Day explains that the exhibition is part of MUMA’s Australian artist series, which affords the opportunity to look at each artist’s practice in depth. “Christian’s exhibition traces a particularly productive period of research and development, from early well-known works such as the Australian Graffiti series to more recent experiments with language in sound and song works,” Day says.

A long-time curatorial collaborator with Thompson, Perkins is the writer and presenter of art + soul, the ABC’s acclaimed television series about contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Thompson was accepted to Oxford University on an inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholarship, set up to honour Hetti Perkins’s famous father – a leader, activist and the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university. Perkins says the MUMA exhibition is well-earned recognition for Thompson’s work, which she featured in the second series of art + soul.

“Christian has spent periods of his adult life, as a practicing artist, away from home, but there is a common thread in his work, and it’s this connection to home or Country,” Perkins says. “In terms of the rituals or rites of the exhibition title, he is constantly reiterating that connection to home – through words, through performance, through his art, through ideas and writing,” she says.

Alongside performance and ritual, Thompson’s concept of “spiritual repatriation” is central to his work. Working with the Australian collection at famed ethnographic storehouse the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the artist was offered copies of colonial photographs of Aboriginal people but preferred not to work this way. Instead, he chose to spend significant periods of time with these ancestral images, absorbing their “aura” in order to then make his own artistic response that did not reproduce those original problematic images.

Dr Christian Thompson is a Bidjara contemporary artist whose work explores notions of identity, cultural hybridity, and history; often referring to the relationships between these concepts and the environment. Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound. His work focuses on the exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, race, and memory. In his live performances and conceptual anti-portraits he inhabits a range of personas achieved through handcrafted sculptures and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.

Press release from MUMA

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Polari (2014)

 

 

‘Polari’ is a form of cant or cryptic slang that evolved over several centuries from the various languages that converged in London’s theatres, circuses and fairgrounds, the merchant navy and criminal circles. It came to be associated with gay subculture, as many gay men worked in theatrical entertainment or joined ocean liners as waiters, stewards and entertainers at a time when homosexual activity was illegal. This slang rendered the speaker unintelligible to hostile outsiders, such as policeman, but fell out of use after the Sexual Offences Act (1967) effectively decriminalised homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Attracted to the theatricality and defiant nature of Polari (which he likens to the situation of Australian Indigenous languages under assimilationist policies), Thompson borrowed its name for the series which examines how subcultures express themselves.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Siren
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity II
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity III
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ariel
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ellipse
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

Polari was a form of slang used by gay men in Britain prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, used primarily as a coded way for them to discuss their experiences. It quickly fell out of use in the 70s, although several words entered mainstream English and are still used today. For more about Polari see Wikipedia.

 

 

Author and academic Paul Baker of Lancaster University discusses a form of gay slang known as Polari that was spoken in Britain. It was a secret type of language used mainly by gay men and some lesbians and members of the trans, drag and other communities in the United Kingdom in the 20th century until it largely died out by the early 1970s.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

Refuge is a video work by contemporary Australian artist Christian Thompson. Thompson sings in the endangered Bidjara language of his heritage. A collaboration with James Young formerly of ‘Nico’ and recorded the original track in Oxford, United Kingdom.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Heat (2010)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Heat (extract)
2010
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.52 minutes

 

 

Like the Australian graffiti photographs [see photographs below], Heat come out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland. Barcaldine is famous for its role in the foundation organised labor in Queensland and ultimately the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It also holds historical significance for Thompson’s family as it is where his great-great-grandfather, Charlie Thompson, surreptitiously bought a block of land before Aboriginal people could legally buy land, creating a safe haven for his family and other Aboriginal families at the time when Aboriginal people had few legal rights. For Thompson, heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair. It features the three granddaughters of Aboriginal rights pioneer Charlie Perkins, who are the daughters of Thompson’s Long time collaborator Hetti Perkins.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series Australian graffiti (2007)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (blue gum)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (banksia)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Monash University Collection

 

 

Australian graffiti was the last work that Thompson made before leaving Australia for Europe. It connects with his memories of growing up in the outback and its desert flowers, which he perceives to be both fragile and immensely powerful. I adorning himself with garlands of these flowers and flamboyant garments of the 1980s and 1990s – the period in which he grew up – Thompson juxtaposes these elements against his own Bidjara masculinity. By wearing native flora he also stands in for the landscape, invoking an Indigenous understanding of the landscape as a corporeal, living ancestral being.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Desert slippers
2006
Single-channel digital colour video, sound
34 seconds

 

 

Desert slippers was made at the time the Northern Territory government commissioned research into allegations of the abuse of children in Aboriginal communities. When the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was tabled the following year, the federal government under John Howard staged the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which quickly became known as ‘the intervention’. This action was enacted without consultation with Indigenous people and ignored the substantive recommendations of the report to which it was allegedly responding.

Thompson made this video, involving his father, and the ceremonial aspects of their daily lives, during this period. Desert slippers features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother) 
(extract installation view)
2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) were made in England and in the Netherlands respectively. While studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, a centre for the study of early musical styles such as the baroque, Thompson realised that his own Bidjara language could be interpreted through the matrix of another cultural context and sphere. He undertook operatic training with this in mind, choosing in the end to work with specialist singers Sonja Gruys and Jeremy Vinogradov to realise the two works.

 

 

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
Ground Floor, Building F,
Monash University Caulfield campus,
900 Dandenong Road,
Caulfield East, VIC 3145
T: 61 3 9905 4217

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 12 – 5pm

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28
Jan
17

Review: ‘The sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver’ at TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 19th November 2016 – 5th February 2017

Curator: Julie Ewington

 

 

Reading either side of the sign

Bronwyn Oliver and the invitation to imagine

 

John Berger once said, “The Renaissance artist imitated nature. The Mannerist and Classic artist reconstructed examples from nature in order to transcend nature. The Cubist realised that his awareness of nature was part of nature.”

And the postmodernist?

The postmodern artist regarded nature as a series of multiplicities that were impossibly complex to define, so were at once irrelevant but also beyond any new mythologizing. Nature was the green screen background used to mask (and transform) lives into any new series of narratives.

 

Thinking about the sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver in this magnificent retrospective of her work, I was struck by the classical beauty of form, attention to detail and delicacy of their construction. I noted their monochromatic palette and the self contained nature of all the works (with one word titles such as Wrap, Husk, Flare and Siren), as though they could not exist outside of themselves. And yet they do.

I thought long and hard about how Oliver’s biomorphic sculptures transcend time and space, how intractable metal becomes mutable object, metal into cosmos, nature. How they become a “form” (in energy terms) of transmitted, transmuted reality. And how you access that energy through their punctum, the shadows that they cast on the wall. And I had this feeling, of a lump in the throat, of a most visceral experience which made me have a tear in my eye for most of the time I was walking around the gallery.

For Oliver has created a new mythology through her imagination and in her nature through a series of multiplicities which is anything but irrelevant.

These objects from another time have an ancient feeling, slipping and slithering through the mud of evolution, nursing their young in enclosed spirals, or waiting for prey – open mouthed like pitcher plants – waiting for prey to drop into their interior. There is a darker side to these sculptures that is usually unacknowledged. Order and chaos, a formal, sculptural logic and poetic logic, always go hand in hand. In both dark light (ying yang), the complexity and simplicity of everything presented here vibrates and hums with energy. I imagine much like the artist herself.

When work is inspired like this, the sculptures seem to attain another temporal dimension. They take the viewer out of themselves and into another world. How does the artist make this happen?

Oliver makes this happen through reading either side of the sign. While there are obvious references to shell, heart, calligraphy, text, wrap, cloak, cell, flower, comet, spiral, sphere, ring and more in her work, she never didactically forces these signs on the viewer. She invites them to reimagine, to see the world and its land/marks in unfamiliar ways by shaping, twisting, and reinterpreting the sign. Individually and collectively, the nexus of the work (the series of connections linking two or more things) creates, “A presence, energy in my objects that a human being can respond to on the level of soul or spirit.”

This is the strength and beauty and energy of her work.

