Posts Tagged ‘Australian landscape

13
Feb
22

Review: ‘Found and Gathered: Rosalie Gascoigne | Lorraine Connelly-Northey’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th October 2021 – 20th February 2022

 

Greg Weight. 'Rosalie Gascoigne' (detail) 1993 and Jules Boag. 'Portrait of Lorraine Connelly-Northey' (detail) Nd

 

Image left: Greg Weight
Rosalie Gascoigne (detail)
1993
Gelatin silver photograph on paper
Image: 45.5 x 35.6cm
Sheet: 50.4 x 40.4cm
National Portrait Gallery, Australia
Gift of Patrick Corrigan AM 2004. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.
© Gregory Weight/Copyright Agency, 2021

Image right: Jules Boag
Portrait of Lorraine Connelly-Northey (detail)
Courtesy of Jules Boag
© Jules Boag

 

 

Synergy. Now’s there’s an interesting word. It means “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organisations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” It derives from mid 19th century: from Greek sunergos ‘working together’, from sun- ‘together’ + ergon ‘work’. Thus, this glorious exhibition brings together two artists metaphorically “working together” under the Australian sun… even as they are separated by culture, location, time and space.

Their work comes together in a confluence of ideas of approximately equal width – one grounded in stories of family and Country thousands of years old, the artist investigating post-colonial settlement and the industrial world and interpreting Australian Indigenous objects of ritual and culture; the other not so much grounded but playing with Western ideas of pattern and randomness, belonging, and the metaphysical space of the landscape of the Monaro, in the southwest of New South Wales. Both points of view are equally valid and have important things to say about our various relationships to the land (both Indigenous and colonial) and the “creation” of a contemporary Australian national identity.

Both artists use found objects in their work, but as Russell-Cook points out, “I think that what unites the two artists is the shared materials they use, but not a ‘shared-use of materials.’ They are both fascinated by the artistic possibilities of found objects, but they use those materials to tell contrasting stories.” Connelly-Northey uses her experience of living on Country and her gleaning of discarded objects in Country to gather up the threads of her multiple heritages and Aboriginal custodianship of the land to picture – through the merging of organic and inorganic forms – the disenfranchisement of her people but also to celebrate their deep roots in Country. Gascoigne on the other hand is the more ethereal of the two artists, concerned as she is with light, land, spirit of place and the rightness of materials being used. Hers is a very structured and formal art practice grounded in her training in the Japanese art of ikebana and her understanding of Minimalism. Sympathetically, through their individual creativity both artists transmute (to change in form, nature, or substance) the reality of the materials they work with, the raw material of experience transmuted into stories. As Rozentals and Russell-Cook observe, “Both Connelly-Northey and Gascoigne’s work is defined by, and yet transcends, its sense of materiality.”

Two things jar slightly. Connelly-Northey is ‘a bit anxious’ that her Indigenous originality won’t be recognised and that “I’ve worked too hard for people to think I borrowed it all from Rosalie. Our use of corrugated iron is the only thing we have in common.”

Connelly-Northey can have no fear that her Indigenous originality won’t be recognised because every pore of her strong work speaks to her cultural being. Her spiky, brittly astringent, barbed and feathered works take you to Country, posing the viewer uncomfortable questions about “soft” assertions of history and the hard reality of contemporary Indigenous life: metal as string, desecration of sacred sights, barbed wire handles, “hunters and gatherers whose remains have been upturned by settled Australian societies.” She weaves her stories well.

If the second statement has not been taken out of context, it shows a heap of unnecessary defensive aggression by Connelly-Northey towards Gascoigne’s work. It’s a silly, uninformed statement which hints at a lack of confidence in the strength of her own work. Patently, their use of corrugated iron is not the only thing they have in common.

Both speak towards a love of the Australian land whether from an ancient Aboriginal custodianship perspective or from a Western colonial perspective. Both use scavenging, gathering and gleaning in order to recycle the refuse of society in their art making, Connelly-Northey using weaving to bring together that which is disparate; Gascoigne assembling her formal compositions with an attention to order and randomness. Both artists love to move through the space and time of the land, exploring its idiosyncrasies, “disassociating objects from their original function via a system of obsessive collecting and gathering, while simultaneously reflecting their individual experiences of being immersed in the bush environment.” As Rozentals and Russell-Cook comment, “Despite their careers having been separated by time, and coming from vastly different backgrounds, in both artists we see a singular vision that is immediately recognisable, and unmistakably them. And yet there is a sympathetic connection between their practices that is undeniable.”

Conjoined by more than corrugated iron, more than land, air and clan, their common union is the journey of two creative souls on that golden path of life and the connection of those souls to the cosmos.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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All of the images unless otherwise stated are by Marcus Bunyan. © Marcus Bunyan, the artists and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Although they are often compared, Gascoigne and Connelly-Northey are separated conceptually and chronologically. For a start, despite being two Australian women artists working with landscape, they never met. This fact is less surprising when one remembers that Connelly-Northey’s practice only matured towards the later stages of Gascoigne’s life. Gascoigne came to prominence late and rapidly, with her first exhibition in 1974, when she was fifty-seven years old, and it was only eight years later that she represented Australia at the Venice Biennale. Connelly-Northey started exhibiting seriously in the mid-nineties, shortly before Gascoigne passed away in 1999. However, Connelly-Northey has herself commented on a nuanced relationship to the historical comparison with Gascoigne, pointing out in a recent conversation with Jeremy Eccles that “I’ve worked too hard for people to think I borrowed it all from Rosalie. Our use of corrugated iron is the only thing we have in common.” In some ways, then, the fact they never met may have been fortuitous, with both artists driven to probe their subject matter in distinct and complete ways. …

Surrounding built and natural environments are a recurring prompt for Connelly-Northey, who often merges organic and inorganic forms. She investigates the intricate dilemmas and complexities that arise when two cultures meet. Co-curator Myles Russell-Cook explains that the artist “is using her work to explore the connection between her multiple heritages, as well as her experience living on Country. Take her work On Country, 2017; in that installation, Connelly-Northey explores the relationship between the twin cities of Albury and Wodonga, depicting the river a living being, which she imagines as a snake repurposed out of chicken wire and rusted and industrial scrap metal. It’s a dioramic representation of the landscape, but it is also so embedded with references to Aboriginal custodianship of Country.” As a result, Russell-Cook argues, Connelly-Northey proposes “a really different way of being in Australian landscape.”

Beyond these conceptual and chronological differences, however, Russell-Cook points out that “I think that what unites the two artists is the shared materials they use, but not a ‘shared-use of materials.’ They are both fascinated by the artistic possibilities of found objects, but they use those materials to tell contrasting stories.” As Rozentals notes, for Gascoigne, “the objects had to be just right – what she collected, for instance, with shells. There could be no cracks and they had to be of a particular colour and a particular shine; she would collect the feathers of different species of birds from particular locations.” For Russell-Cook, “At the heart of what Connelly-Northey does, is the act of cleaning up Country: going out and collecting up bits of discarded and refuse machinery, and then working with that to create customary forms. She makes a lot of possum-skin cloaks, narrbong-galang, which are a type of string bag, as well as koolimans (coolamons), lap-laps, and other types of cultural objects … she repurposes them to create a juxtaposition between cultural memories.”

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Extract from Rose Vickers. “Found and Gathered: Lorraine Connelly-Northey and Rosalie Gascoigne,” in Artist Profile, Issue 57, 2021 [Online] Cited 01/02/2022

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the exhibition Found and Gathered at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia
Photo: Tom Ross NGV

 

'Found and Gathered' title wall text

 

Wall text

 

Entrance to the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

 

Entrance to the exhibition Found and Gathered at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Lap Lap' (various numbers) 2011 (installation view)

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Lap Lap' (various numbers) 2011 (installation view)

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Lap Lap' (various numbers) 2011 (installation view)

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Lap Lap' (various numbers) 2011 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Lap Lap (various numbers) (installation views)
2011
Mixed media
Murray Art Museum Albury, commissioned 2011
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Animal skins and woven plant fibres are preferred natural resources for making cloaks, belts, skirts and lap laps. Worn by both males and females, lap laps were created for a simple covering of the groin. Also considered a body adornment, the wearing of a lap lap has different significance between Nations. Connelly-Northey constructed these lap laps from hard and harsh materials, such as rusted industrial objects including an axe head, a cut-down rabbit trap, barbed fencing wire along with copper sheeting. Metaphorically, Connelly-Northey’s lap laps both expose and draw attention to the difficult and ‘barbed’ sexual relations thats existed between Aboriginal women and settlers, post-European arrival.

 

'Found and Gathered' wall text

 

Wall text

 

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne's 'Step through' (1977 - c. 1979-1980) at the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne's 'Step through' (1977 - c. 1979-1980) at the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne’s Step through (1977 – c. 1979-1980) at the exhibition Found and Gathered at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Step through' 1977 - c. 1979-1980 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Step through (installation view)
1977 – c. 1979-1980
Linoleum on plywood on wood
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In 1977, Rosalie Gascoigne commenced making sculptures out of discarded linoleum, which she sourced primarily from rubbish dumps. Step through features torn pieces of floral linoleum glued to plywood which are mounted on wooden blocks, and she used a jigsaw to cut around the shapes. Although linoleum is associated with domestic interiors, for Gascoigne it was about outdoor spaces. This work references untidy vacant blocks in the city, which one might ‘step-through’ as a short cut. Gascoigne’s floor-based works are intended to be experienced from all angles, and the arrangement of the blocks at different heights creates a rhythm, drawing the eyes to wander up and across the installation.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Smoko' 1984 (installation view)

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Smoko' 1984 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Smoko (installation views)
1984
Weathered wood, dried grass (possibly African lovegrass, Eragrostis curvula)
Private collection, Tasmania
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne's 'Pieces to walk around' (1981, foreground) at the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne's 'Pieces to walk around' (1981, foreground) at the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Rosalie Gascoigne’s Pieces to walk around (1981, foreground) at the exhibition Found and Gathered at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Pieces to walk around' 1981 (installation view detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Pieces to walk around (installation view detail)
1981
Saffron thistle sticks (Carthamus lanatus)
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

‘This is a piece for walking around and contemplating. It is about being in the country with its shifting light and shades of grey, its casualness and it prodigality. The viewer’s response to the landscape may differ from mine, but I hope this picture will convey some sense of the countryside that produced it: and that an extra turn or two around the work will induce in the viewer the liberating feeling of being in the open country.’ ~ Rosalie Gascoigne, 1981

 

Piece to Walk Around is a microcosm of the landscape of the Monaro, in the southwest of New South Wales, where Rosalie Gascoigne lived from 1943. This environment provided the experiences and the materials that shaped her work, found on her journeys through it. Piece to Walk Around refers directly to the experience of moving through the Australian landscape, titled to draw attention to the changing visual effects as one circles the work and the shifting play of light on the natural material.

Comprised of a patchwork of bundles of saffron thistle stalks arranged in 20 squares lying on the floor in alternating directions, it resembles the undulating countryside, the ordering of agriculture and industry, and the mottled effects of light and shadow upon it. The work conveys a sense of the infinite expansiveness and liberation experienced in the country, as manifested in the grid’s open-ended structure to which additional bundles of thistles could theoretically be added or subtracted.

Gascoigne’s work from the early-1980s reveal a sophisticated aesthetic – an engagement with Minimalism’s orderliness and pre-occupation with the grid, and an almost Japanese mixture of formal composition and attention to nature. It was this sense of ‘order with randomness’ which Gascoigne recognised as an essential feature of the Monaro-Canberra region, and which resonates in the ‘careful-careless’ effect of this assemblage. Created only seven years after her first solo show in 1974, this work has a remarkable maturity and balance, achieved through a lifetime of looking at the landscape.

Anonymous text from the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia website Nd [Online] Cited 01/02/2022

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Takeover bid' 1981 (installation view)

 

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Takeover bid (installation view)
1981
Found window frames, thistle stems
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Takeover bid' 1981 (installation view detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Takeover bid (installation view detail)
1981
Found window frames, thistle stems
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Balance' 1984 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Balance (installation view)
1984
Weathered plywood
Collection of Justin Miller, Sydney
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Balance' 1984 (installation view detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Balance (installation view detail)
1984
Weathered plywood
Collection of Justin Miller, Sydney
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Graven image' 1982 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Graven image (installation view)
1982
Weathered wood and plywood
Private collection, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Rosalie Gascoigne perceived wood as being distinctly different to the manufactured materials she incorporated in her art, such as tin, aluminium and iron. Wood, like the shells, dried grasses and plants she also worked with across her career, came from nature. Gascoigne gathered wood that had been weathered, including window frames and fence palings, preferring pieces that had been bleached by the sun until they were almost grey in colour. Gascoigne would use wood either as the main component of a composition, or as the backing from another work.

 

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne's 'Feathered Fence' (1978-1979, foreground) with 'Winter paddock' (1984, back left) and 'Afternoon' (1996, back right) at the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne’s Feathered Fence (1978-1979, foreground) with Winter paddock (1984, back left) and Afternoon (1996, back right) at the exhibition ‘Found and Gathered’ at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Feathered fence' 1978-1979 (installation view detail)

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Feathered fence' 1978-1979 (installation view detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Feathered fence (installation view details)
1978-1979
Swan (Cygnus atratus) feathers, galvanised wire mesh, metal win nuts, synthetic polymer paint on wood
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 1994
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Afternoon' 1996 (installation view)

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Afternoon' 1996 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Afternoon (installation views)
1996
Painted weathered plywood on backing boards
TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville
Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AC
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

One of Rosalie Gascoigne’s late works, Afternoon, created for the exhibition In Place (Out of Time), held at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, comprises twenty-seven panels of weathered plywood organised in a grid-like configuration. Looking out from her vantage point at the top of Mount Stromlo across the countryside, Gascoigne was in awe of the view, the vast sky, and te sense of emptiness. The sections of lights applied white paint and areas of exposed timer of Afternoon are suggestive of passing clouds, and communicates her experiences and enduring recollections of being in the landscape.

 

As perhaps the most archetypal form of modernist abstraction, the grid has been employed as a formal, compositional device in countless artworks over the past century.

In ‘Grids’ (1979), Rosalind Krauss’ seminal essay on the subject, she describes this structural device as: ‘[f]lattened, geometricized, ordered, it is antinatural, antimimetic, antireal. It is what art looks like when it turns its back on nature’.(1) However, for Rosalie Gascoigne, the grid was employed as a compositional method in order to generate highly personal and experiential evocations of natural phenomena in ways which transcended the more rigid, impersonal qualities associated with its geometry.

In one of her late works entitled Afternoon (1996), Gascoigne assembled 27 individual panels of found painted timber in roughly similar sizes in a grid-like formation. At a surface level the serial repetition of components arranged and balanced according to vertical and horizontal axes corresponds to a reductive Minimalist sensibility. However, it is the heavily weathered timber with its faded white paint which infuses the work with a resonant and suggestive force. As the artist traversed the open countryside she deliberately sought out materials that she felt were ‘invested with the spirit of the place’ and capable of recalling ‘the feeling of an actual moment in the landscape’.(2) In this light, the vital materiality of the reclaimed painted timber is not only inscribed with the effects of its prolonged exposure to the elements, but it also speaks directly to Gascoigne’s deep and abiding memories of her experiences in the landscape. In Afternoon, the richly allusive quality of the individual boards is suggestive of passing clouds, evoking the ephemeral and transitory phenomena of nature in continuous metamorphosis. Contemplated as a unified pictorial whole, this humble assemblage of discarded and deteriorating matter assumes a metaphysical dimension bordering on the ineffable, one which resoundingly accords with the artist’s desire to ‘capture the “nothingness” of the countryside, those wide open spaces … the great Unsaid … the silence that often only visual beauty transcends’.(3)

 

Further Information

  1. Rosalind Krauss, ‘Grids’, October, Vol. 9, Summer, 1979, p. 50.
  2. Quoted in Deborah Edwards, Rosalie Gascoigne: Material as Landscape, (exh. cat.), Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1997, p. 8.
  3. Ibid, p. 16.

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Anonymous text. “Rosalie Gascoigne,” on the Culture Victoria website Nd [Online] Cited 01/02/2022

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Afternoon' 1996

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Afternoon
1996
Painted weathered plywood on backing boards
TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville
Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AC

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Winter paddock' 1984 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Winter paddock (installation view)
1984
Weathered and painted wood, painted plywood, silver gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) feathers
Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra
Acquired 1985
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Winter paddock' 1984 (installation view detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Winter paddock (installation view detail)
1984
Weathered and painted wood, painted plywood, silver gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) feathers
Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra
Acquired 1985
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Found and Gathered: Rosalie Gascoigne | Lorraine Connelly-Northey brings attention to the shared materiality at the heart of the practices of Rosalie Gascoigne (1917-1999) and Lorraine Connelly-Northey (b. 1962). Both artists are known for their transformative use of found and discarded objects to create works of art that challenge our understanding of the landscape, and Country.

New Zealand–born Rosalie Gascoigne is recognised for her textural works assembled from items that she had collected, including corrugated iron, feathers, wood and wire, as well as her distinctive wall-mounted pieces formed from retro-reflective road signs and soft-drink cases. Gascoigne moved to Mount Stromlo Observatory, a remote community on the outskirts of Canberra in 1943. Describing the area as being ‘all air, all light, all space, all understatement’, the surrounding region where Gascoigne regularly searched for materials greatly inspired her artistic practice. Her first exhibition was held in 1974 when she was 57 years old, and in 1982, Gascoigne was selected as the inaugural female artist to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale.

Lorraine Connelly-Northey was born and raised at Swan Hill in western Victoria, on the traditional lands of the Wamba Wamba people. Much of her work is inspired by her maternal Waradgerie (also known as Wiradjuri) heritage. Connelly-Northey gathers and uses materials often associated with European settlement and industrialisation, and repurposes them into sculptural works that reference traditional weaving techniques and Indigenous cultural objects. Through her work, Connelly-Northey explores the relationship between European and Indigenous ways of being and draws attention to the dynamic and resilient ways that Aboriginal people have been, and continue to be, custodians of Country.

Through a major display of more than 75 wall-based and sculptural works, Found and Gathered highlights each artist’s unique and significant place within Australian art, while also illuminating the sympathetic relationships between their works. Continuing the popular series of paired exhibitions hosted by NGV, this is the first exhibition in this series focused on the work of two women.

Held at The Ian Potter: NGV Australia, this exhibition includes works by both artists held in the NGV Collection as well as works from major public institutions and private collections around Australia.

Text from the NGV Australia website

 

'Found and Gathered' wall text

 

Wall text

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Magpie bag' 2002 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Magpie bag (installation view)
2002
From the Koolimans and String Bags series
Wire mesh, magpie feathers
27.8 × 33.5 × 10.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2003
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Pelican bag' 2002 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Pelican bag (installation view)
2002
From the Koolimans and String Bags series
Wire, pelican feathers
31.4 × 29.7 × 10.6cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2003
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Narrbong (String bag)' 2005 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Narrbong (String bag) (installation view)
2005
Wire, wire mesh
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2005
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Narrbong (String bag)' 2005 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Narrbong (String bag) (installation view)
2005
Wire mesh, feathers
26.5 × 10.5 × 11.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2005
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Narrbong (String bag)' 2005 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Narrbong (String bag) (installation view)
2005
Wire, wire mesh, emu feathers
17.8 × 8.7 × 8.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2005
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey reproduces the form of traditional cultural objects with a range of gathered materials found on the side of the road, in illegal rubbish dumps, or decaying on farms. As she explains: ‘We Aboriginal people only take what we need when we need it. I do a lot of travelling to spot something and it can take up a lot of time. The beauty is that I always work from leftovers and if I don’t use a material, I take it back. Also, in the sculpting process, I try to not alter the material too much’.

