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Tag Archives: paintings

Vacancy @ No Vacancy

It was the worst exhibition that I have seen for a very long time. Of course I have seen some bad art in my time, many more simply poor exhibitions, but at the far extremities of the bell curve, which ever way you go, examples become rarer. This exhibition was so far off so many critical scales that it is hard to measure back from any benchmark; no talent, no content, no point, no…

Spenceroni’s Hello Play at No Vacancy is a crass, crap collection of swiggles that makes Ken Done look sophisticated. I look at art as a very broad category but this could barely even count as design.

Why aren’t I writing about some other, better exhibitions? There are plenty of average exhibitions on. I could be reviewing Made In House, “works of Redbubble’s Artist in Residence” at No Vacancy’s other space in Fed Square.

Most of the artists, photographers, painters, illustrators, commercial, amateur, are working on something called culture. Their average individual efforts are tears in the rain, significant to them and those who share that moment, but only a drop in the ocean of culture. I am writing about this exhibition because it is not average, it is extremely bad.

A selfie-wall, WTF! All that I can think is that this smug, social-media-friendly, creep ticks all the boxes for being a narcissist who thinks that some suckers will buy his shoddy stuff. Spenceroni has made it easy for the suckers with multi-level marketing of multiple editions from the wrapped letterpress cards at $7 to the acrylic paint on paper, framed in hardwood frame, 800 x 1050 mm for $1450. According to his blog he has been working on this for six months; I hope that he is very lazy and wasn’t working full time on it.

I try to be sympathetic to young artists with their first exhibitions. Mostly when I’m critical of an artist I mean the best, I want to help them with tough love. With zombie artists I just wish that they would stop. I rarely want to destroy their soul but I doubt that Spenceroni has a soul. This is his first exhibition and I hope that it will be his last.

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Metro Art Award 2011

On Tuesday, 26 July Jeff Kennett will announce the winner of the Metro Art Award. 25 artists aged 35 and younger are in the running for the award for painting. I went ahead of the announcement to see the exhibition of the selected paintings.

Ben Smith, The Influence, oil on board

There are plenty of paintings with over blown hyperbole, dramatic images showing-off the painter’s technical skills. There are paintings that are too ordinary or too sentimental. It felt so conservative, all these young artists painting studiously but often without any purpose other than attracting attention. Ben Smith’s “The Influence (Leonard Cohen Consoles Nick Cave)” has odd proportions and in the future, when Cohen and Cave are no longer well known, the painting will just look odd.

Vincent Fantauzzo, The Creek, oil on canvas

Vincent Fantauzzo “The Creek” looking like a Caravaggio, with a baroque drama created from working with film director, Baz Luhrmann. Vincent Fantauzzo would be the favorite having previously won the 2011 Archibald Packing Room Prize winner and Metro Art Award’s People’s Choice Prize Winner in 2009 and 2008. The wild card entry would be Matto Lucas “Daruma” who has painted on a photograph of a painted face.

I think that winner might be Michael Brennan “Right Place, Wrong Time” with the intense surface of wrinkled dried paint. Or one of the artists who emerged from Melbourne’s stencil art scene: Luke Cornish (aka E.L.K.) “Untitled, Self Portrait” a multiple layered stencil his legs climbing a ladder, a familiar exercise for artists. In the past I’ve dismissed E.L.K.’s work as technically proficient let down by the content but “Untitled, Self Portrait” combines technique with powerful but restrained image. Or Ben Howe, who was a highly commended emerging artist at the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009.  Howe’s “Time and the Elastic” is an intense, dynamic and unusual image of multiple people in multiple layers. Metro Gallery represents several local and international street artists; a framed Banksy currently hangs in the window by the gallery entrance.

“The Metro Art Award previously consisted of a Judges’ Choice Prize of $40,000 and a People’s Choice Prize of $10,000.  In 2011, the People’s Choice Prize has been eliminated and the $10,000 has been added to the Judges’ Choice Prize, which is now $50,000.” (Metro’s media release) Dropping the People’s Choice Award is a good move; there are too many of these polls and the results are too easily manipulated. Popular opinion is well represented by the selection panel itself that comprises “the Hon Jeff Kennett AC former Victorian Premier and Arts Minister (Chair); with Fenella Kernebone, Presenter of the ABC TV’s Art Nation Program; the Rev Dr Arthur Bridge AM, founder of Ars Musica Australis, a charitable foundation supporting the creative arts; and human rights advocate Julian Burnside AO QC”. 

