Black Paintings

Walking between galleries in Collingwood and Fitzroy and feeling bored by the art I was seeing. I’m not surprised as most art will be of indifferent quality – that is how you know great work when you see it. After walking past all this boring, repetitive, pedestrian work in so many art galleries to then encounter art that is powerful enough to make me stop and think. Not just an impressive work of skilled craft, not just something that makes me think and to then discover that it was just to make me think, but powerful enough to stop me in my tracks and in my thoughts. And to continue to hold that attraction after the craft has been examined, after the thoughts unpacked and ideas explored to return on this endless loop of thought and sensation.

How could I, Black Mark, resist a look at Melbourne based artist, Mary Tonkin’s “Black Paintings” at Australian Galleries on Smith St.? Even though bush landscapes are hardly my favorite subject but I was prepared to be bored again for the purpose of researching this blog.

I was surprised to find that Mary Tonkin’s Black Paintings” were the powerful art that I was looking for. The idea of black landscapes appears contradictory, especially in the baking Australian sunlight. Tonkin is painting the darkest areas in the forest: the hollow of a tree, the area behind a fallen tree, the parts where the light can only be seen in patches breaking the canopy in the distance. The dark umber, the dark blues, the darkest hues, so many dark colors that “Black Paintings” is an apt title. It is a wonder that anything so dark can still manage to depict anything but there is just enough contrast between the darks that the heavy broad brushstrokes map out the forms of plants and trees. Not all the paintings were that dark but the ones that were, like the large triptych, “Witness, Kolorama” made a powerful impression on me.

As Mary Tonkins was the winner of the 2002 Dobell Prize for drawing the exhibition includes a dozen works on paper. Her drawings are similar to her paintings her pencil lines and brushstrokes are similar, but they are not nearly as powerful.

So the lesson of this post is that if at first you don’t see art that you like then you haven’t looked in enough galleries. What was the most powerful work of art that you have seen this week?

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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