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Narrbong (String bag)' 2005 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Narrbong (String bag) (installation view)
2005
Wire mesh, echidna quills
33.0 × 15.3 × 12.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2005
© Lorraine Connelly-Northey
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Kooliman 2' 2002 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Kooliman 2 (installation view)
2002
from the Koolimans and string bags series 2002
8.5 × 29.7 × 19.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2003
© Lorraine Connelly-Northey
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'String bag' 2002 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
String bag (installation view)
2002
from the Koolimans and string bags series 2002
Wire, wire mesh, feathers
23.5 × 16.4 × 8.4cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2003
© Lorraine Connelly-Northey
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Narrbong (String bag)' 2005 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Narrbong (String bag) (installation view)
2005
Wire, wire mesh
30.7 × 14.4 × 4.7cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2005
© Lorraine Connelly-Northey
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Driftwood bag' 2002 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Driftwood bag (installation view)
2002
from the Koolimans and string bags series 2002
Wire, wire mesh, driftwood
15.4 × 26.5 × 7.3cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2003
© Lorraine Connelly-Northey
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Narrbong (String bag)' 2005 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Narrbong (String bag) (installation view)
2005
Wire
15.9 × 22.5 × 9.4cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2005
© Lorraine Connelly-Northey
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'Kooliman 1' 2002

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Kooliman 1
2002
From the Koolimans and string bags series 2002
16.5 × 18.0 × 14.7cm
Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and patrons of Indigenous Art, 2003
© Lorraine Connelly-Northey
Photo: NGV

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962). 'Narrbong (Container)' 2005

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
Narrbong (Container)
2005
Iron, emu feathers
30.5 × 34 × 35.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Robert Cirelli, through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2019
Photo: NGV

 

 

Found and Gathered

By Beckett Rozentals and Myles Russell-Cook

Found and Gathered: Rosalie Gascoigne | Lorraine Connelly-Northey brings to attention the work of two artists, both who are well known for their transformative use of found and discarded objects to create works of art. Lorraine Connelly-Northey is a contemporary artist and Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) woman living on Wamba Wamba Country. Rosalie Gascoigne was born in Aotearoa (New Zealand), and moved to Mount Stromlo Observatory, a remote community in the Australia Capital Territory on the lands of Ngunawal people, in 1943. Both are celebrated as two of Australia’s pioneering contemporary artists.

Gascoigne passed away in 1999 not long after Connelly-Northey first began exhibiting. They never met, and it was not until many years after first showing as an artist that Connelly-Northey became aware of Gascoigne and her work. Despite never meeting, some enduring parallels between their work are evidence of their shared love for the natural sophistication of found objects. Found and Gathered: Rosalie Gascoigne | Lorraine Connelly-Northey is the first major exhibition to unite these artists, providing a conversation between artists and across time. Together these inspiring sculptors challenge our understanding of found materials, of seeing the landscape, and of being on Country.

Rosalie Gascoigne is recognised for textural works assembled from collected items, including corrugated iron, wire, feathers and wood, as well as her distinctive wall-mounted pieces formed from split soft-drink cases and brightly coloured yellow and red road signs. Producing work primarily about the landscape, Gascoigne’s art practice stemmed from her appreciation of humble found objects and weathered materials. Gascoigne sourced objects from the Southern Tablelands and the Monaro district, unique natural environments that lie close to Canberra, describing the regions as ‘all air, all light, all space, all understatement’,1 as well as building sites, refuse and recycling centres.

Born in 1962 and raised at Swan Hill in western Victoria, on the traditional lands of the Wamba Wamba people, today Lorraine Connelly-Northey is known for gathering and utilising industrial remnants associated with European settlement. Her practice is founded in the union of her father’s Irish heritage with her mother’s Waradgerie2 heritage. Since 1990, Connelly-Northey’s strong desire to undertake traditional Aboriginal weaving has resulted in a rediscovery of her childhood bush environments of the Mallee and along the Murray River, to learn more about Aboriginal lifestyle prior to European settlement.

Gascoigne commenced classes in the Japanese art of ikebana in 1962, studying under Tokyo-trained Norman Sparnon, who taught the modern Sogetsu school. Ikebana was to significantly inform the basis of her sculptural works. Looking towards line and form over colour, Gascoigne commenced making assemblages in 1964, her first works created from discarded rural machinery. In a similar way, the materials that Connelly-Northey works with are both natural and inorganic, combining items such as discarded wire, metal and scraps of old housing, with wood, shells, feathers and other naturally occurring media. In bringing together disparate materials, Connelly-Northey also uses her work to push audiences to consider the relationships between First Peoples and settler societies, and critiques the ongoing dispossession that is experienced by Aboriginal people throughout Australia.

Gascoigne’s first solo exhibition was held at Macquarie Galleries, Canberra, in 1974 when she was fifty-seven years old. Gascoigne quickly rose to prominence as one of Australia’s most admired artists, and four years later, she was the focus of Survey 2: Rosalie Gascoigne held at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourrne. In 1982, Gascoigne was the first female artist to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale. Following her distinguished career, a retrospective of Gascoigne’s work opened at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia in 2008.3

Exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1982 was Gascoigne’s first iron work, Pink window, 1975, an assemblage comprising a window frame and painted corrugated galvanised iron. Gascoigne stated of the work that

The pink and the shape and everything was actually as I found it, and I didn’t do a thing to it. It was only after quite some months I realised it could sit on that window frame. At the time I was on about the emptiness of the Australian landscape, and I kept thinking of a woman stuck out there on the plains standing at her window. She looks out, what does she see? Nothing. It spoke of loneliness or something … and it got happier as time went on. The pink carries it … the pink is very beautiful.4

.
Across her career, Gascoigne gathered wood, with a preference for pieces that had been weathered, such as fence palings and apiary boxes, as well as a dozen abandoned pink primed window frames, including the one featured in Pink window.

For Connelly-Northey, gathering her materials and ‘cleaning up’ the landscape is one in the same. She describes the act of ‘gathering’, as an act of ‘taking back Country’. Caring for lands and waterways and the importance of preserving culture are two things that were instilled in her from a young age, by both her mother and father, who encouraged her to reuse discarded materials, and taught her handiwork and craft.

Many of Connelly-Northey’s sculptures take the form of classical Aboriginal cultural objects, such as narrbong-gallang (string bags), kooliman-gallang (coolamons), possum-skin cloaks and lap laps. These objects can be rendered simply, such as her rectangular sheets of metal with bent wire handles and her drawings with cable wire, or as elaborately constructed pictorial installations, which combine a variety of mixed media. Connelly-Northey uses the title A Possum Skin Cloak as a way of introducing the cultural stories that appear within her more dioramic installations. Presented for the first time in this exhibition, Connelly-Northey unites four of her most ambitious possum skin cloak installations: A Possum Skin Cloak: Three rivers country, 2010 (Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney); A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road, 2011-2013 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne); A Possum Skin Cloak: On Country, 2017 (Murray Art Museum Albury); and her most recent work, A Possum Skin Cloak: Hunter’s Duck Net, 2021 (courtesy of the artist).

A Possum Skin Cloak: Hunter’s Duck Net depicts a traditional duck net cut from oxidised, corrugated iron, that hangs, framed between two majestic river red gums, one a scarred ‘canoe’ tree. Traditionally, when using duck nets, Aboriginal hunters would throw a boomerang, no doubt a returning one, overhead like a predatory hawk to the startle the ducks, forcing them to fly low and into the net strung across the tributary of the river. The ducks in Connelly-Northey’s work appear animated, some still on the water’s surface, others in mid-flight before being either trapped or escaping the net. The encircling boomerang can be seen at the top of this dioramic scene giving audiences a sense of the action at the moment just before the ducks become ensnared.

Gascoigne is perhaps most well known for her unique assemblages constructed from cut up and rearranged retro-reflective road signs that flash and flicker in the light. The first signs she found were discovered face down in the mud at a roadside dump and, by chance, had already been cut up into squares. Gascoigne, taken by the way the material responded to the light, began salvaging signs no longer in use, collecting examples abandoned on the side of the road and also at road maintenance depots.

Gascoigne’s use of the boldness of the retro-reflective road signs to reveal her ongoing interest in the expressive possibilities of the grid is exemplified in Flash art, 1987. In this work, Gascoigne has explored all aspects of the featured lettering and negative space, creating whole words, as well as including sections and fragments of text. The title references the reflective quality of the material, with Gascoigne stating that: ‘It was the most blasting of the retro-reflectives I ever did, because it was eight feet by eight feet, it had road tar on it, and when it lit up, boy, it was every bushfire’.5 The gestural smears of black tar across the bright yellow surface additionally links the work back to the roads and highways where the signs were once positioned in the landscape.

The customary shapes and forms that appear and reappear throughout Connelly-Northey’s work most often reference the cultural objects of her ancestors, and the stories embedded within Country. Connelly-Northey has dedicated a great deal of her life to researching and exploring how these cultural objects, as well as knowledge associated with Aboriginal custodianship of Country can be reimagined using materials associated with colonisation.

One of Connelly-Northey’s most ambitious installations, A Possum Skin Cloak: On Country, overflows across two adjoining walls. This major diorama features a series of blue, white and brown koolimans representing the twin cities Albury and Wodonga. Albury was originally known by the Waradgerie as Bungambrawatha, meaning Homeland. Wodonga retained its original name, which refers to a type of plant called cumbungi, a bush potato that is also commonly known as bulrush. Within the installation are two canoes placed on the body of the barbed-wire snake that represents the Murray River.

The large possum skin cloak that adjoins to the central installation represents the land of the grass seed people, the Waradgerie. Connelly-Northey has rendered her cloak in rusted iron and sections of pressed tin that were salvaged from Albury’s former town hall ceiling during the renovations of the Murray Art Museum Albury. It is distorted and undulates, creating a sense of folded fabric.

Both Connelly-Northey and Gascoigne’s work is defined by, and yet transcends, its sense of materiality. Gascoigne perceived the wood, shells, feathers and dried grasses that she collected as being markedly different to the industrial objects incorporated in her art, such as tin, aluminium and iron. Instead, these materials came from nature itself. Connelly-Northey views the act of gathering as one of the central inspirations behind her practice. Rather than drawing attention to the differences between collected materials, Connelly-Northey uses traditional weaving, not assemblage, as a way of bringing together that which is disparate.

Gascoigne and Connelly-Northey each dissociate objects from their original function, while simultaneously reflecting their individual experiences of being immersed in the bush environment. Despite their careers having been separated by time, and coming from vastly different backgrounds, in both artists we see a singular vision that is immediately recognisable, and unmistakably them. And yet there is a sympathetic connection between their practices that is undeniable.

Beckett Rozentals and Myles Russell-Cook

 

Notes

  1. Rosalie Gascoigne, interview with Peter Ross, ABC, 1990.
  2. ‘Waradgerie’, also known as ‘Wiradjuri’, is the artist’s preferred spelling.
  3. For further reading on the artist’s career and exhibition history, see Martin Gascoigne, Rosalie Gascoigne: Catalogue Raisonné, ANU Press, Canberra, 2019.
  4. Rosalie Gascoigne, interview with Ian North, Canberra, 9 Feb. 1982. Transcript held in National Gallery of Australia Research Library, Canberra, and Rosalie Gascoigne papers, box 21, National Library of Australia, Canberra.
  5. Rosalie Gascoigne quoted in Viki MacDonald, Rosalie Gascoigne, Regaro Pty Ltd, Paddington, Sydney, 1998, p. 76.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Country air' 1977 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Country air (installation view)
1977
Painted and corrugated galvanised iron, weathered wood, plywood
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1979
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Rosalie Gascoigne began incorporating both sheet and corrugated iron in her work between 1973 and 1974. Gascoigne viewed galvanised iron as a very ‘Australian’ material, and she continued using iron until 1998, experimenting with different weights and colours of the pieces she collected. Country air  comprises four heavy, weathered and dented corrugated sheets, which Gascoigne found at the Canberra Brickworks in 1976, and are presented in the state that she found them. Encased in the simple timber frames, the ripples and bent pieces of iron have the illusion of curtains gently blowing in a breeze.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Country air' 1977 (installation view detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Country air (installation view detail)
1977
Painted and corrugated galvanised iron, weathered wood, plywood
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1979
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne's 'Crop 2' (1982, foreground) and Lorraine Connelly-Northey's 'A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road' (2011-2013, background) at the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne’s Crop 2 (1982, foreground) and Lorraine Connelly-Northey’s A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road (2011-2013, background) at the exhibition Found and Gathered at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Crop 2' 1982 (installation view)

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Crop 2' 1982 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Crop 2 (installation views)
1982
Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius), galvanised wire, corrugated iron
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Ben Gascoigne AO
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Crop 2 comprises a piece of chicken wire that seems to float over a sheet of galvanised iron. The two are connected by hundreds of dried salsify heads (Tragopogon porrifolius – part of the daisy family), which are stripped of their leaves and threaded through the holes in the wire. The resulting effect is a poetic evocation of cultivated land, and of order imposed on the natural environment. Evident in Crop 2 is the influence of the artist’s training in Sogetsu ikebana, as it is based on a knowing combination of intuition and discipline, and a concentrated search for an essential form.

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road' 2011-2013 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road (installation view)
2011-2013
Rusted iron and tin, fencing and barbed wire, wire
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2014
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road' 2011-2013

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road (installation view)
2011-2013
Rusted iron and tin, fencing and barbed wire, wire
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2014
Photo: NGV

 

'Found and Gathered' wall text

 

Wall text

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road' 2011-2013 (installation view detail)

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road' 2011-2013 (installation view detail)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
A Possum Skin cloak: Blackfella road (installation view details)
2011-2013
Rusted iron and tin, fencing and barbed wire, wire
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2014
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'A Possum Skin cloak' 2005-2006 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
A Possum Skin cloak (installation view)
2005-2006
From the Hunter-gatherer series
Rusted corrugated iron
119.5 × 131.5 × 5.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2006
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) A Possum Skin cloak 2005-2006 (installation view)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
A Possum Skin cloak (installation view)
2005-2006
From the Hunter-gatherer series
Steel, Chinese chicken feathers
148.0 × 132.0 × 10.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2006
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) A Possum Skin cloak 2005-2006 (installation view detail)

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
A Possum Skin cloak (installation view detail)
2005-2006
From the Hunter-gatherer series
Steel, Chinese chicken feathers
148.0 × 132.0 × 10.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Supporters and Patrons of Indigenous Art, 2006
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne's 'Milky way' (1982, far left) and her 'Lantern' (1990, far right) and 'Vintage' (1990, second right) at the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Rosalie Gascoigne’s Milky way (1982, far left) and her Lantern (1990, third right) and Vintage (1990, second right) at the exhibition Found and Gathered at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Milky way' 1995 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Milky way (installation view)
1995
Painted wood
TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville
Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AC
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Rosalie Gascoigne moved to Mount Stromlo Observatory in 1943 to marry astronomer Ben Gascoigne, who she had previously met while studying at university in Auckland. The first of their three children was born later that year. It was also in 1943 that Gascoigne started exploring the region on foot, bringing home objects she discovered on her journeys. Milky way is one of just two works Gascoigne produced directly related to an astrological theme. Following his wife’s passing, Ben Gascoigne stated that although Gascoigne had many chances, at no time did she look through te telescopes at the Observatory during they years they lived there.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Lantern' 1990 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Lantern (installation view)
1990
Sawn plywood retro-reflective road signs on plywood backing
TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville
Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AC
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Vintage' 1990 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Vintage (installation view)
1990
Sawn plywood reflective road signs on composition board
Private collection, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Found and Gathered' at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia showing at right, Rosalie Gascoigne's 'Yellow beach' (1984)

 

Installation view of the exhibition Found and Gathered at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia showing at right, Rosalie Gascoigne’s Yellow beach (1984)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) '(Yellow beach)' 1984 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
(Yellow beach) (installation view)
1984
Scallop shells, painted wood, plywood
Private collection, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Red beach' 1984 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Red beach (installation view)
1984
Wood, nails, shells, paint
Private collection, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Rosalie Gascoigne was an avid shell collector, often focusing on gathering just one type of shell at a time, and storing them in boxes, jars and bowls. Discerning in her selection, she brought home only shells she deemed to be of good colour and with no chips. The Tasmanian scallop shells used in Red beach, (Yellow beach) and (Twenty-five scallop shells) were collected by Gascoigne’s son, Toss, who was living in Hobart at the time. He gathered them from Seven Mile beach, just near Hobart Airport, which the family used to visit.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Red beach' 1984 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Red beach (installation view)
1984
Wood, nails, shells, paint
Private collection, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Twenty-five scallop shells' c. 1984-1986 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Twenty-five scallop shells (installation view)
c. 1984-1986
Scallop shells, wood
Private collection, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Twenty-five scallop shells' c. 1984-1986 (installation view detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Twenty-five scallop shells (installation view detail)
c. 1984-1986
Scallop shells, wood
Private collection, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Turn of the tide' 1983 (installation view)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Turn of the tide (installation view)
1983
Painted wood, galvanised iron, shells
Private collection, Sydney
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Turn of the tide' 1983 (installation view detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Turn of the tide (installation view detail)
1983
Painted wood, galvanised iron, shells
Private collection, Sydney
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Installation view of Lorraine Connelly-Northey’s On Country (2017) at the exhibition Found and Gathered at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The installation On Country overflows onto the adjoining wall with this possum skin cloak. This component on On Country represents the land of the grass seed people, the Waradgerie. The object has been rendered in rusted iron and sections of pressed tin, and the cloak is fringed with white and brown koolimans of varying scales, which were salvaged from Albury’s former town hall ceiling during renovations of the Murray Art Museum Albury. The rusted sheet is distorted and undulates over the entire object creating a sense of folded fabric.

 

Installation view of Lorraine Connelly-Northey's 'On Country' 2017, on display at MAMA, Albury

 

Installation view of Lorraine Connelly-Northey’s On Country 2017, on display at MAMA, Albury
© the artist

 

'Found and Gathered' wall text

 

Wall text

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Inland sea' 1986

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Inland sea
1986
Weathered painted corrugated iron, wire
(a-ff) 39.1 x 325.0 x 355.5cm (variable) (installation)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1993
© Rosalie Gascoigne Estate/Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

 

 

In Inland sea, 1986 (above), sixteen large sheets of corrugated tin hover above the floor in a loose grid arrangement. The grid format unifies the separate parts of the composition, and also enhances the expressive power of different visual elements through repetition. The shapes and lines repeated across the buckling sheets of tin create a powerful sense of the gentle movement of wind or water.

The strong visual rhythms and movement evident in Gascoigne’s compositions are often achieved through the repetition of different visual elements. Step through, 1980 (above), is made from fifteen separate parts, each made from a torn piece of brightly coloured, floral patterned linoleum mounted on a block of wood. The blocks sit at different angles creating different levels within the installation. The spaces between the different parts create a meandering path for the viewer to explore, highlighting the importance of movement through and across space in Gascoigne’s work.