See my review of Metro Art Award 2009.

P.S. The Metro Art Award 2011 was won by Vincent Fantauzzo with “The Creek” – I told you he was the favorite to win.


Dublin’s Art Galleries

This is a guide for visitors to Dublin who are interested in the visual arts. I have been looking at Dublin’s art galleries for the last few days while my wife attends a conference.

The galleries that I have visited are (in the order that I would recommend visiting): National Gallery of Ireland, Hugh Lane (Dublin City Gallery), RHA Gallery, Douglas Hyde Gallery, the Gallery of Photography, National Photographic Archive, and finally the Irish Museum of Modern Art. My recommendations are based both on the quality of the gallery, its exhibits and convince of the location. There are many commercial galleries around Dawson and Killdare streets but none of them were really worth visiting unless you like conservative, contemporary art designed to specifically to sell. I did see the outside of the Temple Bar Gallery and National College of Art & Design Gallery but both were closed so I couldn’t form an opinion or recommend them to others.

The National Gallery of Ireland is a very large gallery and will take most of a day to see all of it. It also has a very confusing layout, rather like the streets of Dublin. It has European paintings from the 16th to 20th century, concentrating on the 17th and 18th centuries. The famous Caravaggio was on loan to another gallery when I visited but there are plenty of other excellent paintings in the collection. The collection does not have many modern artists and only two abstract, non-figurative paintings (both by Mainie Jellett who exhibited the first abstract painting in Ireland in 1923).

Along with many French, Italian, and Spanish paintings there are Irish paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland, although not as much as you might expect. There is a gallery of paintings by Jack B. Yeats (father of the poet W.B. Yeats) whose later expressive figurative paintings done mostly with a palette knife are rather unique in style. There is also a gallery of Irish portraits; including more paintings by Jack B. Yeats.

I have already written about the Hugh Lane (Dublin City Gallery) in my entry about Francis Bacon’s Studio. It is worth a visit if you like modern and contemporary art.

I was glad that I did visit the RHA (Royal Hibernian Academy) Gallery even though it was once a conservative institution because this is where I saw the best contemporary Irish art. It has two floors with large modern gallery spaces. When I visited it had its 180th Annual Exhibition and was exhibiting hundreds of paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture by local artists. Some of the work was political art with a critical comment on current economics or anti-war, some of the work referred to Irish literature but I only saw two paintings with a religious theme.

The Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College has temporary contemporary art exhibitions. When I visited they were exhibiting works by the American photographer, Stephen Shore and the American minimalist, Agnes Martin.

The Gallery of Photography and the National Photographic Archive are both small and conveniently located opposite each other at Meeting House Square in the Temple Bar area. The Irish Film Institute is also at Meeting House Square and the Temple Bar area is Dublin’s arts area.

Finally there is the Irish Museum of Modern Art is only for people who like a lot of walking. There wasn’t much to see when I visited; half of it is devoted to bookshop, coffee shop, reception, lecture rooms, toilets etc. and half of the galleries were closed for installation. The building a former military hospital in Kilmainham is not really a suitable building for a gallery. It will make a good sculpture garden when there is more on exhibition. It has the feel of a government make work program given the number of gallery attendants especially compared to the National Gallery.


Francis Bacon’s Studio

The most important thing that I can think of seeing in Dublin is Francis Bacon’s Studio. Not that Francis Bacon is an Irish artist – he left the country when he was 16 and never returned. And his studio was in London but it has been moved, posthumously to Dublin City Gallery. Bacon is, in my opinion the most important post-war painter, his use of paint to create images are powerful with progressive and experimental techniques.

On a rainy Sunday, at 10:45 I am standing with one wet shoe at the door of Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane Gallery, although it is actually at 22 North Parnell Square. Addresses in Dublin are so confusing, streets will change their name every block, although why this should be confusing for someone from Melbourne where a street will change name when it goes into a different  suburb or just have two different names, I don’t know. Actually the gallery is named after its founder, Sir Hugh Lane, not a street by that name.

15 minutes later I am let into the gallery, there is no queue, just me and three French women and one Irish man.  I go to the bathroom to dry my wet Dunlop tennis shoe and the sock on the hand-dryer. I fear that I might kill the machine before it dries outs the shoe but it does.