While the works look absolutely stunning in TarraWarra Museum of Art galleries, not everything is sunshine and light. Some of the shadows cast on the wall were unfocussed and lacked definition, inhibiting access to the appearance and disappearance of form and the multiplying physicality of the works. Stronger and more focused lighting was needed in these instances. Perhaps another curatorial opportunity was lost in not bringing together the numerous forms of sculpture such as Eddy 1993 and Swathe 1997 in one grouping within the gallery. On their own the forms became slightly repetitious; together, as Oliver notes of her circular works being in a series, “They each have the same format, but very different energies. Different lives.” I would have liked to have had the opportunity to compare and feel those different energies in a group, side by side. These are minor quibbles, however, as this is one of the most memorable exhibitions I have seen in years.

I cannot recommend this exhibition highly enough: not to be missed!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the TarraWarra Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photograph for a larger version of the image. All images unless stated underneath © Dr Marcus Bunyan and TarraWarra Museum of Art.

 

 

“I am trying to create life. Not in the sense of beings, or animals, or plants, or machines, but ‘life’ in the sense of a kind of force. A presence, energy in my objects that a human being can respond to on the level of soul or spirit.”

.
Bronwyn Oliver, 1991

 

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Mantle' 1985

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Mantle
1985
Paper, fibreglass, dye
45.7 × 101.6 × 45.7 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Siren' 1986

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Siren
1986
Paper, fibreglass, dye
71 × 91.5 × 76.2 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Home of a Curling Bird' 1988

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Home of a Curling Bird
1988
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Apostrophe' 1987

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Apostrophe
1987
Copper and lead
100 × 100 × 60cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Curlicue' (detail) 1991

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Curlicue (detail)
1991
Copper wire
250 × 45 × 15cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Definition: A decorative curl or twist in calligraphy or in the design of an object.

 

Sonia Payes. 'Bronwyn Oliver' 2006

 

Sonia Payes
Bronwyn Oliver
2006
C-type photograph, edition of 10
127 x 127 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Ring II' 1994

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Ring II
1994
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“I am quite please about the circular works being in a series. I have not worked through an idea like this before. I think they will look quite strong together. They each have the same format, but very different energies. Different lives.” ~ Bronwyn Oliver, 1994

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Wrap' 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Wrap
1997
Copper
45 × 35 × 12cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Husk' 1994

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Husk
1994
Copper
Collection of Vivienne Sharpe
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Flare' 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Flare
1997
Copper
50 × 50 × 14 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Iris' 1989

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Iris
1989
Copper
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Iris' 1989 (detail)

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Iris (detail)
1989
Copper
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Hatchery' 1991

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Hatchery
1991
Copper, lead and wood
50 × 70 × 60 cm
Artbank collection, purchased 1991
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Hatchery' 1991

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Hatchery
1991
Copper, lead and wood
50 × 70 × 60 cm
Artbank collection, purchased 1991
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Hatchery' (1991) with 'Heart' (1988) beyond

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Hatchery (1991) with Heart (1988) beyond
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

installation view, 'The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver', TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016

 

Installation view (main gallery space), The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver, TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016
L to R: Slip 1998, Anthozoa 2006, Unity 2001, Blossom 2004-05, Tress 1992
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Slip' 1998

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Slip
1998
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Clef' 1993

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Clef
1993
Copper
110 × 45 × 40 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“The ideas relate to the effect of the shadow as a drawing, and the appearance and disappearance of form.” ~ Bronwyn Oliver, 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Clef' (detail) 1993

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Clef (detail)
1993
Copper
110 × 45 × 40 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Anthozoa' (detail) 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Anthozoa (detail)
2006
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) was one of the most significant Australian sculptors of recent decades. This first comprehensive survey of 50 key works, from the mid-1980s to the final solo exhibition in 2006, includes early works made in paper, major sculptures from public collections, and maquettes for many of her much-loved public sculptures.

Emerging in the early 1980s when many artists were turning to installation, video and other ephemeral art forms, Oliver resolutely pursued making complex and substantial works in a variety of materials, eventually exclusively in metal. Studying in the UK and working in Europe, Oliver came to artistic maturity at the time of an international resurgence of sculpture; having attained a Masters degree at Chelsea School of Art in 1982-83, she witnessed the nascent years of the ‘New British Sculpture’.

This exhibition reveals Bronwyn Oliver’s lyrical sensibility and inventiveness. She developed an original, distinctive and enduring vocabulary that expressed her fascination with the inner life and language of form, and she tenaciously followed the beguiling demands of her chosen materials.

‘My work is about structure and order. It is a pursuit of a kind of logic: a formal, sculptural logic and poetic logic. It is a conceptual and physical process of building and taking away at the same time. I set out to strip the ideas and associations down to (physically and metaphorically) just the bones, exposing the life still held inside.’1

.
Oliver brought poetic brevity and decision to her sculpture. Many works suggest aspects of the natural world and its metaphorical potential, and a number of the public works are located in gardens. Yet works such as Home of a Curling Bird and Eddy evoke associations with shelter or natural movement or, as with Curlicue,conjure human mark-making with studied panache. Oliver’s work encompasses what appear to be archetypal forms, like shells, spirals, circles, and spheres; their delicate shapes trace shadows that become spectral drawings on the gallery wall, multiplying the physicality of the works.

Between 1986 and her death in 2006, Oliver presented 18 solo exhibitions and from 1983 participated in numerous group exhibitions in Australia and in Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Korea and China. At the same time, she undertook many commissions where she worked closely with clients and stakeholders, and for 19 years taught art to primary school students at Sydney’s Cranbrook School. Prodigiously hardworking, Oliver devised exquisite sculptures for the public domain, in locations as various as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Hilton Hotel and Quay Restaurant in inner-city Sydney, and at the University of New South Wales, as well as in Brisbane, Adelaide and Orange in regional NSW. Her work is held in most major Australian public collections, and in numerous collections in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Europe and the USA.

As writer Hannah Fink memorably observed in 2006, ‘Bronwyn Oliver had that rarest of all skills: she knew how to create beauty.’ This exhibition is a tribute to that power.

Text from the TarraWarra Museum of Art website

.
1. Bronwyn Oliver quoted in Hannah Fink, ‘Strange things: on Bronwyn Oliver’, in Burnt Ground, (ed. Ivor Indyk), Heat 4. New series, Newcastle: Giramondo Publishing Co, 2002, pp. 177-187.

 

installation view, 'The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver', TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016

 

Installation view (main gallery space), The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver, TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016
L to R: Eddy 1993, Shield 1995, Wand 1991, Blossom 2004-05, Lily 1995
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Eddy' (detail) 1993

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Eddy (detail)
1993
Copper
Art Gallery of South Australia
Gift of the Moët and Chandon Australian Art Foundation Fellow Collection 2000
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“‘…the act of fabrication’ [is essential] … A couple of pairs of pliers, a wire-cutter, hand-drill, rivet gun and a Stanley knife is my usual kit. That’s what I’ll be taking to France. I’m compulsive. I’ll start work within 24 hours.” ~ Bronwyn Oliver, 1994

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Swathe' 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Swathe
1997
Copper
180 × 300 × 300 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Swathe' (detail) 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Swathe (detail)
1997
Copper
180 × 300 × 300 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Swathe' (detail) 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Swathe (detail)
1997
Copper
180 × 300 × 300 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Sonia Payes. 'Bronwyn Oliver' 2006

 

Sonia Payes
Bronwyn Oliver
2006
Courtesy of the artist

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Shield' 1995

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Shield
1995
Copper
McClelland Gallery + Sculpture Park collection
Purchased with funds from the Elisabeth Murdoch Sculpture Foundation, 1995
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“All in this series have a ‘ruched’ copper surface in common, and the idea of a swelling/breathing form beneath the surface. (Idea began with a (dreadful) sculpture seen in the Musée d’Orsay in 1990-91. Sculpture of a gladiator, in bronze, wearing ‘ruched’ leggings, with musculature taut beneath the surface of the cloth). Final work completed in Hautvillers studio.” ~ Bronwyn Oliver, 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Lily' (detail) 1995

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Lily (detail)
1995
Copper
Newcastle Art Gallery collection
Gift of Ann Lewis AO 2011
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

installation view, 'The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver', TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016

 

Installation view (farther gallery space), The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver, TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016
L to R: Striation 2004, Grandiflora (Bud) 2005, Rose 2006, Grandiflora (Bloom) 2005
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Rose' 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Rose
2006
Copper
Collection © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Rose' (detail) 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Rose (detail)
2006
Copper
Collection © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Umbra' 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Umbra
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Umbra' (detail) 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Umbra (detail)
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Umbra' (detail) 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Umbra (detail)
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Lock' 2002

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Lock
2002
Copper
125 x 125 x 14 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Lock' (detail) 2002

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Lock (detail)
2002
Copper
125 x 125 x 14 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

bronwyn-oliver-sakura-2006-web

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Sakura
2006
Copper
48 × 48 × 20 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Ammonite' 2005

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Ammonite
2005
Copper
95 × 90 × 90 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“Oliver developed an original, distinctive and enduring vocabulary that expressed her fascination with the inner life and language of form and the strict but beguiling demands of her chosen materials.

