Part 3: Sawing Logs

Uncategorized Dec 04, 2004 No Comments

When we were kids, meals like spaghetti or fried rice were considered exotic foreign foods that only cravat wearing city people got to eat. Now it’s just day to day stuff you can buy frozen at Coles while we’re looking for a restaurant that serves marinated dolphin brains in a wasabi and dill sauce over a bed of couscous and asparagus… So imagine our surprise when we ate what turned out to be the most fantastic slice of garlic bread we have ever had in our entire lives. It was part of a meal we had at Danks Street Depot and while it wasn’t at the cutting edge of exotic nosh, it was fabulous.

What a pity then that the art at the Danks Street art warehouse isn’t anywhere near as good as the food. It’s a great idea – Supa Centa art in one spot with a café attached – but a concept that has never been fully realised. We looked in the windows at Gow Langsford Gallery at the Matthys Gerber show and the place was deserted – the woman behind the counter was falling asleep and tumble weeds were blowing through the room. We reviewed Gerber’s show a week or so back and commented that maybe the works don’t look as good in real life as they do in print but we liked ‘em anyway. Imagine our surprise then as we opened the Sydney Morning Herald today and found Peter Hill comparing the changes in Gerber’s career to those of Elvis Costello. The similarities are so obvious although Gerber nominated Captain Beefheart, one of Hill’s favourites and perennial reference for anything that takes his fancy. Actually, since our Gerber review we discovered an actual visual artist whose work bears a striking resemblance to Gerber’s, right down the crazy perspective shifts and psychedelic colours – but we promise to never mention his name, it’s just a coincidence.

Next to the soon-to-be-forgotten Gow Langsford is Stills South, with a show of work by Robyn Stacey that apparently was meant to come down on November 27 but was still very much up when we visited. With a magnificent example of her lenticular photography, a huge artist proof of Waratah, a host of smaller botanical studies, we once again pondered the innate unfairness of the Australian art world. Why isn’t Robyn Stacey representing Australia at Venice? Why isn’t she given a major retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art? Why isn’t her name spoken with hushed reverence for the years and years of innovative work she has created? Why? It’s just not right!

Next door to Stills is one of the two Danks Street hire spaces. Inside were the last days of Susan Weir’s exhibition Things To Be Regarded Without Suspicion, a damn strange name to give a show that the tiny blurb stuck in the window described as an exhibition of maritime art that “draws attention to the maritime ethos of Sydney.” The show was very nice with pictures of ships and tugs and Deco houses and apartments with the sweeping lines of nautical inspiration. Our thoughts turned to a girl in our Foundation class at art college who used to make nothing but variations of the same “tugs in the bay” picture (in needle work, watercolour, painting, sculpture, ceramic – whatever the class required, she could make a tug boat art work to measure.) Mysteriously, after the first year, the girl disappeared – some said to work on a tramp steamer in the North Atlantic – and we often wondered whatever happened to her. Looking at Weir’s work we thought she might be this same girl, but then Weir walked past smiling at us and it was then we realised they were two completely different people. Life’s funny that way, huh?

Like many dealers around town, Barry Keldoulis of Gallery Barry Keldoulis is having a greatest hits show of gallery artists called The December Group. We were once again amazed how the plucky gallerist has managed to cram so many art works into such a tiny space. The room sheet runs to four pages but you couldn’t swing a cat in there. There’s an excellent out of focus spray can painting of a T-Rex by Paul Wrigley (we’re guessing), David Sequeirqa has some great paintings on photographs and Suzanne Boccalatte has one of her engraved emu eggs. As the artist remarked to the SMH, “imagine punching that out!” You go into a sweat just thinking about it. We were also impressed by Jonathan Jones sculpture of fluro tubes in a blue box – it’s cool, classy. In fact, Gallery Barry Keldoulis should just move out of Danks Street straight away, it’s too good.

Getting things back to the more comfortable middle of the road setting beloved at Danks Street is Stella Downer Fine Art and her three person show of works by Tanya Chaitow, Viola Dominello and Junko Hagiwara. We were thinking that people who read The Good Weekend would probably quite like this show, so…

If you’re looking for a work of art for your dining room, office or holiday house, then don’t pass up the work of Viola Dominello. Representing significant value for money at a mere $700, one may choose from a variety of views of Venice, which are lovingly rendered in charcoal by the hands of a real craftsperson. Maybe an ideal Christmas gift for an art loving relative, these are a bargain but be quick, several of these pictures are already sold!

