Tag Archives: landscapes

Two Landscapes: Hancock & Smith

It is rare that a landscape moves me, so when I’m impressed by two exhibitions of landscapes it is worth considering why. I don’t find a lot of meaning in landscapes possibly because I am not attached with emotional investment to any place. However this week I saw two exhibitions of landscapes that were full of meaning.

Evan Hancock, Lake Mountain Victoria, 2018

At first I didn’t know what I was seeing, some kind of a landscape but what were all those vertical white marks? At Forty-five Downstairs a series of black and white photographs, “Light.Ash.White” by Evan Hancock that marks the tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday fires. Each of those vertical white marks was a dead tree.

On February 7 to March 14 in 2009 Kinglake, Marysville and the Lake Mountain regions burnt. The catastrophic loss of trees, scars across a landscape at a scale almost too vast to comprehend. Hancock was not aiming for an emotional response from the viewer, nor are his clinical. Only in a couple can you even see a road often there is only nature to give a sense of scale and time to the images. The photographs convey the vast emptiness.

A few small documentary colour photographs lying flat on plinths in the middle of gallery provided context for the exhibition.

It seems a little ironic that the photographs were frame in black Victorian Ash timber.

Peter James Smith, Of Twilights Repeated Measure, 2018

Flinders Lane Gallery is showing “Round Many Western Islands”, by Peter James Smith. Smith is a polymath: BSc (Hons), MSc, MFA, PhD, the former Professor of Mathematics and Art, and Head of the School of Creative Media at RMIT University. His painting are post-modern landscapes; romantic-style oil paintings of seascapes and landscapes with white notes, like chalkboard notes for a lecture, diagrams and words written on top of them. The contrast between the rich, glossy surface of the landscapes paintings with the dry, matt white matches the contrast the interior comprehension and the exterior views of the scene. Here Smith’s encyclopaedic knowledge finds connections between science and art, mathematics to poetics, from ancient Homer’s tales of the resourceful Odysseus to the Opportunity Rover on Mars, from the ancient Aboriginal footprints in the Lake Mungo Desert to Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon, and more. A lifetime of knowledge and travel condensed into an exhibition.

This will be Flinders Lane Gallery’s last exhibition in their current location before they more to the Nicholas Building.


Looking at the Counihan Gallery

What is it to look? To perceive clearly what is in front of you. To examine a landscape with the eye. To see the slight variations in the chaotic patterns. To notice. On average a person in an art gallery look at a work of art for only a few seconds but what if it was your job to look? In this post I will be looking at the current exhibitions the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick where there are two exhibitions about looking at landscapes.

Simon Grennan, Supplementary Search

Simon Grennan, Supplementary Search and Search Party (in day-go orange) oil on canvas

Simon Grennan’s “Almost Like A Reality: The Landscape and its Subjects” refers to the history of the Australian landscape both as art subject and as a forensic site. Twenty-six oil paintings with an Australian bush landscapes with gothic element. What are the professional emergency services personnel searching for? Someone who is lost, recovering a dead body or is it a crime scene?

There are clear references in Grennan’s paintings to the Heidelberg School, particularly Tom Roberts and Fred McCubbin’s 1886 plein-air painting in the bush that is now Melbourne’s suburbia: from McCubbin’s Lost, to The artists’ camp by Tom Roberts. Robert and McCubbin’s camp site was about a mile south of Box Hill railway station near Damper Creek (now Gardiners Creek).

Simon Grennan,

Simon Grennan, Scenery, Quite Nice, Quite Nice 2, oil on canvas

Kirstin Berg

Kirstin Berg, Light Years, 2018 (detail)

In her exhibition, “The Dreamers”, Kirstin Berg explores the landscape, finding bush debris, clothing, reclaimed timber and transforming them into a dreamscape. It is a landscape of extreme contrast between black and white, the shadow and the highlight. This surreal landscape is furnished; the chairs like Dali’s stilt walking elephants, a bed that is impossible to sleep on and all the solid linen soaked in plaster. For more on Kirstin Berg read an interview with her by Camilla Wagstaff in Art Collector about her 2016 exhibition at Gallery Smith.


Ash Coates, Mycolinguistics (Rubico-Sterolosis or Oneness)

Outside the Counihan, part of the gallery’s annual Winter Night Screen Project, is Ash Coates’s Mycolinguistics (Rubico-Sterolosis or Oneness) 2017. In 2017 Time Out listed Coates piece as one of “the 9 best projections at Gertrude Street Projection Festival” although this time it is not projected onto the building. Coates’s digital animation is of a colourful alien landscape like a microscopic world of fungal life. It is visible and audible (with a soundscape by Alister Mew) from outside the gallery; waiting for the tram on a cold, wet winter’s night with one eye on the screen and one eye on Sydney Road.

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?

Landscapes @ Michael Koro

I instantly recognized Adrian Doyle’s paintings the moment that I walked in the door of Michael Koro Gallery. I had seen Doyle’s paintings before on visits to the studio and as his unique style of landscapes, a post-modern cubism, are instantly recognizable. I didn’t know what was on exhibition at Michael Koro Gallery; I was there because wanted to catch up with Doyle and other guys at Blender Studios to talk with them about the Melbourne Stencil Festival. I’d been trying to come to grips with the Stencil Festival webpage and I needed to get away from the computer.

Doyle has been painting hard, his heavy winter clothes and deconstructed-style jacket hang loosely on him as he shows me around his exhibition New Australian Landscapes. Three of the paintings have just been finished – the paint is still wet on them. The exhibition has yet to open, it will open next week, Friday 17th.

I talked with Doyle about all the techniques that he has used on the paintings. There are digital prints on canvas, stencils and aerosol spray-paint, flat paint, think paint, large globs of paint squeezed out of the tube onto the canvas. And this variety paint techniques are unified by Doyle’s vision of suburban landscapes. A suburban landscape that is itself constructed using a variety of techniques and styles. The fragments of the urban and landscapes fit together, overlap, are dissected by black tarmac roads with white dots of lane marking.

It is hard to depict a city in a painting; you can easily become lost in the detail. Cityscapes have been a challenge to artists since the development of cities. The city is only seen in fragments; it is constantly moving and you travel through the city at speed. It is hard to keep your sense of perspective in the city and the study of perspective became important in Western art at the same time when cities became important.

In Doyle’s paintings the familiar suburban landscapes are made slightly unfamiliar, where are these castles, mountains and Ferris wheels? Combining images with other elements like a diagram or a map – there is no specific point of view to the paintings. It looks like Australian suburbia, the parked cars and mowed lawns of suburbia. The large expanses of bright flat colors at the top of the canvas, the sky, and at the bottom, the land or sea, holds the paintings together. In the largest painting a children’s adventure playground stands isolated in a color field, removed from the rest of the landscape, like a child’s version of the city.

Australian suburbia is an important subject for contemporary Australian art because it is the common experience of most Australian’s who live in the outer suburbs of the vast capital cities. Seen from the air, Melbourne and Sydney are very large cities, the suburban sprawl out to the horizon. It appears limitless and flat, full of endless suburban houses. Adrain Doyle’s New Australian Landscapes depict this reality with cool chaos.

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