Above all, she brought an almost poetic brevity and decision to her sculpture. Many works suggest aspects of the natural world and its metaphorical potential, and some of the most successful public works are located in gardens. Yet Oliver always tenaciously followed the logic of her material, making works such as Eyrie or Eddy that evoke associations with shelter or natural movement or, as with Curlicue, conjure human mark-making with deliberate panache.

TarraWarra Director, Victoria Lynn, described the exhibition as a testament to the short but poignant contribution made by Oliver to Australian sculpture – a vision that remains exceptional in the history of Australian contemporary art.

“Oliver’s unique and labour-intensive approach involved joining threads of copper wire to create what appear to be woven forms that allow light to pass through their surface and cast shadows on the walls and floors. Her works resonate with the force of archetypes, and their green and brown patinas suggest an enduring presence that remains as relevant now as when they were first created. Some appear to be rescued from an archaeological past, while others resemble the quintessential forms found in nature: spirals, spheres, rings and loops,” Ms Lynn said.

Oliver was renowned for sensitive and inventive sculptures placed in the public domain, and she worked closely with clients, stakeholders and architects in their installation. This exhibition will include maquettes of some of Oliver’s much-loved public works, accompanied by working documents and images. Exhibition curator Julie Ewington said the exhibition, located within the museum building in TarraWarra’s magnificent grounds, will be the perfect setting for appreciating Oliver’s work.

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)

Bronwyn Oliver was one of the outstanding Australian artists of her generation, and perhaps its leading sculptor. Originally working in cane and paper, by 1988 Oliver began working in metal, especially copper, and in the next two decades achieved a distinctive and enduring body of work. As writer Hannah Fink memorably observed in 2006, ‘Bronwyn Oliver had that rarest of all skills: she knew how to create beauty’.

Raised near Inverell in country New South Wales, in 1959, Bronwyn Oliver first studied sculpture in Sydney at Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education from 1977-80. She said of her arrival at the College sculpture department, ‘I knew straight away I was in the right place’. After gaining the NSW Travelling Art Scholarship, Oliver completed a Masters’ degree in London at the Chelsea School of Arts in 1982-3. The recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, in 1988 Oliver was artist-in-residence in the French coastal city of Brest, where she studied Celtic metalworking; in 1994 she won the prestigious Moët & Chandon Award, which allowed her to spend a year living and working in France.

Oliver emerged in the 1980s at the same time as an international resurgence of contemporary sculpture. In response to the Conceptual and Minimal art of the prior decade, artists returned to the fabrication of sculptural form. Having attained a Masters of Sculpture at Chelsea School of Art in 1982-83, Oliver was witness to the nascent years of this celebration of form in British art, where it was known as ‘New British Sculpture’.

Between 1986, with her first solo show at Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, and her death in 2006, Oliver presented 19 solo exhibitions, including a number at Christine Abrahams Gallery, Melbourne; in 2005-6, McClelland Gallery, at Langwarrin in Victoria, presented a selected survey of her work; and from 1983 onwards Oliver participated in numerous group exhibitions in Australia and internationally, including in Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Korea and China (her final solo exhibition was posthumous). At the same time, she undertook many commissions where she worked closely with clients and stakeholders, and for 19 years taught art to primary school students at Sydney’s Cranbrook School.

Prodigiously hardworking, Oliver was renowned for devising exquisite sculptures for the public domain, installed in locations as various as the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Hilton Hotel and Quay Restaurant in inner-city Sydney, and on the Kensington campus of the University of New South Wales. Other noted public works are in the Queen Street Mall, Brisbane, Hyatt Hotel, Adelaide and Orange Regional Gallery in regional NSW. Her work is also held in most major Australian public collections, and in numerous important public and private collections in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Europe and the USA.

The Estate of Bronwyn Oliver is represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.”

Press release from the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

installation view, 'The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver', TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016

 

Installation view (side gallery space), The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver, TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016
Spiral IV 1993 and in case Women’s suffrage maquette 2002
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Spiral IV' (detail) 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Spiral IV (detail)
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Spiral IV' (detail) 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Spiral IV (detail)
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Women's Suffrage maquette' (detail) 2002

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Women’s Suffrage maquette (detail)
2002
Copper, nickel
Collection © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Women's Suffrage maquette' (detail) 2002

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Women’s Suffrage maquette (detail)
2002
Copper, nickel
Collection © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

TarraWarra Museum of Art
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road,
Healesville, Victoria, Australia
Melway reference: 277 B2
Tel: +61 (0)3 5957 3100

Opening hours:
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 11am to 5pm
Open all public holidays except Christmas day

Summer Season – open 7 days
Open 7 days per week from Boxing Day to the Australia Day public holiday

TarraWarra Museum of Art website

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25
Nov
16

Exhibitions: ‘Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou / Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens & Erwin Olaf / Glamour stakes: Martin Parr at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd October 2016 – 4th December 2016

 

There was hardly standing room at the opening of Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne. As for car parking, I had to park the car on the grass out the back of the gallery it was so full. Inside, it was great to see Poli and the appreciative crowd really enjoyed her work.

It was the usual fair from the exhibition Glamour stakes: Martin Parr, a whirl of movement, colour, intensity – in the frenetic construction of the picture plane; in the feverish nature of encounter between camera and subject – and obnoxious detail in photographs from the series Luxury (2003 – 2009). Low depth of field, flash photography, fabulous hats, and vibrant colours feature in images that ‘document leisure and consumption and highlight the unintentional, awkward and often ugly sides of beauty, fashion and wealth’. Sadly, after a time it all becomes a bit too predictable and repetitive.

The pick of the bunch in the exhibition Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens & Erwin Olaf was the work of Hendrik Kerstens. Simple, elegant portrait compositions that feature, and subvert, the aesthetics of 17th-century Dutch master paintings. I love the humour and disruption in the a/historical account, “the différance [which] simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.” (Geoffrey Batchen)

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of 'Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne, featuring three images from the series It’s all about me (2016)
© Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born Australia 1960) 'It's all about me' (installation view) 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born Australia 1960)
It’s all about me (installation view)
2016
From the series It’s all about me
Pigment ink-jet print
Collection of the artist
© Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born Australia 1960) 'Ask me again when I'm drunk' (installation view) 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born Australia 1960)
Ask me again when I’m drunk (installation view)
2016
From the series It’s all about me
Pigment ink-jet print
Collection of the artist
© Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

It’s all about me comprises five photographs of the artist’s daughter wearing doll-like masks and sporting a series of T-shirts bearing sassy slogans. As in much of Papapetrou’s work, the aesthetic of role-playing is used to suggest an awkward relationship between social appearances and an authentic self. These works specifically explore the complex world that contemporary teenage live in and the way identities are created and manipulated through fashion, social media and the internet. In this respect, the gauche quality of the photographs reflects the awkward self-importance of teenagers reaching for adulthood.

 

Installation view of 'Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne, featuring photographs from the series Eden (2016) © Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of 'Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (seated) surrounded by friends, family and well wishers at the opening of her exhibition Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne © Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Flora' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born Australia 1960)
Flora
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

 

In Roman mythology, Flora (Latin: Flōra) was a Sabine-derived goddess of flowers and of the season of spring – a symbol for nature and flowers (especially the may-flower). While she was otherwise a relatively minor figure in Roman mythology, being one among several fertility goddesses, her association with the spring gave her particular importance at the coming of springtime, as did her role as goddess of youth. Her name is derived from the Latin word “flos” which means “flower”. In modern English, “Flora” also means the plants of a particular region or period.

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Blinded' from 'Eden', 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born Australia 1960)
Blinded
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Eden' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born Australia 1960)
Eden
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Beyond Eden: Polixeni Papapetrou

Polixeni Papapetrou is a Melbourne-based photographic artist. She first began taking photographs in the 1980s, creating documentary-style portraits of drag queens, body builders and Elvis fans. Soon after the birth of her first child, Papapetrou’s artistic practice began to focus on projects that employed her children, Olympia and Solomon, as models. She is now known nationally and internationally for her staged images that show her children dressed in costumes and masks while performing in front of real and imaginary backgrounds.

