Updated: Apr 1, 2021
I appreciate being asked to write this first ‘blog’ for CStudios Workshops and TrimArt.Online, expanding on remarks at the exhibition opening A Gathering of Creatives 2 in Newcastle, October 2020. In that late month of a year of constricted daily life, of colourless mere existence, it was then as always a deep pleasure to walk into an exhibition thoroughly alive with colour, evidence of skill, and fresh ideas. To speak then, to write now, without waste of anyone’s time means to bring alteration today for helpful differences tomorrow. Accordingly I note that my credentials may be these. I have been in education and training work almost continuously from 1966 onwards, after taking my first Degree from Newcastle University of NSW College, now TAFE Tighes Hill. Post-graduate Diploma studies at the then Newcastle Teachers’ College, now a campus of Newcastle Grammar School, followed. After many decades away I returned in mid 2020 to Newcastle to find TAFE is TAFE and Newcastle Teachers’ College, Union Street Hamilton sold.
My cancelled past has been immediately apparent. Nonetheless back then in the 1960s Newcastle provided essentials for practical, pragmatic, steel-making generations on which to build work, career and thinking. This was a homely, diligent, artisan ‘Maker City’, informed in life and spirit alike by the steelworks and related productive industries.
On then to other cities, countries and universities – a deeply ‘fortunate life’ to date. And in particular, relevant to these comments, to Edvard Munch’s Madonna (1895) in Hamburg in 1970. I was little prepared for the impact, lifelong, positively shocking – never forgotten - coming as I did from that context of Newcastle and the UK 1960s.
Working in Sweden after Britain in the early 1970s cemented in memory and welcome insight that brilliant, astounding, rebellious work. How could paint and canvas be so? Even to the untutored eye: brilliant difference, altering tomorrow.
I am sure we all have such vital moments.
To more contemporary credentials. In recent times Gail and I have been collecting constructive art for some many years; we still are. We had our Gallery Sydney Town Art in Redfern in the teen 2000s. Tough lessons learnt over some years. Reality checks both cultural and contextual. Happily though times also of breath-taking inspiration brought to the room by Australian and International artists alike.
Serendipitous involvement in the creative arts and business worlds now originates then in a continuing commitment to arguing for the merit and value of those arts. A privilege therefore to do this first ‘blog’ for the CStudios website, situated from early 2021 at The Station beside that spectacular harbour in this very senior Australian city.
The Gathering of Creatives 2 exhibition enjoyed a specific brief. All 40 exhibiting artists had long been associated with the Gallery, long-standing and recent equally. All originated in Newcastle though demonstrably geographically now wide-spread.
There were too many works on exhibition for any to be mentioned individually, but these following general comments are a deserved, respectful salute to both artists and to the artworks themselves.
The exhibition ranged widely and technically. Techniques do not need my comment or opinion; I leave that to others. I am wary of personal puffery. Therefore I chose to offer some closely worked observations only.
To my advantage though, in the days prior to the exhibition’s opening I was ‘walked through’ some of the technical side, for which I thank Jo Chisholm-Ray, the gallerist and curator.
Acrylics on canvas.
Alcohol inks on paper.
Artistic, wearable sculptural millinery.
Gouache– and its vibrancy.
Ink on paper.
Oils on board.
Photographic print-making. This has been helpful.
Prints and Mixed Media.
Scratchboard – demonstrating immense patience.
Works on paper with varnish overlay.
At the opening itself no-one, including me, could fail to be wary on the day that Christopher Allen’s arresting, dramatic critique of the Archibald 2020 was published in The Australian Review (Page 10), centring on his review of ‘countless duds’ in that current exhibition.
As we all must be, I am aware also of and alert to the current politics of universities and obvious alteration of focus in so many Australian higher education institutions. For instance: Natural Illustration studies (Honours only?) - a University of Newcastle education element, situated in the Science and IT Faculty @ $34,000.00 + expenses for one year (2021) of study, say 36 weeks? About $1000.00 per teaching week? Am I right? Simplistic measure but good rule of thumb. How do the ‘natural arts’ speak to, and then speak for, Australia?
To some more exact observations:
When I enter a gallery I look forward to being led to see that tomorrow morning is not the same as this afternoon. I search for meaning, available through enchanted cognitive windows onto works made by others.