“I was thinking about the unkempt empty blocks in built up city areas … usually covered in rank grasses and flowering weeds … rubble, old tins and bottles. One steps through them gingerly and, with possible snakes in mind, lifts one’s knees high.” ~ Vici MacDonald, Rosalie Gascoigne, Regaro Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1998, p. 48

Text from the NGV Rosalie Gascoigne Education Kit

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Honey flow' 1985

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Honey flow
1985
Painted and stencilled wood, nails on plywood backing
Collection of Justin Miller, Sydney

 

 

Some of the most eye-catching and striking board pieces by Rosalie Gascoigne are her compositions created out of distinctive yellow Schweppes soft-drink boxes. In 1985m Gascoigne created her first all-yellow-soft-drink box work, Honey flow, which was the same year she made her first all-yellow retro-reflective work. With both these materials, Gascoigne explored all aspects of the featured lettering and negative space, including whole words, sections of texts and letters, and isolated shapes. She also experimented with different degrees of weathering and shading of her materials.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'All summer long' 1996

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
All summer long
1996
Sawn painted and stencilled wood from soft-drink boxes
Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo

 

 

One of Rosalie Gascoigne’s largest wall-base pieces, All summer long was included in an exhibition of her all-yellow works held at the Adelaide Festival in 1996. The title references the long hot summer days experienced in Adelaide and its surrounds – the sunburnt landscape turning yellow. The slivers of black text once read ‘Schweppes screw top 32 fl. oz’, and the areas of split and broken text rise and fall against the expanses of the muted golden tones, drawing the eye steadily across the composition.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Flash art' 1987

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Flash art
1987
Tar on reflective synthetic polymer film on wood
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the Loti and Victor Smorgon Fund, 2010

 

 

Created from cut-up road signs that have been rearranged and organised in a grid configuration, the scratched panels and fragments of disconnected text form a striking abstract field of flickering letters against a bright yellow background. This work exemplifies Rosalie Gascoigne’s poetic use of found objects, particularly those containing text. The open structure and repetitive patterns evoke a sense of expansiveness and space, while the weather-beaten surface with gestural smears of tar connects it to a particular idea of place.

 

'Found and Gathered' wall text

'Found and Gathered' wall text

 

Wall text

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Suddenly the lake' 1995

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Suddenly the lake
1995
FSC-coated plywood formboard, painted galvanised iron sheet, synthetic polymer paint on composition board
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Given by the artist in memory of Michael Lloyd, 1996

 

 

Suddenly the lake is based on the view of Lake George at Gearys Gap, New South Wales, seen while driving along the Federal Highway out of Canberra. The parallel hills also reference the work of New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon, who Gascoigne greatly admired. Gascoigne referred to the curved piece of formboard used in the work as her ‘Ellsworth Kelly curve’ as it reminded Gascoigne of American artist Kelly’s Orange curve, 1964-1965 (below), which she had viewed at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Orange curve' 1964-1965

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Orange curve
1964-1965
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Clouds III' 1992

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Clouds III
1992
Weathered painted composition board on plywood
(a-d) 75.4 × 362.2cm (installation)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 1993

 

 

Evocative of clouds shifting and transforming shape across the horizon, the hand-torn masonite shapes incorporated into Clouds III speak to the transience of natural phenomena. The metaphysical quality Rosalie Gascoigne imbued in everyday materials that had been discarded enabled her to, as she articulated it, ‘capture the “nothingness” of the countryside, those wide-open spaces … the great Unsaid … the silence that often only visual beauty transcends’. Clouds III was originally displayed as part of an installation of three Cloud works at Roslyn Oxley9, Sydney, in 1992.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999) 'Pink window' 1975

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Pink window
1975
Window frame, pink undercoat, corrugated iron
116.0 x 104.0 x 10.0cm
Private Collection, Canberra
© Rosalie Gascoigne / Copyright Agency, Australia

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962) 'A Possum Skin Cloak: Three rivers country' 2010

 

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australian / Waradgerie, b. 1962)
A Possum Skin Cloak: Three rivers country
2010
Burnt finely corrugated tin, rusted wire, fenced wire, rabbit proof fencing wire, corrugated iron, tin, wire
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
© the artist
Photo: Jenni Carter

 

 

Three rivers country pays homage to my mother’s knowledge of water on country. The work is my interpretation of an opossum skin cloak with incisions depicting rivers and koolimans. The work represents the land of the ‘Waradgerie Winnowers’, my mother’s tribal boundary, Waradgerie Country.”

.
Lorraine Connelly-Northey, 2010

 

 

In Lorraine Connelly-Northey’s A Possum Skin Cloak: Three rivers country, she challenges conventioanl historical narratives, employing the objects of Western industry to map Waradgerie Country. Waradgerie Country, in central New South Wales, is often referred to as ‘Three rivers country’, because the Wambool (the Macquarie), the Kalari (the Lachlan) and the Murrumbidjeri (Murrumbidgee) rivers course through it. As the artist states: ‘Three rivers country pays homage to my mother’s tribal boundary, Waradgerie Country, along with the peoples known as the grass seed people who created koolimans to winnow their seed for seed cake making’.

 

Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) country in central New South Wales is vast, with hills in the east, river floodplains and grasslands in the interior and mallee to the west. It is known as Three Rivers Country, as the Murrumbidgee, Kalari (Lachlan) and Wambool (Macquarie) rivers course through it, teeming with life. But as the colonial frontier spread west from Bathurst in the early 1800s, the Three Rivers Country was surveyed and cleared, dissected and demarcated, and kilometres of fencing spread through Waradgerie land like cracks through ice.

In her epic installation Three rivers country Lorraine Connelly-Northey wrestles with this history, employing the objects of western industry to map her country. The materials she uses marry the two foundations of her practice: the heritage of her Waradgerie mother and the heritage of her Irish father. While her father encouraged her use of discarded materials, it was as a young child with her mother that she honed her fine handiwork skills through crocheting and sewing. As Connelly-Northey explains: ‘I set out to ensure that however my art developed it would represent my parents equally.’1

In this work the snaking rivers dominate, shifting from rusted rippled iron and the delicate open weave of agricultural fencing to the familiar lacework of rabbit-proof wire. Tying these forms together are coolamons: oval-shaped bowls that form both the riverbanks and the great, cultivated plains of the interior. The work, says Connelly-Northey, ‘pays homage to my mother’s knowledge of water on country … [and represents] the land of the “Waradgerie Winnowers”.’ But it also speaks to her mother’s life experience, ‘born and raised on the banks of freshwater rivers’ in shanties patch worked together with discarded materials like those Connelly-Northey uses in her works of art.

 

Notes

  1. Lorraine Connelly-Northey quoted in Julian Bowron, Lorraine Connelly-Northey: Waradgerie weaver, exh. cat., Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, Victoria, unpaginated.
  2. Lorraine Connelly-Northey, artist’s statement, in Carly Lane and Franchesca Cubillo (eds.,), unDisclosed: 2nd National Indigenous Art Triennial, exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2012, p. 39.

 

Anonymous text. “Lorraine Connelly-Northey: Three rivers country, 2010,” on the Museum of Contemporary Art website [Online] Cited 28/12/2021

 

Aboriginal Nations / Languages in NSW and ACT

 

Aboriginal Nations / Languages in NSW and ACT – Mount Stromlo is in the ACT (Canberra on the map)

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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09
May
21

Review: ‘Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – Tom Goldner’ at the Meat Market Stables, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th February – 27th February 2021

Photography & Curation/Art Direction – Tom Goldner
Moving Image – Angus Scott
Sound – Sean Kenihan
Poetry – Dr Judith Crispin (publication)
Colourist – CJ Dobson (moving image)
Audio Visual – Toto Creative
Cover Art – Katherina Rodrigues (publication)

 

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

 

Strange Beauty

Bloated prostrate tentacles

wither into our idea of dying

overlapping human, shit

feeding foulest vegetables,

regenerating sourly

Kingdoms of foulest water

regorging sourly

Bloated brumbies, winged coal

rejigs

Strange Beauty

Floating in our mind

In grey greasy horror water

Full of surprises –

like a holocaust holding pond

At your peril

 

Skull twisted,

Served on corrugated soot

Land, once precious

disguised, drained

black, gold – split

burnt to reburn

charred brumbies, flying coal

rem/embers,

Millions of worst worst

Strange Beauty

lost as sources

Boiling, bubbling – like a holocaust

At your peril

 

Belching wishes to reassemble

Hexing new forms

Bottom of our nightmare

Bottom of our innings

Animals worst worst

Plants unredeemable

Satan not lucifer

Sky a trap

Wings a trap

Escape a trap

Strange Beauty

beside the dead and ugly

like a holocaust

Do you want to …

(At your peril)

… Remember ?

.
Marcus Bunyan and Ian Lobb, May 2021

 

 

Contested Ground

I saw this darkly mysterious, immersive exhibition by the artist Tom Goldner just after Melbourne suffered its mini-five day COVID lock down in February 2021, but I have been awaiting the installation photographs and video of the event to publish this posting.

This stimulating exhibition, with its wonderfully atmospheric sound track, was an overlapping animation of conceptual, documentary photographs that appear in Goldner’s book Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – and placed “the audience within the Snowy Mountains and Victorian Alpine regions during the period of 2019-2020 referred to as the Black Summer“, the project (both multimedia exhibition and book) considering “the systems which position the Snowy Mountain brumby and the catastrophic 2019-2020 Australian bushfires within a time of ecological uncertainty.” The starting point into Goldner’s investigation was that of the Snowy Mountain brumby, an Australian feral wild-roaming horse, an invasive, non-native species introduced during colonisation. The brumbies cannot see in red, and the artist wondered how the world must have appeared to them illuminated by the strange light of the raging bushfires. He uses this idea as a metonym throughout the project which acts as an entry point into both the human and nonhuman world, to begin to understand the human perception of this catastrophic event and the anthropogenic changes that are happening in the Australian landscape.

The research which underpins Goldner’s project is guided “by the work of English professor Timothy Morton and his theories on ‘ecological awareness’ in Dark Ecology (2016), which examine the intersection of places, scales and nonhuman interrelations. Running parallel to these ideas are those of American professor Donna Haraway’s most recent book, Staying with the Trouble (2016). Particularly her concept of the ‘Chthulucene’ that strives to capture a future in which all things in the world are connected, coexist and, in many cases, ‘collaborate’, and through this, we learn to ‘live and die well together’ and achieve a kind of ‘ongoingness’.” The artist seeks to flatten the hierarchy between human and nonhuman life by allowing us to recognise ourselves within the violence we inflict on the natural world during this human-assisted ecological disaster.

.
While the project professes to challenge the notion of clear and tidy boundaries in a time of ecological uncertainty, in reality it offers a particularly one-eyed perspective on the subject of anthropogenic changes to the landscape. I don’t mind this perspective at all, in fact I applaud it, for the ultimate goal of the photographs is to open our eyes to the destruction that human actions are inflicting on our environment. Through beautifully modulated photographs of great sensitivity Goldner pictures these spaces of destruction and re/generation. But is there ever an “original” landscape to which we must return?

In humans, a reduced sensitivity to red light due to missing or defective L-cones (or long wave cones) is known as protanopia or protanomaly. The derivation of the word protanopia is from the early 20th century: from proto- ‘original’ (red being regarded as the first component of colour vision) + an- ‘lacking’ + ‘opia’- (denoting a visual disorder). Protanomaly makes red look more green and less bright while protanopia makes you unable to tell the difference between red and green at all. People with protanopia are more likely to confuse black with many shades of red; dark brown with dark green, dark orange and dark red; some blues with some reds, purples and dark pinks; and mid-greens with some oranges (see image below).

When the first component of colour vision (red) is lacking we have a visual disorder. How, then, can we see the intersection of the human and non-human world clearly if we have a visual disorder? To what are we to return, to an untouched paradisiacal landscape pre-colonisation, pre-human inhabitation – to an “original” we can no longer see – or do we acknowledge the paradoxical “nature” of our contemporary existence on this earth in a more balanced way. Nothing is ever black and white, or in this case colour(–).1

For many generations humans have lived in the Snowy Mountains and Victorian Alpine regions, singing pastorals to the gods, seeking guidance to live on the land: the mountain ranges are thought to have had Aboriginal occupation for 20,000 years and after the areas were first explored by Europeans from the 1830s-1850s, high country stockmen followed using the mountains for grazing during the summer months (Wikipedia). Over the last few years, people of Victoria’s high country and animal lovers have rallied against the proposed culling of feral brumbies in the state’s national parks. They cite that brumbies hold “heritage value, they are part of our cultural and social history. Brumbies have lived in our Heritage National Parks for two centuries; are descendants of remounts that were sent to War with our soldiers… Brumbies were immortalised by Banjo Patterson, feature in paintings by Sydney Nolan and written about in the Silvery Brumby novels by Ellyne Mitchell. Brumbies are part of the fabric of our Australian society. It is undeniable that extremist elements must not be allowed to dictate on cultural and social values.”2 Goldner states that, “Brumbies are a symbol of national consciousness. While they may be labelled as a ‘feral species’ and a threat to native ecosystems by environmentalists, they are also valued as an important part of Australia’s history as a symbol of national spirit.”

Contested ground indeed, and perhaps one that needed to be more fully investigated in Goldner’s project.

While the second sentence in the above paragraph is true I would argue that the opposite of the first sentence is at least possible – that brumbies are an anti-symbol of national consciousness, for the animals hardly ever impinge on the collective consciousness of most Australians when they think about the Australian landscape. How often would the vast bulk of the city-dwelling Australian population think about the brumby as a symbol of national consciousness? Hardly ever would be my answer. It is not an original thought about the landscape that they would have.

.
Walking through the darkened spaces of the exhibition, I let the phenomena of superb images and sounds wash over me. The experience was particularly moving given the strange beauty of the limited colour palette images and the atmospheric vibrations of the music. For me, the key image of the exhibition was not that of the bloated brumby lying prostrate on the blackened earth, but that of an isolated grave standing erect in the scorched landscape. With no context to allow the viewer to anchor this grave to a historical past, all we are left with are questions and metaphors. What is this grave doing seemingly in the middle of nowhere? Who is the person buried there? The metaphors are rich indeed: the erect whiteness of the white man’s grave stone isolated against the black ness of the landscape, a landscape not their own, and perhaps not of their own making. The anonymous writing on the grave stone standing as a metaphor for any human who has ever lived. The iron fence that segregates the human from the land even as they buried in it… as though they are a part of this earth but apart from it. A masterful image if ever I saw one.

In the overlapping, interstitial, spatio-temporal dimensions of the gallery I placed myself into the existence of these works, into their networks of existence. As the artist wanted, I recognised “the violence we inflict on the natural world during this human-assisted ecological disaster” but not, I insist, through the flattening of the hierarchy between human and nonhuman life but through it’s very opposite – through an acknowledgement of the multiple, fragmented, lexias of existence,2 networks that live in multiple levels of intersectionality, like a spiders web created in the dimensions of extended space. Into this geometry of space, into the spatio-temporal ‘nature’ of photography – death, power, transcendence, timelines, delay, exposure, territorialisations, assemblage, bricolage, rhizomic structures and the author – “seeing is no longer framed or presupposed through relations of distance or perspective. Rather, the eye and the visible are embodied as they struggle with positionality, in the physical, mental, and emotional conflicts that result when you have to take responsibility for what you see, instead of conferring that responsibility on an-other.”4

Goldner’s vision embodies this ongoing thickness, this ongoing responsibility.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Conceptually, wholes are divided up or taken apart, dis-integrated into component pieces. They may be reintegrated, but in a way that reflects the understanding of those pieces at the time of their disassembly; the way the functions of individual parts of a whole are seen depends on the way the whole is divided into parts. Different visions result in different views of the whole.”
    Wolf, Mark. Abstracting Reality: Art, Communication, and Cognition in the Digital Age. Lanham: University Press of America, 2000, p. 196.
  2. Anonymous author. “Melbourne rally “Stop the bullets”,” media release on the Australian Brumby Alliance website May 1, 2021 [Online] Cited 09/05/2021.
  3. Lexia is perhaps the most widely applicable term for describing the linked pieces of information within a hypertext, referred to in various contexts as nodes, pages, frames and workspaces.
  4. Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 137-138.

.
Many thankx to Tom Goldner for allowing me to publish the photographs and video in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. The Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – Photo Book is available from Tom Goldner’s website.

 

 

protanopia vision

 

Protanopia vision

 

 

Photography & Curation/Art Direction – Tom Goldner
Moving Image – Angus Scott

 

 

Photography & Curation/Art Direction – Tom Goldner
Moving Image – Angus Scott

 

 

“A large portion of the project was made in the Snowy Mountain region of New South Wales.

During the first tip to the fire grounds in early January 2020 we came across a wild horse… It had died of a lung bleed while trying to escape the bushfires. I used the brumby as an entry point into Australia’s colonial history, proposing that the brumby is a manifestation of our collective actions.

I later learn that horses only see in blues and greens, and I wondered how the world must have appeared to them illuminated by that strange red light.

The project asks, can we too see the world differently?”

.
Tom Goldner on the Blackriver website [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

 

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? is a research-driven project which explores anthropogenic changes in the Australian landscape through the use of conceptual documentary photography. Presented as an immersive experience this collaborative project utilises large-scale projection to place the audience within the Snowy Mountains and Victorian Alpine regions during the period of 2019-2020 referred to as the Black Summer.

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? negotiates the human perception of this catastrophic event. This exhibition and publication reveals the bushfires and resulting damage through the eyes of another human-assisted ecological disaster, one of an invasive species: the Snowy Mountain Brumby.

The project considers the systems which position the Snowy Mountain brumby and the catastrophic 2019-2020 Australian bushfires within a time of ecological uncertainty. The Snowy Mountain brumby, an Australian feral wild-roaming horse, appears as a metonym throughout the project and acts as an entry point into both the human and nonhuman world.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner' 2021

 

Installation views of the exhibition Do Brumbies Dream In Red? – Tom Goldner 2021 at the Meat Market Stables, Melbourne

 

 

“Mixed-up times are overflowing with both pain and joy – with vastly unjust patterns of pain and joy, with unnecessary killing of ongoingness but also with necessary resurgence. The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present. Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places.”

.
Donna Haraway, 2016

 

 

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? is a project driven by research which explores anthropogenic changes in the Australian landscape through the use of conceptual documentary photography, video and audio recordings.

The project considers the systems which position the Snowy Mountain brumby and the catastrophic 2019-2020 Australian bushfires within a time of ecological uncertainty. The Snowy Mountain brumby, an Australian feral wild-roaming horse, appears as a metonym throughout the project and acts as an entry point into both the human and nonhuman world.

Brumbies are a symbol of national consciousness. While they may be labelled as a ‘feral species’ and a threat to native ecosystems by environmentalists, they are also valued as an important part of Australia’s history as a symbol of national spirit. Brumbies represent wildness and the way we relate to, and attempt to control, nature.

The project challenges the notion of clear and tidy boundaries in a time of ecological uncertainty. The research is underpinned by the work of English professor Timothy Morton and his theories on ‘ecological awareness’ in Dark Ecology (2016), which examine the intersection of places, scales and nonhuman interrelations. Running parallel to these ideas are those of American professor Donna Haraway’s most recent book, Staying with the Trouble (2016). Particularly her concept of the ‘Chthulucene’ that strives to capture a future in which all things in the world are connected, coexist and, in many cases, ‘collaborate’, and through this, we learn to ‘live and die well together’ and achieve a kind of ‘ongoingness’.

