When we jokingly said that Tim Olsen Gallery should be in the Rocks two weeks ago we were wrong. After spending half a day walking around Woollahra we realise that it’s in exactly the right place. There are so many crummy, overrated galleries tucked away in side streets, the kind of places where artist’s shows are promoted with red banners that say things like PAINTING SHOW NOW ON, Olsen’s gallery can only look good, even with faux-tasteful branding of its own. The only upside of the Woollhara art belt is the proliferation of patisseries where one might sample top quality brioche and good coffee. The rest of the suburb is full of people that Tom Wolfe dubbed “social x-rays” back in the 1960s and aggressive motorists in high class European motor vehicles.
We started out on Queen Street because that’s the only street we knew and passing the patrician portal of Rex Irwin Gallery we decided to pop in and see what was on offer. The answer was bull’s balls. And feathers. It’s an exhibition by Jonathan Delafield Cook that features two stupendous charcoal on gessoed canvas works, one of a life sized Black Angus Bull and another of a life sized Angus Calf. The rest of the show is made up of some exquisitely executed larger than life bird feathers each 82cm by 62cm. Drawn in portrait format, the feathers are incredible, their execution masterful, the distorted large than life scale a testament to Delafield Cook’s ability with his medium. For us, the real attraction of the works is the absence around the images, the white grounds that give the works a sense of detached scientific observation that’s also evocative of a cool modernist conceptualism. Yep, they sure look like art.
As we stood admiring the size of the Bull’s testicles, we ripped open the Velcro flap on our special Art Life back packs to get a pen when a startled man jumped out at us from behind a vase of flowers.
“It’s ok,” we said. “We’re just reaching for a pen.”
“Oh,” the man said, “I thought maybe you were going to slash a painting.”
We assured the man that we liked the works as he sat down behind his desk.
“We don’t know who you all are,” he said. “You might attack the work, like a Michelangelo.”
Next stop on our mini tour was at the Maunsell Wicks Gallery on the corner of Holdsworth Street and Jersey Road. We’d never heard of the gallery were surprised to discover that it’s rather like the old Sherman Galleries Hargrave, a concrete wedge stuck up high from the street with large glass windows and hardly any wall space. We were invited to see Craig Waddell’s show Abstractor, and as with any invitation to do anything, we said yes. Now we’re warning you straight away that there’s a pun in the title as Waddell seems very fond of tractors and the works are abstract, so put ‘em together and what you get is abs-tractor.
Unlike the cramped and poorly lit Mori Gallery show we reviewed a couple of weeks ago, Waddell had the whole top floor of the gallery for his work and despite the fact that the air conditioning was melting the paintings, it was a major step up with brilliant lighting and works all over the place. (Mind you, the gallery also chose to exhibit two works in the upstairs window which you couldn’t see properly from inside the room or out on the street where they were lost to sight behind trees…). The mass impasto technique that Waddell’s using is eye watering – like being poked in the eye by wet hair- and you can see that technique is everything for him. His portraits are deft and concise but it’s the tractors and trucks and other earth moving equipment where the technique is slightly out of control.
If you can imagine a work that is made up of big brush strokes, there’s little room for mistakes or loss of nerve. Although we really liked the tractors and the dumpsters, we couldn’t quite get with some of the hesitations in the execution – either they should be bigger works to contain all the energy that’s undoubtedly there, or Waddell is going to have to spend a lot more time refining the technique – or perhaps use smaller brushes. The real saving grace of this show is Waddell’s use of colour, the whites and yellows and the sparing use of blacks really make this artist someone to watch.