This exhibition brings together three recent bodies of work by Papapetrou: Lost psyche (2014), It’s all about me (2016) and Eden (2016). Each of these studio-based series explores themes that have been central to Papapetrou’s practice for the past 30 years. In particular, they highlight her long-term interest in social identity being elaborated through the processes of role-playing and performance.

It is important to note that Papapetrou composes her photographs using a range of historical and contemporary references, thereby embedding these staged performances in a network of competing forces. As a result, there is often a purposefully awkward style to the images, which suggests that identity is continually being inherited, negotiated and perpetuated through the history of representation.

As with much of Papapetrou’s work, the series included in this exhibition either partly or wholly feature the artist’s children, who are now in their late teenage years. By photographing her children and at the same time concealing their identities, Papapetrou is able to create portraits that are grounded in her personal experience of parenting but reflect on more universal themes of childhood innocence and the transience of life.

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Installation view of 'Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens & Erwin Olaf' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne, featuring photographs Irwin Olaf’s Keyhole series © Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of 'Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens & Erwin Olaf' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne featuring at left, Irwin Olaf’s Keyhole 7 (2012) and Keyhole 12 (2012) at right © Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Erwin OLAF 'Keyhole 3' 2011

 

Erwin Olaf
Keyhole 3
2011
From the series Keyhole
Chromogenic print
62.5 x 50.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation view of 'Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens & Erwin Olaf' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne featuring the work of Hendrik Kerstens © Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Hendrik KERSTENS 'Bathing cap' 1992

 

Hendrik Kerstens (born The Netherlands 1956)
Bathing cap
1992
Ink-jet print 62.5 x 50.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation view of 'Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens & Erwin Olaf' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne featuring the work of Hendrik Kerstens with at left, Re rabbit IV (2009) and in centre, Doilly (2011) © Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of 'Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens & Erwin Olaf' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne featuring the work of Hendrik Kerstens with at left, Bag (2007) and Paper roll (2008) at right © Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of 'Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens & Erwin Olaf' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne featuring the work of Hendrik Kerstens with at left, Naturel (1999) and Wet (2002) at right © Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Hendrik Kerstens (born The Netherlands 1956) 'Re rabbit IV' (installation view) 2009

 

Hendrik Kerstens (born The Netherlands 1956)
Re rabbit IV (installation view)
2009
Ink-jet print
62.5 x 50.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Hendrik Kerstens (born The Netherlands 1956) 'Bag' 2007

 

Hendrik Kerstens (born The Netherlands 1956)
Bag
2007
Ink-jet print
62.5 x 50.0 cm
Collection of the artist

 

Hendrik Kerstens (born The Netherlands 1956) 'Cosy' 2012

 

Hendrik Kerstens (born The Netherlands 1956)
Cosy
2012
Ink-jet print
62.5 x 50.0 cm
Collection of the artist

 

 

Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf

This exhibition features work by the internationally acclaimed Dutch photographers, Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf. These photographers both create images that reflect an interest in paintings by Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt (1606-1669) and Vermeer (1632-1675). This is particularly evident in their manipulation of light and shade and also in their poetic use of everyday subject matter. Drawing on aesthetics of the past while also incorporating aspects of the present, these photographers create emotionally charged portraits that draw attention to the liminal nature of contemporary life.

Hendrik Kerstens took up photography in 1995 and has since been creating portraits of his daughter, Paula. His photographs began as documents and reflections on the fleeting nature of childhood. He later introduced the aesthetics of 17th-century Dutch master paintings to his portraits, creating a dialogue between painting and photography and between the past and the present.

Erwin Olaf is a multidisciplinary artist who is best known for his highly polished staged photographs that draw on his experiences of everyday life. His refined style and meticulous technique relate his background as a commercial photographer; and his use of light is inspired by painting. The subjects of his Keyhole series turn their gaze away from the camera in a way that evokes feelings of shame and humility.

Dutch masters of light: Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf is part of a series of events that mark the 400th anniversary of the first Dutch contact with Western Australia. On 25 October 1616, Dirk Hartog made landfall with his ship the Eendracht at Dirk Hartog Island, in the Shark Bay area.

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Martin Parr (born United Kingdom 1952)
Australia, Melbourne (installation view)
2006
From the series Luxury
Pigment ink-jet print
50.8 x 76.2 cm
© Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Martin Parr (born United Kingdom 1952)
Australia, Melbourne
2008
From the series Luxury
Pigment ink-jet print
50.8 x 76.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries (Melbourne)

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Glamour stakes: Martin Parr at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne with work from the series Luxury © the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Glamour stakes: Martin Parr at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne with work from the series Luxury: Australia, Melbourne 2008 © the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Glamour stakes: Martin Parr

Martin Parr was born in Surrey in the United Kingdom in 1952. He studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic from 1970-73 and held his first exhibition the following year. He has since developed an international reputation as a photographer, filmmaker and curator and has been a full member of Magnum Photos since 1994.

Parr is known for his satirical social documentary photography. Focusing on particular aspects of contemporary consumer culture, he produces images that are a combination of the mundane and the bizarre. He uses the language of commercial photography, creating an aesthetic that is bright, colourful and seductive. However, his images often inspire viewers to cringe or laugh.

Glamour stakes: Martin Parr shows a selection of works from Parr’s Luxury series. This series is comprised of images taken predominantly between 2003 and 2009 in multiple destinations around the world. While creating Luxury, Parr photographed what he describes as ‘situations where people are comfortable showing off their wealth’, such as art fairs, car shows and horse races. The series is indicative of Parr’s practice in that the images document leisure and consumption and highlight the unintentional, awkward and often ugly sides of beauty, fashion and wealth.

The images in this series are not only documents but also critical and humorous reflections on contemporary society. By turning his camera to the world of luxury, Parr invites viewers to consider the sustainability of a culture that constantly demands the latest styles in fashion and the newest luxury items. This exhibition focuses specifically on Parr’s images of horse-racing events, particularly those taken in Melbourne in 2008.

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Martin Parr (born United Kingdom 1952)
Australia, Melbourne
2008
From the series Luxury
Pigment ink-jet print
50.8 x 76.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries (Melbourne)

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Martin Parr (born United Kingdom 1952)
Australia, Melbourne
2008
From the series Luxury
Pigment ink-jet print
50.8 x 76.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries (Melbourne)

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Martin Parr (born United Kingdom 1952)
Australia, Melbourne
2008
From the series Luxury
Pigment ink-jet print
50.8 x 76.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries (Melbourne)

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Martin Parr (born United Kingdom 1952)
Australia, Melbourne
2008
From the series Luxury
Pigment ink-jet print
50.8 x 76.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries (Melbourne)

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Martin Parr (born United Kingdom 1952)
Australia, Melbourne
2008
From the series Luxury
Pigment ink-jet print
50.8 x 76.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries (Melbourne)

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Glamour stakes: Martin Parr at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne with work from the series Luxury: at right, South Africa, Durban 2003 © the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Martin Parr (born United Kingdom 1952)
South Africa, Durban
2005
From the series Luxury
Pigment ink-jet print
101.6 x 152.4 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries (Melbourne)

 

Installation view of 'Glamour stakes: Martin Parr' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Martin Parr (born United Kingdom 1952)
England, Ascot
2003
From the series Luxury
Pigment ink-jet print
101.6 x 152.4 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries (Melbourne)

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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11
Jun
16

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: England, 1993

 

I finally got around to scanning some more of my black and white archive, this time further photographs from a trip to England in 1993 forming a new sequence. The photographs picture my now ageing mother (these were taken over 20 years ago), an English fair, medieval tiles and Highgate Cemetery, among other subjects. They become especially poignant after the recent passing of my father.

The image of  my mother plays off against a land that is noting an absence – maybe an absence of a certain type of yang force… even the “strong draught horse” seems to come from another time. My mentor said of the sequence: “Wow – that is really good Marcus”. Praise I value highly indeed.

The photographs form a sequence and should be viewed horizontally. Please click on the long small image to see them in this format.

