A few private moments

  • Categories: Blog
  • Date: 27th April 2012
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Hello out there, I’ve had my break, cleared my head and now I’m back.
Sometimes doing the rounds feels quite impersonal, going through the motions. This week though there were sparks of recognition and connection which added meaning and purpose to my journey. 
First, being part of large, noisy but respectful crowd at the opening of a short film to honour a leader of curators, Nick Waterlow. Another was a few private quiet moments on my own, rummaging through a stockroom. And then, by appointment only, a personal guided tour of a younger artist’s new exhibition.
For many artists, I imagine, putting their work up for public scrutiny is challenging. That which is personal is revealed and, hopefully, understood and respected. The same can be said of curating exhibitions: presenting your own view of the world through artworks specifically grouped together, for critique and response. Whilst the role of the curator is a behind the scenes one, with the ideal aim to create spark and story between the selected artworks, the curator’s personal interpretations and knowledge also come under the critical microscope. 
Nick Waterlow was a leader in the field of curating. He brought an openness, curiosity, generosity and humility to his presentations and interpretations of art. Juliet Darling’s short film is a personal memoir, a hommage to her late partner Nick Waterlow. Called A curator’s last will and testament, it is being shown at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery www.roslynoxley9.com.au
For me it was a moving 11 or so minutes, watching the film, hearing Nick’s voice, listening to some favourite music and seeing some favourite artworks of his (I recognised the association with quite a few); but more, quietly honouring his legacy. The film focuses on 7 points, written in his hand and found in his diary after his untimely and tragic death, describing in a nutshell his understanding of what it is to be a curator:

There is commentary from Fr Steve Sinn SJ, a close family friend whose spiritual guidance runs parallel with Nick’s journey in the art world. The words are wise and relevant to any curator or  art fancier. It is about keeping an open mind to the possibilities and potential of creative endeavours. Nick was a mentor to many (myself included) as a curator and teacher. He introduced new audiences to artworks and artists not seen or experienced here before through his work at the Biennale of Sydney, the VAB (then), the Ivan Dougherty Gallery and many other exhibitions. A scholarship for Master of Arts Admin students at the College of Fine Arts (COFA) UNSW has been launched in Nick’s name and in his memory. Each point in his testament could well become the subject headings for the graduate course. For more information on the scholarship or how to contribute to it go to www.cofa.unsw.edu.au/about-us/giving-donors/

It was nice to hear Nick’s voice again, this time on the King Street Gallery on William website, when I was looking for some background information on Elisabeth Cummings. (Art meanderings these days are as much about moving all around Sydney as it is about virtual navigation.) I had wandered into the gallery for a quick look at the group thematic exhibition Animals but it wasn’t what I was after. There are some nice pieces in the exhibition, from a range of artists and galleries, but I was in the mood for something more.
So I asked to be taken upstairs to have some time in the stockroom; easily granted. And there I had a lovely time, trawling through the racks, quietly looking at artworks from exhibitions I had unfortunately missed (as had others obviously), and importantly, reminding myself of artists who had slipped off my radar. The history of a gallery can be mapped out in its stockroom – the exhibition space is the tip, the stockroom is the iceberg – and it is great to have an opportunity to just rummage around.

King Street Gallery on William has a good stable of solid mid-career artists. Some works, new and older ones of Elisabeth Cummings’ were there – lucky as they don’t hang around for long, she is in such demand. Her star has well and truly risen: her show earlier this year took Sydney by storm. She works from memory and feel: what she has seen and moves her. Interior scenes of her studio in Wedderburn, in the bush near Campbelltown; local bush scenes that are endlessly changing; visits to expansive landscapes, the Pilbara and Fowlers Gap. Preliminary drawings are done first but the hard physical and emotional work of painting is done back in the studio. In a video on the website Nick said of her work that “it is about not having a beginning or an end” and that resonated: the work is neither defined by nor limited to the edges of the canvas; its core is not so immediately or obviously revealed – it allows the viewer to enter the work and be wrapped up in it. His words genuinely described the experience.

Another whose star is already shining brightly is Idris Murphy. His desert landscapes in particular (invariably at Fowlers Gap out past Broken Hill way) shimmer with iridescent colour and simplicity of style. They are captivating: his works, as with Cummings, hold the memories and feelings of being in a remote place rather than attempt renditions of it. Colour evokes mood and emotion.  Image is pared back to its simplest form, in which its essence is revealed. It is exactly this simplicity which is the most difficult and complex thing to achieve. 

Idris Murphy Beach and Gwion 2011
acrylic on canvas 45 x 45cm
Courtesy of King Street Gallery and the artist

Amanda Penrose Hart is also a landscape painter but of bush closer to home with quirky reminders of human habitation: a vista seen through a window slot, an old homely purple caravan, red thongs. Paint is thick and lush, played nicely by the artist. The bush is inviting and accessible, as are the resulting paintings. Unlike Murphy or Cummings, she paints what is in front of her, as it is before her. Her work is descriptive rather than intuitive, with an additional kink thrown in as a personal touch. I love this quote of hers as it typifies her work and her approach to it. “I use to think life was a caravan park now I know it is actually a two dollar shop” 

Amanda Penrose Hart Above the river bed 2011
oil on board 14 x 180cm
image Courtesy of King Street Gallery and the artist


Other thoughtful landscape painters of varying styles Joanna Logue, Jenny Sages, Leo Robba, and others, photographer Paul Ferman and painter Adrienne Strampp whose recent show was beautiful, are all featured. See more on the stockroom page of their website www.kingstreetgallery.com.au or visit and politely ask to be shown upstairs.
My next visit felt private in that it is open by appointment only – not to make life difficult, just to make sure Mr Wright is there when you arrive. William Wright Artists’ Projects in Stanley St Darlinghurst is currently showing Coen Young.  
Coen Young is a really interesting young artist – yes, he can be defined as emerging. A recent much acclaimed graduate from the National Art School, his practice thus far is diverse and intriguing. There are some images around of other earlier work by him – a circular neon script “A rose is a rose is a rose, after Gertrude Stein” – but this collection of 2D sculptures/ sculptural paintings is completely different (and the first I’ve seen of his). Essentially the suite of 11 works are densely blackened surfaces on a metallic rectangular sheet, mounted on wood so they sit out from the wall. At a glance they could all be the same, but up close and personal, the surfaces are scratched, buffed and sanded to reveal different textures, small white blotches and varying shades of black. So tough, almost butch, but don’t be fooled, scratch the surface (so to speak – white cotton gloves only please) and these works are sweet, shy and mysterious. All delicate and subtle; individual and intriguing. The butch exterior is all play. 
A work by Geoff Kleem is the opposite – all image and all white, from an exhibition of his a while ago in the days of Room 35 and Gitte Weise Gallery, Sydney. A decade on and it still looked fresh and pertinent.
It’s a great private space, interesting artists, curator/director with great knowledge and history who has time for a discussion. I am looking forward to Ken Unsworth in June. Will come back to this space and talk about it some more. Ring ahead on 0404 904 609.
And just a reminder, Lucy Culliton (as mentioned in an earlier blog) is in full bloom at Ray Hughes Gallery Surry Hills www.rayhughesgallery.com
See you next week.

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