Tag Archives: painting

Painting Techniques & Subjects

“London Works” by James Cochran at Lindberg Galleries are portraits of homeless men. What is remarkable about these paintings is that they were created primarily with aerosol paint. The faces and hair are made up of hundreds of dots of aerosol paint, each dot with its own small drip. Cochran’s paintings are like pointillism with a spray can. There are lots of drips in the paintings – drips are currently very fashionable in street art. James Cochran (aka Jimmy. C) is a veteran street artist from Adelaide. It is remarkable for how far street art techniques have permeated mainstream art in the last decade.

Cochran’s paintings are obviously clever, technically excellent but superficial and sentimental. These are the kind of paintings normally seen in commercial galleries located in the foyer of five star hotels. Perhaps the paintings could even hang in part of the hotel, a private dinning room; a place where the homeless men depicted in the paintings would never be admitted. The sentimental depiction of homeless by artists over the centuries has not helped changing the conditions that lead to homelessness. I suppose the homeless make cheap models.

You need more than one trick to make good art and technique will only get you so far. The second trick, the right subject for the art, has to work with the technique. At Flinders Lane Gallery there was an exhibition of paintings with more than one trick – Margaret Ackland “Histories”.

Margaret Ackland’s main trick of painting transparent fabric, lace, tissue paper and even plastic wrapping, with light paint strokes. Her compositions on the dark background make the cloth and paper glow like old masters. Some are dynamic flows of fabric are static and meditative. Ackland’s other trick is her references to the history of fashion; her sense of the histories that clothes tell. Not that all her clothes are old fashioned, there is a beautiful painting of an empty plastic dry cleaning bag and clothes hanger. I particularly enjoyed her paintings of pictures partially unwrapped from tissue paper that have a sense of the rediscovery of an archived image.

Both Cochran and Ackland have excellent painting techniques but Ackland does better paintings because of her choice of subjects.


Basil Sellers Art Prize

Challenging the relationship of art and sport.

The challenger: The bi-annual Basil Sellers Art Prize, the biggest art prize in Australia, weighing in at a massive 100,000 dollars (twice the size of the 50,000 Archibald Prize). The contenders have been narrowed down from over 350 entries to 14 artists.

Defending the perception of sport is a team of popular opinions and stereotypes. In school I learnt that there are two types of people: arty and sporty and that it had been that way forever. I wasn’t taught this in the classroom, but in the playground, on the sports field and in the extra school activities. For most of my life I have lived with the division between people interested in the arts and people interested in sport.

How and when did this happen? This contemporary division could not be more pronounced but it was not always the case. Sport was seen as a physical art; in ancient Greek sports the athletes displayed their ‘arête’. Sculpture in ancient Greece celebrated the athlete and was created to commemorate their triumph. The ancient Olympic games combined both sports and artistic activities.

The Basil Sellers Art Prize aspires to recreate a relationship between art and sport, to legitimise the topic in art, not all at once but as the prize gain momentum over the year. They even have an ambassador to the sporting world, sports media personality Samantha Lane – the division is so extensive it is like another country.

Maybe it is another country, maybe there are two Australia’s geographically identical but with complete different populations that never interact, like two alternate worlds. You would think that if you were told that sports dominated Australian culture and you then visited the NGV to find no images of sport. It is this cultural disconnect, the absence of sport in Australian art that inspired Basil Sellers to fund this art prize. There is no planned outcome, just a series of prizes designed to develop a connection over a generation of artists. Basil Sellers says, “ My hope is that this prize will take lovers of sport and art into what may be unchartered, but ultimately reward territory leading to an engagement that will enhance their enjoyment of each other’s loves”. Can the challenger defeat the current perception of sports and the arts through the use of visual arts?

Nobody is taking any bets. Nobody is taking any bets either on who will be the winner tomorrow night; unlike the Archibald Prize there is no bookmaker giving the odds on the Basil Sellers Art Prize.

