Mental As

If I could afford it (which I can’t), I’d love to buy the work by Ben Quilty, currently on display at the ABC Ultimo HQ. It’s a beautiful work about a soldier living with post traumatic stress disorder. Ben has done a lot of work documenting the lives of Australian soldiers who have fought in recent conflicts, and I think this is a particularly beautiful one. The large slabs of paint. The great colours. The subject matter.

If you have the money, and you like the works, it would be good if you could support #mentalas, an auction in support of mental health research. Details are here, http://www.smhr.org.au/mental-as-auction.aspx. Hope you like the images which I snapped on the way home from work tonight.

Australian Life

“At my funeral, can you take a photograph instead of having a guestbook?”, I asked my friend Sue on the weekend. “It’s always so hard thinking of what to say”, I added, noting it would be far more interesting and far easier just to take a photograph of everyone. The photograph of those attending the funeral of Martin Sharp was one of my favourites in this year’s “Art and About” “Australian Life” photographic competition.

Yes, “Australian Life” not “Sydney Life” as it has always been. The other addition this year was a separate photographic exhibition for children. “The composition of some of these photographs is really amazing”, Sue noted as we wandered around looking at the photographic work of children. “Most of my photographs from that time feature too much sky and lots of chopped off heads”, I noted.

Even with the changes this year, the photographic competition remains one of my favourite part of the annual “Art and About” project in Sydney. Although I thought there were a few photographic cliches this year, I still really loved the competition, and have shared with you, in situ, my favourites from this year’s competition.

School Photographs

As we stood and waited in line, we laughed about some of our own experiences from many years ago of school photographs. “Which of us will need to sit down in front with their legs crossed?” we wondered. “Have you worn the proper school knickers”, I asked Sue, reminding her to “cross her legs” if she had to sit down the front. The idea of sitting for a modern day “class photograph” was an enticing one, and why we could be bothered standing in line outside the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney on the weekend.

As part of Art and About in Sydney, there’s a photographer re-creating “school photographs” with a modern twist. The “modern twist” is that everyone’s much older, and there’s definitely a much larger level of cultural diversity in the photographs of modern day Sydney than you would find in the photographs of, for example, South Lismore Public School in the early to mid 1970s or Richmond River High School in the late 70s to early 1980s.

It was a really fun project to participate in. Best of all? You got a free photograph at the end.

All of the digital photographs are online.

In case you’re wondering, here’s one of my class photographs from the early 80s.

Live Art at Beams Festival, Chippendale, Sydney

Beams Festival

I suspect if there was anywhere else I would be happy to live in Sydney, aside from Surry Hills, it would be nearby Chippendale. It’s a suburb with a lot of cultural diversity, with an active arts scene (there are lots of great galleries in the area), and even with a lot of history, it’s also an area undergoing dramatic change (the Central Park complex is located on the suburb’s fringe).

I guess that’s why I really like the Beams Festival: it seems that it’s very much a product of the environment and the community in which it takes place. There’s edgy street art, there’s music and dance, and there’s even something for the kids. As we wandered around last night, it was great to take in and really enjoy all of the elements. Hey, we even watched and enjoyed the teenage hip-hop dancers.

This was only the third year of the Beams Festival in Chippendale, and only the second time I’ve attended, but there’s something really fantastic about the festival which already makes me anticipate next year.

It's beyond my control by Zhu Jia

Gallery Crawl

There are a couple of really stunning video works in the exhibition, LandSeaSky currently showing at the National Art School in Sydney. The one that really caught my attention, appealed to both my head and my heart, was a work called Littoral (2014) by Derek Kreckler. As you walk into the space on the second floor, images of large waves at sea are projected onto vertical blinds. Behind the blind, an electric fan slowly oscilates, moving the vertical blinds, giving an actual sense of movement beyond that which is shown through the projection. It’s a physically beautiful work and Kate and I sat and watched it for quite some time, as part of our all-day Saturday “Gallery Crawl”.

Well, not so much “all day” as we started off with some late morning yum cha. From there we wandered to White Rabbit, one of our favourite galleries. I really loved the last exhibition there, though was not as excited about this one, “Commune” which runs until February next year. There are some really good works in the exhibition. In particular, we both really loved The Remnants of Images (2013), by Hu Jieming, where some wonderful older photographs have been animated slightly with modern images. If you love photography, you’ll really enjoy the way the images have been modified, modernised, and presented.

You Don't Know What You Don't Know by Zhou Xiaohu

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know by Zhou Xiaohu

But aside from that, there wasn’t too much I couldn’t really get too excited about. Though something happened which took me back to the last exhibition and the really really amazing work by Zhou Xiaohu featuring incredibly life like sculptures. They were so lifelike even one of the gallery attendnants mentioned he sometimes became confused. As I entered the second floor today I saw a similarly life-like sculpture sitting on a bench, looking intently at his mobile phone. As I moved closer to have a look I noticed his thumb was slowly sending a text message. I was so intrigued I went up for a really close look. Really close. “Amazing”, I thought to myself. A few seconds later, the “sculpture” got up from the bench and walked away. I can laugh about it now, though I felt mortified at the time.

