Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sullivan + Strumpf's new digs - 24 February

My 2nd MCA young ambassador function sees me venture into deepest, darkest Zetland for to check out Sullivan + Strumpf's new premises and catch their group show. Here at Big Lamington we are big fans and very small collectors of the SSFA stable so it was good to go and see whether the loss of convenience (they used to be a stroll away in Paddo) is compensated for by a better space.

The team at SSFA have taken your standard industrial premises and turned it into the classic contemporary gallery space, all polished concrete and white walls, with even some industrial history in the form of a big crane type apparatus on the second floor.

The show was representative of the artists they represent, a mix of new work and liberal raiding of the stock room. The MCA crowd were appreciative, even if it did get off to an odd start. One of the MCA types decided he needed to say something but instead of prepared remarks launched into a rambling intro where he got both the gallery name and the gallerist wrong. Luckily Joanna Strumpf was very professional and ran through her gallery tour in a very entertaining manner. As Joanna said they were the gallery that represented the winners of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes last year (Sam Leach for the first 2 and Michael Lindeman for the latter) so we were expecting some good stuff. Sam Leach didn't disappoint and I was surprised to see some works available but I guess that is to be expected when you jack the prices up. I don't think the girls got the memo about bonuses being down in investment banking land as I thought a couple of things were creeping up a little high - I think the Textaqueen they had on show (Singing Sadie) had been increased in price since last year and this for one of the pieces that didn't sell in her show last year, I will have to check on that ...

A couple of the artists were there as well which was a nice touch. Laith McGregor was there to take a bow, he was showing biro drawings, sculpture and paintings. To me, he is the biro guy so it will be interesting to see if he can push his practice. I like Kate Shaw's work in general and thought it was a nice touch of Ms Strumpf to order the lights dimmed so we could appreciate her tryptych glowing in the dark. Michael Lindeman had his usual ads but also some other watercolours which were interesting (extending one's commercial practice is catching!). Darren Sylvestor's photo (pictured above) was big and visually arresting but is really topping out on what I would pay for a print (apologies to all you artists working in photography but I just don't see it commanding a premium unless you are Prince, R). All in all a promising taste of what is to come at SSFA in 2011, I am sure we will be back to see some solo shows.

Points - 3 to Sam Leach, I am a sucker for the shiny shiny finish that the resin gives. 2 to Kate Shaw, again with the resin! And of course 1 point each to both Joanna Strumpf and Ursula Sullivan for getting their new space opened.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jasper Knight at Gallery Ecosse - 19 February

Gallery Ecosse? Exeter? The whole Big Lamington team was in the Southern Highlands this Saturday. Scouting for a potential holiday home, making a huge mess at the General Store and then trying to give Daddy a headache on the way home. For a moment of peace we nipped across to check out Exeter's premier (and only) gallery. My opinion of Exeter rose immediately. Ecosse is the real deal, with prices to match. Jasper Knight is currently showing Metal on Metal there until 5 March.

The whole family (well, everyone who can speak, so 4 out of 5) liked the playful nature and fun subject matter of Jasper's show. Jasper, an artist based in Sydney, played to a bit of a parochial theme with lots of tractors, steam trains and local landmarks. This had been open a couple of weeks and has mostly sold out so he really hit his mark but I couldn't tell if works such as Exeter Station and Bundanoon Station were really sincere or just a sharp way to make some sales to the cashed up locals.

My wife liked the tractors, I liked what they did to their garage (making it the gallery annex) and my son and oldest daughter preferred the steam train. If we did have a house down there would I want a picture of my local train station or even Berrima Courthouse? Probably not. But we would like a tractor!

Points - 3 for the tractor, 2 for the trains and 1 for the gallerists behind Ecosse - a great idea to take the gallery well out of Paddington and much further south than Waterloo!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Danie Mellor artist talk at the SH Ervin gallery - 13 February

2nd time at Curious Colony for me. This time bringing along the mrs and my son. The gallery had two talks on Sunday. The first was Scott Mitchell, the cabinet maker who crafted the Newcastle Chest. Danie Mellor, the artist behind a number of pieces in the show including the Natives Chest went second. It turns out both were at the School of Art at ANU down in Canberra in the early 90s when I was occasionally in attendance at the economics and political science faculties but seeing as how I didn't recognise them they mustn't have hung out with the cool crowd!!

Truth be told I was there to see Danie but I found Scott's talk really interesting. I feel there is a much smaller chest to be commissioned in his future (by me). It was fascinating to hear how to keep the overall dimensions consistent with the Macquarie chest that he had to negotiate the spaces allocated to each artist. This meant bird artist Louise Weaver's had to go in lying down - she had wanted it standing up! He singled out Lionel Bawden as his top pick for artist of the chest. I agreed, but it was close with Louise Weaver and Esme Timbery.