Tanya Chaitow’s work is much better, albeit done in the high style beloved of artists who show in cafes (dogs, people with blue faces, backgrounds of the inner city done with expressionist brio – you know the drill). But these aren’t too bad for that kind of work and we have to also commend the framing – a nice box mount can do wonders.

Junko Hagiwara’s works are completely unpretentious watercolours of inner city streets (titles such as Newtown Intersection, Bay Street Erskinville and Town Hall Hotel, Newtown let you know where you are) and blow the other tow artists out the door. Hagiwara’s got a charming sense of perspective where all the buildings and people and trees and street signs pile up on top of one another and her use of the medium is assured.

Brenda May Gallery next door has two shows, Another Way Home by Leslie Oliver and Sokquon Tran and Carol Murphy’s 50s Shell. Oliver and Tran’s show is of carefully constructed sculpture/paintings mounted in wooden boxes a la Joseph Cornell and stable mate James Guppy. For us, there was very little of interest here. The works, while lovingly made, are just too dry, calculating and frankly dated to pose anything other than a mild case of nostalgia. Murphy exhibited 29 shell-shaped vases. Yes, vases in the shape of shells.

Our interest picked up next door in Utopia Art. Johnny Yungut Tjupurrula’s New Paintings is a modest collection 12 small to large works on canvas that shows the real strength of Papunya Tula art. It’s all geometric lines, either in large square or circular lines that spiral out from the centre, or clustered into small groups of repeating patterns. With two complimentary colours (such as red and yellow or yellow and white) the patterns are laid over a darker under-painted ground and sing out from the contrast the colours create. The gestural marks are pretty extraordinary; loose wristed and tentative they shouldn’t by rights work at all, but the sheer consistency of the way the paint is applied unites it all into a cohesive whole. Seeing lots of Aboriginal art like this, it can become quite difficult to even see the differences in the work, but Tjupurrula’s work rewards the effort.

An effort of an entirely different order is required at Conny Dietzschold Gallery. With a show called Australian Concrete Constructive Art, the gallery has gathered together a bunch of artists who work in stripes – monochrome stripes, duotone stripes, sculptural stripes, computer generated stripes. And you know that abstract art has been around for a long time, right? And you know how stripes are, like, really central to that whole thing? Like, they were really big in the 60s and they keep coming back? So, you walk into a gallery and there are all these artists doin’ stripes and it feels important, like it’s historical or something, and you look around and you go – wow, what a lot of stripes! You could also go, aww, shit man, do I have to look at anymore fucking stripes? Or you might like them, or even love them, and say, bring on these persuasive stripes! So if you like stripes, love stripes, you know where to go, or not, if you don’t.

On the way out of Danks Street we looked in the window of the second hire space Depot Gallery. Laura Murray Cree curated a show in there (it closes today) called Site:Unseen with 10 artists including Robert Owen, Janet Lawrence, Louise Paramour, Hilarie Mais and Marion Borgelt. We couldn’t get in as there was a sign on the door saying “Back in 5”, which was a pity, really, as it looked like it could have been good, but also a kind of a relief – any more quality art and we’d have vomited.

There are some that say that ceramics is an underrated art form not given the exposure it deserves. We, on the other hand, think that it gets all the coverage it deserves, perhaps more than it deserves, when you consider it’s all designed to drink coffee out of or stick flowers in. At Boutwell Draper,a woman visitor was saying to the guy behind the counter that the middle work of three by Stephen Benwell was just fantastic and the guy (who was wearing a futuristic telephone headset so he could keep his hands free) nodded and agreed enthusiastically. We looked at it and our eyes went out of focus – it’s a pot, man, a freakin’ pot! We know that our whole attitude is wrong and maybe if we just put the effort in we might get something out of it, but were scarred and shattered by having been “taught” by Peter Travis, who by coincidence is in the show as well, and that proves some sort of point. Up the back was a work by Gywn Hanssen Pigott who is a hero to people who think this kind of stuff is good. Why, Peter Timms dedicated a whole chapter to her in his book What Is Wrong With Contemporary Art? answering the question, nothing so long as it looks like art of the 19th century. Hoorah! Upstairs Eunice Napanangka has a show and although we thought it all well and good and like dthe pastel colours, we spent most of our time there wondering why it is that commercial galleries who spend the other 11 and a half months of the year exhibiting contemporary art by white people end the year with a show by an indigenous artist? What’s the story there? (Answers in Comments please).