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? seeks to flatten the hierarchy between human and nonhuman life by allowing us to recognise ourselves within the violence we inflict on the natural world. The visual outcomes that navigate these ideas are intertwined and are driven by a series of photographs, moving images and audio recordings. The project culminates in a photobook with an accompanying poem by Australian artist and academic Dr Judith Nangala Crispin. The publication was produced to be presented alongside a mixed-media exhibition, comprising of large-format projected still and moving imagery and a soundscape.

Text from the Tom Goldner website [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

Tom Goldner. 'Untitled' from the series 'Do Brumbies Dream In Red?' 2020

 

Tom Goldner (Australian, b. 1984)
Untitled from the series Do Brumbies Dream In Red?
2020

 

'Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – Photo Book'

 

Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – Photo Book

 

 

Meat Market Stables
2 Wreckyn St, North Melbourne

Meat Market Stables website

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04
Apr
21

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-1996 Part 2

April 2021

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Ma mère' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Ma mère
1994
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Earlier in my life I believed that identity was always fluid, always in flux. These photographs reflect that belief.

Now as I get older, this belief has changed.

Identity is always steady – at a certain level – and that the old adage to know ones-self is still the greatest challenge. And that this knowledge brings a core that is consistent.

The fluidity of self-knowledge disappears when attention is sharpened.

.
Marcus Bunyan 2021

 

 

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. Please click the photographs for a larger version of the image. Please remember these are straight scans of the prints, all full frame, no cropping !

Marcus

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

Photographs are available from this series for purchase. As a guide, a vintage 8″ x 10″ silver gelatin print costs $700 plus tracked and insured shipping. For more information please see my Store web page.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled (Rembrandt thinking)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (Rembrandt thinking)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The conversation' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The conversation
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (Pope folded)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (Pope folded)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (Pope unfolded)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (Pope unfolded)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Angelus, New R, 1892' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The Angelus, New R, 1892
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Thy Kingdom Come' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Thy Kingdom Come
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Purity' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Purity
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Whistler's mother (looking out to sea)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Whistler’s mother (looking out to sea)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Holbein's Happiness' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Holbein’s Happiness
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled (Sweet heart with leaves)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (Sweet heart with leaves)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Windows at 63aa' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Windows at 63aa
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Urban abstraction (for Max)' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Urban abstraction (for Max)
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Between the breath and the silence' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Between the breath and the silence
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Shame Fraser' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Shame Fraser
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Port Melbourne to Port of Melbourne' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Port Melbourne to Port of Melbourne
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Out back' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Out back
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (pear on black)' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (pear on black)
1994
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Pear I' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Pear I
1994
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Pear II' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Pear II
1994
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract I' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract I
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract II' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract II
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Nude in sunlight' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Nude in sunlight
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract III' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract III
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract IIII' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract IIII
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract V' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract V
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract VI' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract VI
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Question  mark' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Question    mark
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Four lines and two trestles' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Four lines and two trestles
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Four tyres' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Four tyres
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (two cracks)' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (two cracks)
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (plank)' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (plank)
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creature)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creature)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creature)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creature)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creature)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creature)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creature)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creature)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creatures)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creatures)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creatures)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creatures)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Roundel I' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Roundel I
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Roundel II' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Roundel II
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Roundel III' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Roundel III
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Roundel IIII' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Roundel IIII
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The structure and fabric of existence 1' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The structure and fabric of existence 1
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Passionfruit²' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Passionfruit²
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Passionfruit²' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Passionfruit²
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The structure and fabric of existence 2' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The structure and fabric of existence 2
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled' 1995

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Williamstown 1' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Williamstown 1
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Williamstown 2' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Williamstown 2
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Williamstown 3' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Williamstown 3
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Case Tractor – 1925 –' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Case Tractor – 1925 –
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Fordson Tractor 1922' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Fordson Tractor 1922
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Hart Parr' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Hart Parr
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'John Deere Tractor c. 1925' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
John Deere Tractor c. 1925
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Lanz Bulldog Tractor 1930' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Lanz Bulldog Tractor 1930
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'McCormick Deering Tractor c. 1928' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
McCormick Deering Tractor c. 1928
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Fighter 1' 1994-96

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Fighter 1
1994-96
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Fighter 2' 1994-96

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Fighter 2
1994-96
Gelatin silver print

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) '"Boomerang Way" Tocumwal Wishing Well' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
“Boomerang Way” Tocumwal Wishing Well
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) '"Boomerang Way" Tocumwal Wishing Well' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
“Boomerang Way” Tocumwal Wishing Well
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) '"Boomerang Way" Tocumwal Wishing Well' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
“Boomerang Way” Tocumwal Wishing Well
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'A twist of the mind' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
A twist of the mind
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'A twist of the mind' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
A twist of the mind
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'A twist of the mind' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
A twist of the mind
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Two men and a ute' 1994-95

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Two men and a ute
1994-95
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Plume (X marks the spot)' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Plume (X marks the spot)
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Lumbe, Blacksmith, Undertaker' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Lumbe, Blacksmith, Undertaker
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive 1991-1997

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27
Mar
21

Text / Exhibition: ‘Clarice Beckett: The present moment’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Exhibition dates: 27th February – 16th May 2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Solitude' c. 1932

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Solitude
c. 1932
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

Realist structuralist illusionist

The only four words that you really need to know are this: I bought the catalogue.

Beckett’s story of tragedy and redemption is briefly told. Trained as a painter under Max Meldrum in the modernist Australian tonalist school (which she far surpassed). Painted the hazy, misty suburbs of Melbourne en plein air in all weather conditions, usually in the early morning or at dusk. Worked incredibly hard at her art but, as with a lot of artists, had little recognition during her brief career despite numerous solo exhibitions. Died at a young age of double pneumonia after an outdoor painting session. Work lost to the mists of time until the art historian Rosalind Hollinrake salvaged a mere 369 paintings – 1,600 were beyond repair – from an open sided barn in country Victoria. Sadness at the loss of a young life cut short, of so many paintings lost to the elements and possums, but a deep gratitude that we still have what remains of her reality, as seen through her paintings. Now become, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest Australian painters of all time.

In her review of the exhibition Catherine Speck observes that Beckett’s works are a “study in transience”; another commentary has her as the “master of the half-light”; curator Tracey Lock has said her work is “luminous, ethereal, and very gentle… producing some of the most radically minimalist landscapes of the period … atmospheric abstractions of the commonplace.” All true.

Beckett had studied theosophy – a belief in divine wisdom via mysticism – and had read Madame Blavatsky’s book The Voice of Silence. Blavatsky urged her followers to seek spiritual knowledge beyond sensory experience – a sense of “limitless” and expanse. As John MacDonald observes, Beckett “explored the spiritual dimension of modernism” but only in so far “as a function of the open-minded, open-hearted way she approached the subject of a painting.” Again, all true.

But I find there is something more grounded in Beckett’s work than just smoke and mirrors.

While Beckett’s work can be seen as both radically minimalist landscapes and “atmospheric abstractions”, if you really look at these paintings – seemingly just daubs of paint over layers of thin background washes – there is an incredible draughtsmanship and structure to all of her paintings. The underpinning of these transient paintings are anything but random tones applied to the canvas. A foundation built on sand cannot last, cannot sustain such a penetrating inquiry.

In many ways I see Beckett as much a structuralist as a modernist or tonalist. Following Meldrum’s ideas about the rational analytic observation of subtle visual patterns of tones and accents, we can say that Beckett worked to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel in the immediacy of her painting, in her painting outdoors, in her inner vision of a reality that she felt and saw. In the phenomena of her life she envisaged, intimately, her interrelations with the world, and understood that below the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure.

How she evinces that structure in the solitude of a man in a boat, or passing trams, the warmth of the setting sun, or motor car lights in rain shows her “characteristic ability to catch the spontaneity of a lived moment.” As with a legion of great artists – van Gogh’s bedroom, Cezanne’s still life, Hooper’s diner at night – it is her ability to make the ordinary extraordinary that sets her apart from the rest. “She found a distinctive beauty in the ordinary objects such as telegraph poles, strips of road, trams, cars, buses and the daily activity taking place in the street.”

In paintings such as The Red Bus (Nd), Morning Ride (Nd), Out Walking (c. 1928-1929), The Bus Stop (1930), Evening light, Beaumaris (c. 1925), Beach Road after the rain (Street scene) (c. 1927), Walking home (1931) and Dusk (Nd) it is the spatial distance between objects, not just physically but mentally – that leap of faith that the viewer must make into the space of the painting – that draws you in, that immerses you into that time and space that Beckett observed so truthfully. Poetic and lyrical yes, but also grounded and spatial, opening out this vista in front of you … humans as colourful accretions of paint (in)distinct in their existence, placed in fleeting moments, caught on the wind.

MacDonald notes, “If this show were being staged at Tate Modern or the Museum of Modern Art, Beckett would be hailed as a figure of world renown.” I heartily concur. Much as the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) – whose lyrical abstract canvases were hidden for 20 years after her death – has recently had blockbuster exhibitions at Moderna Museet Malmö, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and coming to the Art Gallery of New South Wales Sydney later in 2021, so I believe that Clarice Beckett will be recognised as an important world artist.

You really can’t pick out a bad painting by Beckett. Each has its own personality and seduction. I am ravished by them all.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality.”

.
Clarice Beckett

 

“It sometimes sounds as though [Max] Meldrum actually invented the idea of tone, but artists had understood this quality since the days of Leonardo da Vinci and Velasquez. In brief, it refers to the lightness or darkness of colours and the way they relate to each other in a composition. Meldrum’s innovation was to make tone the defining feature of painting – the inflexible standard to which every other aspect of a work must conform.”

.
John MacDonald. “Misty Moderns,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, November 21, 2009 [Online] Cited 19/03/2021

 

“The facts of Beckett’s life may be told in short order. She was born in 1887 into a well-heeled, middle-class family. She had a passion for art and literature and would go on to study drawing under Fred McCubbin at the National Gallery School, then spend nine months attending the independent art school run by the outspoken Max Meldrum. It was an experience that would help mould her technique and views on art, although not so much as many have presumed. Although Beckett had admirers, she turned down several offers of marriage and would end her life living at home in the bayside suburb of Beaumaris, having spent years looking after her invalid mother.

In 1935, shortly after her mother’s death, Beckett caught double pneumonia and passed away at the age of 48. What happened next is just as tragic, as her father burnt paintings that he didn’t consider finished or good enough. Her sister, Hilda, would store the remaining 2000 canvases in an open-sided shed in the countryside near Benalla. When Hollinrake tracked them down in 1970, only 369 were salvageable. The weather and the possums had laid waste to the rest.

The loss of so many works ranks as one of the great disasters of Australian art history. We may all be thankful that Hollinrake saved what she could.”

.
John MacDonald. “This exhibition is so phenomenal I saw it three days in row,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, March 25, 2021 [Online] Cited 29/03/2021

 

“Modern science maintains that all colours in the universe are founded in three elements: hue (colour), saturation (chroma) and tone (value). Hue refers to the spectral colours such as red, green, blue, and so on, that are visibly distinct from each other…

Saturation represents the intensity, or quantity, of colour… The best way to understand this is if you take a can of blue paint and gradually stir in some white, rather than getting a new colour, the result is a lighter blue. An exception to this rule is that by adding white to red, we make pink. Red is a highly saturated pink; they are of the same hue but the quantity of red colour is less in pink.

Tone refers to how light or dark a colour is. On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 is colourless (or white), 5 is a medium grey [think Zone V in the black and white zone system] and 10 is black. So, as the tone increases, it intensifies the darkness [of the colour]. Tone begins to impact the saturation … once it reaches a percentage high enough to overpower it. This percentage varies with each colour, just as the saturation range varies with hues. For example, saturation in a yellow … may reach as high as ninety percent, whilst in a blue … it may only reach three percent, with the result that a small percentage increase in tone on a blue … would have a far greater impact on the blue, resulting in the grey becoming more noticeable. [Colours] with a higher saturation, such as yellow, would require correspondingly higher levels of tone for the brown to be observed. When the percentage of tone exceeds the saturation, the brown or grey will actually become the body (primary) colour and the hue the modifier, for example bluish-grey.”

.
Hamish Sharma. “Colour: How we see diamonds and gemstones,” in the Leonard magazine, Issue 90, February – March 2021 Cited 19/03/2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featuring the artist’s luscious and distinctive soft focus, the Art Gallery of South Australia’s newly opened Clarice Beckett exhibition, curated by Tracey Lock, presents her paintings as a sensorium – with colour, music and video to enhance the experience.

Each room in the gallery’s exhibition space is dedicated to her paintings of specific times of the day, from sunrise, to early morning, then midday and sunset, concluding with the nocturnes. She was fascinated with temporal change. The exhibition is very much an experiential journey. Viewers enter through an elliptical portal to an immersive rounded space filled with magnified projections of her paintings, and music from Simone Slattery’s specially commissioned soundscape.

Beckett was musical too. The transcendence to another realm has begun. The mood changes with each room in the exhibition.

 

A sad loss but precious works remain

The poignant Clarice Beckett story is known by many. She died from pneumonia in 1935 at 48 years of age, and left behind a large cache of work. It was stored for a number of years in an open-side shed in rural Victoria, only to be discovered in the late 1960s, in a poor state of repair, by art historian Rosalind Hollinrake. She salvaged a mere 369 paintings – 1,600 were beyond repair.

Hollinrake guided the artist’s rediscovery at a time when numerous women artists were reinserted into the canon. The impetus for this exhibition is the generous donation by Alastair Hunter of a large collection of Beckett’s work previously held by Hollinrake.

 

Mysticism meets science

Theosophy – a belief in divine wisdom via mysticism – was a major influence on her approach to painting. Like others around the world, Beckett came under the popular esoteric movement’s spell in the early years of the 20th century. She owned a well-thumbed copy of Madame Blavatsky’s seminal occult text The Voice of Silence, attended spiritualist meetings and moved in artistic circles where post-dinner seances were often held.

But Beckett also took on board painter Max Meldrum’s quasi-scientific ideas about rational analytic observation of subtle visual patterns of tones and accents. She studied with him for nine months, although it is widely accepted she surpassed him with her brilliant tonal landscapes. This is the hybrid intellectual and artistic milieu she moved in, supplemented by an interest in Eastern philosophy and Freud.

For Beckett, painting was as much about performing her spiritual beliefs as it was about portraying that which was observable. Her friends in the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, to which she belonged, recall she loved talking about theories behind her work.

What emerges in the exhibition is her finely honed and daring visual language.

 

Artist without a studio

A curatorial coup is achieved with the installation of a domestic kitchen in the exhibition space. Her father had declined her request for a studio to work in. He suggested she use the kitchen table instead.

While most of her paintings were completed outdoors, she did paint still life and portraits, and finish off larger en plein air works at home. This work was indeed done on the kitchen table, which is so tellingly included in the exhibition, surrounded by her still life paintings including Marigolds (1925).

Catherine Speck. “Clarice Beckett exhibition is a sensory appreciation of her magical moments in time,” on The Conversation website March 1, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Passing trams' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Passing trams
c. 1931
Oil on board
48.60 mm (1.91 in); Width: 44.20 mm (1.74 in)
Art Gallery of South Australia
Public domain, Google Art Project

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Summer fields' 1926

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Summer fields
1926
Naringal, Western District, Victoria
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The plains' 1926

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The plains
1926
Naringal, Western District, Victoria
Oil on board; Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Wet sand, Anglesea' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Wet sand, Anglesea
1929
Victoria
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The boatshed' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The boatshed
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'October morning' c. 1927

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
October morning
c. 1927
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Walking home' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Walking home
c. 1931
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

The Art Gallery of South Australia is presenting the most comprehensive retrospective ever staged of Clarice Beckett, one of Australia’s most enigmatic and admired modernist painters. Clarice Beckett: The present moment, sees nearly 130 works by the artist on display as part of the 2021 Adelaide Festival in February 2021.

Associated with a legendary story of rediscovery, Clarice Beckett is today celebrated for her ethereal, atmospheric landscape paintings that capture the commonplace. In 1935 Clarice Beckett died at the age of forty-eight, and for the next thirty-five years her work vanished from art history before being rescued by Dr Rosalind Hollinrake. Hollinrake salvaged 369 of the artist’s neglected canvases from a remote, open-sided shed in rural Victoria. Hollinrake’s extensive research and promotion led to Beckett’s recognition as a major force in Australian modernism.

The present moment includes many of the salvaged paintings, as well as her master works drawn from national public collections as well as private collections including Russell Crowe and Ben Quilty. Misunderstood in her lifetime, The present moment presents Beckett as a visionary mystic who saw nature as all powerful and as an artist driven by spiritual impulses rather than worldly success.

Her timeless and incidental everyday scenes have been curated to chart the chronology of one single day. The present moment exhibition will take visitors on a sensory journey from the first breath of sunrise, through to the hush of sunset and finally a return into the enveloping mists of nightfall.

AGSA Curator of Australian Art and Exhibition Curator Tracey Lock says, ‘Audiences experience an affinity with the art of Clarice Beckett. On one level Beckett represents the triumph of the spirit over adversity and certainly the ideal of an artist driven by something beyond worldly success. On a deeper level they sense a profound humanity, something that has united the world in such adversity over the past year.

‘There is a certain magnetism to her paintings: an experiential quality of sound, sight or feeling that transcends language. Enveloped in diffused light and exuding peacefulness, her paintings invite a sense of stillness that points to a healing, spiritual quality.’

AGSA Director Rhana Devenport ONZM says, ‘The Art Gallery of South Australia is thrilled to stage this important exhibition which was initiated following the significant acquisition of 21 paintings by Clarice Beckett early in 2020, made possible thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Alastair Hunter OAM.’

Press release from the Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sandringham Beach' c. 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sandringham Beach
c. 1933
Oil on canvas
55.8 x 50.9cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

Centre painting in the second installation image below.

 

 

Clarice Beckett’s Sandringham Beach is a dynamic and modern composition of sand, bathing boxes and beach walkers. Beckett depicted the scene from an unusual perspective – from a cliff looking down onto the beach. Captured in the glare of a summer day, the smooth body of sand appears to shimmer with ‘white heat’. Backing onto scruffy vegetation, the brightly coloured striped roofs of the bathing boxes are the most solid aspects of the composition.

The ocean occupies a small portion of Beckett’s view, with beachgoers strolling along the water’s edge and a game of beach cricket taking place. The bright modern swimsuits and exposed skin of the walkers have been brushed onto the canvas with soft dabs of colour. The playful atmosphere of Sandringham Beach encapsulates Australian’s love of the beach as a key site of recreation and relaxation.

Beckett first studied in Ballarat, and then from 1914 to 1916 with Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery School. In 1917 she attended Max Meldrum’s public lecture on tonal painting at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre and, impressed by his theories, enrolled in his classes. While Beckett was considered a ‘Meldrumite’ – a devotee of her teacher’s theories of tonal values as the best means of depicting nature – she adapted his ideas to create her own lyrical vision of the Australian landscape.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Beach Scene' 1932

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Beach Scene
1932
Oil on canvas
52.1 x 62.0cm
Cbus art collection

 

Second left painting in the second installation image below.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clarice Beckett: The present moment, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021
Photos: Saul Steed

 

 

It may be that a dash of Meldrum had a beneficial effect on artists who took only what they wanted and never became followers. By contrast, those who bought the full package seem to belong to a single family, sharing the same DNA. The true Meldrumites in this show are Colin Colahan, Clarice Beckett, Percy Leason, A.D.Colquhoun, Hayward Veal, Justus Jorgensen, A.E.Newbury, John Farmer and Polly Hurry. Most took part in the first group exhibitions of the Meldrum School held in 1919, 1920 and 1921, in which paintings were exhibited in uniform black frames and identified only by numbers. A photograph in the catalogue shows pictures crammed together like items on a supermarket shelf.