Throughout the afternoon we visited a few other galleries in the area. We both really liked “The War On Perspective” by Timothy Harland at X88 Gallery. I really loved his image of the now de-commissioned Sydney Monorail, and I suspect I’ll go back and purchase a copy. We also popped in to William Wright Gallery on Stanley Street where the artist, Ann Graham had an exhibition opening. Upstairs there was a really intriguing body of work, where the artist had made clothing from dog hair. Accompanying the clothing were photographs of people wearing the clothing and the dogs which, presumably, it came from.

We ended the day at the Sydney Opera House for “Now I’ll Have To Kill You”, a comedic story telling night hosted by Glenn Robbins and featuring Davd O’Neill, Peter Berner and Kitty Flanning. It was a rally fun way to end a really enjoyable day. Kate’s on her way back to Newcastle, and I’m home for a quiet night after a reasonably busy week both at work and socially. Time for a bit of catch up TV, I suspect.

Penelope Seidler by Fiona Lowry

Archibald Prize 2014

I really love the winner of this year’s Archibald Prize: the portrait of Penelope Seidler by Fiona Lowry. Although I’d seen it previously online, it wasn’t until I saw it in real life today that I realised how much I like it.

It’s the kind of work you could spend hours looking at and see many layers of complexity emerge, although the story behind the portrait is quite simple. It’s set in the yard of a house designed by Penelope and her husband Harry, and in which they lived for many years. Harry’s dead now, and Penelope no longer lives there. For the painting, Penelope and the artist went back to that house, and what you see is a portrait of Penelope looking back at the house.

“When you’re doing a portrait it’s said you should always start with the eyes”, the tour guide told us at the Art Gallery of NSW today. Although the image above is cropped (it’s a full-length portrait), the eyes draw you in.

The other works that really captured my attention today were the portrait of Ash Flanders as Hedda Gabler by Wendy Sharpe, the portrait of Tim Maguire by Mia Oatley and the portrait of his father by Anh Do. Anh is one seriously talented guy. As well as his acting, writing and comedy, he’s also a really fantastic artist (I never knew). Our guide today explained Anh also worked in a bakery, and his attitude to paint was probably drawn from this experience, spreading large amounts of paint around as you perhaps would pastry or confectionery.

It was a really lovely way to spend the afternoon, and especially nice since my friend Sue now lives in Sydney. It’s quite a luxury to be able to chat in morning, and organise something for the early afternoon without the need to book a flight and fly 1,000 km.

I’ve concluded that when I retire, I’d like to spend my time evenly divided between being an art gallery tour guide and conducting history walks. Now that would be really nice.

Charles Teoh by Adam Chang

National Portrait Gallery

One of the really great things about the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra is that you already “know” so many of the people. And as you already come to the works with feelings about the individuals, I think you experience a greater connection with the works than you might otherwise experience walking around an art gallery. There again, because you know the people, there’s a chance you might not actually experience the art work as the artist intended, because you have all of the other knowledge clouding your judgement.

Although I’ve never met Deborah Mailman, I feel as though I “know” her from her work. Thus I was drawn to the wonderful painting of her by Evert Ploegg. Many years ago I interviewed Chad Morgan, and so I was also drawn to the painting of him by Peter Hudson, and in particular, his roughly manly hands. I also once interviewed Faith Bandler, and so was drawn to the beautiful bronze sculpture by Julie Edgar. Today, the paiting of Alex Dimitriades also caught my attention, for similar reasons to the Deborah Mailman painintg: I feel I already know them.

But these In the case of one of the works I do know one of the subjects very well. I’ve known Joan Croll for about twenty years now, as she’s the mother of my good friend Catherine (Kate). It’s a really interesting portrait of Joan, based on sketches in the house she and her late husband, Frank, used to own at Hunter’s Hill. I knew it was one of John’s Brack’s early works, though I didn’t know until I saw the notes below that it was John Brack’s first private commission.

Knowing that it was Brack’s first private commission added something to the experience of the art. It was then I wished there was more of that at the gallery. Most of the contemporary works seem to have a beautifully written biography of the portrait subject, but hardly anything about the artists responsible. I would really love if they could include some statements by the artist about why they chose the portrait subject and what they hoped to express through the work. It’s not a major criticism of the gallery, but I think it would really add something to the experience.

Also at the gallery today, there was some kind of hair and fashion thing going on (I didn’t stop to look too deeply), there was a bloke with an ice sculpture of Douglas Mawson (it was a warm day, so I’m not sure how long it will last), and there was a restrospective of Michael Riley.

I went to the opening of the Michael Riley exhibition in Sydney just over 12 months ago, and enjoyed it very much. As I wrote at the time…

The exhibition at The Commercial Gallery features about twenty very beautiful photographs taken by him during the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. They’re all black and white portrait photographs, shot simply and processed reasonably heavily. All of the subjects are Indigenous Australians living and working in Sydney at the time. There’s some beautiful father/daughter, father/son photographs, along with some stunning single person photographs, including one of a bloke called Darryl who is a friend of a friend.

Even though I’ve seen these works previously, I looked at them with a “new eye”. In particular, I was really touched by the photograph of NSW politician, Linda Burney and her baby. In the photograph she’s holding the head of her tiny child with a hand that shows both strength and tenderness. That probably describes Linda quite well, I think.

I think people in Canberra are very lucky to have so many wonderful things like the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum, the National Gallery etc on their doorstep.