Tag Archives: Sam Leach

Imperfection @ Trocadero

“A small show of imperfect paintings” at Trocadero Art Space is a unique and must see exhibition.


Juan Ford, Untitled, 2007, oil and acrylic on linen

Twenty-one failed paintings is not a great advertisement for an exhibition but twenty-one failures by notable Melbourne artists is worth seeing. Curator Chris Bond has done what must have first appeared both impossible and crazy. The fantastic negotiation and diplomatic skill involved in asking artists, including perfectionists like Juan Ford or Sam Leach for failures. There is dust breeding on the glossy resin varnish of Sam Leach’s painting as it waits “under the bed to wait for the next consignment of work to the skip.”

Twenty-one rare examples of failures, and a variety of failures from abandoned efforts and bad ideas to technical failures. Good artists try not to exhibit bad art so failures rarely survive, they are either destroyed or repainting; so these are twenty-one rare paintings.

For once the artist’s statements accompanying the exhibition contained no art speak, only honest confessions about why their paintings failed and survived. There are tragic abandoned efforts, I know that Yvette Coppersmith can paint much better than that. And the even more tragic completed effort of Michael Brennan accurately reproducing two pages of text in his painting, Entry Form and CV for the 2005 Metro 5 Art Prize, for which he list 5 failures. There are technical failures: Louise Blyton managed to cut through the middle of her canvas and Lynette Smith’s badly cracked first attempt at egg tempera. And failures of composition, like Darren Wardle’s Swampland.


Darren Wardle, Swampland, 2017, oil and acrylic on linen

“The composition is too rigid and corresponds to the limits of the stretcher so there are no dynamics in play. The work seems flat in a boring way, which isn’t helped by the background paint application having no depth. I tried to rectify this by inserting a stick, or crutch, with a shadow in the left foreground to provide a sense of dimensionality but it looks clumsy and obvious.” Wardle explains in his statement.

Every artist, art critic and art teacher in Melbourne should go to see this exhibition because it is a learning experience. The paintings demonstrate a benchmark of quality only they all fall on the wrong side of it, sometimes just shy of it. It is rare to see examples of failure exhibited yet failure is so common in painting that it is inevitable so this exhibition serves to correct that bias.


Michael Brennan, Entry Form and CV, 2005, oil on canvas


Melbourne Art Fair Cancelled

In 1988 the “First Australian Contemporary Art Fair” was held at the Royal Exhibition Building. It was the year of the bicentennial and the new art fair was presented by the Australian Commercial Galleries Association and the Bicentennial Authority. Since then, every two years, the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) has been held in the Royal Exhibition Building. Now it is over, not with a bang but a whimper of an announcement.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

The announcement of the cancellation from Anna Pappas, chair of the not-for-profit  MAF came on Friday 19 2016. Art Guide and The Age scrambled to publish this major story that day. The Guardian waited until it had discovered who the “high-profile galleries” that Pappas referred to in her statement. The Age had made an informed guess that this might include Diane Tanzer Gallery, but this proved not to be the case. Melbourne may not have an art fair any more but it does have more than one major commercial art gallery.

There are still many unanswered questions about the cancelled art fair. Is this the beginning of a trend or just one of the common variety of administrative debacle?

Suggesting that the cancelation of art was due to an administrative debacle is the fact that in August 2015 the MAF had severed its contract to manage the fair with Art Fairs Australia. If that is the case then we can expect that MAF will be re-established in a couple of years.

However, there are reasons to think that it is the start of a trend away from the art fair model. Barry Keldoulis told the media at the opening of the MAF 2014 that “art fairs may not be the best way to see art but they are the best way to see hell of lot of art.” If art fairs are not be the best way to see art why would they be the best way to buy art or sell art. Although art fairs were promoted as the mega-art market there are serious commercial art galleries in Melbourne who have done the math and decided that the MAF is not worth it.

Considering the last MAF two years ago in hindsight I should have been spending more time at the Not Fair rather than the MAF. Not Fair was the alternative satellite to the MAF. It was curated exhibition in Collingwood at 12 Peel Street and The Grace Darling Hotel. Its curators, Sam Leach, Ashley Crawford and Rebecca Richards had put together an exhibition that has been mentioned more times to me in the last two years than the MAF.

