Tag Archives: John Buckley Gallery

Armstrong’s Melbourne Sculpture

“Bruce Armstrong’s name is synonymous with current sculptural practice in Melbourne.” Boasts John Buckley Gallery’s website. There is good reason for this boast Armstrong’s sculpture Eagle (aka “Bunjil”) erected in May 2002 at Bunjilway is now an iconic image of Melbourne. However, Bruce Armstrong is hardly a household name.

Bruce Armstrong, "Eagle", 2002

Bruce Armstrong, “Eagle”, 2002

Geoffery Barlett & Bruce Armstrong "Constellation", 1997, wood and steel, detail

Geoffery Barlett & Bruce Armstrong “Constellation”, 1997, wood and steel, detail

Bruce Armstrong was born in Melbourne in 1957 and studied painting and sculpture at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). He has sculptures in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Canberra. In the 2005 Armstrong was an Archibald Prize finalist with a self-portrait with eagle.

“Bunjil” is not an isolated work Armstrong’s sculptures have been around Melbourne for decades. There are two more of Armstrong’s eagles, “Guardians”, 2009 out the front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Russell Street. At Yarra Turning Basin there is a series of angled pillars, Armstrong’s “Constellation”, 1997, made in collaboration with Geoffrey Bartlett. His “Tiger” 1985 is out at Heide Museum of Modern Art.

Bruce Armstrong, Untitled, 1986

Bruce Armstrong, Untitled, 1986

Armstrong’s two lions beasts (Untitled 1986) once guarded the front of the National Gallery of Victoria but are now out the back in its sculpture garden. When Armstrong’s two lions untitled beasts were out the front I overheard a man and woman from the country who were looking at them. “I reckon I could do that with my chainsaw” the man remarked. I’m sure he could be I doubted that he would make the effort to move such enormous logs and do all the carving.

The muscular nature of the sculpture is part of what makes Armstrong’s work powerful, the monumental physical displays of power. There is an unrefined power to the statues of Bruce Armstrong, the large lumps of materials from which they are carved are still visible. His huge animals are usually carved from native red gum and cypress although the monumental 23-meter tall “Bunjil” is cast aluminium painted white.

Armstrong’s sculptures are totemic, in a Jungian collective unconscious way; it is serendipitous that his Eagle happens to correspond to the sea eagle creator, Bunjil, of the Kulin Nation. His public sculptures work as totemic features along paths or guarding gateways. And because of their monumentality they are treated with a kind of awe.


Albert Street Galleries in August

I had to go to East Richmond on Friday to check the Sweet Streets PO box (formerly the Melbourne Stencil Festival but it is much more than just stencil art now). The snail mail PO box is necessary for legal and administrative reasons but we don’t get much mail.

While I was in East Richmond I had a look at the galleries on Albert St. There are always a lot to see at the Albert Street galleries. I saw “Five Ringed Circus” by photojournalist, Michael Coyne at Anita Traverso Gallery. “Five Ringed Circus” is a series of portraits marking the 10-year anniversary of the Sydney Olympics. Jenny Port Gallery was showing “Pressing Matters – Melbourne printmaking”. This group exhibition has a variety of printing techniques by a variety of Melbourne artists. The standout works of the show were the lycanthropy inspired reduction linocuts by Jazmina Cinnas. At John Buckley Gallery there were exhibitions by Hilarie Mais and Hamish Carr but the post-minimalist optical effects that both artists were engaged in really didn’t grabbed my attention.

On Friday were several people in Sophie Gannon Gallery, more than I’ve seen in there before during the day. I haven’t reviewed Sophie Gannon Gallery in the past as it has always appears to have exhibitions of their stock rather than exhibitions of individual artists (I don’t often write about their exhibitions as reviewing stock exhibitions is uninspiring). I always enjoy seeing the latest Michael Zavros painting in this gallery, it is fantasy art for those who like good contemporary painting. This time I managed to see the second last day of a fantastic exhibition, Nightmare’s Plutonian Shore by Julia de Ville. Read the reviews of the exhibition by Marcus BunyanMelbourne Jeweler and many others. I should add that there was also work by sculptor Aly Aitken in the exhibition that fitted into the macabre taxidermy theme (I last reviewed her exhibition at Platform in October 2009).

