Quilty, Art Gallery of South Australia

The intense stare and bearded jawline of the artist, both as self-portrait and ‘hero shot’ photograph, features extensively in the publicity for AGSA’s Quilty exhibition. This is hardly surprising given Ben Quilty’s high profile, with his combination of down to earth interview style, progressive politics and bravura technique helping generate his regular media presence.

Quilty is best-known for his emotive, vigorous oil paintings. These dominate the present exhibition, although examples of his sculpture and ceramics also feature. Confronted with the frequently aggressive character of his paintings, with slashings of paint and violent distortion and fragmentation of forms, it seems perhaps ironic that his socially-engaged artistic practice began with works critiquing the destructive characteristics of youthful masculine identity. Quilty’s highly painterly style, with its connotations of combat, domination or competitive displays of physical prowess, could be read as a testosterone-driven performance of machismo, vis-à-vis Abstract Expressionism.

Similarly, Quilty’s expressive style suggests an outpouring of passionate emotions. This approach is typically used by artists to convey their angst or anguish, which can sometimes come across as egotistical and self-absorbed. However, the dominant themes of Quilty’s art suggest that he is primarily harnessing his feelings out of compassion for others, directing his aggression towards political and historical injustices which have caused unnecessary suffering.

Besides toxic masculinity, issues addressed in Quilty’s art include the intergenerational trauma (and guilt) stemming from colonisation, post-traumatic stress disorder and the current refugee crisis. Given the combination of weighty themes and Quilty’s meteoric art world acclaim, I approached this survey exhibition with a certain disquiet. It concerned me that by assuming the role of celebrity-artist-as-social-justice-warrior Quilty was effectively capitalising on the suffering of others for the advancement of his own career. However, this exhibition has convinced me that he is sincere in his convictions.

INSTALLATION VIEW -20190219 Ben Quilty sRGB 2000px Photo Grant Hancock 0157
Quilty featuring Irin Irinji and Fairy Bower Rorschach, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2019; photo: Grant Handcock.

Particularly moving is the group of twelve canvases depicting levitating orange life jackets. Like the relics of martyred saints, they serve as stand-ins and memorials for the asylum seekers who wore – and in many cases died – in such life jackets during perilous sea crossings. Adding a further emotional punch, each work is named after a refugee who committed suicide while held in detention. These are powerful statements about protection sought and denied, counterfeit life vests which sink rather than float serving as a potent metaphor for Australia’s border security policies.

In two of the works Quilty has sought to invoke the exiles’ agony more explicitly through the surreal addition of a screaming mouth or mournful eye. However, this is just as strongly conveyed through the seething impasto of his painted surfaces. The global refugee crisis is an issue most viewers have only encountered through media representations, but the sheer physicality of Quilty’s paintings helps invest the topic with a forceful immediacy. We are compelled to recognise that these are real flesh-and-blood people, not just statistics or fleeting images on a television screen.

In some works, when Quilty’s highly-textured paint surfaces butt up against areas of unpainted canvas, the stark contrast feels like an act of violence. In Captain S after Afghanistan (2012) the writhing soldier’s torso becomes devoid of volume when presented as an expanse of plain white. Thus, his physical strength is rendered useless as a defence against his mental torment.

The most technically and compositionally sophisticated works in the exhibition are Quilty’s recent series titled The Last Supper. Despite admiring their virtuosity, I found these paintings both overly melodramatic and too strongly reminiscent of earlier artists, such as André Masson.

By contrast, I considered Quilty’s Rorschach paintings more memorable and satisfying. In these works views of tranquil Australian landscapes have been doubled as mirror images, resembling the eponymous psychologist’s inkblots. Adding further depth and poignancy, some of the locations depicted were the sites of colonial massacres of local Aboriginal communities. These paintings deliver an immediate, stark visual impact, before gradually divulging more menacing undertones. They succeed in being simultaneously dramatic and understated. For me they were the most haunting works in the show.