The media preview was a chance to look at the art without the prize-winning status hanging over the work. So what are we looking at with art about sport? Cricket, running, football, gymnastics, netball, cycling, surfing and boxing are all represented in the exhibition. The art deals with issues beyond sport of identity, gender, corporate branding, celebrity and movement.

Dr Chris McAuliffe pointing out a change to Eric Bridgeman’s Wilma Jr. ("Blacky"), 2009

Surveying the field:

Eric Bridgeman’s life sized footballer installation. Ponch Hawkes has staged photographs of female athletes in a series addressing gender, violence, power and alcohol. Philip George’s surfboard installation mixes Islamic art with surfing culture. Glenn Morgan’s automated diorama tableaus have a folksy charm recording sporting history. Noel McKenna’s is exhibiting three paintings of sporting celebrity profiles. Richard Lewer is showing hand drawn animation of ordinary sporting tragedies. Vernon Ah Kee has both a video installation and photographs of an all-Indigenous cricket team from north Queensland. Juan Ford has five images using anamorphosis. Grant Hobson’s large digital photographs depict surf culture and the environment. David Jolly with two glass paintings of cyclists in the Tour de France. Pilar Mata Dupont & Tarryn Gill present a video with a tongue-in-cheek look at fascist-style aesthetic present in Australian’s sporting culture’s history. David Ray’s trophy made from witty ceramics in a vitrine. Gareth Sansom’s painting about spin bowling. Tony Schwensen’s video documents the artist watching of sport.

What is the ground, track conditions etc. like? Four gallery spaces on two floors in the Ian Potter  Museum of Art at Melbourne University giving the art a home ground advantage.

What are the rules? Art in all media is allowed and the selected artists are all paid a $3,000 participation fee and may present one or more works in the exhibition. The winner gets $100,000 and Basil Sellers goes home with a prize-winning work of art.

The winner will be announced tonight (see my entry And the winner is… ). Then there is the $5,000 People’s Choice Award that you can judge for yourself.


European Masters @ NGV

European Masters 19th to 20th Century from the collection of Städel Museum at the National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road presents a history of modern art. All the familiar modern art movements are represented from Classicalism and Romanticism to Cubism, along with a few less well-known styles and groups of artists. There is art by 70 German, French, Dutch, Belgian and Swiss artists. And although the exhibition is mostly paintings there are a few sculptures by Rodin, Degas and Renior, There is plenty of variety to see in this exhibition – this variety of styles, trends and tastes is a reflection of the modern predicament.

It was not the introduction of photography that motivated modernism – it was the end of the accepted subjects for art, history or classical and Biblical themes. The great artists of the 19th and early 20th century could have painted anything, so why did they choose to paint these images? What is the subject for art when your world has changed – transformed by revolutions, industry and urbanisation; and expanded by exploration and tourism? One of the first paintings in the exhibition depicts the German writer, Goethe in the Roman Campagna by Johann H.W. Tischbein. What to paint when traditions and values are under question? For Tischbein the answer was simply a return to classicalism.

The problem of what to paint was a problem for artists at end of the 19th century and early 20th century. It is interesting to see what solutions these European artists proposed for these problems because we can learn about how we can approach similar contemporary problems. The Symbolists have similar quest for spiritual values to our New Agers. The Orientalists, like Eugène Delacoix painting Arabs, have their contemporary analogues in the world travellers photographing the 1001 places you must visit before you die. The Nazarene artists are comparable to contemporary religious fanatics or, given the Nazarenes long hair, 60s Jesus freaks.

And if religion and exotic travel doesn’t interest you what else is of any value? There are Romantics, like Caspar David Friedrich contemplating the environment. Rural landscapes – urban dwellers still dream of a simpler country life in a cottage painted by Van Gogh early in his career. Or, you could have a simple breakfast with the Monet family, which for me was, one of the highlights of the exhibition.

