The Wynne Prize for landscape painting has always been the poor cousin of the three competitions. Artists like Aida Tomescu have been raising the tone over the last decade or so and it’s good to see she’s there again. Peter Kingston, similarly, is a mighty fine painter and his joyous seascape Friday in February is an exultant bilge of briny spume and crème toppings. It’s so green you can smell the harbour. We are also quite keen on John Wolseley as well, although we weren’t big fans, mainly because he includes birds (and won the prize for watercolours – a prize that looks pretty much uncontested) and ditto to Peter Hickey’s collection of cows at dusk called Twilight Gathering because we are partial to cows.
It was also charming to see Vince Vozzo and one of his sculptures included in the show. He does gently surrealistic works in the style of Hans Arp and it always makes us feel better every time we see them. There’s a certain amount of guilt behind that sentiment tho’, because, way back in 1981, we stole Vince’s drawing board at art school and have felt bad about it ever since. One day, we pray, he’ll win the damn Wynne and we can wash our hands this nagging guilt.
Noel McKenna does whimsy better than anyone by avoiding cheap sentiment. His big painting Big Things Australia is a like a school project with all of the country’s real (and imagined) big things mapped out with helpful illustrations, many in colour. From a purely diagrammatic point of view, McKenna has made an interesting collection of images that shows that down south big things tend to be objects (big cans, big Captain Cook), while, as you move north, they become big Fruits and then, as you go west again, become big crocs and bottles. What a pleasant visual experience.
We were on a bit of a high, a belated energy surge from carrying our hangover around into the next room when we were shocked to our boots by the inclusion of a Euan Macleod painting in the show. Never has an artist of such marginal talent been hoisted to such lofty heights. Macleod proves the point that art in this country is a truly egalitarian pastime – anyone can do it and now they are. His Archibald prize winning self portrait of 1999 tested the limits of credulity – its scrappy, crappy application of paint, its absurd expressionistic stylings, the inclusion of dolphins with the ominous half moon of the artist’s face –finally, here was an artist who was willing to take the images from the back of his high school exercise book and put them on a canvas, irony free!
So prepare yourself because we are about to play with your mind. Are you ready? Macleod has done a painting called Outside In and he has painted a room with clouds and a blue sky inside. Like, what you would think of as the sky, IS IN A ROOM! Man, that must be some strong shit! It’s worth checking out Macleod’s work to see a painting that fails on every level – execution and concept hand in hand, a total dribbly failure. Incredible.