Unfortunately, WordPress only allows vertical presentations of images in this blog format that I am using – but I have still presented them for you to see in the posting below.

Marcus

 

I am scanning my negatives made during the years 1991 – 1997 to preserve them in the form of an online archive as a process of active memory, so that the images are not lost forever. These photographs were images of my life and imagination at the time of their making, the ideas I was thinking about and the people and things that surrounded me.

All images © Marcus Bunyan but can be used freely anywhere with the proper acknowledgement. Please click the photographs for a larger version of the image. Please remember these are just straight scans of the prints, all full frame, no cropping !

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'England 1993' second sequence

 

Marcus Bunyan
England
1993
Second sequence

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Maman' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Maman
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Bridge, Chatsworth House' 1993

 

 

Marcus Bunyan
Bridge, Chatsworth House
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Covered figure with graves' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Covered figure with graves
1993

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'IOTA, 1893, Napoli, Cantanese Domenico, age 14 with gravestones' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
IOTA, 1893, Napoli, Cantanese Domenico, age 14 with gravestones
1993

 

 

December 20th 1893, a mounted messenger galloped into Boscastle with news that a large ship was driving ashore, but by 4 pm the 1000-ton iron barque IOTA of Naples had crashed under the great Lye rock off Bossiney Cove. Her crew leapt for the rocks, but two fell and were crushed under the barque’s bilges, while Domenico Cantanese, aged fourteen, was swept away… Only the body of the young cabin boy was recovered from the sea, he’s buried in the windswept graveyard of St Materiana Church Tintagel, where a wooden cross and a lifebuoy bearing his name and ‘Iota, Napoli, 1893’ still marks his grave.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Medieval tiles' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Medieval tiles
1993

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Esther' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Esther
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Three crosses four graves, Highgate Cemetery' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Three crosses four graves, Highgate Cemetery
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Death's pathway' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Death’s pathway
1993

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Descending' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Descending
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Landscape, Chatsworth House' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Landscape, Chatsworth House
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Two graves, Highgate Cemetery' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Two graves, Highgate Cemetery
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Five angels' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Five angels
1993

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Medieval tiles' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Medieval tiles
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Covered figure with flowers' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Covered figure with flowers
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Tree, Highgate Cemetery' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Tree, Highgate Cemetery
1993

 

 

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive page

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06
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th March – 12th June 2016

 

You only have five days left to catch what I consider to be one of the best exhibitions I have seen this year in Melbourne.

If ever there was a man deserving of a large retrospective, it is Jan Senbergs. This wondrous, intelligent, immersive exhibition by this iconic Australian artist is a joy. Particularly so as you witness the gestation of the artist, the journey from very first exhibition to latest work.

Witness is a particularly apt metaphor for Senbergs – he is a witness to the world who uses his imagination to create, as he says, “maybe something architectonic or machine-like, but not quite: and ambiguous … I was trying to create something irrational, something out of the imagination but belonging to the world.” He belongs to the world but creates things not of the world as we know it. It is a twisted world n/visioned in multiple forms. Twisted labyrinthine structures – mechanistic, naturalistic, humanistic – swirling around in his head, put down as marks on paper, synthetic polymer paint on canvas.

Mark making is important to this man. He maps mechanistic and biomorphic elements, always intelligently informed by sources as diverse as “literature, history, architecture and non-Western art, and finds imagery within obscure technical journals, ancient mythology and illustrated encyclopedias.” His influences are various – German Expressionism, Max Beckmann, Neo-Expressionist painting of the early 1980s, Brutalism, Eduardo Paolozzi, Pop Art and the writing of American postmodernist author Donald Bartheme – to name but a few. And his perspective is unique, as John Olsen insightfully observes, “not often on the vanishing point, but … more related to the spatial  orientation in Chinese or Islamic art. This kind of perspective gives weight to an object; the sensation is abrupt and very blunt, ideally related to his vision.”

Standing in front of the huge six painting wall of Senbergs’ Antarctic paintings you feel the power of that (topographical? analytical? cut-away) vision. I dare you not to.

There are downsides. When they do appear in his paintings, his literal figures and landscapes (such as people, boats and bays), are weak. But that’s not what this artist is about. His screen print work of the mid to late 1970s lead him into a formally stylistic dead end. But he was an intelligent enough artist to recognise it as such and returned to mark making: “But it was a period when I was getting too confident. It was time to leave it alone, go back to the mark.” And his popularist map paintings of Sydney and Melbourne, painted in a brighter colour palette, don’t have the depth of feeling and response to the world that other works possess.

His limited colour palette – all blacks and subdued colours in the early enamel work; green and browns in the 1970s work; greys, blacks and beiges in the early 1980s; blues and greens with splashes of colour for the Antarctic and mining paintings; through to the more colourful map paintings of the 1990s and the recent oranges of the bushfire paintings – has always given weight to the object, weight to his constructed upside-down world, weight to his vision of a place where anything might happen. And frequently does.

Irrational, perhaps (but the irrational can only exist if there is the rational).
Something out of the imagination but belonging to the world, indubitably.
A world that is neither dysfunctional in vision nor balance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the artworks in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

This is the first comprehensive retrospective of renowned Melbourne artist Jan Senbergs. Throughout his long career, Senbergs’ work has been characterised by a fundamental humanist vision, a finely-honed sense of the absurd, and a rigorous studio practice spanning printmaking, drawing and painting. He is considered to be amongst Australia’s leading painters and his large-scale expressive drawings are highly regarded. More recently Senbergs has created labyrinthine views of cities, employing aerial perspectives to present a bird’s eye view of humankind’s endeavours. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings and prints from his first exhibition in 1960 until the present day, borrowed from public and private collections around Australia.

Jan Senbergs is one of Australia’s most distinctive artists. He is both an acute observer and a creator of fantastical imagery. Since his first exhibition in 1960, Senbergs’s work has undergone many transformations of style, technique and subject, yet there have also been recurring themes and motifs. Elements from his very first works have reappeared, reworked and reinterpreted, throughout his career.

Senbergs’s artistic imagination has been fed by many sources, including his love of literature and poetry; his interest in no-Western artistic traditions and the work of outsider artists; journeys to distant locales as well as familiar places close to home. The artist has often referred to himself as a ‘visual scavenger’ of images – photographs, scientific diagrams, maps – which he transforms and incorporates into his own work. Above all, Senbergs’s art reflects his essential humanism, humour and wide-ranging curiosity.

 

 

“I was always interested in painting buildings and things and I tried to make them half human, trying to put figures into them, in the end they blended together as one, the figures, the buildings and the people.”

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Jan Senbergs, 1965

 

“I was always trying to invent new forms, different forms, shapes which were recognisable – maybe something architectonic or machine-like, but not quite: and ambiguous … I was trying to create something irrational, something out of the imagination but belonging to the world.”

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Jan Senbergs, 2008

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Alan Kilner. 'Jan Senbergs, Melbourne' c. 1959

 

Alan Kilner
Jan Senbergs, Melbourne
c. 1959
Image courtesy Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The whipper' 1961

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The whipper
1961
Enamel paint on composition board
183.0 x 122.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Literature has always been an important source of imagery for Senbergs. This work, one of his earliest, is based upon an episode in The Trial (1925) by Czech writer Franz Kafka. In the painting two figures cower beneath ‘the whipper’, who metes out a brutal punishment to them. This work was included in Senbergs’s second solo exhibition at the Argus Gallery, Melbourne, in 1962.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Two heads' 1961

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Two heads
1961
Enamel paint on composition board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

“I was always interested in painting buildings and things and I tried to make them half-human, trying to put the figures into them; in the end they blended together as one, the figures and the buildings and the people.” – Jan Senbergs, 1965

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Head' 1963

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Head
1963
Colour screenprint on paper, artist’s proof, edition of 10
42.4 x 35.2 cm (image and sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The night parade' 1966

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The night parade' 1966

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The night parade
1966
Enamel paint on composition board
Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1977

 

At the time of its creation, this was Senbergs’s largest and most ambitious painting to date, and it formed the centrepiece of his 1966 exhibition at Georges Gallery in Melbourne. The triptych format recalls the work of German Expressionist painter Max Beckmann, one of Senbergs’s earliest and ongoing artistic heroes. In his review of the exhibition, critic Allan McCulloch wrote: “Instead of simply looking at abstract pictures we have the feeling of standing on the perimeter of a vast industrial landscape in which hills and slagheaps, factories and cities are relentlessly pushed and jostled by an omni-present parade of silent watchers. The huge triptych “The night parade’ … illustrates the point.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Observation post 2' 1968

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Observation post 2
1968
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
246.0 x 185.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1971
© Jan Senbergs

 

On his return to Melbourne in late 1967, Senbergs’ work changed dramatically. He ceased painting with enamel on Masonite composition boards, and instead started working with oil or acrylic on canvas and began to incorporate screenprinted elements into his paintings. Of his year in Europe he later recalled, “I got a lot out of it, it completely made me revise and rethink a whole lot of things regarding my painting, my work, my attitudes and so on … I felt very refreshed and confident when I came back.”