There have been some changes amongst the Albert Street galleries, in Richmond. It is a change in commercial gallery practice that has become common in Melbourne – the separate stock room exhibition space. Normally gallery stock rooms are just that a room of stock; perhaps equipped with hanging racks or with paintings stacked against the walls. Now stock rooms have become exhibition spaces. There is the new JBG1 at #1 Albert St., a space formerly occupied by Alison Kelly Gallery that specialized in aboriginal art. Open stock rooms are becoming common in Melbourne’s commercial galleries; JBG1 is much smaller than the Australia Gallery stock room in Derby St. Collingwood. Karen Woodbury Gallery has a stockroom upstairs with a relaxed sitting room atmosphere, an alternative to their white cube gallery space. Shifted Gallery and Studios, the one artist run initiative on the block also appears to have closed. On the subject of changes to galleries, there is now a gallery within a gallery at Jenny Port Gallery, with the back gallery now called Ladner & Fell Gallery.


Steven Rendall @ John Buckley

Painting is about an artist deciding to paint something in someway; or, in the case of many contemporary artists, painting something in a number of different ways. What to paint and how to paint it? The two questions started to haunt art when it was no longer clear that painting gods, saints and heroes were improving the lives of those who looked at them any more than paintings of pots, plates and oysters. If cows are a suitable subject to paint then why not cows shitting (healthy cows do defecate argued one 19th century artist so he painted them doing just that). Donald Kuspit argues in the Cult of the Avant-Garde Artist (1993) that artists are attempting to heal the world by creating images that are primordial, geometric and pure, expressive or famous. The subject matter of paint, that Clement Greenberg advocated, is yet another subject to paint. Once the artist has decided what to paint how to depict this subject, this meaningful or meaningless stuff, in paint is the next problem.

UK artist Steven Rendall is having a solo exhibition of paintings, “Security, Storage & Recreation” at John Buckley Gallery. Rendall paints stuff, often lots of stuff on shelves, displayed or stored. This stuff is in abundance; there is lots of it in Rendall’s paintings, multiples of the same stuff on shelves that extend forever in perspective to a vanishing point. There are also many images of video monitors; some of them looked like part of ACMI’s exhibition. Some of this stuff is images of other stuff and like many contemporary painters Rendall is focused on images of images, with the slippage of wet paint.

All of this stuff depicted in Steven Rendall’s art is painted in a variety of different ways from a post-impressionist divisionism to paint that layers up, washes over or redacts. In some paintings he mixes up these styles. ‘Redacted’ was used a couple of times in the titles of Rendall’s paintings referring to the current military use of ‘redacted’ to refer to censoring documents with black ink; Rendall redacts with areas of paint. Rendall’s paintings were in a variety of sizes from small boards to large wall sized canvases.

Steven Rendall plays with paint and painting and results are enjoyable paintings.


Neo Pop

“From afar, these things, these Movements take on a kind of appeal they don’t have close up. I can assure you. But, after all, I’m beginning to get used to the –isms.” 6 July, 1921 Marcel Duchamp

 

Art movements may be a kind of fiction, an attempt by art critics and historians to tell a story by creating categories that do not exist in reality, e.g. the baroque. Some clever post-Hegelian artists and poets consciously create their own art movements, e.g. Surrealism. Furthering a fiction by consciously creating ‘real’ examples is playful and creative but not a proof that the original fictional is true. Just as speaking Elvish or Klingon is not a proof of elves or Klingons.

Critics want an art movement to have a start and finish date, presenting a distinct section in the archeological dig through old art. The idea that the contemporary art world might simply be continuing past movements is anathema to the idea of progressive art. Pop art is an art movement started in the second half of last century and it seems to be continuing.

Neo-Pop at the John Buckley Gallery could be seen as demonstrating this continuing movement or a curatorial band to tie the work of disparate artists. The exhibition features art by Howard Arkley,
Rae Bolotin,
Marcel Cousins,
Janenne Eaton,
Kate Just,
Christopher Langton,
Nick Mangan,
Scott Redford,
Stuart Ringholt,
Carl Scrase (see my review: Only Rock’n’Roll)
, David Wadelton (see my review: Spin, Persephone, Homepage & Emu Feathers), 
Glenn Walls
and others. Some of these artists create works of capitalist realism like, others are jokers, and others are creating sculptures with pop rhythms and colors.  Or sculptures out of contemporary readymade materials, like Carl Scrase.

The artists in Neo-Pop are clearly influenced with the art of the 1960s but the art of the 1960s was not a unified, homogeneous whole but diverse variety. Pop is a difficult concept to define; just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? Even though it is difficult to define and may not exist, Pop Art is something that I like. It is a term that refers to art that is fun and appealing, even apparently superficial, but also a mirror on consumer culture. I knew what to expect from the Neo-Pop exhibition because of the term ‘pop’ and it exceeded these expectations. 


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