Why be so serious? Why not just paint amusing genre scene with a psychological comic insights? Why not go and join the circus? Or, dance the night away at Café d’Harcoart in Paris with the one of the stars of the exhibition, Henri Evenepoel’s lady in red?

Everyone will have heard of some of the famous artists who have work included in this exhibition. Seeing the exhibition is a way for you to judge for yourself if the European art history books have been praising good artists or emphasising the most important trends in modernism. Perhaps it is time to revise your opinions of artists that you have only read about and seen a few illustrations. Even if you know next to nothing about art history this is a good place to see it for yourself.

There is a small focus in the exhibition on the art of Max Beckman with several of his paintings hung in a gallery painted dark grey. The dark grey emphasises their dark lines dividing the bright areas in his paintings.

Thanks to Alison and the NGV for the free tickets to the exhibition.


Exhibitions This Week

Caroline Ierodiaconou’s “Untitled” exhibition at the gallery in the City Library has several large powerful figurative paintings and a large number of small drawings. The exhibition title “Untitled” is more like a ‘no comment’ than a lack of title. Ierodiaconou is not preaching at her audience, the paintings are not symbolic; they reflect the uncertain feelings of the audience without pathos. Her paintings have a clinical beauty and a sinister atmosphere pervades all of them. The images are powerful and disturbing reflecting our culture’s unease that the environment or even our bodies may be a threat. In one painting a pair of gigantic pliers floats over a hooded, but otherwise naked, pregnant woman. In another two women in plain white underwear and white clinical nose and mouth masks look suspiciously at a third worried woman in between them.

Ierodiaconou’s small drawings mostly of nude figures are presented with dizzying intensity that collage real elements, like envelopes and diary pages with the floating, spinning nude figure.

I wanted to see more of Caroline Ierodiaconou’s paintings after this exhibition and I found more at Saatchi Online.

It is a comfortable experience to sit in the gallery on the upper floor of the City Library – look at the paintings and read the current art magazines. There is an upright piano in the gallery for the public to play but I haven’t heard anyone play it yet.

Upstairs at 69 Smith Street Gallery there are currently 3 photography exhibitions that are worth a look and the climb up the stairs.

Georgina Koureas “I’ll come back for you” series of Type C photographs has a coherent vision of the relationship between objects and architecture in the ordinary run down domestic world. Photography is great at recording details of wear and deterioration and Koureas uses this to great effect. Contributing to the poetry images are the titles with their sardonic take on prosaic statements like “I’ll come back for you” or “Don’t leave me this way”.

Caroline Halstead’s series “Fragmentary Observations” is an interesting exploration of the ordinary images that photography preserves by printing them on post-it notes. The post-it notes are stuck onto the gallery wall in a large cluster. They reminded me of transient, ephemeral nature of much of ordinary photography.

“Urban Irace – a photographic perspective of the urban condition” is series of urban night scenes by Nick Kind. They are exciting, dynamic images but a bit bombastic and I’ve seen these kind of images too often to be interested but someone else might think they are great.


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.


Painting Ideas

I must really like the Tim Johnson exhibition, Painting Ideas, because I’ve seen it twice. Last year I saw it at GOMA and this year I went to see at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. And I keep on thinking that I want to think about this exhibition a bit more before I write anything – but the exhibition is over already.

The exhibition reminded me of the Gilbert and George exhibition that I saw at the Tate Modern in 2007. Although Painting Ideas is considerably smaller, the story is the similar. A conceptual, performance artist in search of a way of turning ideas into images. After some difficult and strange art the artist finds their voice and now their art is in the collections of major museum.

When I saw “Painting Ideas” at GOMA the open plan gallery arrangement lead me chronologically through the development of Johnson’s now familiar style. At the Ian Potter Museum, the history was told backwards from galleries filled with Johnson’s now familiar style and then upstairs to his early work. Telling a history backwards or forwards does not make a big difference; it is just another way of looking at the causal relationship.