By the mid 1960s Senbergs’ imagery was becoming increasingly sculptural, merging mechanistic and biomorphic elements, in part stimulated by his interest in the work of Scottish Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Senbergs entered what he refers to as his ‘axle-grease’ period, when his colours became darker and more sombre, which he considered would enhance form in his work.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at right, Column and still objects 1 (1968)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Column and still objects 1' (detail) 1968

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Column and still objects 1 (detail)
1968
The Edith Cowan University Art Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Mr Timothy James Bernadt

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Black garden' (detail) 1972

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Black garden (detail)
1972
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas plywood
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1973

 

In 1972 Senbergs exhibition sixteen new paintings at Melbourne’s Gallery A, including Black garden, in which he created ambiguous cityscapes from surrealistic combinations of screen printed fragments of images. With their absurdist sensibility and disjointed fragmentary images, these paintings emulate the writing of American postmodernist author Donald Bartheme, whose short stories Senbergs admired greatly and whom he credits with being a major influence upon him.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Fort 2' 1973

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Fort 2
1973
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
243.7 x 197.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974
© Jan Senbergs

 

The paintings Senbergs created in 1973 in response to his selection to represent Australia at the 12th São Paolo Biennial in Brazil were larger and more imposing than his 1972 paintings, and often incorporated an image of a ramp to suggest entry into the foms. With their realistic modelling of architectural forms set against a horizon line, these works evoke the real world, yet remain defiantly resistant to interpretation.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Structure, cloud' 1975

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Structure, cloud
1975
Colour screenprint, ed. 19/25
55.6 x 81.2 cm (image), 71.0 x 100.2 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“The printing technique was very important to me because I was a kind of scavenger of odd sorts of images. I mean a lot of those sort of shapes and forms were things that one saw perhaps in an old engraving book, a little detail of a section of some background somewhere and I’d look into it and see certain sorts of forms there … I was a collector, a scavenger. I used to go to libraries and collect these images and I’d buy a lot of books.” – Jan Senbergs

“When I was doing these prints and as I was coming to a conclusion to them, I also realised I was handling it in a more sophisticated way. The prints were becoming more refined, more in control … But it was a period when I was getting too confident. It was time to leave it alone, go back to the mark.” – Jan Senbergs 2008

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The flyer' 1975

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The flyer
1975
Synthetic polymer paint, oil silkscreen on canvas
167.0 x 244.0 cm
Collection of Paul Guest, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Altered Parliament House 1' 1976

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Altered Parliament House 1
1976
Synthetic polymer paint, oil silkscreen on canvas
182.5 x 243.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs Adrian Gibson as the winner of the 1976 Sir William Angliss Memorial Art Prize, 1977
© Jan Senbergs

 

While living in Canberra, on his walk home Senbergs would see Parliament House: “I’d see this white glowing dreadnought in the distance … that’s the way it appeared, sort of floating, just this whiteness because it was lit up … This form fascinated me. But also, and on another level, I was there in ’75 when all the political things happened and [after that] it didn’t have that sort of purity and whiteness that it appeared to have beforehand. In a way that gave me more liberty to change the imagery of the building.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Observatory of hard edges' (detail) 1976

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Observatory of hard edges (detail)
1976
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

This is one of Senbergs’ most architectonic images; its massing of asymmetrical forms, pronounced geometry and pale colours bring to mind the contemporaneous style of Brutalist architecture.

 

Jan Senbergs drawings late 1970s - early 1980s

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)

Port piers and overpass (top left)
1979
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Port structure (bottom left)
1979
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Station Pier (top right)
1980
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Port signals (bottom right)
1980
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

“Yesterday I visited Jan Senbergs at his studio in Port Melbourne … I was greatly impressed by what I saw: he has moved away from a photo image to observation, perhaps with [Max] Beckmann as his distant father. His line is slow and sullen and he creates a feeling of junk-heap menace … His perspective is not often on the vanishing point, but is more related to the spatial  orientation in Chinese or Islamic art. This kind of perspective gives weight to an object; the sensation is abrupt and very blunt, ideally related to his vision.” – John Olsen 1980

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Port Liardet' 2 1981

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Port Liardet 2
1981
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
183.0 x 244.0 cm
Latrobe Regional Gallery Collection.
Acquired with assistance from the Caltex Victorian Government Art Fund and the Shire of Morwell
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Sticht’s view to the smelters 1 at right

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sticht's view to the smelters 1' 1982

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sticht’s view to the smelters 1
1982
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Purchase with funds presented by Renison Goldfields Consolidated, 1983

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sticht's view to the smelters 1' (detail) 1982

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sticht’s view to the smelters 1 (detail)
1982
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Purchase with funds presented by Renison Goldfields Consolidated, 1983

 

 

Robert Carl Sticht was an American metallurgist who in 1897 became general manager of the copper mine at Mount Lyell on the remote and rugged west coast of Tasmania. There he introduced a new technique of smelting which released large amounts of deadly sulphur into the air, one of the principal agents of destruction of the natural environment of the region.

In the Copperopolis – Mt Lyell series, Senbergs moved away from the smooth surfaces and clearly articulated forms of his Port Liardet paintings to a more gestural, painterly mode, in accord with the style of Neo-Expressionist painting of the early 1980s.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Broadening the mind in Italy' 1986, 1991

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Broadening the mind in Italy
1986, 1991
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas 167.0 x 243.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Broadening the mind in Italy' (detail) 1986, 1991

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Broadening the mind in Italy (detail)
1986, 1991
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas 167.0 x 243.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Predrag Cancar/NGV Photographic Services. 'Jan Senbergs in his studio' 2015

 

Predrag Cancar/NGV Photographic Services
Jan Senbergs in his studio
2015

 

 

“From the vast expanses of Antarctica to labyrinthine Melbourne cityscapes, more than five decades of artist Jan Senbergs’ prolific oeuvre will be revealed in the major retrospective Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination.

The exhibition, Senbergs’ first-ever comprehensive survey, will feature over 120 works including large-scale paintings, drawings and prints which depict sprawling aerial views of Australian cities, dystopic industrial landscapes, raging bushfires in the Victorian Otways, the remote deserts of north-Western Australia and more. The exhibition spans Senbergs’ first exhibition in 1960 through to the present day, representing all periods of his career. Recognised for his sheer visual inventiveness and sitting outside any defined artistic trend, Senbergs draws inspiration from a remarkably diverse range of influences; literature, history, architecture and non-Western art, and finds imagery within obscure technical journals, ancient mythology and illustrated encyclopedias.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “As one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists, Jan Senbergs is an extraordinary inventor of his own visual language, at once simple and bold. From lush landscapes to barren urban spaces, his body of work signifies an artist who has continually experimented with shape, form and motif, and one who to this day continues to push his art in new and unexpected directions. The NGV is pleased to present the first major retrospective of Jan Senbergs’ work and offer visitors the opportunity to experience the full spectrum and constant evolution of his career.”

Senbergs, born in 1939 in Latvia, moved to Melbourne in 1950 following the end of World War II. Among other honours, he represented Australia at the prestigious 12th São Paolo Biennial in 1973 and was appointed to the Visiting Chair in Australian Studies at Harvard University in 1989, the first artist to hold this illustrious post. Observation – Imagination will include key works from Senbergs’ most important and critically acclaimed series including his 1973 São Paolo Biennial paintings, the Copperopolis – Mt Lyell mining landscape series, 1983, and his immense multi-panelled studio drawings of 1993-95.

