Posts Tagged ‘Australian war artist

29
Mar
16

Review: ‘Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan’ at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Exhibition dates: 15th January – 15th April 2016

 

This is the most profound exhibition that I have seen so far this year. Simply put, the exhibition is magnificent … a must see for any human being with an ounce of understanding and compassion in their body.

While I am vehemently anti-war, and believe that we should have never have been in Afghanistan in the first place, these sensual and skeletal paintings represent the danger that these soldiers exposed themselves to in the line of duty. The sensuousness and vulnerability of their solitary, contorted poses – poses which they themselves chose to for Quilty to paint – reflect an actual event, such as taking cover to engage insurgents. That these naked poses then turn out to have a quiet eroticism embedded in them confirms the link between eroticism, death and sensuality as proposed by Georges Bataille. The three forms of eroticism (physical, emotional, religious) try to substitute continuity (life) for discontinuity (death). In these paintings the soldiers lay bare their inner self. They bring forth experiences that have been buried – their dissociation from the reality of what occurred, the experiences they have repressed, the post-traumatic stress – brought to the surface and examined in these paintings through the re-presentation of suppressed emotions, through a form of emotional eroticism, a primordial rising of eroticism, death and sensuality. An affirming act of life over death.

As an artist, Quilty intimately understands this process. I think a strong element of this exhbition is the feeling that there is something missing, that the range of concerns is lacking something. I suspect this is deliberate. Something is being withheld. And what is being withheld in the paintings is, I believe, narrative.

While there is an overarching text narrative – soldiers painted “after Afghanistan” – and individual paintings have titles such as Sergeant P, Troy Park, Trooper M and Trooper Daniel Westcott, these paintings could almost be of any human being who has been a soldier. Other than the specific triptych of Air Commodore John Oddie (and even then the portraits remind me of the ambiguity of Francis Bacon’s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953), these paintings could be of any soldier. As Gerhard Ricther observes, “You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing, what language can communicate. Painting has nothing to do with that.” After Richter, you might say that “there is no plan”, there is only feeling in the work of Ben Quilty, embodied through his brush. Here, I see links to the work of that great British painter, Francis Bacon.

“Bacon was deeply suspicious of narrative. For him, narrative seems to be the natural enemy of vision; it blinds… Bacon seems to propose an opposition between narrative as a product that can be endlessly reproduced, as re-presentation – the ‘boredom’ is inspired by the deja vu of repetition – and narrative as process, as sensation. Conveying a story implies that a pre-existing story, fictional or not, is transferred to an addressee. Narrative is then reduced to a kind of transferable message. Opposed to this ‘conveying of story’, ‘telling a story’ focuses on the activity or process of narrative. This process is not repeatable; it cannot be iterative because it takes place, it happens, whenever ‘story’ happens… Bacon’s hostility toward narrative is directed against narrative as product, as re-presentation, not against narrative as process.
(Bacon) does not paint characters, but figures. Figures, unlike characters, do not imply a relationship between an object outside the painting and the figure in the painting that supposedly illustrates that object. The figure is, and refers only to itself.”1

The figure is, and refers only to itself, and it is up to the viewer to actively interpret this telling of the story each time they view one of Quilty’s paintings. There is no transferable message.

Further, much like Bacon’s triptychs, Quilty’s paintings depict isolated figures or figural events on the panels. The figures are isolated in their space and their is never any clear interaction between the figures. “Bacon explains the use of the triptych as follows: ‘It helps to avoid storytelling if the figures are painted on three different canvases’ … The figures never fully become characters, while the figural events are never explained by being embedded in a sequence of events. The figures interact neither with each other nor with their environment. Although Bacon’s paintings display many signs which traditionally signify narrativity, by the same token any attempt to postulate narratives based on the paintings is countered.”2

In these paintings, Quilty does not turn away from the evidence of the soldiers before him who express through their bodies that life is violent. He does not attempt to save the viewer from such unpleasantries. As Bacon comments, “The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.” Quilty stretches his sensibility as an artist and as a human being by getting down and dirty with his subject matter, both physically and emotionally. In fact, I would say Quilty becomes his subject, so close does the artist get to the object of his attention (after all, this is also Quilty’s experience of Afghanistan, as much as it is the soldiers who he is painting. The artist is always present in the work). The closer you get to one of his paintings, the more the detail vanishes and the more the paint becomes like blood and guts. The artist presses up against his subject which dissolves into abstraction. A bravura tour de force of painting that it so confident in its intent… [that there are] huge stretches of bare white canvas as flesh, with these striking gestures for throat and nipple executed without fear in one stroke of the brush. The black hole appearing out of the side of the soldiers head reminds me of Carl Jung’s ambivalent feelings toward his unconscious shadow; and at one end of the gallery you have a black hole (Trooper Luke Korman, Tarin Kot, 2012, below) and at the other a white hole (Trooper Luke Korman, 2012, below), such are the energies of yin yang that flow through the lighter of the gallery spaces.