Tim Johnson’s early work was not familiar to me but I’ve seen plenty of similar art from that era. The punk energy that Tim Johnson pushed on the boundaries is familiar. The variety of conceptual and performance art of the time indicated a growth in the arts, as well as, a desperate search for a solution. And the solution for Johnson was to return to painting images and to collaborate with other artists. And Tim Johnson collaborators with many other artists: Tibetean born artist, Karma Phuntsok, Brendan Smith from Brisbane, Vietnamese born, My Le Thi, or the Australian Aboriginal painter Clifford Possum Tjapaitjarri. Not that you can tell where the work of one artist begins and ends, given that the images in the paintings are all from somewhere else, some other tradition.

Tim Johnson’s mature paintings are post-modern pastiches (as in “cut up” – see the comments for more about the word pastiche, which isn’t esactly right) of icons from everywhere contained in a field of dots over a field of colour. They are not so much paintings of ideas but the flow of images in a visual hypnagogic revelry of consciousness.

The paintings are images of a mindscape of a multi-cultural, multi-faith Australian identity. The use of dots is an attempt breaking down the apartheid walls in Australian art. The paintings are landscapes of the mind; mytho-geographic landscapes of Buddhist/Hindu and Australian Aboriginal mythology mix in his paintings along with contemporary manga and pop images.

There is a Youtube Video of Tim Johnson in his studio.


Graduate Exhibition @ VCA

The VCA School of Art Graduate Exhibition 2009 is huge. Space after space filled with art: video installations, sculpture, paintings, drawings, printmaking, installations and things that defied classification, but were called “spatial practice” on the invite. If you are going to see this exhibition, and it is worth seeing, then give yourself over an hour to see it all. It is at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery (named after the Margaret Lawrence Bequest who supported the exhibition); which is all of the studio and workshop spaces at the VCA turned into a gallery.

The entrance is at 40 Dodds St., Southbank, it looked like there was a cue to get in when I arrived shortly after 6pm. It must have been the biggest thing happening in Melbourne’s art scene on that a mild Monday night. There were two long bars in the courtyard with a DJ and hundreds of people. Free wine or buy Mountain Goat beer (a strange kind of sponsorship). Young men with haircuts from 80s new wave bands, fashionably dressed young women, the artists, their parents, their friends, etc. There were thousands of people at the opening doing the gallery shuffle and demonstrating their “spatial practice” by not bumping into people after a few glasses of free wine.

Carmen Reid had sent me an invite to the exhibition (I wrote about her June exhibition at Brunswick Arts ) and I was pleased that I could find her exhibits. Her latest works continue to be enjoyable, the accordion doors “(Fidget) Neither Here Nor There” is like Looney Toons architecture made real. Unfortunately I did not get to talk to Carmen – I think that she was cleaning up broken bits of glass from her work “Limbo” that had been damaged by crowds of people.

Seeing the opening was like stumbling into an art fair, overpowering and diluted at the same time. It was hard to take in all the art because:

a)     there were so many people at the opening

b)    there were so many works of art (the invitation said over 1,000 works and I believe it).

c)     there were so much variety of quality art

The list of “School of Art Awards” ran to two sheets of paper – not that there was any information about the various awards beside the award-winning work.

All the current contemporary art moves are on show, the heat from lights, video projectors, art stirring up dust, plants trying to survive an art installation and visual puns from desperate art students. Although there is likely to be one or two very successful artists amongst this year’s graduating class. This doesn’t mean that they are doing great work now or that all the work in this exhibition is great. Much of the art is going down the plughole. Clare Scalan was painting studio plugholes prognosticating a future for so much paint and artist’s careers. I overheard someone in the crowd saying: “90% of video artists are rubbish.” It is probably true of all the arts graduates.

Still there is plenty of art to enjoy at this exhibition; I liked Graham Brindely’s sculptures. They are elegant, they are like physics experiments and drawing in 3 dimensions. In Brindely’s “Gravities” a plumb bob hangs over a circular pile of black sand.


%d bloggers like this: