Skulls have been a theme for me lately

It’s partly just co-incidence but I have seen a few skulls lately. Let me be quick to reassure you…not real ones! Artistic ones.

Firstly I was at Victoria’s premier gallery, the NGV, to participate in a drawing session. More of that another time. Towards the end of the session I wandered into the next room where enormous skulls were heaped up. Ron Mueck has created 100 large scale sculptures of the human skull.

The Gallery’s brochure says:

…the work can be read as a study of mortality, recalling the Paris catacombs as well as the mass graves resulting from human atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica and Iraq.

They are part of the Gallery’s Triennial exhibition, a truely amazing experience. And a very successful one. The Gallery has been packed with people all the holidays.

My second experience with skulls was at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, another of Victoria’s top galleries. I was up there to have the meeting about our exhibition, “Beckler’s Botanical Bounty: The flora of Menindee” opening late February until late May (shameless plug!). After the meeting I went into “Romancing the Skull”. No prizes for guessing it was an exhibition devoted to skulls in art.

The exhibition explores a range of themes including the skull as a reminder of our mortality, the use of the skull in addressing social and political issues, and the skull and crossbones as a symbol of piracy and rebellion.

If you are quick, you can see the exhibition before it closes on this Sunday 28th.

The variety of pieces was astonishing. I now have a little understanding of the what it takes to put on an exhibition, and I am flabbergasted at the work that must have gone on to pull all these works into one coherent display. These were some of my favourites….

Sam Jinks: Divide (Self-portrait)

I am not sure who created these glass coffins, but my friend Mali Moir and John Pastoriza Pinol created the beautiful, botanic skulls below by painting on vellum. (They are sitting in glass domes.)

 

And Louise Saxon’s amazing work, Vanitas #2 ~ The Twitcher. I have written before about another exhibition of her work. She constructs her pieces from textiles and pins them into place.

And lastly, the one above is Dale Cox’s work Deadlock.

Well, not quite lastly, because here is one for the quilters amongst us….

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It is Lucas Grogan’s The Shroud, and is, according to the wall label, a diary of his travels through Europe, inscribed with his personal impressions and experiences. Curious!

So many different ways to interpret our mortality. Thought provoking, but also beautiful works, and at times quite humorous. Would you have gone to an exhibition featuring skulls?

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On a lighter note, a reminder about my fortnightly newsletter. I have begun to send it out again this year, and the first one for 2018 had special offers only available through the newsletter. So if you would like to find out more sign up.

A workshop and a nest

Way back in May I did a workshop at Bendigo Art Gallery with Mark Dober.

Bendigo is a regional Victorian town, with a very good gallery. I had only been up there for special exhibitions, so I was pleased to have time to wander. I thought I had taken more photos, however, this one shows how spacious and pleasing the rooms are.

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Mark is a landscape artist who works en plein air. He uses a mix of watercolour and oil pastel, and is soon to have an exhibition of his work created in the You Yangs at the Geelong Art Gallery. [The You Yangs are mountains between Melbourne and Geelong, that rise up from the flat volcanic plains around them.] He says of the work he is exhibiting:

This body of new work made at the You Yangs consists of 6 multi-sheet watercolours. Four of these are 112 x 380 cm. These were made at Fawcett’s Gully, around the back of the You Yangs, accessible by the unsealed circuit road.

His exhibition is running from 12th to 16th October. It will be alongside an exhibition by Fred Williams, one of Australia’s foremost landscape artists.

So, you can imagine my interest in his workshop to learn to work with watercolour and oil pastels!

We set up in one of the galleries, and had the choice of two paintings to work with ~ a Fred Williams:

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Fred Williams: The Yarra at Kew 11 (1972)

or a traditional watercolour by Ernest Waterlow’s ‘Gathering fuel, Cornish Coast’, c.1887. You can see the painting in the photo below.

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My first step was to loosely draw in the figures and landscape features. Then I had to lay in large watercolour washes over the main features. I think this was the most difficult thing for me. I am not a confident colour mixer, and often don’t mix enough paint to cover the area which is a problem when working on such large areas. Even with enough paint I have trouble manipulating the paint over large areas. It dries before I can work into it. Washes in botanic art work are little things, the size of a leaf or a petal, not vast areas of sky or beach!