Using what the photographer Imogen Cunningham termed the ‘paradox of expansion via reduction’ – closing in on subject (either physically and/or mentally), the intensity and focus attendant to a clear way of seeing – allows Quilty’s work to be flooded with sensuality and reductive power. The horror of the body, of how fragile we are (Damien Hirst) is expressed through the visceral paint. The viewer’s mind tells the story, creates the horror, the closer you get to the work. As I said earlier, there is no transferable message, no actual interpretation but universal triggers that impinge on the viewer’s mind. Quilty plays with the flow of time and space, memory and war by disassociating himself from traditional narrative. As the quotation below from Peter Handke’s novel Across eloquently expresses it, it is a sense of “being-empty” (Zen), an empty form that is also full at the same time. Every object in Quilty’s opus moves into place and we pass over, quietly, into a place we have never been before, through paintings that picture the unknowable. Something we have never seen or felt before. In painting, I don’t think there are many artists that could have achieved what Quilty has with this body of work.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,125

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

 

  1. Ernst Van Alphen. Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, 1992 quoted in “Francis Bacon and ‘Narrative’, the Natural Enemy of Vision,” on the ASX website, June 27 2013 [Online] Cited 29/03/2016.
  2. Ibid.,

 

 

“With the light of that moment, silence fell. The warming emptiness that I need so badly spread. My forehead no longer needed a supporting hand. It wasn’t exactly a warmth, but a radiance; it welled up rather than spread; not an emptiness, but a being-empty; not so much my being-empty as an empty form. And the empty form meant: story. But it also meant that nothing happened. When the story began, my trail was lost. Blurred. This emptiness was no mystery; but what made it effective remained a mystery. It was as tyrannical as it was appeasing; and its peace meant: I must not speak. Under its implosion, everything (every object) moved into place. “Emptiness!” The word was equivalent to the invocation of the Muse at the beginning of an epic. It provoked not a shudder but lightness and joy, and presented itself as a law: As it is now, so shall it be. In terms of image, it was a shallow river crossing.”

.
Peter Handke. Across. Ralph Manheim (translator). Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000, p. 5.

 

“I do not want to avoid telling a story, but I want very, very much to do the thing that Valery said – to give the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance. And the moment the story enters, the boredom comes upon you.”

.
Francis Bacon

 

 

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Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery with, from left to right, Sergeant P, after Afghanistan (2012); Trooper Daniel Westcott, after Afghanistan (2012); and Troy Park, after Afghanistan (2012)

 

 

Sergeant P, a Special Operations Task Group soldier, is a survivor of a Black Hawk helicopter crash that claimed the lives of three Australians. Some of the soldiers depicted in the other portraits witnessed the crash and were first on the scene to provide assistance. The memory of this experience, and the friends who did not make it, will stay with these men for a long time.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper Daniel Westcott, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper Daniel Westcott, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Troy Park, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Troy Park, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery with, from left to right, Troy Park, after Afghanistan, no. 2 (2012); Trooper M, after Afghanistan (2012); and Trooper M, after Afghanistan, no. 2 (2012)

 

Ben Quilty. 'Troy Park, after Afghanistan, no. 2' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Troy Park, after Afghanistan, no. 2
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

Quilty asked the soldiers to suggest a post that encapsulated some of the emotions that surrounded their experience in Afghanistan. Often the pose is quite contorted, as it reflects an actual event, such as taking cover to engage insurgents.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper M, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper M, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“You can’t really stop out there. You have to keep doing your job and keep moving forward … There is no time, until you get home, to stop and think about it.”

Trooper M

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper M, after Afghanistan, no. 2' 2012 (detail)

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper M, after Afghanistan, no. 2 (detail)
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“Sitting for Ben is therapeutic; it does get a lot of stuff off your chest. And actually seeing your portrait on canvas, I think for me it’s definitely a chapter that I can close and leave there.”

Trooper M

 

Ben Quilty. 'Bushmaster' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Bushmaster
2012
Aerosol and oil on linen
Donated by Ben Quilty through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program in 2013

 

 

Portraiture for Quilty can also take a vehicle as its subject. This destroyed Bushmaster reflects the soldiers’ identity and is a vestige of their physical experience. They risk their lives while carrying out their duties in these versatile military vehicles.

“I met a young man who’d been in the back of a Bushmaster that had blown up. The Bushmaster is the big armoured four-wheel-drive vehicle that’s saving a lot of Australian lives, but even so the explosion caused every single you man inside that vehicle to suffer from concussion and one of them was blown out of the gun turret and landed in front of the vehicle among possibly more hidden explosive devices.”

Ben Quilty

 

Ben Quilty. 'Captain S, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Captain S, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

“I think when Ben paints, he’s not looking for what’s on the outside … He’s more after what they’re feeling o what they’ve been through … He’s looking at the inner instead of just the outer.”

