Tag Archives: surrealism

Platform – September 10

“The Resistance of Memory” by Paul J. Kalemba is a surreal underground garden is installed in the last vitrine at Platform (in the Degraves St. underpass at Flinders St. Station). Fruits preserved in jars holding the preserved memory of the last harvest. The peaches, pears and plums glow in the half buried wooden cabinet as moss and herbs, mostly thyme, grow around it. The wine bottle and glass are empty – the party has been over for some time. But how long? The broken clock, full of more thyme is dripping destroying part of the wooden base of the cabinet as the real and unreal merge. Kalemba has created a fantastic surreal garden capable that feeds the imagination images and ideas that confound each other. The title refers to Rene Magritte’s surrealist painting “The Persistence of Memory”.

Paul J. Kalemba describes himself as “an urban edible®evolutionary” and has exhibited in Platform’s “Underground Garden” before but this is his best garden yet.

In Platform’s main series of glass cabinets there are Kieran Stewart & Stone Lee. On one side there are Stone Lee papier-mâché versions of Australian animals. On the other side is Kieran Stewart exhibition of series of small sculptures made from wood, steel, glass and black powder. The wood and steel forms hold glass containers of black powder in a range of formal variations. These engaging sculptures reminded me of the functional elegance of machines used to demonstrate physics principles.

In the large “Vitrine” space there “Voyeurism” by Bernadette Burke combining figure painting and video with videos for faces. The combined images are very effective but I don’t think that they say anything about voyeurism as the figures all look as if they intend to be seen.

In “Sample” there is an exhibition by Merryn Lloyd, curated by Patrice Sharkey as part of Platform’s Emerging Curator mentorship program, which really needed more substance and interest.

In the cabinets at Majorca Building (out of the underpass, up Degraves St, across Flinders Lane and in Centre Place, with “Bellevue Jewellery” in gold letters above them) are two photographs by David Mutch – “The Tourists”. Previously exhibited at Seventh Gallery earlier this year, these two archival inkjet prints show a figure in bare, desolate landscapes; one landscape looks urban, the looks rural both were photographed on the banks of the Yarra River.


Exhibitions – September & October

I have managed to see a few exhibitions on Flinders Lane (Arc One and forty-five downstairs) in the city and Albert St. in East Richmond (Karen Woodbury Gallery, John Buckley Gallery and Shifted) in between the many meetings, emails, phone calls and wrangling with the Melbourne Stencil Festival website.

David Ralph exhibition ‘Extension’ at Arc One’s small “and” gallery space is just a couple of small paintings but Ralph’s paintings are always worth seeing. David Ralph’s painting is a marvel of contemporary techniques, drips and scraps and squeegeed of paint scatter the canvas. The images appear to be cut into the surface of the paint. The eccentric temporary imaginary architecture, tree houses with a space shuttle built on the back, the caravan for which Ralph is becoming known. The scenes are like something from Wm Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. “…houses in trees and river boats, wood houses one hundred foot long sheltering entire tribes, house of boxes and corrugated iron where old men sit in rotten rags cooking down canned heat, great rusty iron racks rising two hundred feet into the air from swamps and rubbish with perilous partitions built on multi-levelled platforms, and hammocks swinging over the void.” (p.90) Ralph could have found his palette of iridescent and nitrous colours on the pages of the Naked Lunch too.

“Tiny Tunes for Wee Australians” is an exhibition of small works on paper by Mexican artist Roberto Márquez at forty-five downstairs in Flinders Lane. Roberto Márquez has created an exhibition of Mexican surreal comments on Australia in mixed media collages with added illustrations. His tiny paintings of skeletons on pressed tree leaves are very Mexican.

Megan Evans “The Fall” in the side gallery at forty-five downstairs was using more dried leaves arranging them in post-minimalist ways in wall pieces, a framed arrangement and in a DVD.

The AK44, the Blackwater AR15, the Saber Defense Elite 5.56 and the Patriot P414 (US$1,125 RRP) sounds like the catalogue of a gun show rather than a description of an art exhibition. eX de Medici exhibition, “sweet complicity” at Karen Woodbury Gallery features delicately drawn images of all of these weapons. The pictures are drawn in a mixture of ink and mica that creates a thick and glittery line. The machineguns are set amidst neo-Rocco tattoo influenced background and wrapped in garlands. The background luxuriates in an excess of detail, dragons and waves or swallows and stars, completely fill the large sheets of paper. eX de Medici is a tattoo and fine artist which explains the tattoo motifs and the ironic machismo of titles, including “American Sex/Funky Beat Machine”.