This is a powerful exhibition, but the perpetual visual and emotional intensity of Quilty’s paintings can quickly become exhausting. Consequently, it was only after leaving the gallery that I felt able to properly contemplate many of these thought-provoking works. At its best, Quilty’s art makes a compelling impression, both in the direct physical encounter and in its after-effect.

 


Words by Ralph Body

Ralph Body is an art historian, researcher and reviewer.

Title Image: Ben Quilty; photo: Daniel Boud

Getting Lost in the Art of Edvard Munch in Tokyo

I stand in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, my pupils dilating as I catch sight of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I have seen this painting so many times through pop culture, but nothing has prepared me for seeing it in real life. It’s really here, right in front of me. Well, at least one version of it (1910 tempera and oil version). I become lost in its world, feeling the terrors the person in the painting is feeling.

The Scream was one of the many paintings exhibited at the Munch: A Retrospective exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The exhibition celebrates the life of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Being in Tokyo at the time of this exhibition, I made sure I explored the show. Little did I know I would find myself lost in the world of his art while there. I found myself on a journey through loneliness, love, fear and trauma.

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With language barriers, I was left to interpret Munch’s works in my own way. As with many things I have previously experienced, my interpretations relate back to pop culture. The Kiss (1897) was one example of this. The way the couple were morphing together, it was much like the one R.J. McReady and Dr. Blair found at the Norwegian base in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). I later found out this painting was in fact depicting how two people unify in love.

edvard munch the kiss

Excluding The Scream, the paintings that made the most impact on me were Two Human Beings, The Lonely Ones (1933-35), and The Sun (1916). My interpretation of Two Human Beings, The Lonely Ones was how lost these two people were in a strange new world. I thought of them being the only two humans on an alien planet or the last two on Earth. The Sun stood like a shining beacon at the dawn of a new world, one unfamiliar to the one we live in. These two paintings combined together drew me into a world where the everyday as we know it is gone. I began connecting them to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, a book I’d recently read. I imagined these two people staring out over a world with a bright beacon rising over the horizon and children dancing through the forests that cover the ruins of once great cities.

This exhibition had me one more surprise for me, in the form of Pokémon. Made specifically for this event, there were folders, postcards and even TCG cards where The Scream was redone using Pokémon as souvenirs from the exhibition. These stood out to me as much as the visuals of the paintings themselves. Unlike most of Munch’s artworks, these were familiar to me. The way they were made though, not only was adorable but uncanny. These souvenirs were unique to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.

Stepping back into the world, which was still unfamiliar to me, I smile. The exhibition was worth the 1600 yen (AUD$18) entry fee. Munch’s paintings spoke to both my creative side and allowed me to understand him better as an artist, despite the language barriers. I feel this was aided more due to experiencing it in Japanese rather than its original Norwegian. It became one of the highlights of my journey and I recommend to anyone who is going to Japan to check out a major exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.


Words by Cameron Lowe

Meet-the-Team-Cameron2
Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.

The Artists of Viewpoint

 

Earlier this month, Sarah Ingham and I attended the opening night of Viewpoint, an art exhibition at the Light Square Gallery featuring nine recent graduates from Adelaide College of the Arts. The exhibition is due to end May 31th, so I thought it would be a great time to touch base with the artists and learn more about what went into this exhibition, and where they plan to go next. I was lucky enough to have a chat with a few of the artists and sit in on a talk they were giving about the exhibition process.

One of the first questions I asked was about whether their work reflected their personal relationship with the River Torrens. There were mixed responses. It seems that Annelise Forster had a strong emotional attachment to the river through her childhood memories which was reflected in her piece Stone Hopping. Yet Sophie Mahoney-Longford didn’t have as much of a connection, making her pieces, Riverbank, Ripple, and Reeds, genuine observational views. She also commented that she didn’t worry about trying to infuse her piece with symbolism, presenting her own candid approach. Thea Nicole Paulmitan chose to present a contemporary view of the river, looking beyond the river itself to the surrounding architecture in her pieces: Water & Bridge, Bridge & Water, and Hazy Torrens. Bernadette Freeman regularly visits the Torrens and says: “It was a wonderful opportunity for me to stop and reflect on its beauty and complexity.” As Forster said during the talk, they all chose different things to focus on, they all presented “different viewpoints”.

