‘Summing them up as morbid or deathly, but their very primitiveness, their sledge hammer effects, reinforce this mentally; naked extreme art’
Profoundly Art-Critic G.R.Lansell is describing Peter Booths early ‘Field’ work, a slate of black and grey on a minimalist canvas however he could have been describing his later dramatic figurative art.
Although the artist’s work morphed into an entirely different style, the essence of the artist’s style was conceived.
The Field exhibition launched Melbourne’s art scene in 1968 however it was not fully embraced by the locals.
The battle between Figurative Art that was the flagship of the Melbourne art tribes such as the Reed’s at Hiede and the Boyd’s at Murumbeena, had rallied against the American influence of the exhibition. At the time the exhibition was not organically Melbourne, nor was it entirely ‘International’.
The New York art critic Clement Greenberg criticised the first NGV Contemporary exhibition as ‘ second-rate.’
The exhibition aimed at awakening a sleepy town, after the failure of the 1956 Gallery of Contemporary Art. The new NGV curator John Stringer thrust his ideas forward and imposed his stipulations on the artists; they were happy to comply as careers and reputations were being made.
In today’s climate the work stands the test of time but to mark the journey of the Abstract Movement there is no greater example than Ron Robertson’s ‘Vault’.
The Vault was placed in the City Square in 1980, twelve years after the exhibition but the local reaction marks the cultural journey of Melbourne. The sculpture received such disfavour that it was nicknamed the ‘Yellow Peril’ by journalists and removed from its place due to public demand. It was a displaced work and was thrown into the shadows until 2002 when it found its home outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Dale Hickey Malvern 67
Dale Hickey 1967
The art of The Field exhibition sits comfortably within our minimalist technological community . The ideas that may have seemed cold, isolated and sterile during the ‘flower power’ period have a greater relevance in 2018, within a world disconnecting with nature and embracing the virtual.
The Field Exhibition was the first piece of the NGV journey that began in 1968 and was 50 years before its time.
“It’s always been about sharing stories, identity loss and grief, determination , imagination , self belief, cultural integrity, hope and justice, reliance , cultural pride, and more than anything it’s about my people’s survival of spirit.” Hill
Noongar woman, Sandra Hill was a stolen Aboriginal child that was forced into foster care at the age of seven by the Australian Government due to the Assimilation Policy that was still active in 1958. Four children were removed from their mother’s house, they included her self , her two sisters and a brother. They were the 3rd generation of children removed from this family line.
‘In 1994 Hill was employed as the Aboriginal Community Cultural Officer. During this period she applied for, and was awarded, a Creative Development Fellowship from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. This afforded her the time to carry out research relating to her life experiences as a member of the Stolen Generations’ (extract from Design & Art Australia on-line)
Hill’s work is held in many private collections and is also represented in Major Art Galleries throughout Australia, currently her mixed media work “Beyond the Pale’ is on display at the NGV Ian Potter Gallery at Federation Square in the Australian Art Exhibition. She explores domestic labor as part of the ‘Assimilation Project’.
In the past, Domestic colleges were set up to train poor white girls and ‘half-caste’ Aboriginal children to attend to the needs of the wealthy.
‘In the early issues of Home Beautiful there was a feeling of nostalgia for the passing of an age in which almost everyone in the middle and upper classes could afford to keep a live-in maid. Even at the turn of the century , architects and designers were discussing the ‘servant problem’ and trying to come up with ways to help women face a future without servants’The Australian Home Beautiful, from Hills Hoist to High Rise.
ref: page 73, Household Help: The Servant Problem. The Australian Home Beautiful from Hills Hoist to High Rise Hardie Grant Books Oliver J.
It’s fascinating to imagine that female convicts on ships to Australia, were sewing beautiful quilts. They were leaving heavily populated cobble streets and embarking on a tour into the wild unknown.It was a place where currency was rum, women were few and some unthinkable dark terrors took place.The unfree made free and the free made unfree.
This quilt was created by the women on board the Rajah in 1841, they were taught by Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker reformer.
‘The Australian quilting tradition developed in response to a unique set of factors that sets it apart from other quilting traditions internationally.’ NGV
There was the odd sailor that picked up a needle and thread and made his own quilt.
This example is a work of Art, an intricate geometric design, with a contemporary feel. The beauty of the quilt is that it is also functional. The time poured over the work creates a meditative element that transfers an emotional or spiritual quality to the work.
During WW1 and WW2, ‘quilts were a means of rallying support’.