I tried to suppress my panic, to just let it flow. After all, it was purely for my pleasure. Embrace the wonky!

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Then there was the fun part of going over the (dried) wash with oil pastel.

Some areas worked, some didn’t. I think I put too much oil pastel on some areas, and didn’t have time to get to others. Of course, I thought I would finish it off at home……

My drawing strengths are tone and fabrics, so I was very happy with the work I did on the woman’s dress.

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And a closer look….

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It was quite a complex painting to work on over a day, but I enjoyed the challenge and it has given me a new way of working.

 

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An update on the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project

If you have been following my blog for a while you will remember the annual trips that the Fella and I make up to Menindee, a little country town about an hour out of Broken Hill. If you are new to the blog, or have forgotten let me briefly explain.

I am part of a group of botanic artists who go up to the semi-arid area of Outback New South Wales to collect and paint the plants that were found on the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860. Dr Hermann Beckler was the collector as well as the doctor on the Expedition. Our Project began in 2010, and the Fella and I have gone up since 2011.

You can read my posts, which will give you more detail of the Project.

The Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project means many things to me, such as a chance to explore a very unfamiliar environment, an invaluable learning opportunity, a great way to spend time with likeminded artists, as well as being an interesting holiday!

But I know that the Project is much more than that, We have always been aware that it has a place in history. It has brought Dr Beckler’s contribution to Australian plant knowledge to the fore. We collect specimens of the plants to sit alongside Beckler’s in the National Herbarium of Victoria, and each specimen has detailed records of habitat, soil conditions, GPS location and so on. This provides current data on plants that exist in the Menindee Lakes/Kinchega National Park area, data that, when combined with Beckler’s collection, could be very useful for longitudinal studies. It is a great example of how citizen scientists can contribute to scientific knowledge.

As well, it was always our intention to have an exhibition of our paintings. That is happening in February/March/April 2018 at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Organisation for that is currently ‘full steam ahead’.

My paintings from the Cullen genus:

And my painting of Pimelea trichostaycha:

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Now I am asking you to consider donating to the Project. All expenses, such as the travel to and accommodation in Menindee and art supplies, have been met by individual artists, something we have been very proud to do. The Gallery is very generously helping us with expenses for the exhibition, including the catalogue, curation and scanning. However, there are some things that we would like to find some extra money for, such as future publications to put the Project in its place in Australian botanical history.

We have set up a crowd funding campaign, that will run for another 50 days. If you would be able to help us, any amount will be appreciated. To find out more jump over to the Australian Cultural Fund page. If you email me at annebags@optusnet.com.au I can send you a PDF of the campaign.

https://australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/becklers-botanical-bounty-of-menindee/

Thanks for taking the time to think about this.

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If you would like to keep up-to-date with what is happening in my art world click on the link below to sign up for my fortnightly newsletter.

I would like to find out more about Anne’s art.

Sometimes, while wandering through the internet, I come across artists who make me go WOW! Kate Kato is one. She creates the most amazing fungi and floral sculptures. This is some of her work

Fungi and Floral Sculptures Produced From Recycled Paper.

[Don’t forget to leave a comment on my post Time for a tree giveaway to be in the draw for my oil pastel tree painting. Entries close on Sunday March 5th and the Fella will pull out the name of the winner on Monday March 6th.]

I went to three exhibitions in three days last week.

The first was the Archibald  Prize Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

The Archibald Prize, first awarded in 1921, is Australia’s favourite art award, and one of its most prestigious. Awarded to the best portrait painting, it’s a who’s who of Australian culture – from politicians to fashion designers, sporting heroes to artists.

This is my photo of Michael Mc Williams’ stunning painting ‘The usurper (self portrait)’, which is an amalgam of feral animals that are such a problem in many parts of Australia. However, there are other portraits on the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s website.

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Michael McWilliams ‘The usurper (self portrait’ (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson,2016)

The next day I headed off to the Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre to look at the works in ‘From the studio: Bayside Artists in Residence’, which is

a biannual exhibition which celebrates the artistic yield of writers, artists and composers, who have completed a yearlong residency as part of the Bayside Artist in Residence program…….The program places participants within the stately environs of Billilla Mansion ~ a heritage listed property incorporating a public garden and magnificent historic house.