The loss of the MAF is not a disaster for Australian art. Australian art has changed so much in the three decades since the art fair started. Looking at the 1988 art fair catalogue Patrick McCaughey’s introductory essay about the Australian art in the eighties was about a contemporary art scene that had just emerged. In the 1988 art fair where there was only 21 galleries involved. Of the Melbourne galleries that were exhibiting in 1988 only Australian, Niagara and Tolarno galleries are still operating. Tolarno Galleries is one of the galleries whose non-participation this year ended the MAF.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014

The full-scale Dalek and the woman dressed as My Lady in Red would be more familiar sights at a comic book or sci-fi convention but they were at the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF). Not only was there a small booth from Thrill, the cosplay magazine but also at the MAF Edge there was tattooist Mat Rogers of Dead Cherub, French antiques, car drawings, free-form knitting, other displays that you would not expect at an art fair.

Thrill magazine's cosplay stall at Melbourne Art Fair

Thrill magazine’s cosplay stall at Melbourne Art Fair

The MAF is still at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton and there are still booths from 70 art galleries from Australia, Asia, Europe and the USA with more than 300 artists filling the building. However, there more than that both at the Exhibition Building and 53 other locations across Melbourne. There are performance artists, project rooms, a video space, a creative space for the younger visitors, a platform for young galleries and art run initiatives at the Exhibition Building. Outside of the Exhibition Building there is a free public performances, pop-up exhibition, art talks and walks. It is more like a visual arts festival than simply another art fair.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

There are lot of art fairs around the world now and there has been a lot of criticism of art fairs as the new monster predators in the art world. Lucinda Schmidt reports in The Age about the competition between art fair and commercial galleries. The commercial galleries pay thousands of dollars for a stall at the art fair, just like artists paying to hang in rental space galleries. However, art fairs are not static systems and it is clear that MAF has responded and changed.

Some of the galleries at the MAF have moved away from stock shows at their booths to curated exhibitions. On Wednesday morning Wynne and Archibald Prize winning Melbourne artist, Sam Leach was still installing his exhibition of large scale paintings and geometric sculptures at the Sullivan + Strumpf booth. Leach’s new work connects the past to present, his detailed fine painting of landscapes and animals now combine elements of hard edge abstraction that are reflected in his small sculptures. Along with Ashley Crawford and Tony Lloyd, Leach is also curating the Not Fair in Collingwood.

Anna Schwartz presents Mikala Dwyer, The weight of shape, 2014

Anna Schwartz presents Mikala Dwyer, The weight of shape, 2014

Mikala Dwyer’s The weight of shape, a large mobile commissioned by the Melbourne Art Foundation, hangs, turning and transforming slowly in the Exhibition Building. The unlikely mix of acrylic, fibreglass, copper, clay, bronze and stainless shapes some how balance each other. After the MAF is over The weight of shape will be given to the National Gallery of Australia.

“Art fairs may not be the best way to see art but they are the best way to see hell of lot of art” Barry Keldoulis told the media preview on Wednesday morning. It is a big change since I was last at a Melbourne Art Fair in 2002, after that I thought that it was better, cheaper and less crowded to visit the galleries individually. I can now report that the Melbourne Art Fair has changed a lot in those twelve years.

Brunswick Galleries by Bike

Black Dot Gallery – Brunswick Art Space – Tinning Street presents…

This week I’ve been riding my bike to a few galleries in Brunswick. It was fun to ride my bike to the Counihan Gallery last Sunday (see my review January @ Counihan). It is much better than using public transport to get to a gallery. Plus I got to see all of the graff along the Upfield bike path and around Brunswick. Lush has been bombing so many of his cats along the line. There were half a dozen people painting along the bike path on Sunday – they were only up to the outlines and blocking in – so there will be new pieces to see next time I ride that way.

Lush, Brunswick

Lush, Brunswick

I hadn’t been to Black Dot Gallery in Brunswick East before. There is a gift shop/office space in the front and then a separate long room with a wood floor, white walls and track lighting. Black Dot Gallery is an aboriginal artist-run gallery space with a regular program of exhibitions.

Their current exhibition “Dandy Boy” is part of the Midsumma festival’s visual arts program. It is a group exhibition so the quality of the work varies. I was impressed by Cecilia Kavara’s “Identity Negative’ a 9 min projection of a high contrast image of Kavara removing white tape that covers her body, slowly disappearing, right until the final moment when she walks off with a few scraps of tape still on her.

On Friday night there were two exhibition openings in Brunswick and at each all the poles around both of the galleries had bicycles chained to them.

At Brunswick Art Space, there was “Entry”, the 8th annual Brunswick Art Space Contemporary Art Prize. With 91 works on exhibition there was a lot to look at and some obvious trends. Art with text was a major feature of many of the better works, like Lesley O’Gorman “No Shoes” but art text has been a trend for a century. There was also a lot of good art that was raw, brutal and rough; the best of these was Courtney Wills “Internal Series: ILEUM”, a lumpy chunk of wax that was slowly bleeding something sticky and red onto its elegant glass and steel plinth.

