Tag Archives: watercolor

Cross Currents @ Moreland Civic Centre

Cross Currents, paintings by Wen Jun at the Moreland Civic Centre would be almost entirely irrelevant were it not for the Chinese government currently throwing their weight around with attempts to censor and sabotage the Melbourne Film Festival. And the local debate in Moreland  usefulness of having sister cities. Moreland has three sister cities: Xianyang, in China, Viggiano, in Italy and Sparta, in Greece. Moreland does have a large Italian and Greek immigrant population but the connections with China are far more tenuous.

This is the 20th anniversary of contact between Moreland and Xianyang that was established by Wen Jun, Geoff Hogg and the then Mayor of Brunswick (now part of Moreland City). During this time Geoff Hogg has become an expert in public art and cultural exchanges. In 2006 he became the first Australian to be appointed an Honorary Professor of Art at Xianyang Normal University in China.

Moreland and Xianyang City Councils jointly sponsored the exhibition. At the opening of the exhibition there were of course the usual speeches, first by Robert Dorning, the Convenor of the Moreland and Xianyang Promotion Committee. The mayor, Cr Lambros Tapinos noted in his speech that Council has 2 of Wen Jun’s paintings in the council collections. In such low level diplomacy there is always talk about the benefits of such cultural exchanges without any evidence. It is an old line and probably no longer true in a time when there are many more routes for cultural exchange than just diplomacy. Wen Jun made a speech in Chinese, with a translation delivered by his daughter in English, about his art. About 40 people, including the artist, mayor, and city councilors, attended the opening of the exhibition. There was choice of a Long Vern 2008 Shiraz and Loire 2007 Sauvignon Blanc to drink and plenty of delicious finger food, typical of Moreland Council functions.

The best of Wen Jun’s paintings are reproductions of Tang Dynasty tomb frescos. His watercolor paintings are the same size as the original frescos. Xianyang was the imperial capital of the Tang Dynasty and the location for the famous Terra-cotta warriors. In Wen Jun’s paintings of the frescos every crack, lacuna, faded colors and other blemishes on the frescos are carefully reproduced. There are extensive didactic panels in Chinese and English. His earlier work, described as ‘traditional’ or ‘spring festival’ paintings are chocolate box sentimental images.

What is the public to conclude from this display of petty diplomacy hiding behind art and culture? That is all about putting on a good face and political junkets. That art and tourisms celebrating China’s imperial past are favored by China but documentaries critical of China’s imperial present are not. Is there any evidence that after 20 years that such diplomacy there has been any positive benefit for the ratepayers of either city? There is currently a local debate about the expense of Moreland City Council’s gift of a statue of King Leonidas to another sister city Sparta. I think that the debate should be about which local sculptor will receive the commission.

Metro Art Award 2009

I went to see the 2009 Metro Art Award exhibition at Metro Gallery in Armadale. It is an exhibition that has some of the best painters under 35 and given the age of the entrants this exhibition is an indication of the future of painting. And the quality of the paintings in this exhibition is magnificent. I had seen some of the entries in the last year and I knew some of the artists (Stephen Giblett and Grant Nimmo were both involved with the gallery, No Vacancy, where I had my last exhibition).

Most of the paintings in the exhibition are self-portraits, tromp l’oeil and dark images and some of the best paintings combining all three elements. Gold Coast artist Victoria Riechelt’s “Self Portrait – A Stack Of Books Crowded In A Bookshelf” was the People’s Choice winner. It is a grid of a bookcase containing Riechelt’s books. If we are what we have read then this is a portrait of Riechelt including many art/text references and “French Phrases for Dummies”,

There were so many self-portraits: Dane Lovett (highly commended), Julian Smith, and Michael Brennan’s “Me at the (Circle, Triangles & Squares)”. Michael Brennan’s triptych depicts his residence in Tokyo. Katherine Edney “Self Portrait (Time & Time Again)” has four images of her hands holding fabric gesturing towards the almost as many tromp l’oeil paintings.

Peter Tankey’s “Gregor’s Metamorphis” is the contents of a recycling bin: bottles, cans and boxes. The pile of beautiful, glistening objects is a treasure trove in a Kafkaesque world. Tully Moore’s diptych “Double Debris” plays with tromp l’oeil painting depicting paper and masking-tape. Stevan Jacks’s painting “Family Tree” is like a proverb: origami birds playing with matches against a slick dark background.

And so many dark scenes, obscure uncertain landscapes and images. The gathering darkness is evident in Vincent Fantauzzo’s scene “Out of the Dark” has two women in the white dresses at the edge of a suggested grave. The paintings of Grant Nimmo’s and Andre Piguet are full of black paint. Is the darkness in these paintings a sense of mystery or a desire for obscurity?

There is an odd kind allegory or moral voice in many of the paintings, not a pedantic Victorian depiction of virtue and vices, but a subjective and introspective reflection. Stephen Giblett’s painting “Walk On By” contains an allegory on gossip in a seaside setting typical of Giblett’s paintings. In the background the Norman Rockwell style images of the man and woman on the beach shack doors along with the rowboat named ‘gossip’. What is there left to say about the sexy girl in a swimsuit in the foreground? Likewise in Julian Meager’s “Aon (Gimmie a Chance)”, a portrait of a tattoo torso with the tattoo slogan on his chest, appeals for a chance not to be judged on appearances. Are these paintings speaking about the judging of the exhibition and the rush to judgment in the contemporary life.

There were only two abstract paintings by Fiona Halse and Ry David Bradley. The winner was, of course, nothing like the majority of the exhibition a small, pale, monotone watercolor of men praying at Mecca Our Plastic Everything is Broken by Jackson Slattery.

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