For more about the residency look at the website.  There was a range of genre too, from my nephew, Evan Lawson, who is a composer, through novelists like Gillian Barnett, to Kate Just, a fibre artist. The following are my photos, showing a smattering of the high quality work that has been produced.

The third exhibition was Verdant Garden at Bundoora Homestead Art Centre. It is a gracious old house, a perfect exhibition space.

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Again a range of high quality works, created by artists who drew

inspiration from the role of the garden on contemporary life, this exhibition celebrates the long, intimate and symbolic relationship between artist and garden. Featuring contemporary artists using a variety of mediums, this exhibition explores ideas of germination and the ways urbanisation has impacted on Australia’s love affair with the garden.

So, I have seen thought-provoking art, of a high quality. Then it struck me that each of these exhibitions were in spaces that relied heavily on the public purse. I don’t know their funding models, but they are galleries that are part of arts programmes of local and other forms of  governments. Without this funding these galleries, and these exhibitions and, therefore, these artists would have no support. *

The Arts are about exploration of our culture, environment, values and philosophies. Artists, in which ever creative form they work, explore and interpret, encouraging us to look at the world in a different way. Of course they also delight and entertain. Art can also be very inclusive. Anyone can pick up a paint brush or a pen, they can dance or compose music. In fact the more voices we hear the more we are challenged and engaged, we are more likely to begin to see the world from someone else’s point of view. In our battered world the more ways we have to show diversity and inclusion the better.

If we take away funding from any level of artistic work we are making our place a poorer and more bland, less inclusive place. In fact our level of Arts funding should be increased.

It is glorious to see these galleries in our midst, and there are many around our towns and cities. They need our support, if only by visiting  the exhibitions they show. That shows the governing funding bodies that we value them and want the funding to continue.

[*I understand that the Archibald Prize Exhibition is different. It is such a formidable part of the Australian art scene that, like Mt Everest, has its own micro-climate. That said, I only paid $15 entrance. Most of the exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ballarat are free.]

And while I am on the Public Funding Bandwagon, let me do a shout out for local libraries. Mine turned 40 this week. It is a little branch in an old bank building. About 20 years ago the council wanted to shut it down. It was saved by locals protesting and a court challenge. It’s an important hub in our community, as it really does include everyone, from my Fella and me to the Somali mums who bring their toddlers to story time. Yay for libraries!

Botanic illustration and flower painting

Jan McDonald, the Rare Books Librarian at the State Library of Victoria, uses two books from the collection to show the difference between botanic illustration and flower painting.

One book contains depictions of Australian plants collected by scientific illustrator Austrian Ferdinand Bauer. The other, by the decorative French painter of flowers Pierre-Joseph Redouté, captures the blooms growing in Josephine Bonaparte’s garden at Malmaison

And exploration of Australia played a key part in the creation of both books. Enjoy!

Jan McDonald on botanical books

[BTW can anyone ~ Meeks? 🙂 ~ remind me how to embed a video? I can’t seem to do it at the moment 😦 ]

You and me

Lots of things have been bubbling away in my mind lately. You know some of my creative thoughts, but  also I have been pondering about the rhythm of my blog ~ what I want to post and how often. I think I have come up with a sustainable rhythm. It involves posting twice a week, with posts that I am describing as Me posts and You posts.

My Me posts will be the story of my life, mainly my creative life ~ the sorts of things that I have been rambling on about for the last five or so years! They will probably be published on the weekend.

The You posts will be ones that I think you will find interesting ~ links to other blogs, stories of others’ creative lives, quirky stories, environmental news. I have lots of ideas, but let me know if there is anything you would be interested in reading.

So today is my first official You post…..

Botanical art traditionally has been created with watercolours, but sometimes I come across an artist who achieves wonderfully detailed works using different media. Mary Delany is such an artist.

Mary Granville Delany (1700-1788) bloomed in her 70s, when she embarked on her life’s work—creating 985 life-size, three-dimensional, scientifically-correct botanical prints now held by the British Museum.

Her art work is created by cutting and gluing paper. Her life was quite remarkable, as you can read in parts 1 and 2 from laterbloomer.com

Mary Delany’s life Part 1

Mary Delany’s life Part 2

Enjoy!