Captain S

 

Ben Quilty. 'Lance Corporal M, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Lance Corporal M, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Lance Corporal M, after Afghanistan' 2012 (detail)

 

Ben Quilty
Lance Corporal M, after Afghanistan (detail)
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

The naked portraits have a sensuousness and vulnerability in their solitary, contorted poses. The rough surface signifies the uniform and body armour that have been stripped away in front of us, and them. We and they recognise what they have endured and achieved.

“I wanted [this soldier] to be naked, showing not only his physical strength but also the frailty of human skin and the darkness of the emotional weight of the war.”

Ben Quilty

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of drawings from the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery including, at bottom left, Captain M II, Tarin Kot (October 2011, below) and third from left top, Waiting, Tarin Kot (October 2011, below)

 

 

“This very wild place”

Sitting and talking with the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, Quilty became intrigued by their experiences. He came to feel responsible for telling the stories of these young men and women.

“I started doing drawings of the soldiers, and hearing their stories about their experiences of being in this very wild place. I realised that I needed to just sit with them … making portraits of these guys in Tarin Kot or wherever I was … getting them to sit still and talk to me about their experience. Those little drawings are a reminder to me of the time that I spent with those people. I hoped that there’d be some remnant of that experience that I could then draw out … to put into the paintings when I returned to Australia.”

Ben Quilty

The trust that Quilty developed with these soldiers in Afghanistan was strong enough to continue at home in Quilty’s studio, where he invited some to sit for larger portraits.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

(top row, first three from left)

Ben Quilty
Private C, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

Ben Quilty
Trooper M, Special Forces, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen, pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

Ben Quilty
Captain Kate Porter
27 October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured pencil and ink wash on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

(bottom row, first three from left)

Ben Quilty
Sergeant M II, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

Ben Quilty
Chinook pilot, Kandahar Airfield
October 2011
Drawn at Kandahar Airfield, Kandahar province, Afghanistan
Pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

Ben Quilty
Brigadier General Noorullah, Afghan National Army, Tarin Kot
22 October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

While in Tarin Kot, Quilty attended a marching out parade of 400 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers who had completed training under the Australian Mentoring Task Fore. There he met a senior ANA commander, Brigadier General Noorullah. Just days later, three Australian soldiers were killed at a similar training parade being held at Forward Operating Base Sorkh Bed (aka Pacemaker). Quilty learnt of the incident the day after he left Afghanistan, giving him an even greater sense of the dangers that the soldiers he met face daily.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Captain Kate Porter' 27 October 2011

 

Ben Quilty
Captain Kate Porter
27 October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured pencil and ink wash on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

Quilty wanted to meet a cross-section of people serving in Afghanistan – soldiers driving Bushmasters, Chinook pilots, Special Forces soldiers, and both men and women of all ranks – to try to understand who makes up the Australian Defence Force. He met Captain Kate Porter at Tarin Kot. There he spoke to her about her experiences as female in the very masculine community of the Special Operations Task Group, as well as her general experience as a soldier in Afghanistan.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper M, Special Forces, Tarin Kot' October 2011

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper M, Special Forces, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen, pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Waiting, Tarin Kot' October 2011

 

Ben Quilty
Waiting, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

Ben Quilty. 'Captain M II, Tarin Kot' October 2011

 

Ben Quilty
Captain M II, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

 

 

“Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan is an extraordinary Australian War Memorial Touring Exhibition by one of the nation’s most incisive artists, and is of great relevance to all Australians. The exhibition officially opens at Castlemaine Art Gallery on Friday 15 January 2016.

The exhibition itself was the result of the Archibald Prize-winning artist’s three-week tour across Afghanistan in October 2011. Engaged as an Official War Artist, his purpose was to record and interpret the experiences of Australians deployed as part of Operation Slipper in Kabul, Kandahar, and Tarin Kot in Afghanistan and at Al Minhad Airbase in the United Arab Emirates. In fulfilling his brief, Quilty spoke with many Australian servicemen and women, gaining an insight into their experiences whilst serving in the region, and ultimately leaving with an overwhelming need to tell their stories.

Quilty recently spoke on ANZAC Day 2015 and paid tribute not only to those who did not return from Afghanistan and their grieving families, but also to “the young men and women who live amongst us who have paid so dearly and will quietly wear the thick cloak of trauma for many years to come, after Afghanistan.”

The exhibition is a must see as Quilty is arguably one of Australia’s greatest living painters, and this exhibition, with its intense and emotional subject matter is particularly important to Castlemaine, a town with a history of young men and women serving their country far from home. The exhibition has been very well received across the country with over 70,000 visitors attending the works when on display most recently in Darwin. Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial believes Quilty should be considered one of Australia’s great official war artists.

“Ben Quilty’s works follows a truly great tradition at the Australian War Memorial of appointing artists to record and interpret the Australian experience of war.”

“Ben brought to this task all his brilliance, sensitivity and compassion. The works he produced will leave Australians a legacy which informs them not only about the impact of war on our country, but even more importantly, about the effects on the men and women he has depicted,” said Dr Nelson.