Next up was Danie Mellor. He has a unique background being a contemporary indigenous artist who doesn't look at all indigenous. He is aboriginal on his mothers side (great grandmother or something like that) but brings out that play between aboriginal and white settler (the other part of his family) in his work. The first piece I didn't really even notice was his was a very large mezzotint of fern fronds. It turns out that creating these are very labour intensive so he doesn't do them anymore, note to the Newcastle art gallery - look after that one. The second piece he spoke about was one of my favourites. Called 'Dreaming beyond paradise (let sleeping giants lie)' this piece (image above) is looks to evoke blue and white china plates but includes realistic additions of Australian fauna. This is the same style as the piece that won him aboriginal artist of the year in 2009 (and $100k to boot). He had a very interesting explanation for this, actually for all his art a lot of thought goes into it, you could tell he had a PhD in Art. The kangaroo pops up a lot in his works and he says he has adopted it as one of his symbols (maybe because he is also a Big Red!) Obviously the back story was cranked up for the Natives Chest which was a really diverse diorama of taxidermy and installation. My son loved the birds, especially the big duck (emu). He also loved the Joan Ross video (just like my daughter the previous week) although my wife said this was because they were deprived of television at home rather than having similar taste in art.

So what did I notice second time round at the show? Well, I liked the colonial silver emu egg centrepieces. I really want one and just missed out at an auction last week on a beauty. This visit confirmed that the whole show really clicked with my aesthetics. I read somewhere a description of the show as "from the Colonial to the Contemporary world" and that accurately summarises the Big Lamington collection. A very mona style mishmash of everything.

Points - 3 to Danie Mellor, great talk and really interesting works. 2 to Scott Mitchell, and 1 to Lisa Slade (the curator behind the show).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hugh Ford at Iain Dawson gallery - 5 February

Well it pays to be local.  On a sweltering summer day here in Sydney this art lover wasn't travelling very far, especially with his youngest art critic strapped into the baby bjorn for her afternoon walk.  So down Oxford street it was to check out Hugh Ford's solo show at the Iain Dawson gallery.

Iain himself was again on deck and so was able to provide a great context to the show, Hugh's 3rd with the gallery.  I liked that for the most part (14 out of 16) the canvasses are of uniform size which really lets you choose your favourite image without size entering the equation.  Hugh's style is very recognizable - strong line drawings with interesting colours and no faces on the people.  His subjects are virtually all in absurd situations which appeals to my sensibilities.  I liked the guys on BMXs - they even had tough plastic wheels which is very close to home for this former BMX bandit.  It was interesting to see what had already sold, a couple of the stronger pieces like 'Vintage underwater enthusiasts - Helsinki chapter' and 'Naval Gazing' but also a few pieces I didn't care for like 'Broomstick limbo' and 'the unwelcome trumpeteer'.  Hugh is very lucky to count monocle magazine publisher (and one of Big Lamington's favourite people) Tyler Brule as a collector.  He had picked up one from each end of the spectrum, but I guess he has plenty of offices and homes to stash them in.

3 to "the Fantasy Dress Piano Hour" (above), a little more out there and very absurd; 2 to First Place in the Competition of Awesome, the painting is nearly as good as the title! And 1 point to "Wearing Shorts to a Showdown" (below left), on first glance nothing but then you get it - for some reason it reminds me of college!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nell studio visit - 2 February

So my first function organised for the MCA young ambassadors (something that the MCA runs to try and get us young whippersnappers under 40 interested in contemporary art) was a studio visit to the artist Nell. Nell only runs with one name (which just reminds me of a question I obviously forgot in the Q&A!) and has a interesting little studio in Kings Cross.

It is always great to listen to artists talk about their work, even more so in an intimate and casual setting. I had rsvp'd to this before really doing my homework on Nell but I was glad I did. Nell is about my age and also from my hometown of Maitland so it was interesting to see what influences her given that we would likely have had a number of similar experiences growing up. Another random link is that my employer has a very large tapestry of Nell's up on our meeting room floor. Despite all this I have still not made it to Roslyn oxley9 gallery which represents Nell, an omission I will be sure to cure in 2011.

Pleasantries out of the way, what about the art? It was very interesting to see such a broad collection of her work: some early, some recent, and some in process. I liked the ghosts stuff that she did, very pacman, and enjoyed some of the titles including the very Phantomesque "ghost who walks". Her large text based black and white paintings were quite interesting and I will be keen to see how the collection of AC/DC t-shirts she has sprawled over the floor morphs into her next work. A buddhist robe made from AC/DC t-shirts gave an inkling but this was to be paired with a sculpture.

Points - 3 for Nell, a very gracious and creative host. 2 to the MCA team organising this and 1 to artist Lionel Bawden who has a little cameo appearance in Nell's talk courtesy of a very small pencil sculpture of his that Nell has.