Thursday, May 30, 2013

Head On Photo Festival at the Mitchell Library - 30 May

The Head On Photo festival is on at the Mitchell Library until 17 June.  There are three separate prizes. Upstairs in the exhibitions space is the portrait prize.  On the ground floor in the little anteroom that leads to the underground passage to the State Library is the photobook prize.  Apparently the landscapes are in the Paddington Reservoir which I should get to but I haven't yet.  Given this CBD friendly location I've managed to swing by twice, mainly to make my people's choice vote count to the extent it deserves!

Of the prizes on offer my favourite was the photobooks.  There were some great books and the standard of production of these small run (some print runs as low as 1!) editions was amazing.  Here's the website to see the finalists if you can't make it to the Library.  I really enjoyed Stephen Dupont's 'Piksa Niugini' with colourful portraits of contemporary Papuans.  Dan O'Day's documentary style book of two elderly Canberran's 'Ginger & Pearl' was also pretty interesting and nicely produced, it actually won the subcategory for photojournalism. The landscape category was a little weaker, I eagerly flipped through Louise Hawson's 52 Suburbs but found her take on Paddington well wide of the mark. My favourite title was 'An Interview with a Cockatoo (or two)' by Leila Jeffreys (pictured top).  Loyal readers will remember our visit to her show at Tim Olsen last November.  The premise of this book is that she has taken the birds from that exhibit and posed questions to them in the form of a photographic interview.  Leila takes her inspiration from classic photobook 'The Frenchman' where a French actor answers questions with his facial expressions.  My favourite question was 'Can you do an impression of Napoleon?', the answer is pictured below.  Compared to the fantastic selection of photo books I was a little uninspired by the photo portraits upstairs.  Here my art vocab is going to let me down, I can't really put my finger on it but it just seemed a little too 'editorial' rather than 'contemporary art'.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, indeed I gave my people's choice to SMH photographer Dallas Kilponen's entry (above), but it was missing the spark of say an Eric Bridgeman or Liam Benson.

Points:  3 to Leila Jeffrey's book, Big Lamington is seriously becoming an independent publisher to bring this to market!  2 to Stepen Dupont's Niugini book, I'd love him to go next door to West Papua - merdeka!  1 point to Dallas Kilponen's portrait of the sisters running the roadhouse in Oodnadatta.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In Possible Worlds at 4A - 16 May

In Possible Worlds is on until 8 June, so you've got a little bit of time to get down to 4A and see it for yourself.  I am fortunate to have a regular meeting down this end of town (not surprisingly, the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art is near Chinatown) and was able to pop in and check this out. I would also highly recommend hitting up Ho's Dim Sim Kitchen nearby on Pitt St where I was able to pick up a tasty little snack of prawn and pork fried dimmies to warm me up on a cold May day.

This show "brings together a selection of recent works by Australian artists Elly Kent, Claudia Nicholson and Tianli Zu".  It is part of 4A's early career artists initiative so these guys are all relatively fresh out of art school.  In the downstairs space is Elly Kent's interesting take on Indonesian batiks that she has then stretched over door and window frames.  I am not sure I really got why the doors and windows, and using familiar everyday objects for the patterns might "recontextualise" the process but it certainly makes it far less exotic, which to me is the whole point of batiks.  Maybe I am just a bigger fan of the Dutch wax cloth that is popular in Africa and is also a batik derivative.  Upstairs was where my favourite works lurked.  Top pick was easily Claudia Nicholson.  In the gallery catalogue her work is described as being interested in "the social functions of folklore and myth surrounding pregnancy and childbirth".  I didn't necessarily get that but then on her COFA resume it mentions how this particular interest is on attitudes to the illegitimate child.  As an adopted child, born in Colombia and raised in Australia I now see where Claudia is going with her work.  And it also answers my tweeted question of what happens next in her video work about the pink dolphin (spoiler, in the video a little boy recounted a folk tale of how the pink dolphin had turned into a charming gent and was at the party waiting for a woman to get drunk, now you put the two and two together).   As well as her videos she also has some great drawings (above a selection, and at top, a drawing of the infamous pink dolphin!).  I really enjoyed both her videos and her drawings.  Cross-cultural references abound, for instance you get lots of exotic drawings of South American women wearing koala slippers.   The last room contained Tianli Zu's large cut outs.  Had I realised they were inspired by "human and organic forms and genitalia" I would've looked harder.  Sadly for me it was all a bit rushed by the time I got to this last room as I had spent too much time searching for the pink dolphin!

Points:  I think these are all going to go to Claudia.  Loved her contributions.  3 points for the dolphin works (yes video + drawing), I think the video could be bit longer and also give a little more away, had I not done some extra credit homework I would've remained confused on this one.  2 for Viva La Malinche (above), this was texta and flocking powder, whatever that is.  1 point for the Prawn work 'Viva La Tunda' - don't tell me he is also gets into the act of fathering illegitmate children!  I might be back as I think I will get more out of another viewing.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sam Leach at SSFA - 11 May

Sam Leach turns convention on its head.  I am talking here about the gallery space here as he has taken the upstairs space, which totally throws the heuristic I had developed for the higher profile artist taking the downstairs at Sullivan & Strumpf.  His new show, Dymaxion, just opened today and runs until 8 June. I tagged along as I was quite keen to hear the artist in conversation with Andrew Frost.

