Out

This time a year ago like everyone else I was preparing for the pandemic. A State of Emergency had been declared in Victoria; museums, art galleries and libraries were closing; festivals, the Grand Prix, footy matches were abandoned; toilet paper was being hoarded and all of us became experts on how viruses spread.

We knew a lockdown was coming, but we had no idea of what that meant or what was to be at the end of it. Were we heading into a dystopian future? I bought dress material and potting mix, planned to learn Auslan, decided to clean out my cupboards and wash the windows. I still have the material, only recently used the potting mix, never began learning Auslan, and the windows and cupboards remain as they were. Fortunately we didn’t head into the dystopian future.

Then in July Melbourne and I went into an even longer lockdown. My list reduced down to making sure I laughed everyday and to find comfort in creating. And there was a comfort in knowing that all I had to do was stay at home and be safe. The roof over my head was secure, as was my income. Like everyone I learnt that there was enough toilet paper to go round and that food would be on the shelves.

Although most of our restrictions were lifted during October it is only now that I am feeling like going out and about. It’s a strange thing, because it is not fear of the virus that had kept me from wandering further than my neighbourhood. (My reduced fear is not reckless, our community transmission numbers are very low.) Instead I think I have become something of a hermit. Home feels safe, secure. I don’t have to go far to find what I need.

My health issues have made me reluctant to go far afield and I worry about the Fella. But really, I am just not ready.

Well, I wasn’t until Friday of last week.

I went, with my sister, to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to see the Triennial Exhibition. What winkled me out of my hermit cave was combination of spending time with my lovely sister and seeing the exhibition.

And what a lovely day it was.

I caught the tram into town. I haven’t done that for over a year! I wandered across the Yarra to the NGV. I haven’t done that for over a year! We were amazed by the exhibition. I haven’t done that……(!) To top it off Judy and I had a delicious lunch in the restaurant and chatted. We have talked a lot over the year, and she has been one of the people who has kept me afloat.

The Triennial exhibition is a wonder, a collection of contemporary art and design spread through out the gallery. I am sorry I can’t show you the really amazing ones which involved light shows and changing digital images. If you follow this link you will see some of the exhibits. Maybe you will just be happy with some of my photos. If you live in Melbourne, and are ready to venture out, you have until mid-April to see it.

Yep, that chandelier is made from glasses lenses.

So yes, it is time to leave the hermit cave and remember what life used to be like.

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.

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.)

A couple of updates

Firstly…..#istandwithadam

[And apologies to anyone who tried to make sense of my post this week. I would like to blame the gremlins, but I suspect it was me deleting the right post and publishing a draft. Hopefully all is restored now.]

Well, Adam Goodes played football on Sunday. His team, the Sydney Swans were playing the Geelong Cats down in Geelong. Usually the teams run through their own banners, made by the cheer squads. This game they jointly went through the same one. The racist booing that had followed Goodes in past matches was not heard. Hooray for common decency! Unfortunately it wasn’t a complete fairy tale ending for Goodes, as they lost to the Cats!

A comment made about Indigenous players struck a chord with me. Someone said that footballers and officials probably have a better understanding of Indigenous culture than most people. You would get to know everyone in the close environment of a football club. For a team to function well there has to be inclusion; divisions that may drive the team apart can have no place if the team is to be a team. To win the ultimate prize, the Grand Final, all the players must be unified and supportive of each other.

I am not saying that footballers are not racist. That is certainly not true, and there have been many public battles over this issue arising on the footy field. I am making the analogy that just as a team can’t afford divisions neither can society as a whole. Societies that are riven by racism, sexism and homophobia are ones that breed suspicion of the “other”; they are ones that are easier for right-wing nationalism to gain hold. It is in everyone’s interests to stand up against oppression.

That’s the wider reason why the support for Adam Goodes was so important.