This was not simply a way of submerging the ego of the student into that of the great God, Meldrum, it was intended to demonstrate the futility of any personal, subjective approach. For Meldrum, learning to paint was largely synonymous with learning to look. In his first major public lecture, given in 1917, he argued:  “The art of painting is a pure science – the science of optical analysis.”

Needless to say there were numerous techniques to master, all of them expounded at great length in an anthology of 1950, titled The Science of Appearances – which has been freshly issued in a new (but expensive) paperback edition. The Meldrumite palette was restricted to only five tones, with outlines being strictly forbidden. This was one of the master’s articles of faith from his earliest days. …

Meldrum’s famous method required a lot of squinting and stepping back from the canvas to compare one’s impression with the true tones of the motif. Some students wore sunglasses to get the appropriate frisson, some put their palettes on trolleys that could be wheeled back and forth. They cared so little for the subject that detractors thought the School motto should be: “Anything’ll do.”

The paintings that resulted were remarkably similar in their blurred edges and smudgy, atmospheric surfaces. Looking at a large number of these works side by side one begins to see the world as a dim, misty, melancholy place. Even though Meldrum despised the word, this penchant for gloom seems to have been a temperamental preference among his students. They liked to paint on rainy, overcast days, which may explain why Melbourne remained the heartland of the movement.

Despite the self-imposed bondage of Meldrum’s method many of these artists were exceptionally talented. Painting in a doctrinaire style that eschewed individuality, squinting at the most ordinary scenery in the rain, they still managed to produce beautiful and poetic pictures.

Following her rediscovery in recent decades, Clarice Beckett is firmly established as a significant figure in Australian modern art. By almost universal assent she is now considered the greatest of the Meldrumites; her previous obscurity being caused by her early death at the age of forty-eight in 1935 and the misfortune of having many of her works in storage eaten by possums.

John MacDonald. “Misty Moderns,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, November 21, 2009 [Online] Cited 19/03/2021.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clarice Beckett: The present moment featuring Tea Gardens by Clarice Beckett, c. 1933, Gift of Sir Edward Hayward 1980, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021
Photos: Saul Steed

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Hawthorn Tea Gardens' 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Hawthorn Tea Gardens
1933
Oil on canvas laid on pulpboard
51.0 x 43.7cm
Gift of Sir Edward Hayward 1980
Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clarice Beckett: The present moment featuring Zinnias (Flower piece) by Clarice Beckett, 1927, Private collection, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021
Photos: Saul Steed

 

 

Australian tonalism

Australian tonalism was an art movement that emerged in Melbourne during the 1910s. Known at the time as tonal realism or Meldrumism, the movement was founded by artist and art teacher Max Meldrum, who developed a unique theory of painting, the “Scientific Order of Impressions”. He argued that painting was a pure science of optical analysis, and believed that a painter should aim to create an exact illusion of spatial depth by carefully observing in nature tone and tonal relationships (shades of light and dark) and spontaneously recording them in the order that they had been received by the eye.

Meldrum’s followers – among the most notable being Clarice BeckettColin Colahan and William Frater – began staging group exhibitions at the Melbourne Athenaeum in 1919. They favoured painting in adverse weather conditions, and often went out together in the morning or towards evening in search of fog and wintry wet surfaces, which provided increased spatial effects. Their subtle, “misty” depictions of Melbourne’s beaches and parks, as well as its everyday, unadorned suburbia, show an interest in the interplay between softness and structure, nature and modernity.

The movement peaked during the interwar period, and its lingering influence can be seen in experimental works by other Australian artists, such as Lloyd Rees and Roland Wakelin. Although dismissed by many of their art world contemporaries, today the Australian tonalists are well-represented in Australia’s major public art galleries. The minimum of means they used to distil the essence of their subjects has drawn comparisons to the haiku form of poetry, and the movement has been described as prefiguring the late modernist style minimalism. [Tonalism opposed Post-Impressionism and Modernism and is now regarded as a precursor to Minimalism and Conceptualism.]

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening, after Whistler' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening, after Whistler
c. 1931
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Motor lights' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Motor lights
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Tranquility' c. 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Tranquility
c. 1933
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sea Drift' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sea Drift
c. 1930
Melbourne
Oil on canvas on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

Clarice Beckett

Clarice Marjoribanks Beckett (21 March 1887 – 7 July 1935) was an Australian artist and a key member of the Australian tonalist movement. Her works are featured in the collections of Australia’s major public galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Australia. …

 

Work

Beckett is recognised as one of Australia’s most important modernist artists, though some have classified her as a ‘daughter of Monet’. In his review of the first of two exhibitions held at the Rosalind Humphrey Gallery in 1971 and 1972, Patrick McCaughey described Beckett as a remarkable Modernist, because of the ‘flatness of the surface in her painting’. Despite a talent for portraiture and a keen public appreciation for her still lifes, the subject matter favoured by her teacher Meldrum, Beckett preferred the solo, outdoor process of painting landscapes. She persistently and diligently painted sea and beachscapes, rural and suburban scenes, often enveloped in the atmospheric effects of early mornings or evening. Candice Bruce describes “a sense of an ever-present melancholy: a vulnerability mixed with a calm that, even if one were in total ignorance of the details of the artist’s life, would still be felt.” Her subjects were often drawn from the Beaumaris area, where she lived for the latter part of her life. She was one of the first of her group to use a painting trolley, or mobile easel to make it easier to paint outdoors in different locations.

 

Formal qualities and reception

In her mid-thirties, Beckett elucidated her artistic aims in the catalogue accompanying the sixth annual exhibition of the Twenty Melbourne Painters in 1924:

To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality.

By 1931, however, Percy Leason, writing a long review in Table Talk, draws comparison with Rembrandt, Whistler and Corot to say;

Miss Beckett’s work has so much in common with them: there is a like success in achieving the first essential, a convincing illusion of actual space and air and light; the same refinement and delicacy of true colour; the same regard for true form and character; and the same complete indifference to conventions and the mere clever handling of paint for the sake of it. (Leason in the next issue of Table Talk reiterated his praise, calling the show “one of the best exhibitions of the year.”)

.
However, like her female contemporaries, Beckett faced considerable prejudice from conservative male artists. Meldrum, commenting as late as 1939 on Nora Heyson’s receiving the Archibald Prize, expressed his opinion on women’s capacity to be great artists; “Men and women are differently constituted. Women are more closely attached to the physical things of life, and to expect them to do some things equally as well as men is sheer lunacy […] A great artist has to tread a lonely road. He becomes great only by exerting himself to the limit of his strength the whole time. I believe that such a life is unnatural and impossible for a women,” an attitude he qualified in relation to his favourite pupil Beckett, announcing in the event of her death that “Beckett had done work of which any nation should be proud.”

During her lifetime no Beckett work was purchased for a public collection, though now almost every major Australian gallery holds examples. By 2001 her paintings had achieved six figures at auction.

 

Australian Tonalism

Tonalism opposed Post-Impressionism and Modernism, but is now regarded as a precursor to Minimalism. The whole movement had been under fierce controversy and they were unpopular amongst other artists and derided as “Meldrumites”. Influential Melbourne artist and teacher George Bell described Australian Tonalism as a “cult which muffles everything in a pall of opaque density”.

Meldrum blamed social decadence for artists’ exaggerated interest in colour over tone and proportion. Beckett’s painting however represents a departure from Meldrum’s strict principles which dictated that tone should take precedence over colour, as commented upon in a newspaper critique of her 1931 solo exhibition. A reviewer of her 1932 Atheneum show expressed her particular version of this as “an adaptation of art to nature, which belongs neither to the realm of the orthodox normalist or the avowed modern, but is a purely individual expression of certain sensations in light, form and colour…” Rosalind Hollinrake, who was largely responsible for Beckett’s revival, notes a use colour to reinforce form, and more daring design, in the later years of the artist’s short life.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Luna Park' 1919

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Luna Park
1919
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Bathing boxes, Brighton' 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Bathing boxes, Brighton
1933
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The red sunshade' 1932

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The red sunshade
1932
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Wet day, Brighton' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Wet day, Brighton
c. 1928
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Bathing boxes in the storm' 1934

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Bathing boxes in the storm
1934
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Bathing boxes after the storm' 1934

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Bathing boxes after the storm
1934
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

During the 1920s and 1930s Clarice Beckett surrendered to the sensory impressions of her everyday world with such intensity that the force of her painted observations created an entirely new visual language. The extreme economy of her painting tested her Australian audiences, and yet distinguished her as working at the avant-garde of international modernism. Drawn from national public and private collections, highlights include the artist’s famed ethereal images of commonplace motifs such as lone figures, waves, trams and cars.

Driven by spiritual impulses beyond worldly success, she was a visionary mystic that saw nature as all powerful. Through veils of natural light she captured the eternal in the temporal. Accordingly, the 130 paintings in The present moment will be thematically displayed around shifts in time that chart the chronology of one single day. The exhibition will take visitors on a sensory journey from the first breath of sunrise, through to the hush of sunset and finally a return into the enveloping mists of nightfall.

The Art Gallery of South Australia is renowned for collecting, displaying and publishing the work of modern Australian women artists. Clarice Beckett: The present moment showcases Alastair Hunter OAM’s recent support of the acquisition of 21 Clarice Beckett paintings and proudly announces the AGSA’s ongoing commitment to the promotion and celebration of the work of great Australian women artists.

Text from the Art Gallery of South Australia website [Online] Cited 19/03/2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Pavlova, the dying swan' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Pavlova, the dying swan
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Pavlova, the dying swan' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Pavlova, the dying swan
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The cottage San Remo' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The cottage San Remo
c. 1931
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sunset' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sunset
Nd
Melbourne
Oil on card
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Across the Yarra' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Across the Yarra
c. 1931
Oil on cardboard
32.5 × 45.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Marjorie Webster Memorial, Governor, 1985

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Marigolds' c. 1925

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Marigolds
c. 1925
Oil on board
40.5 x 30.5cm

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of Clarice Beckett' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of Clarice Beckett
Nd
Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Further works by Clarice Beckett

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) '(Phillip Island from San Remo)' c. 1930-1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
(Phillip Island from San Remo)
c. 1930-1933
Oil on cardboard
18.6 × 23.7cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jennifer Rogers in memory of her father, Ron Lilburne, 2008

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
58.5 x 51.0cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

Clarice Beckett. 'The Red Bus' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The Red Bus
Nd
Oil on canvas on composition board
36.5 x 44cm

 

 

The Red Bus is an excellent example of one of Clarice Beckett’s outer Melbourne suburban street scenes. It expresses her characteristic ability to catch the spontaneity of a lived moment, in an intensely lyrical and poetic manner. She found a distinctive beauty in the ordinary objects such as telegraph poles, strips of road, trams, cars, buses and the daily activity taking place in the street.

In this painting the everyday scene is made extraordinary by an atmospheric dreamlike slice of landscape which in turn is contrasted with the subtle feeling of action. This comes from the sensation of the motion of the bus travelling uphill in opposition to the gently felt abstract figures moving away downhill. Beckett’s use of the enveloping haze does not detract from the effect of the fresh atmosphere of a bright sunny morning in this painting, but serves to unify the scene and evoke a sense of quiet calm.

Beckett achieves this with her famed use of soft dissolving edges, a difficult technical feat employed to create an atmospheric reality of emotional content, a characteristic of her modernist style. The lumbering red bus moves towards the viewer and alerts our attention with its bright colour and dark windows which eerily suggest no visible driver. This creates an eerie feeling of uncertainty and mystery which is reminiscent of the paintings of Edward Hopper who worked at a similar time to Beckett although half a world away. Beckett’s modernism lies in her minimalist aesthetic and her ability to arouse an emotional response with her images.

She was hailed for making the tarred road artistically acceptable and as the critic Mervyn Skipper wrote in The Bulletin 29 October 1930: “She has become the most original painter. She has merely abandoned conventions which earlier artists brought from Europe, has in fact done quite quietly and as if by accident what Australian poets and writers are only just beginning to do.”

Beckett was an innovative and extremely important figure in Australia’s art history during the 1920’s and early 30’s. Her work is seldom found in auction rooms or galleries, and The Red Bus is a part of the first private collection to have ever come up for sale. Her influence and inspiration has been wide in contemporary Australian art beginning fifty years after her death. Her original label of artist’s artist continues to be vindicated, although a more receptive public now are beginning to appreciate the beauty and allure of her ability to capture transient moments of life and the calming effect of her beautiful meditative images.

 

Clarice Beckett. 'Winter Morning, Beaumaris' c. 1927-31

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Winter Morning, Beaumaris
c. 1927-1931
Oil on canvas
39.3 x 55cm

 

 

Beckett was renowned for her innovative compositions, her remarkable poetic lyricism and the dramatic intensity she was able to create. This work shows the essence of the atmospheric moment as well as creating an illusion of the actual temperature and a sense of atmospheric space all characteristic traits of the artist.

Winter Morning Beaumaris has a typically Melbourne winter mood and is a very strong image due to the compositional choice where the image is dramatically strengthened by a stark tree trunk which contrasts with Zen-like meditative softness of shifting fog shrouding the headland and flora. Subtle in its poetic style, it holds the wonderful sense of the mysterious unknown that sea fog brings to the landscape. Another characteristic of Beckett’s work was her ability to create a sense of place and a sense of the actual temperature of the subject. This was due to her ability to mix the finest degrees of tonal range that the landscape before her held and her ability to run her soft edges into each other to form a unified and genuine sense of airy atmosphere. This is even difficult to achieve in a studio environment.

This large size work is a rare example of a limited number (approx. 10) paintings on canvas and stretcher that survived the destruction of at least 60 works of this size and even larger which were burnt straight after her death. The challenge of painting an impression of nature en plein air on this size canvas is immense. Fleeting sunsets, sunrises and gathering dusk and moving sea fogs last for only minutes and the image and tones in a landscape changes constantly. The painter must work with enormous speed and a great knowledge of tones, being able to know what colours to mix to achieve the perfect reflection of what is being painted. Incredible skill with handling the paint and keeping a freedom of the impression is evident in this image. Beckett was greatly admired for achieving all those requirements of painting to achieve a sense of living breathing elusive reality.

This work was painted from Beckett’s favourite haunts on the cliff tops along the foreshore looking out to Port Phillip Bay. It shows her classic poetic lyricism and a contemporary daring with her sparing use of paint and her paring back of form.

Rosalind Hollinrake on the Lauraine Diggins Fine Art website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Out Walking' c. 1928-29

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Out Walking
c. 1928-1929
Oil on canvas on board
29 x 34.5cm

 

 

Out Walking, c. 1928-29, depicts a view close to Clarice Beckett’s home in the Melbourne bay-side suburb of Beaumaris. Beckett moved there from Casterton, near Bendigo, in 1919 with her parents whose health was failing; and the suburb is aptly named, being a truncation of the French ‘beau marais’, meaning ‘beautiful marsh’. Following Melbourne’s European settlement, Beaumaris became a popular holiday destination noted for its winding coastal trails, atmospheric tangles of ti-tree and capacious views over Port Phillip Bay. At the base of the weathered sandstone cliffs lie secluded beaches and rock ledges full of fossils. Beckett would return to these familiar sites many times throughout her career – and in all weathers – to such an extent that it is impossible to walk the same territory today and not see it through her eyes.

The family lived at ‘St. Enoch’s’ in Dalgetty Road, and Out Walking shows that street’s intersection with Beach Road, with the shimmering blue of the bay beyond. Beckett would already have been a familiar sight to locals, as she walked the paths with her hand-built painting trolley. Her painting technique was aligned to the group of artists called the ‘tonalists’ who gathered around Max Meldrum; and the trolley, in fact, had a particular use beyond mere transport. ‘Tonalist works were created to be viewed, when complete, from a distance of about six metres (approximately twenty feet). The painting process required much to-ing and fro-ing between the subject and the observation point by both the painter and the painting … Consequently to assist with this process, many of the artists constructed custom-built wheeled easels or painting trolleys. Clarice Beckett was one of the first to adopt a trolley.’1 This description of the dedicated process involved in constructing such images belies the spontaneous sensation given by Out Walking, that of a snapshot briefly glimpsed before being captured in a hurried application of paint. As noted by the curator Ted Gott, ‘Beckett’s compositions have an elusive, phantasmic mystique. [By comparison] everything in our world today is sharp, crystal clear, hard and fast.’2 Not surprisingly, critics often attached the term ‘Whistler-ian’ to her work.

Judging by the long coats, Out Walking was painted on an early Spring morning, with the overcast sky punctured at points by sunshine which illuminates patches of the sandy road and grassed verge. To the left, a carer in a blue coat watches a red-caped girl as she rushes towards the intersection. Two older ladies in grey hats and coats walk the other way, deep in conversation; and, crunching the unsealed road between them, the hand-propelled cart in the middle-centre. The rows of telegraph poles create a frame within the frame, anchored horizontally by the white fence line indicating the cliff path. To the left, a flash of muted red indicates an emergency box, a tiny detail of colour which links visually to the girl’s cape and the man’s cart. Like the companion work with the same title,3 Beckett’s paintings of pedestrians are predominantly solo studies, making this version of Out Walking one of the rarer compositions to include small groups of people.

We are grateful to Rosalind Hollinrake for her assistance with this catalogue entry.

Andrew Gaynor. “Clarice Beckett, Out Walking, c. 1928-29,” on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

  1. Lock-Weir, T. Misty Moderns: Australian tonalists 1915-1950, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2008, p. 46
  2. Gott, T. ‘Foreword’, Clarice Beckett: 1887-1935, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 29 February – 1 April 2000, p. 5
  3. Rosalind Hollinrake describes this alternate version as being of Beckett’s young niece Patricia walking along the cliff top path

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Silent Approach' c. 1924

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Silent Approach
c. 1924
Oil on board
48.0 x 58.0cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

 

Clarice Beckett, like the visual arts equivalent of a haiku master, was able to distil the essence of her subjects with a minimum of means. Silent approach is a particularly fine example of the strength and delicacy of Beckett’s approach in which no mark is wasted. While the painting exudes a pervasive stillness, the green vegetation in the foreground appears to have a vitality of its own, extending out to the shadowy figure. This fluid organic form is balanced by the vertical power pole (with echoes of the form receding into the distance), a classic Beckett subject indicating modernity. The interplay between structure and softness gives way on the left to the foggy atmosphere in which space itself is the dominant aspect.

A magical aspect of Silent approach is that, for all the restraint of Beckett’s palette, subtle tonalities and subject matter, it is full of presence and imbued with an inner life. In 1919, Beckett moved with her parents to the bayside suburb of Beaumaris, an environment that provided her with evocative inspiration. Despite many challenges, she was driven to paint every day and in all weathers. She also exhibited regularly. While each work is self-sufficient, she felt considerable pleasure in seeing the cumulative effects of her paintings shown together – each illuminating the other.

Beckett’s interest in a tonal approach was informed by Max Meldrum, an influential teacher in Melbourne who espoused a theory of Tonalism. Meldrum considered her his star pupil and, before long, her independent vision shone through – a fact that he acknowledged in a tribute to her at a memorial exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1936. Tragically, she died far too early, at the age of forty-seven, from pneumonia after catching a chill while painting in inclement weather.