Dr Jan Savage, President of the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum Committee of Management said the exhibition, “was significant in understanding the impact of war on serving members of the Australian armed forces and I encourage visitors to attend this most important exhibition.”

Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan is on display at Castlemaine Art Gallery from 15 January until 15 April 2016.

An Australian War Memorial Touring Exhibition, proudly sponsored by Thales.”

Text from the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum website

 

Ben Quilty. 'Tarin Kot, Hilux' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Tarin Kot, Hilux
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Kandahar' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Kandahar
2012
Oil on linen
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

Ben Quilty. 'Kandahar' 2012 (detail)

 

Ben Quilty
Kandahar (detail)
2012
Oil on linen
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

Kandahar Airfield is a multinational vase with approximately 35,000 people from the International Security Assistance Fore, aid organisations, and a pool of local civilian staff. Weapons are carried at all times by both military and civilian personnel, creating a tense atmosphere with a violent undercurrent. Quilty described Kandahar as being a cross between the worlds of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Catch 22, a surreal, dusty, and violent place. “For the first week in Kandahar, I basically felt like I was dodging rockets. The first night we landed there, two or three rockets landed inside the compound.”

This painting was Quilty’s first visceral response on his return from Afghanistan and i sums up his emotions, particularly his personal experience of Kandahar and being a part of the maelstrom of war.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery with, at centre, Tarin Kot, Hilux (2012) and, at right, Kandahar (2012)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

 

Returning from war

“You can’t take the experiences out of your head.
You can’t take the damages out of your head.”

John Oddie

 

On his return to Australia, Ben Quilty contacted Air Commodore John Oddie (Ret’d), whom he had met during his Afghanistan deployment, to invite him to sit for a portrait in his studio. From February to October 2011, Oddie had been the Deputy Commander of Australian forces in the Middle east, a position of immense responsibility.

Quilty eventually produced three portraits over five months. These works reveal a man returning from war and its burden of responsibility, exhausted emotionally and mentally, and his progress towards a more positive view of life and of himself as a survivor.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 3' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 3
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 3' 2012 (detail)

 

Ben Quilty
Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 3 (detail)
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“I don’t necessarily see beauty, I see insight in what Ben does. That’s reflected in the way he paints … I think his later portraits, done after he’s got to know us better, are different from the raw emotion of the first ones.”

John Oddie

 

Ben Quilty. 'Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 1' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 1
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“With through a lack of insight or through an unwillingness … I wasn’t always admitting the truth to myself about my life. Ben really took that out and put it on a table in front of me like a three-course dinner and said, well, how about that? And you know, I sort of thought well, I’m not going to come to this restaurant again in a hurry!”

John Oddie

 

Ben Quilty. 'Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 2' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 2
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“He’s got this one little gash of paint and it brings out this wry smile that I didn’t even know I had … When I stood back and had a look, I was just stunned at the honesty of the painting – until then I hadn’t really been fully honest with myself about what I was feeling.”

John Oddie

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Introductory text from the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Introductory titles and text for the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper Daniel Spain, Tarin Kot' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper Daniel Spain, Tarin Kot
2012
Oil on linen diptych
Collection of the artist

 

 

In some of the works, Quilty has used dramatic symbols to represent the emotional weight and the sense of emptiness he felt some soldiers brought home with them after Afghanistan. The black hole motif also reflects his own feelings of anxiety and uncertainty during his time there.

“I had such extreme feelings about the smell, sound, emotions of being in Afghanistan … I wanted to convey this.”

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper Luke Korman' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper Luke Korman
2012
Aerosol and oil on linen
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery with, on the far wall, Trooper Luke Korman, Tarin Kot (2012, left) and SOTG, after Afghanistan (2011, right)

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper Luke Korman, Tarin Kot' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper Luke Korman, Tarin Kot
2012
Aerosol and oil on linen diptych
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'SOTG, after Afghanistan' 2011

 

Ben Quilty
SOTG, after Afghanistan
2011
Oil on linen diptych
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

As part of his initial idea for the war artist commission, Quilty photographed soldiers of the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan in the same pose. He asked each of them to face the sun with their eyes closed, then open them and stare into the blinding light. At that instant Quilty would take the photograph. “To me, this symbolises what they’re facing, something immense, overwhelming.”

Back in Australia, Quilty attempted to work from these photographs, and created a handful of portraits. He was dissatisfied with the results. Determined to re-establish a personal connection with his subjects, he invited some of them to sit for portraits in his studio.

 

 

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21
Feb
16

Review: ‘On the beach’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 11th December 2015 – 28th February 2016

Curator: Wendy Garden

 

 

This is another solid thematic group exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery (curator Wendy Garden), following on from their recent success, Storm in a teacup.