Senbergs’ Antarctica series is considered one of the most significant artistic responses to the continent. In 1987, Senbergs spent six weeks with the Australian Antarctic Division, travelling with fellow artists Bea Maddock and John Caldwell, on an annual resupply mission. Observation – Imagination will include key works such as his epic landscapes Mawson and Davis. The exhibition will also present Senbergs’ epic, 4.6 metre long Pulaski Skyway painting, which reflects the post-industrial landscape of the five and a half kilometre freeway that crosses the wasteland of western New Jersey from Newark to Jersey City. In this, Senbergs found a metaphor for the American experience and its splendour and decay.

More recently Senbergs has produced intricate labyrinthine views of cities, combining memory and imagination, and the exhibition will include map-like images of Melbourne, Sydney, Geelong, Wollongong and Port KemblaThe exhibition will also feature works from Senbergs’ recent 2014 Victorian bushfire series, which burst with visual drama and chromatic brilliance. Senbergs often refers to himself as a scavenger and collector of imagery taken from a wide variety of sources, and Observation – Imagination will include an enormous showcase, created by the artist, filled with cut-outs, photographs and personal artefacts that reference the people, places and artworks which have fuelled his visual imagination.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Blue angel of Wittenoom (top left) and Otway night (bottom right)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Blue angel of Wittenoom' 1988

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Blue angel of Wittenoom
1988
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.5 x 305.0 cm
State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Purchased 1989
© Jan Senbergs
Photo: Eva Fernandez

 

 

The blue angel in the painting refers to the dangers of asbestos in the mining town of Wittenoom.

Wittenoom is a ghost town 1,106 kilometres (687 mi) north-north-east of Perth in the Hamersley Range in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The area around Wittenoom was mainly pastoral until the 1930s when mining began in the area. By 1939, major mining had begun in Yampire Gorge, which was subsequently closed in 1943 when mining began in Wittenoom Gorge. In 1947 a company town was built, and by the 1950s it was Pilbara’s largest town. During the 1950s and early 1960s Wittenoom was Australia’s only supplier of blue asbestos. The town was shut down in 1966 due to unprofitability and growing health concerns from asbestos mining in the area.

Today, six residents still live in the town, which receives no government services. In December 2006, the Government of Western Australia announced that the town’s official status would be removed, and in June 2007, Jon Ford, the Minister for Regional Development, announced that the townsite had officially been degazetted. The town’s name was removed from official maps and road signs and the Shire of Ashburton is able to close roads that lead to contaminated areas.

The Wittenoom steering committee met in April 2013 to finalise closure of the town, limit access to the area and raise awareness of the risks. Details of how that would be achieved were to be determined but it would likely necessitate removing the town’s remaining residents, converting freehold land to crown land, demolishing houses and closing or rerouting roads. by 2015 six residents remained.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Otway night' (detail) 1994

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Otway night (detail)
1994
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchase with assistance from Ruth Komon, 1994

 

After purchasing a holiday house at Aireys Inlet, Senbergs became interested in the history of Victoria’s west coast and the story of escaped convict William Buckley, ‘the wild white man’ who lived with the local Wathaurung people from 1803 until 1835 before being integrated back into colonial society.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Mawson' (detail) 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Mawson (detail)
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Private collection, Melbourne

 

“As in previous settlements in history, in Antarctica we are again squatting on the edge of yet another continent and bringing our cultural baggage with us. Already there is a sense of history there: architectural, social and visual.” – Jan Senbergs, 2002

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird – Heard Island (top left), Antarctic night (top middle), Mawson (bottom left), and Platcha (bottom middle)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird - Heard Island' 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird – Heard Island
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.2 x 274.1cm
State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Purchased 1987
© Jan Senbergs

 

Senbergs was one of three artists invited by the Australian Antractic Division to take part in the resupply Voyage Six to Antarctica as observers. Leaving Hobart in early January 1987, during their six‐week journey the artists visited Heard Island, Scullin Monolith, Law Base, Davis, Mawson and the Russian base at Mirny. This painting depicts fellow artist Bea Maddock who broke her leg while disembarking at Heard Island and needed to be winched back on board. Unfortunately, she was incapacitated for the remainder of the trip.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Antarctic night' 1989

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Antarctic night
1989
Synthetic polymer paint and collage on canvas
202.0 x 292.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1990
© Jan Senbergs

 

“In a “cut-away” view, [Antarctic night] shows the interior of a winterer’s hut with its wall covered in a “tapestry” of pin-up images – from the earliest “pin‐up”, the Venus of Willendorf, to the Playboy centrefolds of the 1950s and 1960s … The more you saw of it, the more it seemed like an Antarctic Pop Art movement.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Platcha' 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Platcha
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
224.0 x 355.0 cm
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Trust Collection
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Jan Senbergs. Installation view of 'New Guinea sheilas triptych' (centre row) and 'New Guinea male triptych' (bottom row) both 1993

 

Installation view of New Guinea sheilas triptych (centre row) and New Guinea male triptych (bottom row) both 1993
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jan Senbergs. Detail view of 'New Guinea sheilas triptych' (centre row) and 'New Guinea male triptych' (bottom row) both 1993

 

Detail view of New Guinea sheilas triptych (centre row) and New Guinea male triptych (bottom row) both 1993
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'New Guinea male triptych' (detail) 1993

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
New Guinea male triptych (detail) 
1993
pastel on paper
(a-c) 160.0 x 366.0 cm (overall)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“I enjoy the freedom of drawing, the directness of what I call my “Long Arm Drawing” with a black pastel or an oil stick, where there’s no room for corrections or embellishments – dancing in front of a sheet of paper, keeping a spontaneous line, and if you hesitate, it shows. It’s “unforgiving” drawing and if you’re out of form you lose, and sheets of paper end up in the bin. Like an athlete or a dancer, you’ve got to put in the hours to make the confident mark.”

.
Jan Senbergs, 2016

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Melbourne' 1998-99

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Melbourne
1998-99
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
183.0 x 274.0 cm
State Library of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Gualtiero Vaccari Foundation in recognition of services provided by the State Library to the Italian Community, 1999
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“[The] map-like images of the city that I’ve developed – of Melbourne, Sydney, Wollongong, Barcelona – they come out of a fascination with map-making, particularly early map-making … I started to look for an imagined way of painting and drawing actual places like Melbourne or Sydney: not exactly what you see in front of you but what you know to be there … It’s like those early maps, imaginary maps where people were drawing what they knew, not what they saw or measured.”

.
Jan Senbergs, 2006

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sydney' 1998

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sydney
1998
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
174.0 x 344.0 (framed)
Collection of McDonald’s Australia Limited
© Jan Senbergs
Photo: Felicity Jenkins

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The elated city' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The elated city
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
239.0 x 196.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Figures and heads made from mechanistic and architectural elements was one of Senbergs’s earliest subjects. He returned to this motif recently in several monumental paintings, including Paolozzi’s city, 2010, and The elated city, 2009.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Coastal settlement' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Coastal settlement
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
169.0 x 216.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Melbourne capriccio 3' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Melbourne capriccio 3
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
195.2 x 184.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by The Hugh D. T. Williamson Foundation, 2009
© Jan Senbergs

 

In the history of painting, a capriccio refers to an architectural fantasy where buildings and other architectural elements and places come together in imaginary settings. Senbergs’ Melbourne capriccio offers the viewer the pleasure of a bird’s-eye view of familiar landmarks, seen through a rich blend of memory and imagination.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Paolozzi's city' 2010

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Paolozzi’s city
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
200.5 x 193.2 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection
Acquired 2011
© Jan Senbergs

 

As a young artist in the 1960s, Senbergs greatly admired Scottish Pop artist Edouardo Paolozzi’s strange fusions of machine and organic forms, and explored similar ideas in his own paintings and screenprints. In Paolozzi’s city Senbergs has created a fantastical head out of buildings and roads, and pays homage to one of his first artistic heroes.

 

senbergs-paolozzi-detail

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Paolozzi’s city (detail)
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
200.5 x 193.2 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection
Acquired 2011
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne)' 2010

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne)
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.0 x 255.0 cm
Deakin University Art Collection
© Jan Senbergs
Image courtesy Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

“One of the rarest qualities in contemporary painting is wit … Jan Senberg’s ‘Geelong capriccio’ is in every way a painting of wit, its single and absurd proposition as to what the world would look like if Geelong had become the capital and the site of Melbourne remained open paddocks … It seems to be a very Antipodean painting: the upside-down world, which Europe imagined Australia to be, a place where anything might happen.”