Belinda Wiltshire "Bask" 1985 & 2013 at Tinning Street presents...

Belinda Wiltshire “Bask” 1985 & 2013 at Tinning Street presents…

Tinning Street Presents… had “Your Old Self” an exhibition of artists reinterpreting an artwork from their childhood. It is an excellent theme for an exhibition, the artist’s childhood artwork and a current artwork united in painted circles on the gallery’s wall. It takes Picasso’s remarks about painting like a child to a new level. The exhibition included works by notable artists Sam Leach and Shaun Tan. Tan did a painting based on a childhood drawing “Fighting a Monster”.

I was riding my bicycle because I’m tired of public transport as a way of getting to see galleries. Myki is getting me down (my card has broken down twice) on top of the decades of neglect and poor service; Melbourne public transport is simply not good value for money. So I’m going to try to see more local galleries for a while. I still haven’t been to Ceres small works gallery Synergy Gallery @ The Red Train. Last month I rode my bicycle to the Library Gallery; I missed the Ros Bandt performances but saw the installation of her instruments. There are plenty of galleries within easy riding distance from my house and when I get my fitness level up there will be more.

First of the Summer Shows

A community art exhibition doesn’t sound promising but this is an exception. The artistic strength of Moreland is such that it has residents like Sam Leach, the winner of 2010 Archibald and Wynne Prizes exhibiting. And Sam Leach’s two paintings were not the strongest works in the Moreland Summer Show, an exhibition of art by City of Moreland residents (Brunswick, Coburg and Fawkner) at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

Located in the gallery’s vitrine Tony Adams’s installation of foraged natural materials, Circular Insect Hotel was impressively assembled in a neat circular architectural form. Ryan Lesley Cockburn’s Revolution series was outstanding; Cockburn cuts vinyl records into a variation of a zoetrope complete with a little torch to shine the rotating shadows on the wall. Tsvia Aran-Shapir’s biomorphic sculpture was beautiful and surreal especially with its black powder coating. Keith O’Donnells installation of 20 1:48 scale green W-class trams ran part of the length of the gallery. Peter Hannafford’s hand-cranked rotating mixed media sculpture of Australian politics going round and round was very popular. I have to mention Gabrielle Baker’s 66cm diameter pompom – a very large pompom. And Paul Toms’s elegant interpretation of the theme in a triptych using coffee on paper was simple and beautiful.

With 40 artists exhibiting the theme of the circle provided some unity amongst the diverse collection of works from paintings, prints, videos to hand-blown glass.

There was a huge turn out for the exhibition opening on a wonderful warm spring evening. And with all the local artists involved it is not surprising. Lots of people for me to say hello to – artists that I’ve previously written about in this blog, Alister Karl, Julian Di Martino, Liz Walker and Carmen Reid (who wasn’t exhibit but serving drinks at the bar). It was so crowded at the opening that someone stepped on one of Ria Green’s circle of crystalline shapes (woodgrain print, balsa wood, tape, paper).

The show replaces Moreland’s annual Women’s Salon (that I have both reported on and urged to abandon as redundant). Julian Di Martino said that it was the first chance that he has had to exhibit in the gallery since it opened in December 1999. Providing an annual exhibition where all residents, regardless of gender, can exhibit will give more of a focus to the strong artistic community in the area. This is community exhibition that is worth seeing for its strength and diversity.

The Future @ RMIT

The New Year is a good time for thinking about the future. Reading stories like: “Ten 100-year predictions that came true” from BBC News Magazine and seeing RMIT Gallery “2112 Imagining the Future”, a diverse and engaging exhibition of art from local and international artists about the future. Will the future be utopic or a dystopic or some kind of combination, a strange, cool Japanese future where people wear costumes? Will it be the end of the world?

Hisaharu Motoda, Opera House, image courtesy of RMIT Gallery

In imagining the future there are still paintings – that probably wouldn’t have been predicted a century ago. Maybe the future never happened, maybe, as Sam Leach’s painting, “We Have Never Been Modern” (2011) suggests, we are still living in a mythic past. In the painting priest/scientists in their white coats unveil something that an eagle perches on.

Leach was not the only painter in the exhibition: Tony Lloyd and Darren Wardle’s landscapes. However, photographs, video art, sound art and sculptural installations dominated the media used for visions of the future. Using 3D stereoscopic technology NOW and WHEN “Australian Urbanism” shows amazing images of Australian cities and giant mines. (“Australian Urbanism” was featured in the Australian Pavilion at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia 2010). There was the constant hum of machines throughout the exhibition.