The exhibition is not as successful as Storm in a teacup, mainly because most of the works are based on the monolithic, monosyllabic representation of beach culture, and its figuration, during the early decades of the twentieth century (White Australia policy, Australian stereotypes of the interwar period) and the re-staging of these ideas in the contemporary art presented through a diachronic (through/time), performative discourse.

There is so much re-staging in this exhibition I was left to wonder whether there was any original art work being produced that does not quote sources of history, memory, identity, representation and art from past generations. Daniel Boyd re-stages Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay with said hero as a pirate. Stephen Bowers replicates the Minton willow pattern motif and early paintings of kangaroos. Leanne Tobin re-stages Bungaree’s disrobing on the beach during his journey with Matthew Flinders. Diane Jones re-stages Max Dupain’s Sunbaker replacing the anonymous prostrate man with her head looking into the camera, or Dupain’s Form at Bondi with her head turned towards the camera. Worst offender is Anne Zahalka who re-states Dupain’s Sunbaker (again!) as a red-headed white women on the beach; or re-presents Charles Meere’s Australian beach pattern (1940, below) not once but twice – the first time in The bathers (1989) broadening the racial background of people to depict multicultural Australia in the 1980s, the second time in The new bathers (2013) broadening the mix even further. Most successful of these re-stagings is Michael Cook’s series of photographs Undiscovered in which the artist subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement, that of terra nullius, by depicting Captain Cook as black and positioning him in high-key, grey photographs of impressive beauty and power, surveying the land he has ‘discovered’ while perched upon an invisibly balanced ladder.

But with all of the works that quote from the past there is a sense that, even as the artists are critiquing the culture, they are also buying into the system of patriarchy, racism and control that they seek to comment on. They do not subvert the situation, merely (and locally) extrapolate from it. The idealised, iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture in the paintings from the 1920-30s and the photographs from the 1940s-70s – specimens of perfect physical beauty – are simply shifted to a new demographic – that of iconic, individual figures in the same poses as the 1940s but of a different ethnicity. The colour of the figure and the clothing might have changed, but the underlying structure remains the same. And if you disturb one of the foundation elements, such as the base figure in one of George Caddy’s balancing beachobatics photographs, the whole rotten edifice of a racism free, multicultural Australia will come tumbling down, just as it did during the Cronulla Riot.

What I would have liked to have seen in this exhibition was a greater breadth of subject matter. Where are the homeless people living near the beach, the sex (for example, as portrayed in Tracey Moffat’s voyeuristic home video Heaven which shows footage of male surfers changing out of their wetsuits in car parks – “shot by Moffatt and a number of other women as if they were making a birdwatching documentary” – which challenges the masculinity of Australian surf culture and the ability of women to stare at men, instead of the other way around), death (drownings on beaches, the heartbreak of loss), and debauchery (the fluxus of Schoolies, that Neo-Dada performance of noise and movement), the abstract nature of Pictorialist photographs of the beach, not to mention erosion and environmental loss due to global warming. The works presented seem to have a too narrowly defined conceptual base, and a present narrative constructed on a coterie of earlier works representing what it is to be Australian at the beach. The contemporary narrative does not address the fluidity of the landscape in present time (in works such as Narelle Autio’s series Watercolours or The place in between).

The dark underside of the beach, its abstract fluidity, its constant movement is least well represented in this exhibition. Although I felt engaged as a viewer the constant re-quoting and rehashing of familiar forms left me a little bored. I wanted more inventiveness, more insight into the conditions and phenomena of beach culture in contemporary Australia. An interesting exhibition but an opportunity missed.

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish most of the photographs in the posting. Other photographs come from Art Blart’s archive and those freely available online. Thankx also go to Manuela Furci, Director of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive for allowing me to publish his photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text comes from the wall labels to the exhibition.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with Daniel Boyd’s We call them pirates out here (2006, below)

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982) 'We call them pirates out here' 2006

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982)
We call them pirates out here
2006
Museum of Contemporary Art
Purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006

 

 

“The landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillips Fox is such an iconic and important image relating to the birth of Australia. Shifting the proposed view of Fox’s painting to something that was an indigenous person’s perspective allowed for me to challenge the subjective history that has been created.” – Daniel Boyd, 2008

.
In this painting Daniel Boyd parodies E. Phillips Fox’s celebrated painting which was commissioned in 1902 by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria to commemorate federation. No longer an image valorising colonial achievement, Boyd recasts the scene as one of theft and invasion. Captain Cook is depicted as a pirate to contest his heroic status in Australia’s foundation narratives. Smoke in the distance is evidence of human occupation and is a direct retort to the declaration that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to no-one, which was used to justify British possession.

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard' 2012 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard
2012
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' (detail) 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons) (detail)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

 

In these works Bowers combines the willow pattern motif, a ready-made metaphor of hybridity, with an image of a kangaroo as envisioned by George Stubbs in 1772. The willow pattern as an English invention, created by Thomas Minton in 1790. It is an imaginative geography and, like the first known European painting of a kangaroo, considers other lands as strange, exotic places. In this work the imagery of colonial occupation is visualised as a fusion of cultures underpinned by half-truths, fantasy and desire.