Janenne Eaton’s “Bella Vista” is a fun exhibition at John Buckley Gallery. Janenne Eaton is Head of Painting at the Victorian College of the Arts. I thought that I was going to get away from the Melbourne Stencil Festival but there was more stencil and enamel aerosol paint in this exhibition. In “Only sleep cures fatigue” (2009) Easton uses a real bamboo blind as a stencil for the image of a window blind. Eaton also uses vinyl and decal bullet hole decals, LED lights and even rhinestones in her paintings contributing to their fun.

Shifted had two exhibitions Paul Batt’s “Mountain Portrait Series” and Andrew Gutteridge’s “A Linear Collection”. Batt’s “Mountain Portrait Series” is a series of photographs of the back of different peoples heads as they looked out over a view. It is a study in looking at someone looking at a landscape. Andrew Gutteridge’s “A Linear Collection” is a scatter of minimalist sculptures and or paintings. And it was hard to tell the Gutteridge’s sculptures from his paintings, a canvas with a twisted corner or another with diagonal cut into the surface. Lots of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines that Gutteridge has collected together and played with. Much of this play is about perspective and the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional plane.


Surreal Bondage

“The fact is that it is in eroticism – and doubtless in eroticism alone – that the organic bond, increasingly lacking in art today, has to be established between showman and spectator by means of perturbation.” A. Breton, 1959

“Neuropsychosis’, an exhibition of oil paintings by artist and illustrator Karl Persson at 696, explores eroticism with dark visions of S&M, bondage and mutilation, along with a couple of truly surreal visions. In his ‘Shiny Chicken’ a raw chicken is morphed into a toothy grinning fleshy orifice is a surreal study of castration anxiety. Another of Persson’s erotic surreal images is that erect penis nipples enjoying sadistic polymorphic arousal.

The surreal eye of the Marquis de Sade shapes Persson’s goth imagination. It brooks no idealism; it is a materialistic world where happiness lies in the imagination.

Persson’s images are disturbing in that they are private, there is only one implied spectator viewing the subject, the other isolated body. The bound figures twist in the baroque empty darkness. These are alienated lonely isolated visions where all interactions are bound in an S&M relationship. Persson’s self portrait shows the artist struggling to remove the mask of his image from himself.

The many threads depicted in Persson’s paintings are a figurative painter’s bondage theme. The thread is tied tight to the victim just as the painter is tied to the lines being painted. Concentration focused on a single line that separates one area from another and bound to painting it over and over again until the fully realized image appears. For there is bondage and masochism in creating such beautiful, meticulous and technically excellent works in oils on canvas.

696 back gallery room has been transformed for this exhibition. A Turkish carpet lies on the floor. The paintings are hung in dark old rococo style frames on a grey band of paint on the gallery wall. The grey walls bring out the colors in the paintings and the usual sterile white gallery walls would be totally inappropriate for Persson’s style.


Kitchen Passions

The readymade is, in an odd way, a part of the history of still life painting or photography. Duchamp’s readymades are best known through photographs reproduced in art history books. Duchamp’s readymades hardly exist, those that actually exist are mostly limited edition reproductions; this is of no importance because they are not ‘retinal’ works of art but ideas. The artist chooses an object and make it art; it really doesn’t matter if the object exists in a photograph or physically because ultimately it exists as art only in the mind of the viewer.

Maree Alexander’s exhibition of photographs, Behind Closed Doors at Jenny Port Gallery is a beautiful and surreal use of readymades. The relationship that Alexander creates in her photographs between readymade objects creates new Surreal meanings. Surrealism included Duchamp’s idea of the readymade in their repertoire of techniques. Surrealism is a way of understanding the world, a world charged with unexpected meanings from the unconsciousness. And the Surreal unconscious is, not surprisingly given their Freudian influences, a sexually charged world.

Alexander’s readymades, like Duchamp’s, frequently have sexual overtones. Alexander’s kitchen ceramic objects are animated. Lemon squeezers mate with each other, a jug and teapot kiss as honey runs along their lips, a round jug presses a curved glass into a corner. There is a masculine or feminine aspect to many of the objects that Alexander has used. A small ceramic bird begs for food from the leg of a larger upturned jug.

Duchamp’s readymades were frequently purchased in a hardware shops; Maree Alexander’s readymades are found in kitchens (sourced from friends, op-shops and garage sales)

Alexander’s photographs of these surreal readymades have pale tones and a cool gaze. But behind the closed cupboard doors Maree Alexander’s objects are passionate entities.


