The Art Life begins it’s end of year special with a walk down one of Sydney’s art precinct thoroughfares, Glenmore Road in Paddington. It’s meant to be a two-way street but the traffic is viciously one way, get out of the way or get run over.
Audrey Rhoda, Dog, Fish, Girl.
120x150cm, Oil,wax & charcoal on canvas.
Our Glenmore Road art experience starts before we even get to the second-most venerable art strip in Paddington. We pass Charles Hewitt Gallery & Framing Showroom on South Dowling Street and, in the spirit of adventuring off our well-worn cow-path art track, we venture inside. Audrey Rhoda is having a show called The Child Within. It’s an exhibition of paintings done with oil and wax on board. The artist has developed a concise language of child-like imagery done in an adults-posing-as-kids pastiche of children’s paintings – cats, dogs, cars, faces – built up and layered in a faux art brut style. The show is highly suggestive, mostly of those scenes in films where the camera wanders through a dark spooky house with a toy piano on the soundtrack going plink plink plink and a child’s voice tunelessly singing la la la … Mummy. The child within wants out.
On Glenmore Road proper the fun starts with Gallery Savah [founded 1990] and a big show of Utopia Region Artists. There are stars here – Gloria Petyarre, Minnie Pwerle and Emily Kame Kngwarreye – and for a secondary market gallery it’s no fills, all business. There’s an Kngwarreye called Flower Dreaming in powerful orange and black and a nice Pwerle in yellow and black called Awelye Atnwengerrp, $13,200 and $8,800 respectively. When resale royalty rolls around it’ll be interesting to see how galleries like Savah make a go of it. In the meantime, if you’ve got the cash, why not?
Nerissa Lea, Portal 16, 2007.
Pastel on board, 23 x 23 cm.
Next door to Savah is Australian Galleries Works on Paper Gallery, which is always a surprise even if you know it’s there. AGWOP makes a decent fist of it at the Oxford Street end of things and when we arrive Nerissa Lea is exhibiting pastel on board works in a show with the very promising title of Brain Portals. Lea’s major canvases are overwrought surrealist concoctions that appeal to the tastes of people who’d probably also like cigars, truffles and French maid’s outfits. Her smaller scale pieces in Brain Portals are much more succinct and effective and some of the best suggest Lea might be a distant relation of James Guppy, both artist’s sharing an interest in the quaint bizarre. Portal 16, hanging in the gallery window, is by far the best thing in the show.
Barbara Hilder, McDonnell Ranges.
Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm.
It’s back to Earth when you walk out of AGWOP and into Harris Courtin Gallery. We suffer delirium in humid weather and Harris Courtin offer a deep freeze air conditioning and a very friendly gallery chap who offers a folder room sheet with a list of everything on sale – all of it under $1,000. In fact, the show is called Works Under $1,000. Some people like value for money, such as when you get your hair cut and you know a trim is all you need but since you’re paying good money you think, cut it all off! So at Harris Courtin the works may be small but they are generous with paint. You could probably find cheaper paintings with more paint on them, but what the hell, that’d be like going to Gowings. Perhaps something for the Xmas stocking?
Ben Goss, Music has the right to children, 2007.
Oil, acrylic & shellac on linen, 61.5 x 61 .5.
MaunsellWickes at Barry Stern [across the road from the other galleries at this end of Glenmore Road] is hosted by very generous men who offer clearly distressed visitors glasses of mineral water and anecdotes about pasta dishes in Venice. It’s very refreshing. It’s the final days of Ben Goss’s show and it looks like just about everything has been sold. We like the fact Goss doesn’t seem too concerned with filling up the canvas with paint, and the loose gestural drawing-like quality of the paintings, but the surfaces are too bright and shiny for our tastes. Any doubts are dispelled when we discover that one painting is called Music has the right to children. If you get the reference you quickly realise that Goss is a man of taste and wealth, alright.
The next stop on the Glenmore Road experience is like the middle bit of Apocalypse Now – after the all the fireworks of the beginning it’s a long trip through not much but just remember one thing; never get out of the goddamn boat. Andrew Crawford Gallery is in the old gallery space established by Maree Mizon [now on Queen Street, Paddington] and it’s another secondary market joint. Crawford has worked out the art/life nexus as a hastily hand-written sign in the window advises OPEN SATURDAY 12-6 or BY APPT ONLY. There are some artist run galleries open fewer hours than this but not too many. We looked through the window and could see a light on and an empty port glass sitting on a table but not much else. Next is the Sara Roney Gallery a few meters down the street. The gallery is so narrow that it’s almost just a shop front, albeit a shop front that sells paintings by people you’ve never heard of for $16,000. It’s a weird space and the artists shown there range from Ana Pollack – who recently won the Dobell Drawing Prize – to Dennis Hopper. Yes, that Dennis Hopper. It’s group show time at “the Roney” [as the locals call it] and it is a very polite, light toned abstraction suitable for sunny apartments or hotel rooms in Super Cannes. It is all very tasteful and respectable.
The Freeland Gallery & Ceramic Gallery is closed and we are quietly thankful. Some galleries can afford to be closed mid-week and it gives us reason to press on to Five Ways.
The famous streets near the round-a-bout are being torn up to remove the round-a-bout so the Royal Hotel and various restaurants, the chicken shop and [off to one side] Sherman Galleries on Goodhope Street are marooned behind bollards and battlements. Some shops have just closed until the unpleasantness is over but Paddington Contemporary Fine Art is open for business. A sign in the window states Open as usual. There’s a painting in the window of the gallery by Richard Maurovic of the round-a-bout at Five Ways and its like experiencing a weird mirror, one done in the style of Jeffrey Smart. Once inside the friendly man eating spaghetti explains that Maurovic was a jockey who fell off a horse and lost the use of his legs. He trained himself as an artist and Mr. Smart took him under his wing, teaching Maurovic how to paint. Looking at Maurovic’s work is little like experiencing what it might have been had Smart not forsaken Australia for Italy and was still making pictures of Sydney. In all likelihood he would have ended up like James Willebrandt, but it’s interesting to ponder the possibilities. Meanwhile, Maurovic makes a decent stab at painterly realism.
Robert Hannaford, Green apple, 2007.
Oil on canvas, 152x185cms.
The final leg of our journey is happily all down hill to Harrison Galleries where perennial Archibald Prize bridesmaid Robert Hannaford is having a major show of big paintings called, appropriately enough, New Work. He works to huge scale and in oils, so one must genuflect before the man’s undoubted talent with his medium. The framing gives the impression of old masters and the subject matter – sheep skull, nudes, bags of fruit, gum trees – is William Dargie for the new millennium. There is really nothing more one can say about the work, which is fine, as we rest our weary feet and gaze at a monumental work called Bag of Apples. That’s a good title.