Then I go upstairs to see the Francis Bacon studio. The studio is behind glass, you can look in through the door, the two windows and two new viewing holes that allow close up views of paint on the wall and paint brushes. The studio is still a mess, Bacon never cleaned it up his studio (he did keep the rest of his small flat tidy), but every object has been documented by a team of archeologists. So as well as, looking at the actual studio I spent time looking at the computers with the documentation of the studio. Of interest to the street artists who read this blog Bacon did use Krylon and Humbrol spray paints, as well as, basic stencils of arrows and the head of Bacon’s lover, George Dryer.

There are photographs of Francis Bacon and his friends in another room; and unfinished Bacon paintings on exhibition in other rooms. It is a powerful experience and after looking at Bacon’s studio the rest of the gallery seems to be designed around Bacon’s art. The raw canvas of Patrick Scott’s “Large Solar Device” (1964) or Edward and Nancy Kienholtz “Drawing from ‘Tank’” (1989) with empty tin cans, photos etc. All the rough paint, all the drips or splatters, all seem to be influenced by Bacon, of course, this is not true but the effect is that powerful.

Other exhibitions in the Hugh Lane gallery, a room of Sean Scully paintings with their large, rough, geometric brick shapes of paint, and a surprising number of paintings by Canadians. There is an exhibition of portraits of artists by artists: “The Perceptive Eye: Artist Observing Artists”. Whistler paints Sickert and many self portraits, including a late, unfinished self-portrait by Bacon (1991-92). And an exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly “Drawings 1954-62” – Ellsworth Kelly is my least favorite artist, he is so boring but at least his drawings do not take up as much space as his large minimalist paintings.


Platform – April 2010

Vexta “Extinction in Technicolour” occupies the main set of cabinets at Platform with paintings of flying figures that Vexta is famous for and installation elements.

Who are these figures? Is their extinction from our distant past or the near future? The painted animal skulls and bones made me think of an archaic cult. The animal skulls are often decorated creating a new zoology, where beaks protrude from skulls as if all creatures had the potential to transform into birds. In the paintings I kept on seeing myths from archaic Crete: Icarus with his wings, and Pasiphaë, the mother of the Minator. But that might just because I’m immersed in that mythology.

The images could also be from our future. The psychedelic colours, the scatter of broken glass and mirror cubes that adorn the animal skulls reminded me of the remains of a rave. Those little mirror cubes are so fashionable right now, decorating so many accessories. Is the wax that holds our civilization together melting like the wax holding the feathers onto Icarus’s wings?

Although Vexta comes from a street art stencil background, in Vexta’s images are mostly brush painted. However, the colour separation and design techniques used are common stencil art techniques. There are a few stencils and lots of aerosol spray dots. The paint drips from the aerosol dots and the paint drips from the run down across the black ground. Referencing her street art background Vexta’s large unframed paintings are propped up on aerosol cans, like Chris Ofili’s using elephant dung props for his paintings.

At first I thought that Jordan Wood’s untitled installation in Vitrine was part of Vexta’s show. The scatter of black objects matched the black bones and black background in her exhibition. The objects, the melted black plastic, the black ritual artifacts made from the remains of our own culture, like the cluster of golf clubs, are both threatening and useless.

In the Sample cabinet there is an installation of digital prints by Kumiko Michishita. Conversational phrases are painted in white on the glass of the display cabinet, like “It’s getting cold and harder to get up in the morning”. In the background amidst the mosaic of color digital prints are more eccentric statements: “sleep in blue”, “wear orange”, “breath in green”, and “eat red”.

In the two glasses cases at the Majorca Building there are two enlarged photocopies of a hand making a V sign in both directions. One is palm front, a symbol for “peace” the other, with the back of the hand, a symbol for “fuck”. It is Carl Scrase’s work “The Generative Power of Opposites” – crude but effective.


Sophie Hewson @ Lindberg

Lindberg Contemporary Art was dark, black-labels, the black walls with the only light spotlighting the neo-baroque paintings of Sophie Hewson’s exhibition “Solstice – City of the Godless.” It takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the gloom.

The first painting that I am looking at is a large literary painting: “Goodnight Atala.”  Atala is an early Romantic novella by François-René de Chateaubriand, in the novel Atala falls in love with Chactas, her half-brother, but cannot marry him as she has taken a vow of chastity. In despair she takes poison and dies. There were many paintings of Atala done in the 19th Century by Luis Monroy, Girodet and Rodolpho Amoedo. However, this is perhaps the first painting of Atala done for over 100 years.