Kenji Yanobe’s “Atom Suit Project: Antenna of the Earth” (2001) is an impressive centrepiece for the exhibition. http://www.yanobe.com/aw/aw_atomsuit.html Surrounded by hundreds of miniature versions of the Atom Suit, some lighting up and going “ping” occasionally. (Could this have something to do with Geiger counter?) The figure in the Atom Suit with his ocular wand is between a scientist and shaman. On the back wall in a large photo, Kenji Yanobe is shown wearing the suit on a desolate saltpan, like a shaman in the land of the dead.

Around the corner Patricia Piccinini’s “Game Boys Advanced” lean against the wall absorbed in their game. They are well positioned near Keith Cottingham’s “Triplets”, 1993 and the colour palette of an imaginary seed bank by Lyndal Osborne. All works considering the genetic implications of the future.

Lyndal Osborne, 0 ab ovo, image courtesy of RMIT Gallery

Another stunning work is Ken + Julia Yonetani “Still Life – The Food Bowl”, 2011, cast from the pinkish salt of the Murray River. This dystopic vision of ‘the food bowl’ of Australia made of salt. It is a traditional European still life with a table, glasses, fruit bowl, cutlery, fish and crayfish all solid salt. On a similar environmental theme Debbie Symons digital video work “Arrivals/Departures” 2011. Positioned beautifully over the gallery door “Arrivals/Departures” uses the familiar transport screen to record introduced and endangered species.

Now that I consider it, these visions of the future are all very pessimistic, predicting an imminent environmental catastrophe. There is a great deal of pessimism in the visions. There are ruins in Hisaharu Motoda’s lithographs, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre photographs of destruction and Kirsten Johannsen’s bean sprouts had wilted under the lights. But it didn’t feel that way when I saw it; it felt fun, intriguing and engaging.


I’ve seen some of the MoreArts exhibition in Moreland. MoreArts appears to be replacing the annual Moreland sculpture show with a more contemporary site-specific series of installations along the Upfield train line from Gowie to Jewell. It has been successful at being noticed and starting conversations. My neighbours have been talking about Carmel O’Conner’s “Traart In Line Travellers” a series of line drawing on clear acetate installed in the Coburg train station waiting room. I have only seen part of the exhibition from the window of the train as the works are installed in wasteland beside the tracks or in the stations and I have been too busy to ride my bicycle along the trail beside the Upfield line to see all of them.

Liz Walker’s field of poles with plastic bags has attracted my attention, blown in the wind the plastic bags look like the ones that get caught in trees. Walker uses the effects of pollution and recycled materials and turned them into an art installation.

The MoreArts 2010 winners, judged by Sam Leach, are: 1st Prize Saffron Lily Gordon for  “Don’t fence me in” and 2nd Prize Danielle Bain and Susie Zarris for “Life Obsolete”. Commendations went to Elizabeth Phillip-Mahney for “Jumper Leads” and Candy Stevens for “Rocks of all ages”.

Art-Vend is an “art gallery in a vending machine dispensing original artworks for $1.20 a pop.” It is a side-project to the MoreArts exhibition. While I was at the Coburg Library I did buy my own miniature artwork from the machine. Not that you could see the work in the machine, so it wasn’t really an art gallery more of a lucky dip. But the packaging and the machine were more attractive than the picture made of squashed plasticine inside.

Art-Vend packaging and art

A less successful exhibition was going on at about the same time along Sydney Road in Brunswick, the annual art in shop windows exhibition that has a different name each year. There is so much to look on Sydney Road that it is kind of pointless having an exhibition in shop windows as well but it is there, with “Window/Frames.” Street art, advertising and shop window displays are all competing with the haphazard quality of a community exhibition. Amongst the better works in “Window/Frames” is Ben Howe, “Everything Sacred Is Stolen By The Rich”. Last year Ben Howe was highly commended in the 2009 Melbourne Stencil Festival’s award exhibition but this is an oil painting. Oil painting is not such a strange move for an artist as both stencils and oil paintings require similar techniques in separating the image into areas of colour. (I also saw some of Howe’s stencils at Brunswick Street Gallery in Fitzroy.) Bliss, one of the few shops to give the artist enough space in the window hosted Aviva Hannah installation with drawings “Dancing on Glass”.

The reasons for the success and failure of these two exhibitions is simple, it is, as any real estate agent will tell you: location, location, location. And although Sydney Road might appear to be a better location than the Upfield line, the variety of locations, the surprise and joy of seeing art on the commute to and from the city makes MoreArt more successful.

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