 

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

 

Installation views of Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012)

 

Leanne Tobin (b, 1961)
Clothes don’t always maketh the man (detail)
2012
Sand, textile, wood
Collection of the artist

 

 

Bungaree (c. 1755-1830) was a Garigal man who circumnavigated the continent of Australia with Matthew Flinders on the H.M.S. Investigator between 1802-03. Unlike Bennelong, who attempted to assimilate with British ways and Pemulwuy, who resisted, Bungaree made the decision to navigate a relationship with the British while still maintaining his cultural traditions. He played an important role as an envoy on Flinder’s voyages, negotiating with the different Aboriginal groups they encountered. A skilled mediator, Bungaree was adept at living between both worlds. When coming ashore he would shed his white man’s clothes so that he could conduct protocol relevant to the local elders. In this respect the beach became a zone of transformation and exchange.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with in the foreground, Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012), and in the background photographs from Michael Cook’s Undiscovered series (2010, below)

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968) 'Undiscovered 4' 2010

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968)
Undiscovered 4
2010
inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper
124.0 x 100.0 cm
Australian National Maritime Museum

 

 

A selection of works from a series of ten photographs in which Michael Cook contests the idea of ‘discovery’ that underpins narratives of the British settlement of Australia… Cook depicts the historic Cook as an Aboriginal man replete in his British naval officers attire. His ship, the famed Endeavour, is anchored in the sea behind him. By mimicking the moment of first discovery Cook subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement and asks us to consider what type of national Australia would be if the British had acknowledged Aboriginal people’s prior ownership.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery showing, at top left, Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939); to the right of that Dupain’s At Newport (1952, below); to the right upper is George Caddy’s Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937 (below); followed at far right by Rennie Ellis’ St Kilda Lifesavers (1968, top) and David Moore’s Lifesavers at Manly (1959, bottom)

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport' 1952, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992)
At Newport
1952, Sydney
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937' 1937

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937
1937
Digital print on paper
Paul Caddy collection
Courtesy of Paul Caddy

 

 

Like Max Dupain, who was three years his senior, Caddy was interested in the new modernist approach to photography. During 1936 he read magazines such as Popular Photography from New York and US Camera rather than Australasian Photo-Review which continued to champion soft-focus pictorialism. This photograph was taken the same year as Dupain’s famous Sunbather photograph. The framing and angle is similar reflecting their common interest in sharp focus, unusual vantage points and cold composition.

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938' 1938

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938
1938
Digital print
Collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Purchased from Paul Caddy, 2008

 

 

This photograph was taken only months after an infamous rescue at Bondi. On 6 February 1938 a sand bar collapsed sweeping two hundred people out to sea. 80 lifesavers rescued all but 5 people in a day subsequently described as Black Sunday. By 1938 the Surf Life Saving Association, which incorporated clubs from around Australia, had rescued 39,149 lives in its 30 year history. In 1938 alone there were 3,442 rescues. Up until the events of Black Sunday no one had drowned while lifesavers were on duty at Australian beaches. In comparison 2,000 people drowned in England each year.1

  1. Alan Davies, Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his amera, Sydney: State Library of New South Wales, p. 13.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below) and, at right, a selection of George Caddy’s beachobatics photographs.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Max Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937, top) with Diane Jones Sunbaker (2003, below); in the centre Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below); then Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939, top) with Diane Jones Bondi (2003) underneath.

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989
Type C photograph

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere's 'Australian beach pattern' (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka's 'The bathers' (1989)

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere’s painting Australian beach pattern (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka’s photograph The bathers (1989) from the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989, in which Zahalka restates Charles Meere’s painting to subvert the narrow stereotype of the Australian ideal… In this work Zahalka broadens the racial background of people depicted to create a more representative image of multicultural Australia in the 1980s.

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961) 'Australian beach pattern' 1940 (detail)

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961)
Australian beach pattern (detail)
1940
Oil and wax on canvas
Collection of Joy Chambers-Grundy and Reg Grundy AC OBE

 

 

A now iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture… The scene is dominated by a mass of suntanned bodies: muscular, square-jawed white Australians – specimens of perfect physical beauty – enjoying the strenuous physical activities of the beach. A glorification of the strong, healthy, racially pure Australian ideal of the 1930s, it is eerily reminiscent of Nazi German Aryan propaganda between the wars.