Another painting of another pair of tragic lovers “Hero and Leander”, Again this is part of early19th century Romantic literature with the poem, “Hero and Leander” by Leigh Hunt in 1819.

There is eroticism to Sophie Hewson’s paintings; the erotic of curve, the twist, the transformation the revelation and, its counterpart, the hidden. It is the mysterious eroticism of white underwear that is featured in many of her paintings. It is an eroticism mixed with the instinctual knowledge of death and darkness. The putrescent flesh of a dead pig or a damp woman humping an inflatable dolphin; Sophia Hewson paints them with the same loving devotion. Her brush caresses and creates this flesh. Her paintings are then covered in thick resin, sealing in the images like insects trapped in amber. The resin fills, flooding the ornately decorated black frames.

Sophie Hewson’s paintings are similar to those of Sam Leech with their resin, dark backgrounds and evocative neo-baroque sensibility. Many contemporary Melbourne artists have a neo-baroque sensibility. The baroque could be seen as a re-examination of the meaning of a metaphor, as a shifting image. Before the 17th century the meaning of the metaphor was defined by established social conventions, the world was the metaphor of the Christian god. But amidst religious schism and other social changes metaphors become a puzzle, a cipher with double meanings, perhaps even an unsolvable mystery.

It is an impressive first solo exhibition for Sophie Hewson and I am looking forward to seeing more.

Along with renewed the artistic interest in the baroque there has also been academic interest. There is Angela Ndalianis, Associate Professor and Head of the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Melbourne, New Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment and Gregg Lambert’s The Return of the Baroque in Modern Culture.


Party @ Blender

They came together on a hot, humid November evening in Melbourne. There were young emerging artist – “aren’t that one of those twins that was on the ABC doco?”  There restless drunks clutching brown paper bags of take-away alcohol or sharing the silver plastic bag guts of a cask of wine; the beer had run out before I got there and the only thing that the very short barman was serving glasses of wine with every $2 donation to the gallery. They were no longer celebrating an exhibition opening but surviving another year in Melbourne’s art world.

There was an exhibition opening earlier in the night at Michael Koro Gallery: “Surface”, an exhibition about the painted surface. Only a few people were still in the gallery and most of those were queuing at the bar. Stephen Giblett was showing two paintings exploring the transition where the representational becomes abstract, as in his painting of paint on a painter’s overalls. He said that he was trying to be less tightly controlled with his brushwork with these paintings. Dan Sibley’s paintings of burning cars are very controlled; using a technique that appeared like Aboriginal dot painting or pointillism. Melbourne street artist, Frederick Fowler (aka NUROC) was exhibiting paintings of spontaneous aerosol single line drawings that filled the surface in his personal style. And, outside in the street, there were cowboys moving on the “Melbourne Propaganda Window”, two digital projectors on the papered upstairs windows of Michael Koro Gallery.

There were lots of exhibition openings on last Friday night in Melbourne. Outside the Yarra Sculpture Gallery there were lots of guys with mohawks and I could see another opening going on through the window of Per Square Metre as I passed by. I couldn’t go to them as I had other business to attend to; earlier in the evening I was at the Melbourne Stencil Festival AGM. I was elected secretary and the rest of the team that ran this years festival were all formally elected to run next year’s festival. I won’t bore you with any details of the meeting; we were trying not to bore ourselves and got through everything in under an hour.

When I arrive people’s attention had shifted to the studios and the alley that runs alongside Michael Koro Gallery and Blender Studios. Most of the studios had a few works on exhibition for the night. HaHa was sitting around in his studio upstairs with conspiracy theory videos running on the TV but no one was watching. A post-graduate social-anthropology student was trying to get 500 responses to a survey about attitudes to graffiti. A very quite techno music duo was playing with a singer wearing a showgirl style black costume with tassels made of garbage bag plastic. I asked Drew Funk what he was going to do now that he has painted the walls of so many bars, cafes and alleys in Melbourne. He told me is moving to Sydney.

It was yet another time that I had left my camera at home – every time I do I miss photo opportunities. The truth is that I still haven’t adjusted to the demand that a blogger is also a photojournalist. Not that I even had my notebook on this occasion, just a backpack full of stencil festival files. So this cannot be taken as an accurate record, it is just my distorted memory.


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