After Beckett’s death, a large number of her paintings were left to deteriorate in a barn and were unsalvageable. Thanks to the great generosity of a number of donors, the Gallery has been able to add Silent approach, one of her most accomplished remaining works, to the national collection.

Deborah Hart, Senior Curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture post 1920 in artonview, issue 80, Summer 2014.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Princes Bridge Station' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Princes Bridge Station
c. 1928
Oil on board
25.0 x 35.0cm
Private collection

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Chestnut Avenue, Ballarat Gardens' c. 1927

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Chestnut Avenue, Ballarat Gardens
c. 1927
Oil on canvas board
30.5 x 40.5cm
Private collection

 

 

Clarice Beckett’s connection with Ballarat was more than that of a happy visit to its beautiful lakeside gardens in 1927. Born in Casterton, she attended school in Ballarat at Queen’s College and also studied charcoal drawing under a Miss Eva Hopkins, before her family moved to Melbourne in 1904. Some years later, in 1914 she returned to art, studying drawing under Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery School, and then painting with Max Meldrum from 1917. While she became Meldrum’s ‘star’ pupil, the poetic and philosophical inclination of her art was, no doubt, encouraged by McCubbin, whose philosophising had led to him being dubbed ‘The Proff’ by his friends. From 1919, when her parents retired to the Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris, its beach sides and surrounds became a major inspiration for her paintings. Captured early and late in the day, in different seasons, and focused on the everyday of unglamorous roads and telegraph poles, or bathing boxes, through her art the ordinary was metamorphosed into paintings of profound beauty. Evening Light, Beaumaris, c.1925, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and Sandringham Beach, c. 1933, in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra are captivating examples of the prosaic transformed into the poetic. In Melbourne city she painted light-filled streets on wet nights and tranquil views across the Yarra River, often embraced by the spans of its most handsome bridges. One such major work, Princes Bridge, 1930, was sold by Deutscher and Hackett in Melbourne on 29 April 2009, lot 100.

Paintings of foggy mornings, dreamy sunsets, Collins Street, the Dandenongs and Olinda were among the sixty works that made up Beckett’s 1927 exhibition, which included Chestnut Walk, Avenue Gardens, c. 1927. There were only two other Ballarat subjects in the show – Ballarat Gardens and Ash Tree, Ballarat Gardens, clearly rare examples in her oeuvre. Ballarat Botanical Gardens would have appealed to Beckett both through recollections from childhood and in their own right as highly significant cool climate gardens. Established in 1858, they are noted for their many mature trees, the avenue of Horse Chestnuts being one of the four main axes running north south through the gardens.1 Beckett captures the quiet, natural grandeur of the avenue in Chestnut Walk, Avenue Gardens, greens contrasted with terracottas, verticals with horizontals, classic in balance. The shadows are as substantial as the trees that cast them, adding a sense of drama within the harmony of forms and colours wrapped in stillness. According to Beckett scholar and curator, Rosalind Hollinrake, one of the most striking features of Beckett’s art is her sense of place, which ‘… became heightened by the growing intimacy she developed for certain locations’.2 While this has been noted in her Beaumaris works, Chestnut Walk, Avenue Gardens captures perfectly the stately feel and calm of the place. Its sense of time past is touched by the universal through a seemingly disarming simplicity that invites contemplation of its profundity. Of art, Beckett said her aim was: ‘To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to set forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality’.3

David Thomas on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 13/03/2021

  1. Since 1940 this avenue has also accommodated the avenue of Prime Ministers’ bronze busts. The Botanical Gardens are rich in earlier sculptures, especially Italian marble figures donated by Thomas Stoddart in 1884 and the later Flight from Pompeii and others in the Statuary Pavilion of 1887
  2. Hollinrake, R., Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, 1999, p. 21
  3. Clarice Beckett, Twenty Melbourne Painters, 6th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, Melbourne, 1924

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Beaumaris Foreshore' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Beaumaris Foreshore
Nd
Oil on board
37 x 29cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening landscape' c. 1925

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening landscape
c. 1925
Oil on cardboard
35.5 x 40.7cm
Purchased 1974
National Gallery of Australia

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'From the Boatshed Roof' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
From the Boatshed Roof
Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The Bus Stop' 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The Bus Stop
1930
Oil on canvas
41 x 34cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Early Morning (The Fishermen)' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Early Morning (The Fishermen)
c. 1930
Oil on canvas on board
45.5 x 38cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening light, Beaumaris' c. 1925

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening light, Beaumaris
c. 1925
Oil on canvas on cardboard
0.3 × 40.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Society of Victoria to mark the retirement of Paton Forster, General Secretary of the Society (1968-1989), 1989

 

 

‘For an artist of her time, and especially a woman artist, it must have been a leap of faith on her part to paint four ‘ordinary’ poles as revered and exalted lyrical subject matter. This was not only innovative, it was nothing short of daring.’

Painting ordinary elements of modern suburban life which included wet roads, telegraph poles, motor vehicles, bathing boxes and petrol bowsers was unique for its time. In contrast to the popular idealised views of rural landscapes often painted in panoramic scale, Beckett showed a sensitivity to beauty in the everyday in her modestly scaled paintings. In Evening light Beaumaris (c. 1925), seen above, she has taken a humble telegraph pole and turned it into something worthy of contemplation.

Hollinrake, Rosalind. ‘Clarice Beckett’, The Ordinary Instant, The Gallery at Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre: Melbourne, 2016, p. 11 quoted in Anonymous. “Her Own Path: Clarice Beckett,” in the Bayside City Council website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening on the Yarra from Alexandra Avenue' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening on the Yarra from Alexandra Avenue
Nd
Oil on pulpboard
29 x 39.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Dusk' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Dusk
Nd
Oil on canvas on pulpboard
24.5 x 34.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Anglesea' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Anglesea
1929
Oil on pulpboard
24.5 x 34.5cm

 

 

An uncharacteristically sun-drenched work, this scene depicts Beckett’s companions on the foreshore in front of what is now the Anglesea Caravan Park. A land of rich resources for the Wathaurong people, the area had been popular with campers from Geelong since the 1860s. Like all of Beckett’s outdoor images, it was painted in one plein air session, capturing her friends on a perfect summer’s day without a cloud in the sky, and only a single distant yacht sharing the experience. Beckett has utilised broad, simplified bands of colour – caramel and blue highlighted by white – with the only pronounced brush stokes representing the waves rolling to the shore and the casual poses of the figures. Anglesea, is also an environmental record of the time for the foreshore has been much changed by ninety years of storms and erosion. The beach remains but the ochre-coloured limestone cliffs have crumbled leaving the shore strewn with large boulders. Beckett included a group of Anglesea paintings in her solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in October 1930.

Andrew Gaynor. “Anglesea, 1929,” on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Beach Road after the rain (Street scene)' c. 1927

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Beach Road after the rain (Street scene)
c. 1927
Oil on cardboard
35.7 × 25.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Bequest of Harriet Minnie Rosebud Salier, 1984

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sunset across Beaumaris Bay' c. 1930-31

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sunset across Beaumaris Bay
c. 1930-1931
Oil on composition board
Bayside City Council Art and Heritage Collection
Purchased 2014

 

 

In 1919, her father retired due to ill health and the Beckett family moved to the Bayside suburb of Beaumaris, living in a newly built weatherboard house on the corner of Beach Road and Tramway Parade. Built without any consideration for Clarice’s painting practice, the new house had no space for an art studio, however she cleverly constructed a small cart which would hold her easel and painting equipment which she could transport to the sites she was to paint around the area. She had a relentless work ethic, painting most days of her life and became a known character in Beaumaris, wearing her dowdy art clothes as she painted the foreshore and suburban streets, occasionally selling a work to a local passer-by.

Aside from a brief stint teaching art at a girl’s school in Mount Macedon in 1927 and yearly painting trips to San Remo with fellow Meldrumites, Beckett was to remain in Beaumaris for the rest of her life and many of her paintings are synonymous with the area.

Anonymous. “Her Own Path: Clarice Beckett,” in the Bayside City Council website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Cliff path' c. 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Cliff path
c. 1929
Oil on composition board
Bayside City Council Art and Heritage Collection
Purchased 2000

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Ship at sea or Warship on the Bay' c. 1925

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Ship at sea or Warship on the Bay
c. 1925
Oil on canvas on board
30 x 41.2cm
Courtesy Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art, The University of Western Australia

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Reflected Lights, Beaumaris Bay' c. 1930-31

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Reflected Lights, Beaumaris Bay
c. 1930-31
Oil on composition board
Bayside City Council Art and Heritage Collection
Purchased 2014

 

 

Max Meldrum believed that the tonal values (areas of dark and light) of a subject were of utmost importance and privileged them over detailed draughtsmanship or the use of colour. Despite being criticised for it, Beckett embraced Meldrum’s theories and her work shows his influence in their limited colour and handling of tone.

In Reflected lights, Beaumaris Bay (c. 1930-1931), seen above, through an economy of brushstrokes and paint, Beckett has captured the hazy quality of her nocturnal coastal scene. Here Beckett records the atmosphere and unique evocation of the reflected lights rather than focusing on details.

Anonymous. “Her Own Path: Clarice Beckett,” in the Bayside City Council website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) '(Summer Day, Beaumaris)' c. 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
(Summer Day, Beaumaris)
c. 1933
Oil on canvas on board
55 x 45cm

 

 

Writing in the catalogue of the sixth annual exhibition of the Twenty Melbourne Painters in 1924, Clarice Beckett defined her artistic aim as being ‘To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality’.1 A student of the Melbourne tonal realist painter Max Meldrum, whose theory and teaching of art as a science based on optical analysis upset conservative art circles and presented a direct challenge to the strict academic approach of the National Gallery School, Beckett absorbed his methods but developed a personal style and distinctive range of subject matter that made her work unique within early twentieth century Australian art. As curator Rosalind Hollinrake has noted, ‘She saw in soft focus and there were no edges in her work. She was concerned with achieving an harmonic atmospheric unity … While many paintings were completed in situ, many others were worked upon indoors, taken from colour notations, sketches and memory with later imaginative touches.’2

Beckett and her family moved to Beaumaris in 1919, the Melbourne bayside suburb where they had previously spent many summer holidays. The streets and surrounding coastal landscape of this and other nearby areas including Black Rock, Sandringham and Brighton soon became favourite subjects for her painting. In a vivid expression of her determination to succeed as a professional artist, Beckett responded to her father’s refusal to build a dedicated studio by constructing a small cart to house her painting materials which she wheeled around as she worked, using the lid of her painting box as a mobile easel.3 Her first solo exhibition was held at the Athenaeum Gallery, Melbourne in 1923 and in another measure of her drive and commitment, Beckett continued to exhibit there annually throughout the next decade before her premature death from pneumonia in 1935. During these years she reportedly painted almost every day, six hours in the morning and another six in the evening when, like so many other female artists, she worked at the kitchen table.

A gift from the artist to a friend which is still housed in its original Thallon frame, (Summer Day, Beaumaris), c. 1933 is classic Clarice Beckett. Tall gnarled trees shaped by their coastal environment and a row of bathing boxes – a familiar feature of Melbourne’s bayside beaches that appears frequently in her work – provide the backdrop for a trio of figures walking along the beach. The heat is palpable, glimpses of the pale bleached blue sky appear as part of a scene that has been recorded quickly and viewed through the haze of a hot summer afternoon. Her mature colour sense comes to the fore in this work, the muted tones of the trees enlivened by the subtle play of the pinks, brown and ochres of the bathing boxes and the brilliant flashes of blue and yellow that attract the eye to the movement of the foreground figures. Beckett found a seemingly endless array of inspiration in her immediate surrounds and when asked why she didn’t travel overseas replied, ‘Why would I wish to go somewhere else … I’ve only just got the hang of painting Beaumaris.’4

Kirsty Grant on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 13/03/2021

  1. Beckett, C., Twenty Melbourne Painters 6th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1924 quoted in Hollinrake, R., Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, exhibition catalogue, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, 1999, p. 19
  2. Hollinrake, R., ibid., p. 17
  3. Op. cit., pp. 14-15
  4. Mundy, A., quoted in interview with Hollinrake, R., op. cit., p. 24.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) '(At Rickett's Point, Beaumaris)' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
(At Rickett’s Point, Beaumaris)
Nd
Oil on canvas on composition board
35.5 x 45.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Rose and Grey' c. 1928-29

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Rose and Grey
c. 1928-1929
Oil on pulpboard
27.5 x 37.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'After Sunset' c. 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
After Sunset
c. 1929
Oil on canvas on board
26 x 29cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening on the Yarra' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening on the Yarra
Nd
Oil on board
35 x 39.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening Calm' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening Calm
c. 1928
Oil on board
40.5 x 30.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Saturday' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Saturday
Nd
Oil on pulpboard
30.5 x 23.7cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Collins Street' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Collins Street
Nd
Oil on board
39.5 x 29.5cm

 

 

Time has been Clarice Beckett’s friend both in terms of her art and her reputation. Largely overlooked during her lifetime, her posthumous recognition as one of Australia’s leading modernists has now far surpassed her initial cool reception at the hands of critics. Beckett’s interest in the everyday features of modern life were long captured through the poetic and ephemeral half-light of dusk and dawn or the soft darkness of the evening light.

To great effect, Beckett employs a rose-gold ambient light in City Street, Melbourne c. 1925 to reveal the dual realities of her hometown where cars share the road with a horse-led delivery cart and a pedestrian in transit – not an uncommon sight, but perhaps also the artist’s subtle signifier of transition as Melbourne transforms itself into the metropolis we know it as today.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The Yarra, Sunset' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The Yarra, Sunset
c. 1930
Oil on board
30.5 x 35.5cm

 

 

‘When we look back at the 20th century from a vantage point in the next, certain Australian artists stand out, not just for the aesthetic quality of their work, but also for their significant contribution to our understanding of what constitutes the Australian identity. Clarice Beckett is one such artist. Her works capture the essence of Australian city life, in particular that of Melbourne and more specifically that of the bayside suburbs, at a time between the World Wars when the advent of the modern age was signified by the motor car and the ubiquitous telegraph pole’.1

Although enjoying universal admiration and acclaim today, Clarice Beckett’s highly evocative works that celebrated modernity and the quiet beauty of suburbia were nevertheless challenging for her time. Not only was the momentous task of expressing Australian values in landscape painting a distinctly male prerogative, with flower pieces and indoor scenes the only subject matter deemed suitable for women artists. Moreover, the ridicule and critical denigration she frequently encountered in reviews of her paintings was the direct result of her association with her teacher, tonal realist painter Max Meldrum a ferociously argumentative man whose theory and teaching of art as a science based upon exact optical analysis upset conservative art circles and undermined the strict academic approach endorsed by the National Gallery School. Indeed, that Beckett never compromised her unique vision, continuing to paint ‘against all odds’ and that today her legacy endures despite near obscurity at the time of her death in 1935 and the vast destruction of her works subsequently poignantly highlights the compelling and inspirational nature of her achievements.

Recalling Whistler’s lyrical nocturnes, The Yarra, Sunset, c. 1930 offers one of the most exquisite elaborations of the artist’s signature motif the city enveloped in a rosy toned, transparent veil of luminosity evoking the last moments of twilight. Painted on the Richmond side of the Yarra River, from a position near the Chapel Street bridge, the composition features the railway bridge still present today (although altered in appearance) that carries busy suburban trains to and from the city, with the tall gothic spires of the city churches, Scots and the Independent, just perceptible in the palest silhouette of the background. Although conveying a very definite sense of time and place Melbourne of the 1930s paradoxically the work also bears an unmistakable sense of the universal, of silence within its stillness. Rich in lyricism and beauty, it encapsulates the artist’s preference for early evening subjects which, importantly, was not simply to enhance poetic effect. Rather, Beckett delighted in the technical challenge of capturing the essence of her subject within the fleeting moment of observing the transient, atmospheric effects of light to develop delicate tonal nuances that blurred the boundaries between reality and illusion. As the artist herself aptly elucidated in the catalogue accompanying the sixth annual exhibition of the Twenty Melbourne painters in 1924, her artistic aim was always ‘To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion’.

No author. Text from the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 13/03/2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Yacht at Sunset' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Yacht at Sunset
c. 1928
Oil on board
38 x 32cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The Old Model T Ford' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The Old Model T Ford
Nd
Oil on board
43 x 52cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sunset Glow' 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sunset Glow
1928
Oil on pulpboard
24.5 x 34.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Path to the Beach' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Path to the Beach
Nd
Oil on board
49 x 43.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Morning Ride' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Morning Ride
Nd
Oil on canvas on composition board
31 x 36cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Dusk' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Dusk
Nd
Oil on board
28 x 41cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening, St Kilda Road' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening, St Kilda Road
c. 1930
Oil on board
35.5 x 40.5cm

 

 

Times of transience and soft-focus realism unite in the art of Clarice Beckett, suited ideally to sunrises and sunsets, foggy days and heat haze. Evening, St Kilda Road, c. 1930 provides the perfect moment as Beckett cloaks the city scene in a diaphanous veil, highlighted by lights and anchored in the darker forms of cars and trams. Its aesthetic appeal is enormous. But there is twofold pleasure in the reminiscence of a scene well known to Melburnians from a time less crowded than today. The absence of narrative allows for the better presentation of beauty, like music, free from the demands of verisimilitude. As Beckett once said, ‘My pictures like music should speak for themselves.’1 The likeness was appreciated in her own time, as witness The Bulletin art critic, who said, when reviewing her solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Hall in 1930, ‘Her counterpoint is so simple in its elements that the intrusion of the slightest false accent would destroy the harmony.’2 Therein lies a happy paradox. The stillness which envelops her paintings, allies itself to silence, leitmotifs wherein comes so much of the magic of her art. In painting, as in music, there is harmony, rhythm, and colour. Painting gives you its pleasures in a moment, its realms of silence are unique. The seeming simplicity with which Beckett creates profoundly moving visual statements is disarming. While her subjects are the everyday, her creativity transforms the pedestrian into poetic vision.

While Beckett painted many scenes of Melbourne’s bayside beaches – Silver Morning (Near Beaumaris), c. 1931 or Sandringham Beach, c. 1933 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) – she found the city of Melbourne rich in subject matter, especially the River Yarra and its bridges. City street scenes include Collins Street, Evening, 1931 (National Gallery of Australia) and Taxi Rank, c. 1931. The latter, with its lights reflecting on wet roads, is so free and painterly that it might pass for a work of lyric abstraction. As in Evening, St Kilda Road, the illusion of depth is halted either by reflection or string of lights, with paint thin, and sky and ground similar in tone to maintain a flatness of the picture plane. Beckett seeks no illusion of reality, preferring the beauty of creativity and its inner harmonies. St Kilda Road and the suburb of St Kilda itself featured often as a sources of inspiration, as in St Kilda Road, Wet Night, and from her 1923 exhibition Sand Pump, Foreshore, St Kilda and Grey Morning, St Kilda. The mellifluous luminosity and handling of tone in Evening, St Kilda Road recalls the lyricism of Whistler in a nocturne, mellow of poesy, and dreamily romantic.

David Thomas on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 13/03/2021

  1. Beckett, quoted in R. Hollinrake, Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 1999, p. 19
  2. The Bulletin, Sydney, 29 October 1930, p. 33

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Warm Shallows' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Warm Shallows
c. 1930
Oil on card
21 x 25cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Summer Morning, Beaumaris' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Summer Morning, Beaumaris
Nd
Oil on pulpboard
22 x 31cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Moonrise Beaumaris, Sunset and Trees' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Moonrise Beaumaris, Sunset and Trees
Nd
Oil on pulpboard
17.5 x 19.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Wet Evening' c. 1927

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Wet Evening
c. 1927
25.7 x 30.4cm
Oil on cardboard
Castlemaine Art Museum, Maud Rowe Bequest, acq. 1937

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Boatshed, Beaumaris' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Boatshed, Beaumaris
c. 1928
Oil on cardboard
30.5 x 36.0cm
Castlemaine Art Museum, Maud Rowe Bequest, acq. 1937

 

 

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09
Nov
18

Exhibition: ‘Black Mist Burnt Country’ at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 18th November 2018

Curator: JD Mittmann

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following post may contain images and voices of people who have died.

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'One Dozen Considerations - Emu Totem I' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing (b. 1959)
One Dozen Considerations – Emu Totem I
2013
C type photograph
49 x 76 cm
© Rosemary Laing

 

 

The empty yet altered landscape takes on different moods with Rosemary Laing’s, One Dozen Considerations Totem 1 – Emu (2013) monument marking the site of an weapon’s test with a British flag flying behind it. Both look like conqueror’s claims to territory, powerful images of the attempts to colonise Indigenous space, to write a colonial history through markers of significance, to write out the Indigenous voice but at the same time to appropriate Indigenous ideas and language. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

 

Field of thunder ~ big devil spirit ~ colonial fireworks

a/atom

late 15th century: from Old French atome, via Latin from Greek atomos ‘indivisible’, based on a- ‘not’ + temnein ‘to cut’.

 

a/secret

something that is not properly understood; a mystery

 

a/secretion

from French sécrétion or Latin secretio(n- ) ‘separation’, from secret- ‘moved apart’, from the verb secernere

 

a/desecration

late 17th century: from de- (expressing reversal) + a shortened form of consecrate

 

a/segregation

the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment

 

Lest we forget what was bequeathed the land, Traditional Owners and servicemen by the British and Australian governments. Death, disease, displacement from Country and radioactivity so they can never return. Literally sickening. Shame, shame and more shame.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Museum of Australia for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

There was also a lot of tearing down of Aboriginal sites according to what I’ve heard and just sort of this blinkered vision, and I think it’s a horrible education to learn that’s the way Aboriginal in those areas were perceived… and then you look at the ramifications of the health of both the people and the land and how that has been totally compromised…

Whether it came to treatment of Aboriginal people or whether it came to treatment of the environment. Hopefully [the exhibition will] engender something that people will fight, fight for their rights and fight for their land.

.
Waanyi artist Judy Watson

 

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia' 2006

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia
2006
Digital inkjet print
85 x 85 cm
© Jessie Boylan

 

 

Yami Lester, Walatinna Station, South Australia, 2006 – In 1953, Yami, a Yankunytjatjara man, was ten years old, living at Wallatinna Station when Totem One went off, it was part of a series of atmospheric atomic bombs that the British and Australian governments were testing during the 50’s and 60’s at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia and the Monte Bello Islands off the West Australian coast. He was blinded not long after the fallout. (Jessie Boylan)

 

 

Yami Lester (Boylan)
Yunkunytjatjara man Yami Lester talks about the mysterious poisonous ‘black mist’ that badly affected Aboriginal area after the Totem 1 atomic test in 1952

 

 

At Maralinga, the tests caused adverse effects on both the local people and military personnel, but in many cases it was difficult to determine the extent to which people had been affected. But for Yankunytjatjara Elder Tjamu Yami Lester it was devastating. He was blinded at 10 years old as a result of the ‘black mist’ that descended onto his country.

He died last year at the age of 75.

Much of his life was spent fighting for people affected by nuclear testing, subsequently becoming the public face of a tireless campaign. He led the push for the 1984 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, which resulted in a clean-up of the testing ground and compensation for the Anangu people. While reparations can never repair the damage inflicted upon Yami Lester, his people and country, his remarkable legacy lives on.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Blak Douglas. 'Tjarutja Tragedy' 2016

 

Blak Douglas (b. 1970)
Tjarutja Tragedy
2016
Tragedy
Synthetic polymer on canvas
100 x 200 cm
© Blak Douglas

 

 

The burnt, barren trees in Blak Douglas’s Tjarutja Tragedy are bent, leaning to one side with their branches split in two representing the letter Y.

“That’s because I’m asking why did this happened to us people?”

The Dunghutti artist’s work captures a land destroyed by atomic testing in Australia and speaks to the deep displacement of its Traditional Owners.

“I wanted to create a piece that really encapsulated the return of blackfellas to their country when your country has been blasted. It’s metaphoric for a lot of blackfellas… [And] effectively it’s a metaphor for the continent en masse, and how much of us can’t return to our tribal homelands including myself.”

“Whole peoples were dispossessed from their country and this was done complicity on behalf of the British government and the Australian people really had no say in it.” …

Blak Douglas says his own work was inspired by Mr Lester’s spirited crusade [see above].

“I remember seeing images of him and I googled Maralinga on YouTube a long time ago and I saw Uncle Yami as he was blinded as result of the atomic tests,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated this painting to that mob and I’m proud of that and I’m sure that Uncle Yami, or that mob there when I meet them in due time, will be embracing of it.”

He says Maralinga was one of the “worst atrocities any blackfella has suffered.”

“To blow bombs like that on country and to name them gammin white names or code names that’s just the epitome of colonial fireworks,” he says.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

 

Blak Douglas
Sydney-based artist Blak Douglas talks about his painting ‘Tjarutja Tragedy’ which is part of the exhibition Black Mist Burnt Country

 

Paul Ogier. 'One Tree (former emu field atom test site)' 2010

 

Paul Ogier (b. 1974, New Zealand)
One Tree (former emu field atom test site)
2010
Carbon pigment on rag paper
94 x 117 cm
© Paul Ogier

 

 

An award-winning national touring exhibition of artworks by over 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, commemorating the British atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s, opens today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Black Mist Burnt Country features artworks from the past seven decades, selected from public and private collections, including works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Pam Debenham, Toni Robertson, Rosemary Laing, Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown, Judy Watson, Hilda Moodoo and Yvonne Edwards.

Developed by the Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Black Mist Burnt Country revisits the history of the British atomic test program at Maralinga, Emu Field and Montebello Islands and examines the impact on people and land, as well as its on-going legacies.

It presents works across the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, new media and music, while exploring the varied perspectives and creative approaches of artists from post-Second World War modernists to contemporary artists.

A variety of interactive elements enable visitors to gain insights into the social, political and environmental dimensions, while placing the Australian atomic tests in the context of the nuclear arms race and its present-day realities.

Margo Neale, Head of the National Museum’s Indigenous Knowledge Centre and Advisor to the Director, said, ‘This potent exhibition by a cast of great artists broaches a number of thresholds in the telling of Australian history through art, and the role of museums in bringing these relatively little-known stories to life. These visual stories penetrate the heart while revealing little-known truths of human consequence about a tragic event in our shared history.’

Burrinja exhibition curator JD Mittmann said, ‘It is surprising how few people are aware that atomic bombs were exploded in Australia, and how little they know about the dislocation of Aboriginal people, the exposure of Australian servicemen and the contamination of the land. This exhibition offers some remarkable insights into a chapter of our history that has long-lasting consequences, while it poses some important questions in relation to contemporary nuclear issues’.

The project has been produced by Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Upwey, Victoria and has been on tour nationally since September 2016, when it marked the 60th anniversary of the first British test at Maralinga. The project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program and developed through the Exhibition Development Fund of National Exhibition Touring Support (NETS) Victoria. The project has also received financial assistance from the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Black Mist Burnt Country received the 2017 Museums Australia Victoria Archival Survival Award (Small Museums) and a Highly Commended at the Museums Australia National Conference (Touring and Temporary Exhibitions).

Press release from the National Museum of Australia

 

Karen Standke. 'Road to Maralinga II' 2007

 

Karen Standke (b. 1973, Germany)
Road to Maralinga II
2007
Oil on canvas
112 x 85 cm
© Karen Standke

 

Kate Shaw. 'Charcoal, UK: Maralinga' 2012

 

Kate Shaw (b. 1969)
Charcoal, UK: Maralinga
2012
Acrylic and resin on board
120 x 240 cm
© Kate Shaw

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

Adam Norton
Sydney-based artist Adam Norton talks about his work Prohibited Area, which is part of a series of reproduced signs he encountered in “nuclear badlands”.

 

'Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road' 1974

 

Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road
1974
National Archives of Australia NAA: A6457, P042

 

 

British nuclear tests at Maralinga

Historical context

On 3 October 1952, the United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon, named “Hurricane”, at the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. A year later the first nuclear test on the Australian mainland was Totem 1 (9.1 kilotonnes of TNT (38 TJ)) at Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert, South Australia, on 15 October 1953. Totem 2 (7.1 kilotonnes of TNT (30 TJ)) followed two weeks later on 27 October. The Supply Minister, Howard Beale, stated in 1955 that “England has the know how; we have the open spaces, much technical skill and a great willingness to help the Motherland. Between us we should help to build the defences of the free world, and make historic advances in harnessing the forces of nature.”

The British government formally requested a permanent test facility on 30 October 1953. Due to concerns about nuclear fallout from the previous tests at Emu Field and the site’s inadequate infrastructure and water supply, the recently surveyed Maralinga site was selected for this purpose. The new site was announced in May 1955. It was developed as a joint, co-funded facility between the British and Australian governments.

Prior to selection, the Maralinga site was inhabited by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people, for whom it had a great spiritual significance. Many were relocated to a new settlement at Yalata, and attempts were made to curtail access to the Maralinga site. These were often unsuccessful. (My emphasis) …

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs study concluded that “Overall, the doses received by Australian participants were small. … Only 2% of participants received more than the current Australian annual dose limit for occupationally exposed persons (20 mSv).” However, such findings are contested. Australian servicemen were ordered to: repeatedly fly through the mushroom clouds from atomic explosions, without protection; and to march into ground zero immediately after bomb detonation. Airborne drifts of radioactive material resulted in “radioactive rain” being dropped on Brisbane and Queensland country areas. A 1999 study for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association found that 30 per cent of involved veterans had died, mostly in their fifties, from cancers.

Successive Australian governments failed to compensate servicemen who contracted cancers following exposure to radiation at Maralinga. However, after a British decision in 1988 to compensate its own servicemen, the Australian Government negotiated compensation for several Australian servicemen suffering from two specific conditions, leukaemia (except lymphatic leukaemia) and the rare blood disorder multiple myeloma.

One author suggests that the resettlement and denial of aboriginal access to their homelands “contributed significantly to the social disintegration which characterises the community to this day. Petrol sniffing, juvenile crime, alcoholism and chronic friction between residents and the South Australian police have become facts of life.” In 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja, which resulted in the payment of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing. (My emphasis)

 

Media coverage

According to Liz Tynan from James Cook University, the Maralinga tests were a striking example of what can happen when the popular media are unable to report on activities that the government may be trying to hide. Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, but by the late 1970s there was a marked change in how the Australian media covered the British nuclear tests. Some resourceful investigative journalists emerged, whistle-blowers such as Avon Hudson [see photograph below] spoke out and political scrutiny became more intense. The investigative journalist Brian Toohey ran a series of stories in the Australian Financial Review in October 1978, based in part on a leaked Cabinet submission.

In June 1993, New Scientist journalist Ian Anderson wrote an article entitled “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga” and several related articles. They are a detailed analysis of the legacy of Vixen B and the Australian government’s prolonged negotiations with the United Kingdom on cleaning up Maralinga and sharing the cost of “safe-sealing” waste plutonium. Previously, much of this highly toxic nuclear waste had simply been lightly bulldozed into the soil rather than buried in deep, secure, purpose-built, concrete bunkers. In 1993, Anderson won two Michael Daley Awards for his Maralinga articles.

Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up is a book by Alan Parkinson about the clean-up following the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, published in 2007. Parkinson, a nuclear engineer, explains that the clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s was compromised by cost-cutting and simply involved dumping hazardous radioactive debris in shallow holes in the ground. Parkinson states that “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Australian Atomic Confessions

Sacrificial Lambs on the High Alter of Science

Australian servicemen and nomadic Aboriginals reveal the devastating effects of atomic weapons testing carried out in Australia by the British during the 1950s. For the first time, members of the Royal Australian Army, Air Force and Navy describe former top secret aspects of those tests. With the use of rare archival film and photographs, as well as eye witness accounts, Australian Atomic Confessions chronicles the hidden history and exposes previously hidden Government cover-ups. The consequences of nuclear testing imposed on the Australian people and land are not just skeletons of the past. Sydneys’ new nuclear reactor continues to pose a threat to the environment and civilians, and the problem of removing and disposing of the old nuclear reactor remains an unanswered question. Prominent Aboriginal Elders also warn that an imminent catastrophe may occur in Central Australia as a result of two uranium mines. Australian Atomic Confessions is a chilling expose of nuclear testing and its damaging legacy, one that continues to this day.

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga' 2011-2015

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga
2011-2015
Image: Burrinja Cultural Centre

 

 

This series chronicles Avon Hudson’s life, from early years growing up in regional South Australia, to service in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftman, through the experience of British atomic bomb tests, to his “whistle blower” act of revealing Maralinga’s deadly legacy.

What Avon knew, and was prepared to tell publically about Maralinga, contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-85). His motivation was to put a halt to government plans to return Maralinga to its traditional owners, pending a full clean-up of land still contaminated by radioactive debris.

The story of nuclear testing is unknown to most Australians. Between 1952 and 1963, after a decision made by Prime Minister Menzies alone, nine atomic bombs were exploded and hundreds of ‘minor’ experiments were conducted at the British-run testing ranges at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia. Three bombs were also exploded at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia.

The impacts of these experiments continue to play out in the ill health and changed lives of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, who were exposed to or involved in the tests, over multiple generations. The tests have also left a deep-future legacy of environmental contamination.

It is a portrait of someone with a photographic memory, capable of grasping and articulating every detail of the atomic age as he experienced it.

It depicts a committed citizen and serviceman, husband and father, always an advocate and an activist, who in civilian life became a Wakefield councillor for over 20 years. It shows a practical man – mechanic, wood-turner and furniture maker; and portrays a nature-enthusiast and an educator on environmental and social issues.

It is also a portrait of someone who has invariably lived by his convictions – as that’s what whistleblowers do. Since the 1970s, Avon has campaigned for recognition of nuclear veterans and civilian personnel. As his co-authored book “Beyond Belief” records, “His life has been deeply affected by a sense of injustice and by the callousness of successive Australian and British governments ignoring the plight of those caught up in ‘the grand game’.”

This series is a recognition and celebration of the significant role Avon has played South Australia’s unfolding atomic history. His life as an activist seems to belong to the present, as the future of nuclear science and technology is considered anew.

Text from the Jessie Boylan website (with permission)

 

Boylan is a photomedia artist who explores issues relating to human impacts on the land and communities in relation to environmental and social devastation – nuclear testing, mining and war. Through her work Boylan’s has expressed ideas of history and place in relation to contemporary Australian identity, community and activism. She recently completed her MFA on the topic of photography, the campsite and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia.

Jessie Boylan is a key member of the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group who aim to render visible all aspects of the nuclear age. She won first place in Images of Justice at Adelaide University 2015 and has been a finalist for the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award in 2007, 2009 & 2012, the Spirit of Youth Award in 2009, the Head On Alternative Portrait Awards, ACP, Sydney in 2009 & 2010. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Craig McDonald. 'Maralinga Test Dummy' 2010

 

 

Hugh Ramage. 'Taranaki' 2014

 

Hugh Ramage (b. New Zealand 1958, emigrated to Sydney in 1978)
Taranaki
2014
Oil on canvas
42 x 37 cm
© Hugh Ramage

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area
(image source: Google Earth)

 

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown
Pitjantjatjara artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown talks about his country and the effects the atomic tests had on it

 

Jonathan Brown was removed from his parents at Ooldea and grew up with foster parents in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and learnt about the atomic tests, the removal of his people from their traditional lands and the destruction of country. Jonathan first came to recognition as artist when he worked with Lin Onus for the 1990 exhibition Balance at the Queensland Art Gallery. His later paintings were heavily influenced by the experiences of the Pitjantjatjara / Anangu which became the focus of his work. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga before the Atomic Test' 1994

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga before the Atomic Test
1994
Ochres, sand and kapok on linen
227 x 205 cm
Yarra Ranges McLeod Gift Collection

 

 

Much of the exhibition centres on the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjara Brown who was removed from his family at Ooldea Mission, located on the transcontinental railway near Watson about 250 kilometres west of Ceduna.

Three of his works feature in the exhibition, and grainy textures bring his pieces to life. One in particular, Black Rain, powerfully illustrates the destruction of country through a black sky punctured by white thick stripes of rain and cloud.

“He did it with such a great sense of power and visual impact,” says Burrinja Executive Director Ross Farnell.

“He would depict the landscape and then basically throw a whole heap of ochre, sand and glue over the top of it and then just obliterate most of the painting and then go that’s Maralinga after the test, ‘that’s what happened to my country’,” Mr Farnell told NITV News.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Jonathan’s story

One of the central stories of Black Mist Burnt Country is the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. Jonathan was removed from his parents at Ooldea mission station at very early age and grew up with in a foster family in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and went back to be reunited with them.

The return to his people was traumatic. Neither could he speak Pitjantjatjara, nor did he know he had a brother. He learned about the removal of his people from their country and the destruction of country through atomic testing.

Fabian Peel, who worked as a nurse in the community at the time and is now director of Tullawon Health Clinic in Yalata, took Jonathan around the country. He remembers: “It was very painful. Jonathan cried all the way.”

Jonathan went on to make several paintings depicting the impacts of the nuclear testing program on Anangu and the land, some of which will be included in the exhibition.

Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate
Photograph: Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' (detail) 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga (detail)
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochres and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Frogmen' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Frogmen
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochre and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Kate Downhill. 'Operation Hurricane' 2013

 

Kate Downhill (b. 1955 England, emigrated to Australia 2009)
Operation Hurricane
2013
Acrylic on dress fabric laid on canvas
101 x 76 cm
© Kate Downhill

 

 

Kate studied graphic design at Newcastle-upon-Tyne College of Art and worked in London during the 1970s as an illustrator and layout artist in various publishing houses. In the 1980s she studied painting at Exeter College of Art, graduating with a BA in Fine Art and Literature and concentrated on her purely abstract paintings in the tradition of the St. Ives School of painters with whom she trained. In the mid 1990s her working style changed dramatically and abstraction became a background element in new works where a variety of figurative styles and painting techniques were used within the same image. Since then she has worked to combine both painterly and graphic imagery to narrative effect. A life-long interest in textiles, quilting and the language of stitching is also evident in her work.

Since emigrating to Australia Kate has been concentrating on a series of paintings whose theme is the fragmentary and personal nature of memory and the process of memorialisation, as with the paintings she presents in this exhibition. Here she is using the naive imagery of rural community quilting to bring together varied scraps of information and family anecdotes about the British Australian nuclear tests. Kate’s father was a seismologist for the Atomic Weapons Research Institute and he was closely involved in the development and testing of the H Bomb during the 1950s. Her work here is a deeply personal response to historical events. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

 

Kate Downhill
Kate Downhill talks about her father’s involvement in the British atomic test program as a seismologist and explains her painting’s reference to quilting.

 

Tjariya Stanley. 'Puyu - Black Mist' 2015

 

Tjariya Stanley
Puyu – Black Mist
2015
Acrylic on canvas
© Margo Birnberg and the artist

 

Hilda Moodoo and Jeffrey Quema. 'Destruction II' 2002

 

Hilda Moodoo (b. 1952) and Jeffrey Quema (1947-2009)
Destruction II
2002
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
101 x 122 cm
Santos Fund for Aboriginal Art 2002, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Courtesy of the artists

 

 

Hilda Moodoo painting began at Oak Valley in December 2001 when Victorian Yorta Yorta artist Lance Atkinson spent two months in the community teaching the technical skills for painting on canvas. Hilda Moodoo and Kunmanara Queama’s collaborative paintings Destruction I and II were included in the resulting Desert Oaks exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre in March 2002 and are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Desert Oaks project was a deliberate expression of identity and an opportunity to pass on knowledge through painting. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

Queama, a Pitjantjatjara man, was born at Ooldea, on the eastern edge of the Nullabor Plain. With the dispersal of residents after the closure of the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1952, he was sent to the Lutheran mission school at Koonibba, near Ceduna. He worked for many years on land conservation and management boards, and lobbied tirelessly for the return of the Maralinga-Tjarutja lands to the traditional owners. In 1984 the lands were been returned, and he and his wife Hilda Moodoo among others founded Oak Valley community, 150 kilometres northwest of Maralinga. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Arthur Boyd. 'Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City' 1976

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City
1976
Oil on canvas
Bundanon Trust Collection
© Bundanon Trust

 

 

In Arthur Boyd’s Jonah on the Shoalhaven – Outside the City (1976), the iconic cloud sits on the horizon, almost like a puff of dust rising off the white sand. Boyd had been conscripted into the army and became a pacifist. For him, the threat of nuclear destruction sits in the backdrop, no less menacing than Nolan’s apocalyptic response two decades earlier. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Sidney Nolan. 'Central Desert Atomic Test' 1952-57

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Central Desert Atomic Test
1952-57
Oil on canvas

 

 

Nolan’s landscape sits harsh and red under a blue sky and the mushroom cloud of the bomb. Nolan was living in London at the time but news of the tests started appearing in the media. The cloud and dust were added to one of Nolan’s desert paintings as an act of protest over the events taken place back in Australia and the addition turns a rugged landscape into an image that seethes with anger at the act of destruction. In Nolan’s landscape, the bomb looms large. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Toni Robertson. 'The Royal Nuclear Show - 6' 1981

 

Toni Robertson (b. 1953)
The Royal Nuclear Show – 6
1981
Screen print on paper (set of 6 screenprints)
Prints, screenprints, printed in colour inks, each from four hand-cut and three photo-stencils
Flinders University Art Museum Collection
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Toni Robertson studied fine arts at the University of Sydney in the 1970s and was a founding member of the influential Earthworks Poster Collective (1971-80) at the University’s Tin Sheds. Robertson’s work has appeared in many group exhibitions in the 1970s and 1980s, and along with Chips Mackinolty and others she is recognised as a leading figure in Australian political printmaking. Her work is held in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, Artbank and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney as well as tertiary, state library and union collections. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty. 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?' 1977

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty
Toni Robertson
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | born 1953
Chips Mackinolty
Morwell, Victoria, Australia | born 1954
Earthworks Poster Collective
commenced 1971 – 1980 | poster design studio (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?
1977
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 73.4 h x 48.2 w cm
Sheet 76.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Given in memory of Mitch Johnson 1988
© Toni Robertson

 

 

The political poster movement in Australia was at its height in the 1970s, supporting anti-war, anti-uranium, pro-land rights and pro-feminist causes. Members of the Earthworks Poster Collective, opposed to the egotism of individual artistic fame, worked from the Tin Sheds (University of Sydney Art Workshop). In Daddy what did you do in the nuclear war? Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty appropriated a British recruiting poster from the First World War, adapting the children’s bodies to reflect the genetic consequences of radiation.

Christine Dixon

 

Victorian-born artist Chips Mackinolty was involved in the campaigns against the war in Vietnam by producing protest posters. He was a key figure in the radical poster movement and was introduced to screen printing in Goulburn Street, Sydney. During the 1970s posters became an art form artists using the cheap posters as a political tool. The Earthworks Poster Collective, established in 1971, was the most active and well-known of these groups. Earthworks operated from the Sydney University Art Workshop, commonly known as the Tin Sheds, finally demolished in 2007. Mackinolty used sharp, flat colours and increasingly professional techniques to produce posters such as “For the man who said life wasn’t meant to be easy – make life impossible.” The poster is a multi-imaged send-up of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was posted up at night around Sydney, helping to politicise a generation. His work is held in major national and international institutions. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Pam Debenham. 'No nukes in the Pacific' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No nukes in the Pacific
1984
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 88.0 h x 62.0 w cm
Sheet 91.0 h x 65.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1990

Pam Debenham. 'No Nukes No Tests' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No Nukes No Tests
1984
Screenprint on paper
© Pam Debenham
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (b. 1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts,
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

National Museum of Australia
Lawson Crescent
Acton Peninsula, Canberra

Opening hours:
Daily 9am-5pm

Black Mist Burnt Country website

National Museum of Australia website

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05
Aug
18

Review: ‘Dale Cox: Inner Logic’ at Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th July – 12th August 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Usurper Ruminant' 2016

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Usurper Ruminant
2016
Acrylic on gold enamel on board
120cm x 90cm

 

 

Clarion call

The sky is blue, the sun is shining and yet, in this era of the Anthropocene, the Earth is in deep shit. Through the activities of a virus, a contagion that infests the planet… that is – the ego, the selfishness of the individual human and, collectively, of the human race – “we are perhaps amongst the first to contemplate not just our own finite existence, but the doomed fate of the Earth itself.”

My friend Dale Cox’s exhibition Inner Logic at Australian Galleries dissects this situation in a most intelligent and imaginative manner. Instead of didactic protest, Cox uses the language of Australian pastoral landscape, iconic edifice and stratigraphic cross section to make ironic comment on popular culture, history and religion. As you dissect the various influences and concepts within the work you chuckle to yourself at the artist’s inventiveness and humour.

Mixing the tight style and formal, classical beauty of Australian colonial painting (with reference in particular to the work of John Glover) with the uncanny sense of reality and precision found in the paintings of Jeffrey Smart, Cox twists his realities and points of view. Shopping trolleys have a strange perspective when filled with Australian colonial landscapes; aircraft stairs seem strangely twisted as they lead to a geological cross-section topped with verdant greenery (a journey through time); clouds in the burning landscape look like that of an atomic bomb; an Uluru-like profile of Elvis in the Australian bush is dotted with tents and encampments; and Australian ute’s of unlikely shape sit at the base of a constructed Elvis edifice, the most prominent thing to my mind in the painting being the four air conditioning units at the base of the construction cabin, sitting in an absolutely barren landscape. The perspicacity of Cox’s (re)marks is exemplary.

My favourite works in the exhibition are the Usurper paintings. Here Cox condenses the customs, traditions and rituals of the human race (colonisation, farming, habitation – power, possession, destruction and modification of the environment and its animals) onto the body of the (b)ovine family, the livestock “genetically modified over time through the artificial selection of desirable traits by humans, with a view to increasing the docility of the animals, their size and productivity, their quality as agricultural products, and other culturally desired features,”1 to serve humans who are substantially dependent on their livestock for sustenance and other purposes. These artificial bodies, these illegitimate usurpers, float on a sea of gold enamel and wood grain form.

Cox’s declamations, his inner logic if you like, document in the most inventive way the liturgy of errors of the human race. His work is a clarion call for humans to be better custodians (for that is what we are) of the Earth. Through his subversive paintings, the artist “challenges the myopic tendency for us humans to fixate on ourselves in a way that bodes poorly for our ability to see the bigger picture and act as stewards for the entire planet rather than as self serving, selfish species.” (Email to the author, 28 July 2018). His humors (basic substances which are in balance when a person, or in this case the Earth, is healthy) add to the raised voices against the naysayers of global warming, the backward looking fossil fuel industry, the power of nations and corporations, and the vested interests of the rich and powerful, mainly men. It’s time for the dreamers, the artists, and the spiritual to confront these dinosaurs of the past, so that they may shape the future. So that the human race can cast aside their shadow and learn to walk on the Earth without leaving tracks.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Shaman

“There are two kinds of people in this world.

There are those who are dreamers and those who are being dreamed.

There comes a time in every mans life when he must encounter his past.

For those that are dreamed, who have no more than a passing acquaintance with power, this moment is usually played out on their death beds as they try to bargain with fait for a few more moments of life time.

But for the dreamer, the person of power, this moment takes place alone, before a fire, when he calls upon the spectres of his personal past to stand before him like witnesses before the court…

I am not speaking of remembering the past. Anyone can remember the past, and in remembering we frame it to serve and justify the present. Remembering is a conscious act and therefore subject to embellishment. Remembering is easy.

The person of power sits alone before the fire and confronts his past. He hears the testimony of these spectres and he dismisses them one by one. He acquits himself of his past. If you comprehend this, the man of power has no past. No history that can claim him. He has cast aside his shadow and learnt to walk in the snow without leaving tracks.”

.
Dr Alberto Villoldo

 

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Usurper Transplant' 2016

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Usurper Transplant
2016
Acrylic on gold enamel on board
120cm x 90cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Usurper Glover' 2016

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Usurper Glover
2016
Acrylic on gold enamel on board
120cm x 90cm

 

John Glover (England 1767 - Australia 1849, Australia from 1831) 'The River Nile, Van Diemen's Land, from Mr Glover's farm' 1837

 

John Glover (England 1767 – Australia 1849, Australia from 1831)
The River Nile, Van Diemen’s Land, from Mr Glover’s farm
1837
Oil on canvas
76.4 x 114.6cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1956

 

 

John Glover’s colonial landscapes can be divided into two groups: pastoral scenes of the land surrounding his own property, and pre-contact Aboriginal Arcadias. Although the Aboriginal figures are at times generic, they are shown as active participants in the landscape. Such scenes were, however, entirely imagined, as Glover encountered very few Tasmanian Aboriginal people while in the colony. Glover had not experienced the conflict or witnessed the violence between Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance fighters and white settlers during the 1820s. By the time of his arrival in 1831, the Tasmanian Aboriginal survivors had been forced to leave Country and relocate to Flinders Island.

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Tract 38 (Burning landscape)' 2012

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Tract 38 (Burning landscape)
2012
Acrylic on canvas
102 x 152cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Tract 38 (Burning landscape)' 2012 (detail)

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969))
Tract 38 (Burning landscape) (detail)
2012
Acrylic on canvas
102 x 152cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Flight SQ2118 to Thailand' 2018

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Flight SQ2118 to Thailand
2018
Acrylic on board
81 x 122cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Rewilding II' 2018

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Rewilding II
2018
Acrylic on board
81 x 122cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Anticolonial' 2018

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Anticolonial
2018
Acrylic on board
81 x 122cm

 

 

Inner Logic 2018

The motifs and elements in this exhibition are all related to our human predicament; to this era of the Anthropocene and our unique capacity amongst living things to contemplate our own mortality. While we have grappled with our impermanence for thousands of years, we are perhaps amongst the first to contemplate not just our own finite existence, but the doomed fate of the Earth itself. A kind of double death.

It’s a lot to take on board.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, we are well practiced at diversion, denial and a kind of wishful thinking when it comes to our fate. Religion has served us rather well as a kind of ‘soft landing’ into the unknown; furnishing us cradle to grave with a reassuring framework towards a life after death.

It is an intoxicating idea that when we die we go elsewhere. Anything but death seems like a plan. Indeed, many opine that a belief in an afterlife is essential to the very fabric of humanity, that our lives would be meaningless if it simply ended. Perhaps there is an inner logic to this: Is there a point to a life that simply ends?

Our aversion to annihilation runs deep, and in light of some fairly compelling arguments that it is so, humanity is slow to accept the deal. And now that we are facing mounting evidence that we are hurtling towards an environmental collapse of our own making, it seems the all too human ability to simply avert our gaze is once again at play. Desperate times call for desperate measures in collective denial, and so it seems we enter the post-truth era.

There are myriad ways in which we pull off this practised art of self-delusion. Central to it is our unerring fascination with ourselves, our own species. ‘Anthropocentricity’ has served us for millennia as an essential tool of survival by strengthening our ties as family units, tribes, villages and, by extension, nations. The gods we created invariably took a patriarchal form, and we still cling to these heroic manifestations of our own image.

Even our innate altruism appears limited to all things ‘us’. We seem ill-equipped as stewards of the planet of being capable of seeing the bigger picture, of accommodating the survival of all species. All animals are necessarily hardwired to fixate on their own collective survival at the expense of other species, but it is humans alone who can progress that exclusivity to global obliteration.

I generalise, of course. Many manage to stare reality squarely in the face, and many more understand the importance of the broader environment. And it will get harder to remain wilfully ignorant, as the ecological collapse is well underway, overtaking even the gloomiest of predictive models. It is in plain sight and will only become harder to ignore.

The environmental problems we face appear too colossal for individuals to consider; it all seems too overwhelming, too daunting. These are not ‘human-sized’ problems after all. But if we can apply the same collective fervour and inventiveness we applied to bettering our human lot, if we can find a global will to turn our remarkable capacity for enterprise in science, technology and innovation to repairing the planet as a whole, we may have just cause for hope.

Dale Cox

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'The Bungle Bungles' 2018

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
The Bungle Bungles
2018
Acrylic on board
122 x 244cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Always on my mind' 2018

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Always on my mind
2018
Acrylic on board
101 x 244cm

 

 

Anthropocene definition

Relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

 

Evolutionary psychology definition

Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach to psychology that attempts to explain useful mental and psychological traits – such as memory, perception, or language – as adaptations, i.e., as the functional products of natural selection.

The purpose of this approach is to bring the functional way of thinking about biological mechanisms such as the immune system into the field of psychology, and to approach psychological mechanisms in a similar way.

In short, evolutionary psychology is focused on how evolution has shaped the mind and behaviour. Though applicable to any organism with a nervous system, most research in evolutionary psychology focuses on humans.

Text from the Science Daily website

 

Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behaviour is the output of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments…

Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviours or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations including the abilities to infer others’ emotions, discern kin from non-kin, identify and prefer healthier mates, and cooperate with others.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Tract definition

A short piece of writing, especially on a religious or political subject, that is intended to influence other people’s opinions; a large area of land; a major passage in the body, large bundle of nerve fibres, or other continuous elongated anatomical structure or region.

 

Usurper definition

A usurper is an illegitimate or controversial claimant to power, often but not always in a monarchy. In other words, a person who takes the power of a country, city, or established region for themselves without any formal or legal right to claim it as their own. Usurpers are both those who overtake a region by often unexpected physical force, as well as individuals or organisations who overtake a region through political influence and subterfuge – though the word “usurper” denotes a single person; either an individual who acted alone, or the leader of a group which supported their controversial claim.

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Untitled (Lunar lander of wood)' 2012

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Untitled (Lunar lander of wood)
2012
Acrylic on board
51 x 77cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Cold War Reliquary' 2014

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Cold War Reliquary' 2014

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Cold War Reliquary' 2014

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Cold War Reliquary' 2014

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Cold War Reliquary
2014
Mixed media Wood acrylics gold enamel metal rock glass
Dimensions variable
Created for the Blake Prize

 

 

Cold War Reliquary 2015-2016

A reliquary (also referred to as a shrine or by the French term châsse) is a container for relics. These may be the purported physical remains of saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with saints or other religious figures. (Wikipedia definition)

.
My sculpture is a vessel – a craft, a portal, a reliquary. Like many Religious objects its serves as a nexus, a transport between Earth and Heaven. The Apollo Lunar Module carried the first Human to the Moon landing on July 20 1969. I was 3 months old. Russia had landed an unmanned craft safely on the moon ten years earlier. The ‘Space Race’ was chiefly an assertion of Ideological superiority between Communism and Capitalism, and the most symbolic battlefield of the ‘Cold War’.

I have long thought of mans tentative forays into space as a kind of membrane piercing journey into the Spiritual – the body released of its Earthly mass and transcended into the Heavens. The reference to a Religious Relic and object of Art – a reliquary for the precious moon rock it houses within the glass dome, elevates a Mechanical Machine to the status of a Religious Relic and is intended to supplant and parody the Christian Canon that asserts our ascension to Heaven (or Hell) upon death.

The essential role of Science as the facilitator of Space Exploration is significant, and as such the Spacecraft itself is venerated here as a Religious object.

The use of Quasi Religious painted panels directly references early Christian Art, whilst most of the Latin Inscriptions are direct translations of NASA Radio Transcripts between (Earth) Base Command and the Astronauts during the critical stages of the Moon landing, and the first historic moments upon landing. Buzz Aldrins remark as he first set foot on the moon was “Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation.” In Latin Magnificus in desertum.

Dale Cox

 

 

 

Cold War Reliquary

The Cold War Reliquary is a vessel – a spacecraft, and a Holy Relic. Like many Religious objects, it serves as a nexus, a transport between Earth and Heaven.
I have long thought of man’s forays into space as a kind of membrane piercing journey into the Spiritual – the body released of its Earthly mass and transcended into the Heavens. This reliquary for the precious moon rock it houses within a glass dome, elevates a Mechanical Machine to the status of a Religious Relic and playfully parodies the Space Race as the era in which Science finally transcended Religion.

Inner Logic continues Dale Cox’s insightful and evocative explorations into environmental, spiritual and anthropological themes; investigating the impact of humankind on this planet and our collective search for meaning.

“The motifs and elements within the current exhibition of my paintings all are in some way or another related to our human predicament and this era of the anthropocene and our unique capacity amongst living things to contemplate our own mortality,” says Cox, “We humans have been grappling with our own mortality for thousands of years. Are we today, however amongst the first generations to contemplate not just our own finite existence, but also the doomed fate of the Earth itself? A kind of double death…”

Inner Logic presents a dynamic series of recent paintings in Dale Cox’s highly distinctive visual language, in which elements from the natural world and icons from popular, religious, industrial and historical culture are assembled in precarious, yet harmonious balance upon a backdrop of the vast unknown. Meticulously executed in acrylic paint, these works are visually intricate and conceptually dense, yet the clarity and significance of their message resonates with immediacy and power.

Dale Cox is equally proficient in sculpture as he is in painting and works across a wide range of media. This exhibition presents the artist’s compelling Cold War Reliquary (Finalist in the 64th Blake Prize); a magnificent recreation of the Lunar Lander spacecraft realised as a gilded religious receptacle, “My sculpture is a vessel – a spacecraft, a portal, a reliquary. Like many religious objects its serves as a nexus, a transport between Earth and Heaven. I have long thought of man’s forays into space as a kind of membrane piercing journey into the spiritual – the body released of its Earthly mass and transcended into the Heavens. This reliquary for the precious moon rock it houses within a glass dome, elevates a Mechanical Machine to the status of a Religious Relic and playfully parodies and challenges the Christian Church.” Dale Cox, 2018

Press release from Australian Galleries

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Art Mart' 2018

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Art Mart
2018
Acrylic on board
120 x 89cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Albert' 2018

 

Dale Cox (Australian, b. 1969)
Albert
2018
Acrylic on board
160 x 122cm