It’s that time of year again, the season that heralds the arrival of spring and summer painting competitions. It starts with the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship and ends with the Archibald. This year’s winner of the send-an-artist-overseas BWTAS prize is Alan Jones. We were shocked and appalled until we discovered it was a different Alan Jones who, aside from being a painter, is also an AFL player and fullback for Northcote. Not only does this factoid attest to the artist’s fitness and readiness to make tons of paintings it also provides a lovely sporting analogy for the press, as was dutifully reported in the Sydney Morning Herald;
“I think to make good works these days you’ve got to be clear-headed, fit, and ready to survive the hardest tackles,” Jones, 27, said at the Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills. “It’s a fantastic award. Brett Whiteley is the grand final of art.”
“Jones has entered the competition every year since it began in 1999, and his physicality was evident in his winning painting, Figure #II 2004, said the director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Edmund Capon, as he announced the prize.”
Jones is a lucky man. After being chosen from 23 finalists, he receives $25,000 plus a three-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. Not that he’s obliged to spend all that much time in Paris, as Brett’s mum, Beryl Whiteley, explained:
“The lovely thing is that they don’t just spend three months in Paris,” she said. “They all go on, to Spain, Madrid, London, New York. They work very hard; they don’t miss a trick.”
Another prize just announced was the Portia Geach Memorial Award. The winner, Nerissa Lea, won with a combined self portrait and a portrait of the desperately homely Chad Morgan. Titled The Sheik and Me, Self Portrait of Chad Morgan after Frida Khalo, the painting earned the artist $18,000. In a piece with the SMH’s Lenny Ann Low, Lea may have been a bit more forthcoming with the details of her life than was strictly necessary:
“Painting only at night in her tiny studio at home, Lea’s life consists of going to bed at dawn and sleeping until noon almost every day.
“I lived alone for years after art school and I used to get night fear,” she says. “The bogeyman and all that. I find I can’t paint during the day any more.”
Lea says living in Woy Woy is not only beneficial financially but a great salve to an artist requiring solitude and time for her slow and fastidious method of painting. She and her partner, cartoonist and artist Reg Lynch, have a garden, there are ducks “everywhere” and nearby is an island covered in pelicans.
“Because I am a worrier, I think I’m like a Wettex,” says Lea. “When I was living in Sydney my sponge would fill up and it would never get a change to get unwrung. Now I can come down here, get really excited and then go home and let the sponge dry out.”
In a somewhat tangentially related art story, we were shocked and appalled to learn that Gow Langsford Danks Street gallery has closed, scuppering all sorts of exhibitions, not the least of which was Matthys Gerber‘s planned November show. We feel for Gerber, we really do, this being the second gallery to fall over on him in under a year. Meanwhile, Gary Langsford gave some rather frank quotes to the SMH regarding the Sydney art market:
“Langsford was philosophical about his bold but costly experiment in bringing big-ticket international art to the insular Sydney art market.
“I think the main reason was that we went in too high,” he said, adding that he had really overestimated the amount of serious international work in local collections.
“I found the market very, very parochial … In New Zealand we sell a lot of Australian art, but it’s not a two-way street.”
“Gow Langsford caused much murmuring when it opened in Sydney in 2002 showing significant works by big names. One early show had Cy Twombly‘s Blue Ridge Mountains Transfixed on a Roman Piazza (1962) with a $US1.8 million ($2.4 million) price tag.
Langsford said anyone who had bought that would be up $US500,00 by now, but it went back to its owner in Zurich. Langsford reckons he has a better chance of selling big international artists in “little old New Zealand” than in Sydney, where people “buy good old decorative Australian stuff” and have a follow-the-mob mentality.”
It’s rather unfortunate to blame your lack of success on the art collectors when it is your job to woo those very collectors and make your sales to them. Perhaps if Langsford had done his homework on what was selling in Australia and spent more than one week a month here, he may have had a shot, but Gow Langsford Gallery with its mix of primary and secondary market stock, was weird beast for the Sydney scene.
Along with its much vaunted international pieces, the gallery also had shows, for example, of Dale Frank paintings sourced from the secondary market along with ‘exhibitions’ of work to coincide with international shows like the Biennale. Such a move certainly doesn’t win you any favours with collectors who stay loyal to Gene Sherman or Roslyn Oxley and, as a primary market dealer, the gallery had no profile. In Auckland at least, the gallery has its line up of New Zealand artists to show off and can exhibit Pablo Picasso etchings confident that the local collector base – advertising people, landed gentry and the like – have nowhere else to buy art of that calibre. In Sydney, however, people just didn’t know who they were.
With Gow Langsford gone from Danks Street’s the largest exhibition space in the building is being cut in two and giving one half to the hugely popular Danks Street Café and the other to Gabriella Roy‘s Aboriginal and Pacific Art.