It was an interesting discussion, and always great to hear an artist speak about their body of work as it puts it in context.  Andrew Frost was a pretty decent interviewer and didn't miss the opportunity to plug his upcoming telly show, don't worry we'll have a look at that in due course. What did I learn? Well for starters Sam Leach is yet another artist doing a PhD.  His thesis has a really snappy title but I totally failed at remembering it.  I  am reliably informed a video of the interview will go up on the SSFA website at some stage although its not up yet.  What else?  Well this show started out after Sam took a commission where the patron wanted him to work in some circular targets referencing Jasper Johns.  I love a random commission.  Sam how about a country rugby league logo?  I am thinking the Cessnock Goannas for you!  Anyway onto the work.  I love how Leach mixes up the classical images and the futuristic, or even the retro futuristic, in his work.  The sharp photorealistic painting style combined with the shiny resin finishes look very slick and very hard to paint!  So top marks for skill.  The big bopper in this show is 'Sebeok on Safari' which contains 24 panels of 50 x 50cm for a total of 2m x 3m overall.  It was totes amazeballs both up close and from a distance.  Actually all the large scale works are quite awe inspiring, I think it is because of the technique.  Despite this, I do prefer his smaller works, remember he won the Archibald and the Wynne with very small works (for those prizes anyway).  Luckily for me my top pick 'Van Dalem in Dymaxion' (image at top) had sold.  This was 3 smaller panels and replicated the dymaxion map by Buckminster Fuller that gave the show its title.  This map is a way of cutting the globe and showing the world without the prejudice of north / south etc.  It is an interesting concept and strangely enough one I was familiar with as the ivy league uni I went to in the US had a massive Gall-Peters equal area cylindrical map on a double story wall in one of the buildings (if you didn't know the standard Mercator projection is totally biased towards Europe, it gives it 2/3 the whole map when it takes up 1/3, it's why Greenland looks huge on most maps). Anyway, enough with the cartography. I also liked the 'Baldessari Tribute Monkey' (above) which shows the use of the targets to great effect.  These works don't seem to photograph that well and they are amazing in person so you'll just have to get down and see for yourself.  I'll also tweet a photo of the side of the works which shows the resin dripping down (you can kind of see it on the image below), it is a very cool process and one I'd love to try.

Points:  3 to the Dymaxion map, 2 points to the hugeness of the safari work and I will give 1 point to 'Stone Tool C' (above).  It was a smaller work that also incorporated some of this tools that he did in the last show.  Is this just me or does it also look like some kind of retro-futuristic Parramatta Eels insignia?  C'mon Sam, the CRL baby, get on board!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Colour Theory with Richard Bell

So far I think my favourite social media platform is twitter.  For those interested in the arts you can find out quite a lot that the mainstream media (and even the arts media) totally misses.  This was the case with Colour Theory, which is a new series on NITV.  Whilst I was familiar with the concept of NITV (it stands for National Indigenous Television and is one of the SBS free to air channels) I don't think I had watched it before last Sunday.

Colour Theory is hosted by Richard Bell and airs at 8pm.  It is a 30 minute show that focusses on a different artist each week.  I missed week 1 so only started with week 2 which covered Yhonnie Scarce.  I was familiar with her work before, especially the glass yams with the targets but I did learn quite a lot, not least of which how to pronounce her name which I had totally wrong!  Be sure to remember to tape it each week as my foxtel series link doesn't seem to work on NITV.  There are a few Big Lamington favourites coming up such as Reko Rennie (26 May), Archie Moore (2 June) and Tony Albert (16 June).

I'll come back and award the points at the end of the series.  So far Highly Commended's to NITV for commissioning this interesting series and Richard Bell for his great hosting, Richard also doesn't mind hamming it up for the cameras and I'd be willing to bet Tommy Waterhouse that his magnifying glass might make an appearance in each episode.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Debil Debil at Anna Schwartz Gallery - 4 May

Debil Debil opened in April and runs all the way through to 8 June so you have plenty of time to get down to Anna Schwartz's gallery at Carriageworks and see this group show.  The show, curated by a leading Aboriginal scholar Prof. Marcia Langton, takes as its reference point the Tracey Moffatt film beDevil.  It is 20 years since this was released and the Professor has collected a diverse body of work from other contemporary aboriginal artists that I expected was going to be full of ghosts.  However from what I can make of the accompanying essay, the show really references history (but that is perhaps due to my definition of ghosts being the stricter Scooby Doo sense of 'actual' ghosts rather than 'ghosts of our past').