Notably, the figures themselves all appear anonymous and disconnected, with indistinct facial features that show no acknowledgement of their fellow beach-goers. Their identities are overwhelmed by Meere’s obsession with arrangement. Rather than reflect real life, the figures are placed to create an idealised work of perfect balance. It is fascinating to consider that this iconic representation of Australian beach culture actually came from the imagination of an Englishman, who had only lived in Australia since the mid-1930s and who, according to his apprentice, ‘never went to the beach’ and ‘made up most of the figures’.1

  1. Freda Robertshaw quoted in Linda Slutzkin, Charles Meere 1890-1961. Sydney: S. H. Ervin Gallery, 1987, p. 6.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, George Caddy’s beachobatic photographs, and on the far wall Sidney Nolan’s Bathers (1943, below) and Jeffrey Smart’s Surfers Bondi (1963, below)

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) 'Bathers' 1943

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Bathers
1943
Ripolin enamel on canvas
Headed Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of John and Sunday Reed, 1982

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) 'Surfers Bondi' 1963

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013)
Surfers Bondi
1963
Oil on board
Private collection

 

 

“When bans on daylight bathing were lifted in 1902, the beach became a prime leisure destination. The beach became not only as a public space of recreation but also as a place where the Australian identity was developing, for many epitomizing the liberties of Australia’s society. On the beach brings together 76 outstanding and iconic paintings, photographs and installations to consider the defining relationship we have to the shore.

Works by artists including Vernon Ah Kee, Arthur Boyd, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Max Dupain, Charles Meere, Tracey Moffatt, David Moore, Sidney Nolan, Polixeni Papapetrou, John Perceval, Scott Redford, Jeffrey Smart, Albert Tucker, Guan Wei and Anne Zahalka, as well as outstanding recently discovered works by George Caddy (see above). A champion jitterbug dancer, Caddy’s photographs of ‘beachobatics’ were kept undisturbed in a shoebox for 60 years until they were ‘discovered’ by his son after his death. They capture the exuberance and optimism of Australian society between the wars.

The beach first became a prime leisure destination in the early decades of the twentieth century. Up to Federation many artists had looked to the bush to galvanise a fledging nationalism, but during the interwar years this shifted and increasingly the beach became the site of Australian identity. Already by 1908 one Melbourne newspaper commented upon the ‘vast throng of holidaymakers all along the coast.’ In the years following the First World War, against a backdrop of a growing interest in physical fitness, the beach was seen as a place for creating ‘a fine healthy race of men.’ Understandings of the beach as an Australian way of life emerged during this period and increasingly the Australian type was associated with bronzed athletic bodies on the beach.

On the beach looks at artists’ responses to the stereotype of the interwar period and juxtaposes modernist works with contemporary artists’ responses to include a more culturally diverse mix of people. Other artists in the exhibition challenge understandings of the beach as a benign space and consider the history of violence that is latent.”

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Photographer Joyce Evans looking at two colour photographs by Rennie Ellis in the exhibition.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall left hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall right hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis and, at right, Fiona Foley’s Nulla 4 eva IV (2009)

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Union Jack, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Union Jack, Lorne
c. 1968
Silver gelatin selenium toned fibre-based print
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Four Sunbathers, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Four Sunbathers, Lorne
c. 1968
Type C photograph (ed. AP)
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bondi, New South Wales' 1997

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Bondi, New South Wales
1997

 

“On the beach we chuck away our clothes, our status and our inhibitions and engage in rituals of sun worship and baptism. It’s a retreat to our primal needs.” – Rennie Ellis

 

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

 

Installation views of Vernon Ah Kee’s cantchant 2007-09

 

Vernon Ah Kee (b. 1967)
cantchant
2007-09
Synthetic polymer paint and resin over digital print on roamer, vinyl
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

 

 

Vernon Ah Kee’s response to the events at Cronulla (the Cronulla Riot) us a powerful retort to the racists and their mantra ‘we grew here, you flew here’ chanted on the beach during the riots. Ah Kee takes issue pointing out the hypocrisy in their statement.

We grew here, you flew here is an insincere statement and they were chanting it over and over again. It’s a way to exercise racism. I’m like ‘WE’ grew here, say what you want, but we’re the fellas that grew here.

The surfboards are printed with Yidinji shield designs and the portraits are members of the artists family. The work was exhibited in the Australian Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall, Charles Blackman’s Sunbather (c. 1954, below) and Arthur Boyd’s Kite flyers [South Melbourne] (1943, below).

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928) 'Sunbather' c. 1954

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928)
Sunbather
c. 1954
Oil on board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

 

This is one of a number of paintings and drawings made in response to Blackman’s observations of life on Melbourne’s beaches. Blackman moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 1945 to be part of Melbourne’s burgeoning art scene, making friends with John Perceval, Joy Hester and John and Sunday Reed amongst others.

During this period Blackman regularly took the tram to St Kilda beach to swim and paint. Although he enjoyed spending time on the beach, there is a sinister overtone to this painting of a prostrate figure lying on the sand. A bleak, grey palette articulates the pallid lifeless flesh amplifying a sense of death. The hollow slits that substitute for eyes further accentuate the corpse-like appearance. It is a stark contrast to many paintings of the era that emphasise physical vitality and wellbeing. Rather the sense of isolation and heavy treatment of shadows and water creates a painting that is psychologically disturbing. This painting can be seen as a response to his wife, Barbara’s developing blindness. It has been noted that as the ‘darkness grew in her life, his pictures got darker.’1 Blackman stated many years later ‘I was trying to paint pictures which were unseeable.’2

  1. Barry Humphries quoted in Peter Wilmoth ‘An artist in wonderland’ The Age, 21 May 2006.
  2. Charles Blackman interviewed by James Gleeson, 28 April 1979.

