From Isobel Johnston…
January is generally regarded as a time when most galleries are closed – everyone’s on holidays and nothing much happens. The gallery year really gears up in February, when Sydneysiders all return to work. While the Sydney Festival eclipses the cultural limelight in January things happen in the art galleries. There were major shows and retrospectives at the public institutions, some of the commercial galleries banded together to showcase sculpture and a smattering of galleries opened with group shows. All of which is fairly predictable. But what stole the show was the work of younger artists. My theory is that the commercial spaces give their young and least tested artists a go in January (or at least Martin Browne and Michael Reid‘s galleries did). This coupled with cracker shows at Firstdraft, MOP and James Dorahy this January started the gallery year with a bang.
Acrylic, pencil and metallic pigment on canvas, 122 x 152 cm.
Martin Browne was showing work by the youngest artist in their stable Simon Taylor at prices that, for this gallery, were amazingly affordable. The work is alluring. Skilfully executed mesmerizing patterns of dots that shimmer and tug the push and pull of the painting’s surface. The work references the environment and alludes to Aboriginal painting. This was Taylor’s second show with the gallery. Knowing he holds a degree in Environmental Science, and has spent time living in the central desert with Aboriginal communities makes sense of these nuances. To acknowledge the influence of Aboriginal painting as a non-indigenous contemporary artist creates a visual dialogue that situates the formal concerns of abstraction of both within the context of contemporary painting and its audience. (This offers a tantalising proposition : true parity and opens up a much more level playing field for a generation that could be perceived as truly (post) politically correct.)
James Dorahy Project Space
A little further along Macleay Street and accessible from Orwell Street is the James Dorahy Project Space. Colouring In (sculpture) featured works by five of the gallery’s nine represented artists – Paul Donald, James Dorahy, Sarah Newall, Elvis Richardson and Nuha Saad. Towers of trophies by Elvis Richardson in an aqua and brown of past and resplendent melted silver cups revivified the traditional lifespan of the trophy. A trophy belongs to the proud winner but its shelf life is directly connected to the life and career of its recipient. Junk shops and auction houses often become the final resting place for these hard won accolades. Richardson’s breathes new life into these objects at the same time displacing the kitsch with high art. Her work begs questions about the relationship we hold to objects that link us to a specific moment in time and what becomes of this traffic of unhitched objects when the owner no longer exists. Sarah Newall takes on still life and the painted surface – in orange or in green. She uses the formality of the grid and rigid constraints of limited colour or form (and this is also true for some of the other artists in the show) and brings together the playful and the serious. It is a lightness of touch that makes Colouring In (sculpture) both bright and deep.
Silke Raetze, Whispering Desert, 2007.
Pen and ink on sculptural paper form, 45.0 x 45.0 x 10.0 cm.
Silke Raetze and James Culkin have day jobs at Michael Reid Gallery and this is the second year they’ve been given the opportunity to showcase their own work at the gallery (which says a lot for Reid’s support of younger artists and his staff.) Raetze’s delights in the skill of drawing and the cheekiness of the subject – women’s underwear. The materiality of her subject is created with sculptured paper and the delicacy of her line work and is presented “like boxed chocolates” in deep frames. Rather than exuding salaciousness or sordid sexuality – they are not stained by fluids, tainted by hair which would have been their insignia for feminists artists of an earlier generation- instead ‘Sweet Nothings’ celebrates a delight in the sheer sexiness of ‘smalls’ and drawing skill. Culkin’s paintings are layered like the surfaces of walls in old houses, where pastel tints abut each other and traces of other lives seep though to surface here and there. Wallpaper, ancient lead pencil handwriting–(like my grandmother’s), packaging and playing cards – all recall the past. Recording the detritus of lived experiences provides a point of connection for the work of these artists.
At Firstdraft there was a curated show ‘I AM A GOOD BOY’. Elise Routledge is a curator going places. The rationale works- bad boys: the expectations of masculinity in a post-feminist age. Tongue in cheek the game is loaded and everyone gets a serve – an ogling priest’s with his eyeballs on the floor (Christopher Hanrahan); bikes that fart flames ( Marley Dawson); a slow motion serenade (Todd Mcmillian); a close up of partied out girl (Peter Volich); death and football games (Michael Moran) – all sit side by side while the disembodied head of the trophy looms large (Ben Quilty) and the pool table ascends to it’s rightful place above all else. It’s fun, it’s tough and it deals with the all the baggage and has a laugh. Ben is already a star but they’re all worth watching. Mitch Cairns whose work deals with fathers, sons, death and bricklaying is known mostly as a painter but is curating a show coming up at Mop later in the year – it too is also worth watching out for.
Meow? Stephen Hodge’s psychedelic kittens at MOP
MOP used to occupy a very small space in Elizabeth Street but moved to a much bigger gallery space in Abercrombie St last year and now offers three rather than two shows in the one space or at least this was the case in January with Agatha Gothe-Snape, Stephen Hodge and Leslie Rice. The space therefore remains fairly tight and the restrictions were dealt with by Gothe-Snape by expanding the exhibiting field with the inclusion of a photograph of the artist working in her garden surrounded by works that could be purchased from a numbered guide sheet. Stephen Hodge, who had the largest share of the gallery presented paintings without a signature style. So much so that at first glance they appeared to be the work of a number of different artists. Freed from the constraints of a particular style or identifiable medium Hodge’s work skated from art historical referencing, to installation, to pencil drawings. Value, pricing and affordability seemed to be the question as Hodge’s work was ridiculously cheap and in the case of the installation prices could be negotiated piece by piece. Not often are questions of art as commodity challenged at both the level of the intellectual and the actual. Black velvet and art history collide in Rice’s paintings where Christians and lions occupy centre stage. A grey wall opposite cuts down the reflection as you peered into a half recollected space of the paintings or prints in some old relative’s dark hallway- creepy yet familiar- not a bad trick for a white walled well-lit gallery space.
Glimpsing the Australia Day BBQ at Firstdraft seemed to locate it all -the heat, the sausage sizzle on the street and the buzz of the next generation of artists comfortably able to embrace both art and culture.