As with selecting different views and interpretations of their River Torrens theme, each artist had a different style or medium with which to approach their task. The mediums ranged from traditional oil painting, acrylics, paint pouring, sculpture, and photography. Each piece reflected the individual style of the artist, and, as Mahoney-Longford said: “provide our individual responses” to the subject.

Jane Heron-Kirkmoe was one of the artists who spoke to me about her art making process. She was lucky with the gallery space as an unplanned breeze impacted on her piece Spill the Overflow perfectly. She typically works in white and in multiples, forming objects with a contemporary edge. Her works are intended to provoke thought and encourages viewers to “find their own narrative”. She concedes that while her focus is on materiality and the beauty of the everyday, the work is not overly commercial.

While it was important to some of the artists to simply use this exhibition opportunity to express themselves, it was also important to others to make work which was sellable. Mahoney-Longford mentioned that two of her three pieces have already been purchased, and that it was a deliberate choice by her to leave her pieces unframed and therefore more affordable. It can be very important to have works that can be sold in order to balance the cost of creation.

During the group discussion, Ann Podzuweit made a point about the importance of artists having a day-job, as they often pay for your art. Bernadette Freeman made an interesting analogy, which I can personally relate to: art shops such as Eckersley’s are the artist’s lolly shop, but the sweets are much more expensive and add up much quicker. Heron-Kirkmoe also spoke about the importance of a day job, telling me the day job allows her to make art –time management can be a challenge though. Many artists tend to be in the same boat here. It is a delicate balance.

When I was speaking to Paulmitan, I asked if she were to start again with her pieces if she would approach them differently. She was adamant that she would take the same approach. It’s a part of her process to take photos and manipulate imagery, even putting together physical collages before settling on an idea and beginning to paint. Viewpoint is the first of Paulmitan’s exhibitions to feature both her painting and photo-manipulation. While she didn’t originally intend to display her photography, Paulmitan is very happy she took a step away from the traditional mediums predominantly featured in the exhibition.

I think that the most important lesson that these women shared is that it is integral to produce work that “expresses yourself, reflects you, and that you love.” Kylie Nichols stresses that she loves making her work, which is something that artists of any practice can aspire to. Forster mentions how important it is to find what works for you and use it. For her, it is being a social artist and being around people who she can discuss her work with. For others, this might be working independently.

In terms of advice for those considering their own exhibition with a group, these artists had plenty. It’s all about organisation and playing to your strengths. You need to get organised early. Look at grant applications and sponsorship opportunities, do what you can yourself (online advertisement via social media), consider the space you need and how it can be best used to the advantage of your works. One important thing to remember when part of a group exhibition is that you’re never on your own. And as Heron-Kirkmoe said, “aim for the stars, but have one foot on the ground as well.” And most of all, just enjoy the ride.

So where next for these artists?

Mahoney-Longford was considering getting involved with SALA, however her primary focus at the moment is to work on her commissions and her personal projects.

Heron-Kirkmoe is currently back in “making-mode” ahead of a coming exhibition at the Fleurieu Art House in August.

Paulmitan is currently considering further study and, artistically, she intends to pursue her photography rather than painting. In June, her work will be on display at the Youth Scape Exhibition.

Nichols will be exhibiting at the Goodwood Library as a part of ‘SALA Goodwood Road’ and is busily making for another group exhibition coming up in October at the Fleurieu Arthouse.

Freeman is currently creating works for exhibition in SALA.

Forster arrived at the gallery fresh from her studio and paint splattered, so it’s safe to say she’ll be continuing with her art with two SALA exhibitions and an exhibition in Melbourne on the horizon.

I didn’t get a chance to speak with Podzuweit, Todino, or Kukolj to discover their plans, but I am certain that we will continue to see their names and works around Adelaide in the future.


 

Photography by Nica Kukolji

Words by Kayla Gaskell