.
Patrick McCaughey, 2010

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Extended Melbourne labyrinth' 2013

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Extended Melbourne labyrinth
2013
Oil stick, synthetic polymer paint wash
(a-d) 162.5 x 497.4 cm (framed) (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at top, Extended Melbourne labyrinth and, at left, Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne); at right Melbourne capriccio 3

 

installation-r

installation-s

 

Installation views of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at left, The elated city followed by Paolozzi’s city

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Fire and smoke' 1 2014

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Fire and smoke 1
2014
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
48.0 x 70.0 cm (sheet)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs
Image courtesy Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

In contrast to the enclosed, almost claustrophobic spaces of the studio interiors, by the end of the 1990s Senbergs had embarked upon a new series of map-like paintings, sprawling bird’s-eye view of cities, which continue to occupy him to the present day. Initially inspired by seeing Melbourne from a high-rise building, these works reflect the artist’s long fascination with early and non-Western map-making traditions. Like these maps, Senbergs’ views are not scientifically measured recordings; rather they are imaginative constructions of place based on observation and memory.

At the same time Senbergs began his most extensive group of landscapes, painting the rugged terrain of the Victorian west coast, an area that he knew well. While some of these works depict untouched wilderness, others include roads and townships and employ multiple perspectives to convey the experience of travelling through the landscape. Senbergs’ recent Heat – Fire – Smoke series is a response to the 2014 bushfires in Victoria, a new subject for the artist, in which he reflects on the cycle of destruction and regeneration. (Wall text from the exhibition)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)' Code Red day 1' 2014

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Code Red day 1
2014
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
119.0 x 145.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“In January 2014 in Melbourne we had four days of forty-plus degrees of intense heat – with bushfires raging in the countryside casting a pall of acrid smoke over the extended city and all around ominous skies that seemed to portend an inferno that would be all engulfing. That oppressive atmosphere and that sense of threat at the edges of the extended city seemed as if an overwhelming and merciless force was at the gates and ready to break down the barricades.”

Jan Senbergs, 2015

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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04
May
16

Photograph: ‘Hobart Town – from Kangaroo Point 1891’

4th May 2016

 

This albumen photograph of Hobart, Tasmania was taken in 1891 by an unknown photographer. Mount Wellington behind the city. The photograph is one that is possibly not known before of this place. Kangaroo Point is now known as Kangaroo Bluff. I have scanned and lightly cleaned the image.

A memory of a different time and place.

Marcus

 

Many thankx to Nick Henderson for allowing me to scan this wonderful image.

Please click on the image to enlarge.

 

 

Unknown photographer (Australian) 'Hobart Town - from Kangaroo Point 1891' 1891

 

Unknown photographer (Australian)
Hobart Town – from Kangaroo Point 1891
1891
Albumen photograph
34.5 x 22.2 cm

 

 

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01
May
16

Exhibition: ‘Darron Davies: The Travellers’ at the Centre for Theology and Ministry, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 9th April – 10th May 2016

 

I opened this exhibition for Darron Davies at the Centre for Theology and Ministry, Melbourne. I can’t remember exactly what I said but it went something like this…

When artists find themselves on a path to new ways of seeing the world, to new forms of enlightenment, then that is a magical and energising place to be. And so it is with this new body of work by Darron Davies. A path of many patterns and possibilities.

I spoke of synaesthesia – the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body. Here, colour and form produce music. As in Messiaen’s music, rather than being a decorative element Davies shows that colour can be a structural, a fundamental element which is the material of the music itself. Little vibrations of energy (in the universe), are caught in time and space and brought forth into consciousness through colour.

I extemporised on the question – is the [origami] model immanent in the paper, or is the paper a blank slate to be written on by the creator? – by asking, are these images already in Davies’ mind before he creates them as a kind of subconscious previsualisation, before he looks through the camera lens, before he relies on the serendipity and happenstance to capture what emerges out of the ether. Does the artist’s consciousness bring forth what he needs to see as an artist so that he can recognise it as such, forms that are already buried in the structure of the cosmos itself.

Perhaps this recognition does allow the artist (and subsequently the viewer) to go on a journey, to travel into other realms of being, of existence, to probe the boundaries of what is possible and what is probable. This work is about just that – being in the world and transcending it, and recognising that we can exist between the phenomenal and the noumenal. As has been said of Joseph Cornell’s boxes, “They partake of both dream and reality, and of something else that doesn’t have a name. They tempt the viewer in two opposite directions. One is to look and admire… and the other is to make up stories about what one sees… Neither (way) by itself is sufficient. It’s the mingling of the two that makes up the third image.”1

The Thirdspace – in which “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history”2 – allows that none of these couples, such as the phenomenal and the noumenal, can be divided by an either-or attitude. “This… does not mean differences are denied, instead, it most of all means the inevitable reciprocity of any pair of definitions. In such a case both leave a mark on the other. It is a question of both-and – how each of the pair influences the other.”3 In the case of Davies’ work, this reciprocity allows the images to possess a multivalent narrative, which is neither here nor there. It allows the work to be accessible to different interpretations, meanings, and values: a new door or path opens up on the basis of very diverse needs and objectives. For the artist the possibilities are endless.

Marcus

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

 

  1. Simic, Charles. “First, there are,” in Dime Store Alchemy. New York: The Ecco Press, 1992, p.60 quoted in Heaney, Seamus. The Redress of Poetry. Faber and Faber, London, 1995, p. 181.
  2. Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace. Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 1996, p. 57 quoted in “Edward Soja” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/05/2016.
  3. Hannula, Mika. “Third space – a merry-go-round of opportunity,” on the Kiasma Magazine website No 12 Vol 4, 2001 [Online] Cited 01/05/2016.

 

 

Darron Davies. 'Voyager' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Voyager
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'Horizon' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Horizon
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'Unbridle' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Unbridle
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'Emanation' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Emanation
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'The Break' 2016

 

Darron Davies
The Break
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

 

“The Travellers is a series exploring light, in particular its abstractions as it passes through glass. Utilising a framework that supports glass sheets, a light, filters, and all manner of glass ranging from old ash trays to vases, I use a macro lens to focus on patterns created by the interaction of light. The prismatic effects are extraordinary. The narrow depth of field allows patterns to be further discovered within the glass.

Based on the experiments of photographers such as Wynn Bullock – his much under-recognised light abstraction work from 1959 to 1965 utilising similar experimentation – this project uses a digital camera to create fascinating landscapes. These landscapes in their variety of forms, at times volcanic, primordial, celestial, or atomic, are a metaphor for the ancient and current travellers – perhaps the subatomic world – that shape and have shaped our world.

Apart from slightly adjusting the blowing out of light caused by the delicate uneveneness of light within the macro image none of these images are highly photoshopped. What is captured is pretty much true to what is seen through the lens – an extraordinary world at play within light and color fields. I have a heard the story that the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage once changed a film about the interior of a house to a pure focus of patterns that he found in ashtrays lying on a table. Fantastic! See the film The Text of Light. This is an interesting tradition embracing the likes of Brakhage, Bullock , Len Lye and the Cantrills.

At the discussion session after the premiere of his film The Text of Light at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh in 1974, he (Brakhage) paraphrased the later English ‘Light Philosopher’ Robert Grosseteste: “all that sense can comprehend, is Light: because it partakes of that which it is. To comprehend dark, or a shape, it must withdraw from its own nature – it must withdraw or turn against its own electrical illuminating nature in order to comprehend a shape”.

Courtesy Cantrill’s Filmnotes, 21/22, (April 1975) photography. (Arthur was my lecturer at Melb State College in the early 80s and he and Corinne live now in Castlemaine, where I live, so have discussed these ideas on many occasions, as well as assisted them with their screenings.)”

Extract from the artist’s statement

 

Darron Davies. 'Manifest' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Horizon
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'Embodiment' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Embodiment
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'Guise' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Guise
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'Frame' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Frame
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'The Self Returning' 2016

 

Darron Davies
The Self Returning
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'Advent' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Advent
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'The Mainspring' 2016

 

Darron Davies
The Mainspring
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

Darron Davies. 'Designer' 2016

 

Darron Davies
Designer
2016
From the series The Travellers
Pigment print

 

 

The Centre for Theology and Ministry
29 College Crescent, Parkville,
Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: (03) 9340 8800

Gallery hours:
Monday to Friday 9-5 (not weekends)

The Centre for Theology and Ministry website

The Travellers exhibition website

Darron Davies website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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