Tag Archives: Australian Galleries

Search for the Extraordinary

Walking around the gallery district of Fitzroy and Collingwood I am hoping to see the extraordinary, the outstanding or at least something worth writing a blog entry about. Walking between the galleries I am also on the look out for interesting features of urban design, architecture or street art.


Some of the galleries, 69 Smith St. and Mossenson were closed. Mossenson’s have permanently closed their Melbourne branch and now only operate out of Perth; I had heard that commercial galleries were having difficulties in their finically difficult times. The “artist-run” 69 Smith is only temporarily closed for renovations but ugly rumours have been circulating; many years ago I was on the organising committee and although I am not a member I still communicate with current members.

Port Jackson Press has moved to a new location, further along and on the other side of Smith Street, in March this year. It is an attractive old shop with brass fittings around its windows. I had seen many of the artists on display before including two stencils by Kirpy on corrugated cardboard. Kirpy is one of the best stencil artists in Melbourne (number 3 on my top 10 Melbourne stencil artists).

Sometimes I can see enough from the street to know that I’m just not interested in going inside the gallery. Sometimes I can’t see anything from the street and I have to venture inside. That was the reason I had to go inside Australian Galleries.

“I’ll turn the lights on for you” the woman at the desk said. It appears that even Australian Galleries is economising or green or both.

With the lights on the paintings by Stewart MacFarlane did not look much better. The life study at the end of the exhibition summed it up. MacFarlane’s exploits nudes and nostalgic early 60s Americana in bold brushstrokes. He has found something creepy in the currently fashionable retro-style of this era but why would anyone want these hanging paintings on their wall?

However, I could understand why someone would hang the small, delicate surreal paintings of South Australian artist, Nerissa Lea on their wall. There is a surreal poetry to her paintings and sculptures along with a bit of an obsession with animal headed people and Emily Dickinson. In the small side gallery at Australian Galleries, there was “The Waiting Grounds” by Nerissa Lea, named after the largest painting in the exhibition where a boy walking on stilts across a forest floor covered in red leaves.

Gertrude Contemporary was very contemporary art; 200 Gertrude Street, a site-specific installation by Stephen Bram is a post-minimalist reconstruction of the gallery space. Walking between the angled concertina walls felt like walking between a Richard Serra sculpture. Then there was contrast between back stage construction side and the gallery white walls. It is all about the space, the art space, a common theme in contemporary art.

And so on for some more galleries, of course the extraordinary is exceptionally rare and what is commonly encountered is ordinary, sometimes clever or beautiful but still ordinary. However this is no reason not to continue to search for it.

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?

More Clutterbuck

On Thursday I attended the opening of Jock Clutterbuck’s exhibition ‘Hermeneutics’ at Australian Galleries. A very hot Melbourne night but the gallery air-conditioning coped with the crowd that packed the space. Looking across the road I noticed that Australian Galleries are expanding with a “stock room” that will soon be open to the public.

‘Hermeneutics’ is an exhibition of of Clutterbuck’s recent small sculpture and drawings; currently there is also an exhibition on at the Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum of Clutterbuck’s sculpture and drawings 1990-2008. It is an efficient marketing strategy to capitalize on the interest generated from a public gallery retrospective.

Clutterbuck is best known for his patinated cast bronze sculptures of abstract geometric forms. Clutterbuck’s sculptures rise up from a recognizable plinth. On the plinth contained within a perimeter is a form. The perimeter of the sculpture, the cartouche is a band that frames and constrains a defined form. In some sculptures the band twists and loops or steps; in others it is a simple circumference.

There are orientalist references in the titles of the sculptures from dervishes and the Surat Luqman from the Qur’an, as Clutterbuck makes a nod to the Islamic influence on geometric art. Other sculptures are named after exotic cities like Araxa, Qom, Qotur and Zamas.

Clutterbuck’s drawings are a further means of exploring those same forms and, in marketing terms, a more affordable defusion range. Clutterbuck is not drawing copies of his sculptures but drawing on the same forms and orders. His recent ‘stencil drawings’ are far richer than his earlier pastel drawings. The colours and the use of gold and silver leaf make these drawings richer in materials alone. These rich materials are in keeping with their drawings orientalist titles.

At the Thursday night opening the marketing strategies were working, even in these very uncertain economic times, and the red sales dots were going up.

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