James Gleeson (1915 – 2008)

“’Do not commit suicide, for surrealism has been born’ might well be the phrase cried in the night to a desperate civilization.” Proclaimed James Gleeson in his paper “The Necessity of Surrealism” read to the Contemporary Art Society in 1941.

James Gleeson, the “father of Australian surrealism” has died after a long life and creating many great works of art. He enriched culture in Australia in many ways and I hope that his life and art serves as an inspiration for many more artists and critics. The world, especially Australia, still needs Surrealism; civilization is still in a desperate condition with war, imperialism, racism and repression. The suicide rate in Australia is still high, but this is rarely interpreted as an indication of a defective society or civilization.

My first encounter with Gleeson’s art was at the NGV when as an adolescent I saw his early small painting – We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit (1940). When I saw the Surrealism: Revolution by Night exhibition in Canberra I encountered Gleeson’s large impressive The citadel (1945). However, these early paintings with their apocalyptic ideas did not have big impact on me. Gleeson appeared to be another Surrealist inspired by Dali’s paintings.

This changed when I saw Gleeson’s post 1984 paintings; it was my first experience of Stendhal syndrome. The turgid liminal land-and-seascapes of these paintings created vertiginous sensations with their ambiguous details and subtle references to the composition of European masters. These large oil paintings were full of images created using classic Surrealist techniques of collage, decalcomania, automatic drawing and ‘psychic automatism’. Gleeson is the one Surrealist painter who can paint as well, perhaps better, than Dali.

In remembering the art and life of James Gleeson it is important to remember that he was not just an artist but also an important art critic, writer, teacher and served on the council of the NGA from 1976. As a critic for the Sydney Sun (1949-74) and Sun-Herald (1962-74). He also wrote several books, Australian Painters (1964) and William Dobell (1964). Gleeson was not a partisan critic arguing for a certain type of art, instead Gleeson described his criticism as a guide, an explorer in a new land. In this respect I hope that he will influence my own writing about art.

Do not commit suicide, for surrealism has been born and Gleeson carried it forward beyond the Cold War politics that shot at it from both sides; beyond the internal bickering of the Parisian Surrealism; to an international movement and into the 21st century. Gleeson’s late career paintings were his best and a demonstration that Surrealism is not a dead historical movement but a contemporary muse.


Surreal Games

Augustine Dall’Ava’s sculpture exhibition at John Buckley Gallery is part of a Surrealist tradition. Dall’Ava’s continue the simplified biomorphic forms that Jean Arp first discovered. Dall’Ava’s continues Alberto Giacometti’s arrangement of forms, as in Giacometti’s early surrealist sculptures, like “The Suspended Ball in the Hour of Trances”, 1930. Dall’Ava quotes Giacometti’s the hanging objects in Dall’Ava’s Sixteenth and Twentieth Dialogues. Surrealism is a continuing tradition, not a historic art movement, and Dall’Ava continues to perfect the form of Surrealist sculpture.

Dall’Ava sculptures look beautiful. The materials: the marble, travertine, slate and steel are all polished and elegant. The painted wood is bright and glossy.

One refinement is the board, the base of the sculpture; they are boards, rather than extremely long, very thin plinths. They are, to be precise, game-board, like a chessboard and the base of Dall’Ava’s Eighth Dialogue and Third Dialogue have chessboard patterns. Games, the play of children and the chance rolls of a die are all very important to Surrealism.

A board game is a formalized, miniature, schematic representation of a world; Duchamp described games of chess as sculptural. In a game there is not just the positive and negative space, occupied or unoccupied by the pieces, but the potential spaces of occupation, the possible moves. The pieces in Dall’Ava’s sculptures: trees, clouds, rocks, the moon and other forms in appealing miniatures are carefully arranged on his boards. There are also cubes with pitted sides, suggesting dice, in many of the Dialogues.

All of Dall’Ava’s sculptures in this exhibition are titled ‘Dialogue’. Unlike Geoffrey Edwards, Director of the Geelong Art Gallery, in his catalogue essay for the exhibition, I believe that this collective title does give away a lot of allegorical intent. For a game, like chess, is a dialogue between two players.

There is no need for monumental sculpture in the anti-imperialist, anti-war world of Surrealism. It is a world where we have a playful dialogue with sculpture rather than idolizing the dead soldier or dictator high up on plinth.


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