So lots of big names here.  Daniel Boyd, Christian Thompson, Brook Andrew, Gordon Bennett, Danie Mellor, Tracey Moffatt and Darren Siwes have all probably been mentioned on Big Lamington before.  It was nice to see Michael Cook's work in the flesh as I think my previous experience had been glossy adverts in art magazines.  His series of 'Civilised' works were I guess quite 'haunting' in their soft focus but then again I was searching for ghosts!  I was here with just one of my junior collectors who was quite taken by the tall bronze totem pole type sculptures of Nawurapu Wunungmurra.  My favourites were probably the photographic works.  I did like Darren Siwes take of the royal family.  His collection of 3 works 'Gudjerie Kwin', 'Jingli Kwin' and 'Northie Kwin' were eye catching, if a little off-putting at the same time.  I would have liked to have known more about the artists intentions with these.  Christian Thompson had some great photos included, all told I liked the ones where he hides his face the best (like his previous series that he did with native flowers).  Top pick was probably 'Invaded Dreams' (below) although I am not sure if there is any intended significance of the choice of the Mary Rose as the ship in the image.  Perhaps the historian in me is looking for too much significance here, given Christian is using a modern union jack on Henry VIII's flagship (i.e. circa 1500s).  Danie Mellor has a great big scene of his signature illustrations on a blue and white background.  It looked great and I bet it would cost a packet to take this 300x360cm work home with you.  Brook Andrew had contributed some mostly black and white prints.  I am not sure of his technique but they look to me like a vintage image is altered and then printed on the fabric.  Despite the antique look I am guessing there is some digital in this process.  However he did these 'mixed media on belgian linen' works they look sharp.

Points:  I am going to run with my own theme for the points today.  All these artists are working some Union Jack action into their pieces.  3 to points to Brook Andrew's 'Time VI' (middle).  2 points to Michael Cook 'Civilised #11' (top) and 1 point to Christian Thompson's 'Invaded Dreams'.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Redlands Art Prize at the National Art School - 2 May

So there is no let off in prize season over in the art world and this week we are back to the National Art School to check out the Redlands Art Prize.  Their angle is to award both an established and an emerging artist prize (although the prize money is not similar, $25k to the established and $10k to the emerging).  The other twist is that once the established artists are invited to participate they each get to nominate an emerging artist to join the society.  Did they design that system to mirror private school life (where the older kids bestow patronage on the frats) or was it just a happy accident?  Who knows, on to the show!

This show was an eduction last year and is again.  You would think for someone who averages about a show a week and reads a fair bit I would've heard of more of these people.  I did see some familiar sights, recognising Todd Robinson's plaster balloons from galerie pompom and Cigdem Aydemir's signature burqa video work.  Her entry "Bombshell" which made like Marilyn Monroe over the subway grate, but with a huge black burqa, won the emerging prize tonight (and got some good press).  She took my 3 points with her highly commended by the judges video from the John Fries memorial prize last year.  This work is a little slicker in terms of production but I think I liked the swing better.  Both are great.  I liked TV Moore's photo 'Moon Plank Still Life' which used that great Mr Squiggle trick of turning the image upside down (also very appropriate given Norman Hetherington, aka Mr Squiggle himself, was a NAS alum).  This also played to a cardinal rule of photography - print it big.  At 180 x 220cm this was a whopper.  As people get used to these sizes the emerging artists of tomorrow will just have to keep printing bigger and bigger.  I reckon 360 x 440cm will be a standard gallery size in a few years! Andrew Liversidge, who is repped by emerging gallery hotspot the Commercial, has a great text work entered called 'Things that are the same are the same everywhere' (see image below).  Simple, graphic, a little thought provoking.  I loved it.  Other highlights included Tom Nicholson's 'Comparative Monument (Palestine)' (selected image top) where the artist went and photographed 9 separate war monuments around Melbourne which pay tribute to Australian soldiers who have served in Palestine.  The artist was commenting on how the scene of battle for the Australians, Beersheeba (you should remember it from the movie The Lighthorsemen, and if you haven't seen the movie then John Howard would like you to tear up your passport because you are unAustralian) was once in Palestine and is now in Israel.  Quite current affairs.  I didn't mind the big winner, Callum Morton's, piece 'Cover up #1' but it was only when I got home and read the catalogue that I realised it was a 3D resin sculpture of a covered up work.  On first view it looked like a real painting covered under fabric.  Oh the mimetic realism! I am probably using that term incorrectly but just picked it up and figured I needed to sprinkle a little bit of International Art English through this site.  Anyway, nice touch Callum.  A bit tricky, but I am sure it is one of those works that will have other artists wishing they had thought of it first.  Although as Richard Prince showed in court last week it is cool to steal, sorry appropriate!

Points:  3 to Andrew Liversidge for the One Thousand / Two Thousand.  2 to Tom Nicholson for the Palestine memorials and 1 to David Haines for the text superimposed on the quarry.  It looks like text heavy works have again scooped the Big Lamington pool, I think I am onto something ...

One last thing, I think this award could learn something from the Pebble Beach Pro-Am where, apart from the PGA event, they also run a teams event with a pro and an amateur playing as a team (Kerry Packer and the Shark won it back in the day).  Here I would give the prize to the best 'team' of artist and emerging artist.  That is, combined judging of how the artist and their nominee did together.  For mine, David Haines and Michaela Gleave would've taken that out this year.  You can see those works (and all the others) in the catalogue here.