Next door to B-D on Geroge Street Redfern, is the GrantPirrie gallery. We have often wondered how Stephen Grant and Bridget Pirrie get on with Susan Boutwell and James Draper? Is it all polite friendliness, cups of tea on a slow afternoon or is it war over the Otto bins on garbage night? Do people walk into GrantPirrie looking for a chair and a glass of water or do shocked visitors go into B-D demanding to see a pot? We can only wonder. Whatever the differences, GP is finishing out their year with a show by an indigenous artist as well. Nawurapu Wunungmurra’s exhibition is a set of Larrikitj, or memorial poles, arranged in rows down the centre of the space. We have to admit we go blank when we see the poles – they look great, beautifully sculpted and painted, stunning in their spot lights – but lacking context they seem profoundly removed from the real world. But give us time, we’ll get there.

Paul Davies is the scientist bloke who argued that the complexity of the universe does not in itself discount the possible existence of god. Paul Davies is also the artist with the current show at RE [form] First Draft Gallery. We’re pretty sure they are not the same person, unless the scientist is now doing street culture instead of crab nebulae. The First Draft Paul Davies has a lot of chutzpah, having hired out the whole gallery and we congratulate his effort in doing so. Unfortunately this “individual account of the urban environment” looks like it might have been sponsored by General Pants; taking lots of photographs of the city, printing them up in high contrast and then separating them as stencils which Davies uses to recombine the images in large blocks of undifferentiated colours on canvas and paper, the show looks “street” in the most obvious and clichéd way and is so primed for being redone on t-shirts it aint funny. And what was with the DJ set up out the back? Dropping some beats?

Alex Lawler and Anna Kristensen have a show that’s not entirely dissimilar to Davies at Peloton. Maybe Davies should have a wander across the park to Meagher Street and see how you do this kind of thing properly. Lawler and Kristensen have a very complimentary set of paintings that appropriate science book imagery (nuclear power stations, fish, deer, chemistry symbols, etc) and paint them on hexagonal and rectangular canvases. The show is small but manages to get across a sense of nostalgia that’s both personal and universal, with Lawler’s penchant for manga imagery and Kristensen’s morose looking animals.

The Harrington Street Gallery next door was closed, but there was a good painting in the window of a very small head at the end of a very large dinner table. Those mad people get all the breaks.

Diagonally across the road is The Wedding Circle, a gallery in the foyer of a warehouse occupied by a bunch of artists and designers. Open from Thursday to Saturday 12 to 6, you have to be organised to get there. We got there and the gallery was open, which is a sort of miracle in the world of artist run spaces, but we weren’t organised enough not to lose our room sheet with all our notes on it. Our bad. However, we do remember the names of two artists who have done some rather good pieces. Zanny Begg – she of the recent Blacktown debacle – has a work there of small light boxes featuring pictures of tattoos, the illumination giving the images the appearance of skin, which is rather disturbing, and one image of two fetish ladies kissing, which is rather pervy. The other work of note was Soda_Jerk’s collection of books all with ‘love’ in the title. While we’ve seen quite a few art works like this, this was a good ‘un. We’ll revisit The Wedding Circle and promise not to lose our notes next time.

Our final stop on this leg of our obviously insane see-all project was at Esa Jäske Gallery & Project Space, Abercrombie Street, Chippendale. Their final two shows of the year are Pat Hoffie’s Soft Modernism and Stockroom Show, which is a bunch of stuff from the stockroom. Just a word of advice – calling your end of year show “Stockroom Show” is a terrible move. It may constitute honesty in advertising but that kind of honesty isn’t necessarily a good thing. Look, it’s saying, we couldn’t sell this stuff before but here’s another chance. See what we mean?

Hoffie has an exhibition of shaped bits of wood that are lot like pillows painted in various designs reminiscent of classic fabric designs of the 20th century. There’s a play on words between the title of the show and the hardness of the objects, and Hoffie discusses these connotations at length in the catalogue blurb. But we were more concerned that the works looked like little pillows where one might rest one’s weary head and drift off into… a… world… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The Art Life

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