To this day, some churches still create quilts to place over the unwell. The quilt can also serve as an historical piece, recording the members of a congregation, club or school.
Some stitched a bit of wisdom to guide the next generation.
The charming Westbury quilt was created by a Tasmanian family, it was intended to be a raffle prize. Its a mix of British domestic influence and Australiana.
Others competed to be the ‘craziest’ of the ‘crazy quilt’ fashion, that was the sewing movement at a time, when European Art was shaking off the shackles of the past. The British settlers had no cultural roots in Australia, they could push the boundaries of traditional Arts.
Some caught the eye of the galleries to be immortalised. Mothers often sewed quilts for their children or were given to them by a loving friend or family member. Mary Jane Hannford’s ‘Goodnight Quilt’ was made for her 11 year old grandson.
‘The subject matter of Hannafords quilt includes patriotism, religious faith, the love of Australian wildlife and the marking of key family events’
Some works were sewed roughly, not for beauty or art but for warmth. The gathering of discarded clothes, recycled into a rug. The perfect art for Depression and War when materials are few and patience is limited.
‘real rag bag waggas, hessian bags or patchwork-covered army blankets, but still rich in the memories embedded in their cloth.’ Annette Gero
It’s a pictoral exploration into our past, through fabric. Mostly, but not exclusively a womens history. Sewing groups were also social and community acts. It’s an engaging exhibition.
Rapid urban development cast’s new shadows on the streets of old St Kilda, yet shreds of its artistic culture remain.
106 Barkley Street has been Tamar Dolev’s studio for 8 years, she uses ‘found’ objects to create. Each surface and shape is carefully considered before being morphed into the voice of the quietly spoken Artist.
The works are bursting with wild vitality, shes uses colour like an electric force, there is a vibrant sense of movement and emotion similar to that of Aboriginal Artist HU Wedge.
HJ Wedge 2002 Sea Rights too
Dolev also enjoys the effects of shadows.
“Whatever wall it goes on, the piece changes. if it’s a blue or black wall, it adds and evolves by the shadows it makes.”
Self Portrait 2015 is full of holes, it is a chameleon blending into its environment. It is partly her and partly the surroundings, that dictate its nature.
‘Billy’s Adventure’ 2015, is a long narrow work that invites the eye to travel through the composition as a narrative. The concept of an art piece outside the ‘eye of a camera’ explores our natural visage, a technique familiar to Chinese scrolls.
Dolev’s journeys are captured in her haunting silent photography of the place outside.
Both of her parents are Architects and her fascination with buildings seeps into her art. She is currently pre-occupied with her sculptures of dwellings made from bay-side spillage.
Artists Studio Gallery / 106 Barkly St, St Kilda; next to Mirka Mora lane.
During war years, the Melbourne art scene dragged itself away from the safe bush scenes and began making social comments through expressive art. Urban hardships were the realities of the day, and the war brought home Surreal experiences. The struggle for survival opened up a marginal void, that the new bohemia were ready to fill. Eccentric aristocrats were the lifeblood of Melbourne Artists during the new Modern Movement. There were two major camps that drew in the cream of new art. The Reeds established a shelter for artists at Heide, in Heidelberg and Meric Boyd’s ‘Open Country’, in Murrumbeena, challenged the status quo.
Both had an open door policy for emerging artists; Meric Boyd built a kiln on the property and encouraged his children to be active in the hub that gathered there. The kiln would eventually fire-up Arthur Boyd and John Perceval’s, emotive and provocative sculptures.
John Percival The Acrobat Angel
Perceval; The Acrobat Angel : Boyd; 30 Pieces of silver
Boyd’s style grew in Open Country but manifested in the South Melbourne paintings. During the dark war years, he suffered from a depression.Like Perceval he saw the depravity of urban life and drew upon motifs that would be symbols to became part of his pictorial dialogue.
‘the man in wheelchair, the cripple on crutches, the tormented naked lovers, the beast, the chimney stacks and the gargoyles.’ Sasha Grishin
Boyd, Percival and Tucker explored the moral decline brought on by the American troops stationed in Melbourne; the confronting work does not shrink from climate of prostitution in the City. England sent Australian troops to India to guard its riches and the Americans stepped in to protect our land and befriend it’s women.
Albert Tucker Victory Girls 1943
The Reeds harboured Sidney Nolan as he avoided military duty and the Kelly series expressed his new outlaw status.Nolan was Sunday’s prize bull, she wanted Europe to embrace him, but the modern world rarely looked our way.