Anatomical drawings of Leonardo

I just love the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and his drawings were his visual recordings of his research. In this fascinating video Martin Clayton, Senior Curator of The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, London, explores three anatomical drawings, and explains how accurate Leonardo’s drawings are. In fact a couple of small cross sections show his experimentation to understand how the blood is pumped through heart valve. this was something not understood by doctors until the 20th century.

I was also fascinated to see how the Gallery has stored such precious documents, allowing both sides of a page to be seen.

Here’s an article in the Guardian about Leonardo’s To Do list. Good to know that even the Great Man had to write such a list. (Should I keep mine for prosperity, do you think?!)

This is another find on Open Culture, a site that is just beginning to reveal its fascinations to me.

Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei at the NGV

The NGV [National Gallery of Victoria] has an outstanding exhibition at the moment (on until April 24th) of work from And Warhol and Ai Weiwei. The gallery’s publicity says:

Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei, developed by the NGV and The Andy Warhol Museum, with the participation of Ai Weiwei, explores the significant influence of these two exemplary artists on modern art and contemporary life, focusing on the parallels, intersections and points of difference between the two artists’ practices.

I have to show my ignorance ~ what I knew about Ai Weiwei could have been written on a postage stamp, and Andy Warhol only something slightly bigger. Now I understand that you have to know the context of their work to appreciate all the complexities and layers. For example one work of Ai’s was simply a packet of infant formula. At first glance you go “Huh?”. Knowing that it was a packet of the formula laced with melamine that killed 6 babies and hospitalised 54,000 you go “Ahhh”.

Much of Ai’s art is driven by his need to expose corruption in the Chinese Government. This is from his entry in Wikipedia 

 As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government‘s stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called “tofu-dreg schools” in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.[4] In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of “economic crimes”.[5]

After that arrest his Beijing studio was under constant video surveillance. Ai’s response was unusual. He put a bicycle outside the gate, in sight of the camera. Each morning a fresh bunch of flowers was placed in the basket and the photographed. The resulting work is a beautiful wallpaper of bouquets but knowing the back ground gives it an edge.

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With flowers, Ai Weiwei, 2013 – 2015 (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

The Wikipedia quote above mentions the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Ai was horrified at the loss of life, especially the number of children who were killed because of the shoddy construction of schools. He attempted to find out the names of the children who had died. This is the story, from the caption of his digital wallpaper Names of the student earthquake victims found by citizens’ investigation 2008-11

The Chinese government refused to release the names of the deceased or answer allegations of faulty building construction in government schools. In response Ai launched a ‘Citizens’ Investigation’ to uncover the names of the student victims and record details about their schools and families. With the help of 100 volunteers, the investigation confirmed the names of 5192 students who perished in the disaster. Naming each individual victim is Ai’s attempt to dignify the individuals.

The photo below shows the corner of a room, with the wallpaper with the names of the students on the right hand side. Look how small the writing has to be to fit in all those names. The rectangular box is a film projected onto the back wall. The film showed Ai creating a sculpture made from the reinforcing rods salvaged from the earthquake rubble.

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Close up of the names on the wallpaper.

Ai Weiwei chooses unusual ways to make his art. I loved the little room created out of Lego blocks. On the walls, floor and ceiling were quotes from Victorians expressing ideas of equality.

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Often he made me smile, like Safe Sex, created in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

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Safe Sex Ai Weiwei, 1986. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)

Then there is his shocking destruction of Chinese artefacts. He takes neolithic pots and dips them in house paint, he films himself dropping a Han dynasty urn, and then turns that into a tryptic made from Lego. These are acts that made me cry out, until I understood the political activism behind. Ai is drawing attention to the greater Government cultural desecration that has gone on and continues still. He shows film footage of miles of rubble where houses and other buildings have been knocked down to make way for the Olympic infrastructure. He has collected the feet of Buddha statues, the only part of the statue left after destruction during the Cultural Revolution.

Are his actions right? Are his smaller desecrations acceptable if they show up the larger state-sponsored desecrations? I don’t know, but I do know that he has made me see that there is something beyond the vandalism.

Lots more interesting works, whimsical floating balloons, fine drawings, porcelain flowers and common household stools……

Oh, and Andy Warhol’s work was there too! I loved his drawing and use of colour.

It is an important exhibition, and I am grateful to have been able to understand a little more about these artists. Do go and see it if you get the chance.

(All these photos were taken by me. Please ask if you would like to use them.)