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) 'Kite flyers [South Melbourne]' 1943

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Kite flyers [South Melbourne]
1943
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard
46.3 x 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria
The Arthur Boyd Gift, 1975

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, in the centre, Brett Whiteley’s Balmoral (1975-78, below). To the left of this painting is Nancy Kilgour’s Figures on Manly Beach (1930, below) and to the right, at top, Norma Bull’s Bathing Beach (c. 1950-60s, below) with at bottom, George W. Lambert’s Anzacs bathing in the sea (1915, below).

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) 'Balmoral' 1975-78 (detail)

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)
Balmoral (detail)
1975-78
Oil and collage on canvas
180 x 204 cm
Collection of the Hunter-Dyer family

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954) 'Figures on Manly Beach' c. 1930

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954)
Figures on Manly Beach
c. 1930
Oil on canvas
76 x 117 cm
Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney
Purchase with the assistance of the NSW Ministry for the Arts, 1986

 

 

Nancy Kilgour’s artificial arrangement of figures is believed to have been painted in the 1930s before Charles Meere painted his highly contrived composition Australian Beach Pattern, 1940. The staged poses create a tableau of Australians enjoying the freedoms of life on the beach. What is interesting about Kilgour’s painting is that a number of people are depicted fully clothed. so the emphasis is not so much on toned physiques but rather the pleasures of relaxing on the beach. The painting is also unusual because, whereas most beach scenes are cast in brilliant sunshine, the figures in the foreground in this painting are rendered in shadow suggesting the presence of the towering Norfolk Island Pine trees which form a crescent along the Manly foreshore.

 

Norma Bull. 'Bathing Beach' c. 1950-60s

 

Norma Bull (1906-1980)
Bathing Beach
c. 1950s-60s
Oil on aluminium
30.5 x 40 cm
Collection of the Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Norma Bull began her career at the National Gallery School in 1929, Receiving acclaim for her portraits she won the Sir John Longstaff Scholarship in 1937 and travelled to London where she worked as a war artist during the Second World War. After nine years in Europe, Bull returned to Australia and spent the next year following Wirth’s Circus, painting acrobats, clowns and scenes from circus life. She settled in the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills and spent her summer holidays at Anglesea which provided the opportunity to paint seascapes and beach scenes.

 

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915 (detail)

 

George W. Lambert (1867-1930)
Anzacs bathing in the sea (full and detail)
1915
Oil on canvas
25 x 34 cm
Mildura Arts Centre
Senator R.D. Elliott Bequest, presented to the City of Mildura by Mrs Hilda Elliott, 1956

 

 

George Lambert, Australia’s official war artist, travelled to Gallipoli where he created detailed studies of large battle scenes. He also painted a number of smaller, more intimate works which were execute rapidly on the spot such as this scene of men bathing in the sea. Lambert’s focus is the musculature of their bodies. They are depicted as exemplars of heroic Australian masculinity. Historian C.E.W. Bean reflected in the 1920s that it was through the events on Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915 ‘that the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born.’1 In this respect the painting can be seen to have baptismal overtures.

  1. C.E.W. Bean, Official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Volume 2, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1934, p. 346.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, second left, Anne Zahalka’s The girls #2, Cronulla Beach (2007, below). At left on the far wall John Anderson’s Abundance (2015, below) followed by John Hopkins The crowd (1970, below)

 

Anne-Zahalka-The-girls-#2-WEB

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The girls #2, Cronulla Beach
2007
From the series Scenes from the Shire 2007
Type C photograph
73.3 x 89.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 2012

 

John Anderson (b. 1947) 'Abundance' (detail) 2015

 

John Anderson (b. 1947)
Abundance (detail)
2015
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

 

John Hopkins. 'The crowd' 1970

 

John Hopkins (b. 1943)
The crowd
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
172.7 x 245.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1974

 

Polixeni Papaetrou born Australia 1960 'Ocean Man' 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (b. 1960)
Ocean Man
2013
From the series The Ghillies 2012-13
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

The ghillie suit is a form of camouflage originally used by hunters and the military. Recently popularised in the video game, Call of duty, the ghillie suit is worn by Papapetrou’s son, Solomon, who poses on the beach at Queenscliff. Appearing neither man nor nature, his indistinct form speaks of transformation and becoming – of prison and absence. By depicting the figure as some sort of monster emerging from the depths of the ocean, Papapetrou creates an image that draws upon Jungian understanding of the sea as a symbol of the collective unconscious – both a source of life and return.

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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