Secondly, and off my soapbox!……

A couple of posts ago I wrote about my method for stretching watercolour paper. Laura wrote this in the comments

Simply laying it on a flat surface on a towel with a piece of Gator Board on the back and weighting the “sandwich” with books works fine. Billy Showell places hers inside a large pad of paper without a towel then weights it all down with books, encyclopedias I think.
The key is to let it dry slowly.

I have done this with a few paintings now, and I am very happy with the results. The works are just as flat as when I taped them and I save time not having to fiddle around with the tape. So a big thank you to Laura. Jump over to her website and have a look at her art.

And lastly…..I will leave you with some images from John Wolseley’s exhibition, Heartlands and Headwaters currently on at the Ian Potter campus of the NGV. He is the most wonderful, inspirational painter and if you are anywhere near Melbourne before 20th September, go and see it. These images are just small parts of larger works. Each part is a jewel.

 

Jean Paul Gaultier

Photos from the recent Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the NGV Melbourne. Such wonderfully playful creations.

And to finish off, a slide show showing the amazing models. The face was projected onto the model and it looked like she was actually looking around the room. It was a little unsettling at first!

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An outing for my homemade sketchbook

Before I show you what I sketched, let me tell you about the exhibition where I sketched.

Outer Circle: The Boyds and the Murrumbeena artists shows the work of members  of the Boyd family, one of Australia’s artistic dynasties. The Boyd name pops up in many areas of art. On the wall of the exhibition is a large family tree and against each name is their artistic pursuit. This was the list:

  • writer
  • painter
  • potter (lots of these!)
  • photographer
  • sculptor
  • musician
  • architect

The odd ones out were a naval officer and a social worker! Robin Boyd was Australia’s premier modernist architect, Martin Boyd a novelist and Penleigh painted the most beautiful watercolours.  However, the strongest branch stemmed from Merric Boyd.

Merric was a potter and established a pottery at his property “Open Country” in Murrumbeena, then a village of Melbourne.  Colin Smith’s pamphlet The Boyd walk describes the area:

By the time Merric Boyd arrived in the area [1913], this village boasted two estate agents, a laundry, a fruit shop, bookmaker and newsagent. To its south lay the market gardens of East Bentleigh, and to the north, open paddocks and scrub. The east was open country, and beyond it, the township of Oakleigh.

I found this engaging snapshot from Colin Smith’s pamphlet:

Murrumbeena provided Merric with the resources he required to make pottery, including space to construct a studio and kiln, and good clay deposits. It also had a hansom cab service operated by Mr Grey from the front of Murrumbeena Station in Neerim Road. His horse was watered from a trough in front of Billy T Motors on the southern side of Neerim Road. During the 1920s and 30s, Merric and his wife Doris would be picked up from their Wahroongaa Crescent home by Mr Grey and dropped off at the station to catch a city train. Carrying cases packed with Merric’s valuable pottery, they would walk the city to stores like Georges, and Mair and Lyon, who sold his pottery to collectors, many of them wealthy, who appreciated the quality and originality of Merric’s work.

His son, Arthur, became one of Australia’s most famous artists, especially as a painter. However, he was also a very talented potter and some of his pottery is in the exhibition.

“Open Country” was one of those places where creativity was nurtured and therefore thrived. An amazing array of talented artists were attracted to it, artists who were at the forefront of modernist art in Australia — Albert Tucker, Danilla Vasillieff, Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester and John Perceval, who married Arthur’s sister Mary. These artists were also frequent visitors to Sunday and John Reid’s house at Heide, and there was a great deal of discussion and exploration of ideas across the two communities.

It’s an interesting exhibition, and worth visiting if you get the chance. I came away from it with feeling very fond of Merric Boyd. Apparently he drew prolifically and older residents in Murrumbeena remember him walking the streets with his sketchbook and pencils. He would set himself up on a fence or a nature strip and draw. Apparently he kept his pencils in his socks! He often gave away his drawings.