Joy Hester was coaxed and chastised by the wilful Sunday and she would occasionally slip over the river to the Boyd’s camp. Tucker would have a love/hate relationship with the Heide crew, as his personal involvement with Hester intensified.Their Love Child Sweeny, brought Mike Brown into the brood during the later years.
The Reeds were determined for Melbourne to be the capital of figurative art and hoped to expel the growing appeal of the American movement of Abstract Expressionism.The 1959, Antipodean Exhibition drew in artists from other camps who signed and battled over the direction of Melbourne Art. John Brack supported the figurative art stance but withdrew from the show due to the politics. He had avoided the ‘hot-bed of art groups and shared a studio with his life long friend, and fellow artist Fred Williams.
During the war years the Paris Art scene was kept in darkness. American Abstract Expressionists stole the limelight, it could have been the Australian figurative movement and for good or bad, it could have led world art into the heart of Melbourne. It was a radical and unique period in art history.
The other major art groups in early Melbourne were Dunmoochin which included Clifton Pugh and John Olsen. Montsalvat was set up by Justus Jorgensen and drew strongly from European influences, particularly in its architecture.The town was relatively young and most of the artists had studied and knew each other through the Gallery Art School.
Mirka Mora arrived in Melbourne, like many immigrants, her family was escaping the persecutions and atrocities of the war. Local artists frequented the Mirka coffee shop and Mora flirted between Heide and Open Country camps.She sewed a dress for Sunday and her children played amongst the Boyd’s kilns. She supported Joy Hester by exhibiting her on the café walls and as her families hospitality businesses grew, so did her presence as an Artist.
Mirka Cafe opening
Charles Blackman was a regular customer at Mora’s cafe, the family had a reputation for supporting and feeding local artists.Despite the energy and personal finances Art Patrons offered, the artists knew that they would have to leave Australia to further their careers. The public enjoyed modern housing,appliances and clothes but they were closed to new ideas and clung onto Colonial Art.
Open Country at Murrumbeena
‘In 1963 after having achieved a degree of recognition and financial security, Percival and his family joined the general exodus of artists and left Australia.’ Sasha Grishin
Boyd had already moved his family to England. Open Country was torn down, to make way for a block of flats.
Banner Photo Athur Boyd butterfly Man 1943
John Brack NGV 2009; p156
Australian Surrealism and its Echoes NGV 2015; p70
The Heart Garden Sunday Reed and Heide Janine Burke Vintage 2004
Australian Art A History, Grishan S, The Miegunyah Press,2015; p333-347
Crowds gathered around NGV International on the crisp cool Saturday night, to enjoy the White Night projections. The mood was relaxed as the audience waited for the remains of the day, to become night.
The projection used the entire space of the facade, a perfect blank canvas for award-winning artist Josh Muir. Emma Donovan and James Henry provided the haunting soundscape, it was a flawless collaboration. Still Here was a visual feast with a political edge.
It began with a bird flying peacefully across the building, followed by an eruption of circular abstract formations, representing creation. The new scene was of Aboriginal men on the beach, with a catch, as the women sat in circles, chatting.
On the horizon, crosses that symbolised the coming of a new culture, draw closer and a storm thunders down, closing the curtains on that era.
In the new scene ,the landscape is less sympathetic, however the newly clothed Aboriginal people continue on with family life. A white van drives down a road to a family sitting together. A white man comes out of the van and pulls the child away, the parents fight the intruder but they are over powered. The child is put into the van and driven off. The mother wails as the father collapses with despair.
There is a shocked murmur in the audience.
“They are taking the kids” is voiced throughout the large gathering.
In the next scene City life has taken over, trams ‘ding’ and cars roar by. It was a blatant statement. Muir was evoking the viewer through the power of Art. It was stunning.
‘I am a proud Yorta Yorta/ Gunditjmara man, born and living in Ballarat, Victoria. I hold my culture strong to my heart – it gives me a voice and a great sense of my identity. When I look around, I see empires built on aboriginal land. I cannot physically change or shift this, though I can make the most of my culture in a contemporary setting and use my art projects to address current issues of reconciliation.’ WhiteNightMelbourne
If you saw no other projection, White Night Melbourne was a great success.
Other Aboriginal Artists represented on White Night Melbourne were Reko Reno at Federation Square and Pitch Makin Fellas, a group work at The Exhibition Buildings.