It takes a keen eye

  • Categories: Blog
  • Date: 23rd February 2012
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In the art world a keen eye is a bit like the fine palate in the wine world. It is not necessarily an innate attribute – though they are always impressive – but something which, if worked on, can be nurtured and refined. I think the driving force behind the eye or palate (or ear for that matter) is passion. If the passion exists then so too does the discernment.

Ray Hughes has both, the passion & the eye. Many memorable Australian artists have begun his/ her commercial career with him. Bill Robinson, Robert Macpherson and others. I remember seeing Del Kathryn Barton’s first solo exhibition at Ray Hughes Gallery and being jolted into another world. The relationships may not last (no speculation here) but the respect remains.
Ray was at the forefront of bringing contemporary Chinese art to Australia. It takes a really keen eye and serious commitment to find your way through the back streets of China some 20-25 years ago, visit clandestine studios to meet with artists, select some choice pieces, then ship them out to Australia under the not-so-discerning but ever-watchful eye of diligent beaurocrats. No passion in that camp. Given a lot of the (mostly) paintings were biting commentaries on the state of Chinese politics and officialdom, these works were not the sort of thing the Chinese Government wanted the rest of the world to see. There are some hilarious stories about dodging officials in China to bring the works, some particularly big, here; perhaps though, only hilarious in hindsight.
Ray’s first show for 2012 was 10 Years of Contemporary Chinese Art. Who else could have done that? Paintings and works on paper, some dating to 1992 (call that 20 years) were on show. Even with my scant knowledge of this genre (sorry to admit) the works were fresh and sharp; their underlying message still acute. 
This current show is another group show of represented artists with new works, fresh out of the studio. 
Lucy Culliton Poppies 2012 oil on canvas

It gives a great overview of the range of the Gallery. The ever popular and really delightful works by Lucy Culliton were there. Just lovely. Flowers, which are no doubt fresh out of her garden, are plonked into random jars and bottles and then studied and painted. She has a great eye and a gentle touch: palette, composition & feel. They are a bit dowdy but welcoming, just like grandma – complete with that heartwarming nostalgia. Simple observations of everyday life – her everyday life – are precious in her revelations of things personal & things private. 

Jun Chen Nude & still life 2012 oil on canvas

Jun Chen’s nudes and still lifes offer something else. We are on the outside peering in, almost voyeuristically, as a languid naked female drapes herself over a table or chair aside a bunch of flowers. The paint is indulgent: thick, lush and delicious. Generously scraped on with a palette knife in confident swipes, detail is lost to the swathe of colour and texture of paint. 







I’m not so drawn to Joe Furlonger‘s work as previously. I have always responded well to his swirling lines and figures. This series of self portraits, not so. They are edgy and tense; not so much introspective but a declaration of anguish and dark times. Turns out he was recently involved in a car accident – a terrible experience for him. It seems these portraits reflect this moment in time for him. 
Look closely at the pairings of Michael Bell’s night and day landscapes of the same scene and Leigh Rigozzi‘s cartoons. The lovelorn character, lost in his beer in pubs of the inner west of Sydney, with few adventures and no hope on the horizon. You have to laugh!
I really like Cameron Haas’ work. He held his first major show with Ray late last year. Another artist new on the scene who will make good. In this group show there are 2 new works, based on a mural he completed for a large foyer in the Sydney cbd recently. A great commission for a young artist which shows confident belief in his trajectory. 

Cameron Haas Untitled 2012 acrylic on canvas

The gallery is in a large warehouse in Surry Hills & downstairs there are a few exhibition spaces, so there is always lots to see. Chickens pecking away in the back room; a large swirling landscape by Jun Chen; lots of small objects and sculpture. 

Ray’s been in the art business for over 40 years – which is an incredible achievement in the art world. Making money is only part of the business, but a given reality in order to continue. The business succeeds because of the commitment and the passion. He remains at the helm with his son Evan now increasingly in command. Drop by & start a conversation. You never know, you might get an invite to one of the weekly lunches hosted by Ray. It is such fabulous hospitality with great food, diverse and interesting company, talk & wine is memorable.

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