So, back to my little homemade sketchbook. I was attracted to the pottery, wanting to capture the lines and shapes. The size of the sketchbook was just right to stand beside the jugs and bowls and sketch. It rested in the palm of my hand but still gave me enough paper to catch what I wanted to. It fitted nicely into my bag, an important point when you are walking around all day.

You can tell that I was happy to draw over and around the older images on the paper. It helped me feel less precious about the paper. Later at home I added the water to blend the ink a little more. Next time I will take the water brush with me to add those details on the spot. Also, many of the lines are wonky and the proportions are skewed. But it doesn’t matter. My eye improved as I drew more, I had fun standing sketching and I smile to myself when I think that the lines of the jugs were not perfect either!

I am forming a plan at the moment that will involve sketchbooks and those of you who would like to begin their sketching journey. Stay tuned!

Ahhh, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

Yesterday I intended to go to the blockbuster exhibition at the NGV. When I got there I thought “Monet can wait”, and I went on a guided tour of the general collection instead. A great decision! The guide, Julia, was wonderful, very knowledgeable and interesting. One of the things I really appreciate about tours like this is that the guides show me paintings that I would walk past. I might not always like them, but guides like Julia give me so much more, explaining symbols, the history of the work and so on. They explain why that work should there with all the other glorious things.

Before I take you to two that Julia showed me yesterday I have to show you two exhibits in the foyer.

The blockbuster I didn’t see (but will!) is ‘Monet’s Garden’. As we know he is famous for his water lilies. Celeste Boursier-Mougenot has reworked this concept to create a stunning, zen-like acoustic installation.

Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen
Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Here it is as the whole. Yes, they are simple white bowls.

Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen, in the foyer of the NGV
Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen, in the foyer of the NGV (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

It is a circular pond. A pump moves the water, which causes the bowls to float and move. If that graceful movement was not enough, there is the sound that they make as they gently collide, like the bells in a temple. As you can see from the photo so many people were entranced, sitting, watching, listening. If you are passing by, pop in and have a look. You won’t be disappointed.

Also in the foyer is this gorgeous creation. Again it was very eye catching!

Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer
Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer

This (taxidermic) deer is covered in various sized glass beads. I loved the effect, but found it a little disturbing.

Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer
Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer

Now our tour continues up a few levels of the gallery, to look at two very different paintings of the Virgin Mary. First, the paintings:

Sassoferrato: 'Madonna in prayer' (Italian, painted about 1640-50)
Sassoferrato: ‘Madonna in prayer’ (Italian, painted about 1640-50)

Bernardo Cavallino: 'The Virgin Annunciate' (Italian, painted about 1645 - 50)
Bernardo Cavallino: ‘The Virgin Annunciate’ (Italian, painted about 1645 – 50)

They were both about the same size, painted around the same time, both Italian. While they are paintings of the Virgin Mary, they are very different interpretations. (And I have walked past both paintings a number of times without stopping to look!)

The sign next to Sassoferrato’s Madonna (the first painting) said “a classic example of the Catholic Church’s emphasis during the Counter-Reformation on reaffirming devotion to the Virgin Mary.” It is a beautiful painting, showing Mary as she is usually portrayed, demure, devoted, and wearing blue robes.

Then there was the second painting. It would have been paired on an altar with a painting of the Archangel Gabriel announcing the dramatic news to Mary. Cavallino has painted this work so wonderfully. He uses highlights to emphasis his message. The light falls onto Mary’s face. Her expression is somber, and I think the red around her nose indicates that she has been crying. This is not the usual portrayal of the Annunciation, which show Mary ecstatic and filled with joy. Instead she is a young woman who has just received some overwhelming news. She is human, her emotions are real.

However, her hands are also highlighted. They are held in a position that shows acceptance, acceptance of the news from Gabriel. For me, it is a very moving painting. She   is challenged but also courageous and dignified.

I am so glad that Julia made me really look at these two paintings.