On best days, the artist’s interpretation of being alive and aware alters that of the viewer, the person standing before. Such alteration is not always for the easier or better but certainly for the different, and often permanent. For the very fortunate such as myself one or more works become imprinted. They become part of an informed, even educated way of perceiving the allegedly perceptible world.
Indeed often it is impossible to avoid a work, much as avoidance may be desired, especially when the artistry, skill and work brings the imperceptible world into focus. Rodin’s best work comes immediately to mind.
This was all apparent – available – in works hung in this exhibition, for which I am sure I can speak on behalf of us both: Gail and I thank you.
How then to ‘gather in’ this exhibition by Creatives?
Immediately apparent are the core communications: humour, surrealism, photo-realism, intense delicacy, wide-ranging colour palettes, adoration of the natural world, pain on paper, allegory, exuberant styles. This all shone as a Spring Exhibition: natural studies of landscape, birdlife, dawn and dusk, sadness and regret, celebration and affirmation.
In no particular order this visitor, now commentator, went back time and again to Ravenna Byzantine caricature pastiche works;
Natural world studies in a number of media, including the exquisite ink on paper studies which immediately should remind anyone of John and Elizabeth Gould in Australia, and on Ash Island, the Scott family and brilliant Scott sisters;
Landscapes and seascapes, peaceful and dramatic alike – a number of which draw the eye into finest details and even important portraits incorporated;
Sculptural forms in ceramic, felting and millinery, without exception finely executed, some lyrical, all exhibiting their makers’ patience, technical skills and sense of colour in 3 dimensions;
Vibrant gouache colours, carefully structured;
Religious iconography critiques;
Wit and kindly humour in finely drawn botanical depictions;
The dry contrast of pastel stick with the shine of oils and acrylics;
Immense patience of scratchboard;
The shock of suffering rendered in ink on paper, acrylic and oils on canvas and board; some will of course turn away;
The persuasive suggestion of delicate watercolours.
The interplay of identifiably objective and subjective joint intent.
Getting up close and personal with each work, as on all occasions, encouraged the sense of detail, the power of drawing. Standing back revealed the thoughtful, variegated communication of the forty works on exhibition. Each collectible in its own right, to sit on walls and mantels and desks – privileged as we are to have such works to keep us company as James Simon in Berlin had the contemplative companionship of the bust of Nefertiti on his desk from 1912 until its first modern showing in 1924. There is an obvious gentle parable: Simon became bankrupt and alone. Nefertiti still influences meaning 3300 years on.
Art works can helpfully enter into lives that need better to be lived.
In closing I hope to have in these few minutes conveyed the deep pleasure of being made aware of this exhibition, being energised by it and by the gifted endeavours revealed across all the works. I regard the exhibition, elegantly presented and skilfully curated as a vital event composed in a truly dislocated year.
Let me suggest therefore what this exhibition told me the Covid-19 era could well do.
As I have indicated earlier, absent owing to other professional activities and lifelong preoccupations I came back to Newcastle after some fifty-five or more wide-ranging years hoping to find a heightened sense of independent politics after the closure of BHP and its ancillary – many – manufacturing entities. From 2020 onwards I hope also to find as time allows that our Newcastle has become a much less compliant and therefore better society, is independently artistic, will always be even actively sceptical. Productively satiric, critical, constructive, never subservient, the necessary antidotes to the destructiveness of Covid 2020.
It was not so in these parts in the 1960s. There were reasons for this. But artistic and intellectual progress is a vital step in any current
‘revitalisation’ about which in this city and country, overwhelmingly in 2020, we all hear and read much each day.
I look forward to available evidence, but fully aware as I have become through trial and error that soap-box antics may offend in the midst of finely wrought aesthetics I merely note in closing that over these many years I have become strenuously averse to state-authorised art such as didactic, often propagandist murals; in another age church-authorised frescoes, stained glass or as in East Germany, say, the ‘heroic industrial/agrarian’ images of the Stalinist period.
I have learned to be strenuously in search of individual art, individual artist, individual artistry, individual life. Against the ‘mob’. Then often I find well-honed skills supporting artistry in many media do actively encourage that elemental freedom: superlative communication, considered insight and beauty in its many manifestations, revealed in all areas of human inquiry or need.
Thus we may occasionally find truth when we look hard enough, patiently.
With so many others I look forward keenly, sometimes but not always vainly of course for more of that superlative communication so readily apparent there at that exhibition of work, that October afternoon.