Monday, July 29, 2013

20th Hobart Art Prize.

Stutter by Anthony Johnson.

20th Hobart Art Prize.

Judging by the number of letters into the Mercury not many viewers are impressed by this year’s offering. The winning entry, Stutter has provoked considerable debate. On the one hand Anthony Johnson has attempted to create a random or accidental piece, although both new shelves have been disfigured in similar places and so defeat the purpose of accidental. So what is the artist trying to tell the viewer?

 According to his statement he wants us to examine quote, ‘how people experience time and space through often banal experiences and objects’.

It has often seemed to me that far too much contemporary art relies on such statements, rather than the work itself. Having now viewed this exhibition twice, I have been unable to extract any meaning from this work or see how the artist’s statement has any relevance. If we accept that we live in a world of over indulgence, a world of the throw way, a world of disinterest in the  sustainable, then this is for you. Whether this was Johnson's intent, I can not say. It is possible to claim that this mirror image is the only purpose of art, and to a great extent you would be correct. To most people Dada has come and gone and very little has been contributed to the movement in recent years. It is debatable whether two shelves costing $17 deserve the $30,000 prize.  Personally, I think such a philosophy of rehashing these Dada ideas is a dead end and I am surprised, that any thinking person would support such a position let alone feel obliged to give it airtime.

This is Hobart's major art prize, and I am disappointed in the lack of new ideas in the exhibits. There is little that is new, or has a wow factor, what the rejects were like we will never know. Hobart's' ratepayers deserve better.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Blitz revisited.

.The Blitz Revisited.

   Watching Clair Dawson Entertains on a cold winter’s night, my mind wandered back to my early childhood experiences during the early  war years of 1940/41. During this time, the village in which I lived was subjected to almost nightly raids due to its location as Southern Command Headquarters, defending Britain from the German air onslaught. Clair Dawson’s musical however, revolved around the love life of a young Liverpool girl. All the popular war time songs were given an outing, which of course was reasonable, but somehow I was unable to relate to the musical entertainment, my mind kept drifting back to those broken nights as the wail of the sirens awoke our family from their sleep. Looking skyward at the piecing shafts of search lights lighting up the night sky, listening for the soft drone of approaching aircraft engines, always sent shivers down our spines. Then, there was that desperate race to the shelter before the drones became a louder reality as the raid began.


   As a young child, I was obliged to use a saucepan as my air raid helmet, an idea of mother’s as we didn't not possess children’s sizes. These helmets were stored in a cupboard under the stairs, along with World War One gas masks reissued at the out break of hostilities. Our house was a good hundred metres from the air raid bunker located in the small wood located at the bottom of the garden. We would run past the fruit trees in the orchard, and the National Guard hiding inside their sand bag fort, where they manoeuvred their anti-air craft gun into position. I cannot  recall anyone ever firing this gun, but that is not surprising as we would all be well and truly hidden inside our shelter. Our bunker was an underground structure built of concrete, and covered with a foot or so of grassed topsoil. Towards the latter part of the war the family decided not to use the bunker, and it became an excellent children’s’ cubby house, that is until our gardener decided to grow mushroom there. Why my parents built their shelter so far from the house was never explained to me, but I supposed the reason was that they felt the further away the better. There were two exists, one at each end as a safe guard against a cave in during a bombing raid.


   Mother had decorated our Bunker in her usual theatrical way, large wooden Indian tea boxes turned into tables with bright red table cloths thrown over them, some with war maps of the current political position in Europe printed on them. As a small boy, I loved the Hurricane lamps suspended from wall brackets that provided a party atmosphere, and a sense of some secret place. The bunker was well provided with a supply of water and food to last several days. My father didn’t always accompany us on these nightly excursions as he was the medical officer for the nearby RAF base. The walls were hung with hessian drops to give a cosy feeling, some of which had painted designs on them, others hangings had fun cartoon characters of Hitler and Mussolini, and other war time personalities. The drawing were based on the cut out cardboard marinates you could buy at the post office to help the war effort.


   On most nights we arrived before the first series of bombs started to fall, there would be a flash of light as the earth started to vibrate and move from the shock. Often after these air raids our house would be turned into a temporary field hospital, as my father administered what medical treatment possible. If one of the injured happened to be a young   German pilot, Mother would have to act as interpreter. On one occasion  a young airman landed on the wrought iron spiked fence around the church opposite, impaling himself in the process. On these occasions the house would be overrun with soldiers, mainly French Canadians who were stationed near the village. After basic medical treatment the hapless prisoner would be carted off back to base, there was little sympathy shown to prisoners as he would be thrown into the back of a lorry and carted back to base for interrogation. Meanwhile the local fire brigade would be out quenching any fires. The mornings after were the worst when the local residents counted the loss of their fellows, and to inspected bomb damaged buildings.


Towards the end of the war, a new peril appeared in the form of the doodle bomb, these rockets inflicted untold damage on the civilian population. The Allies were very lucky that the Germans had not developed their rocket earlier, in a way the western allies were fortunate to gain the experience of Jewish scientists who fled Germany for America. Whenever you heard one of these rockets approaching people would sit in stony silence as they listened to the soft, soft, sound of these approaching messengers of death, waiting from the engine to fall silent, holding their breath, waiting for the explosion. People became quite expert in working out the likely distance and time required before these devices arrived.

One evening as I listen to the engine of a rockets stop suddenly, it seemed to be just outside my window, frozen in terror I watched the bedroom window fly across the room, the air filled with dust and broken glass. Then flash of light and noise blinded me as I was thrown to the floor. The house next door was engulfed in flames, as the occupants died an unkindly death. This was my memory of the Blitz, a time of tremendous stress and deprivation.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Looking at Art .an interpetive view.

Grunewald "Crucifixion"
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Looking at Art.

Different ways artists express and interpret.


Because of the subjective nature of engaging in art every person’s response will be different. Some will respond positively, while others will view the work in a negative way. There is therefore a paradox in any form of art criticism, the reviewer may describe the work in a literal way or attempt to interpret what they believe to be the artist's intent. This may be achieved through the recognisable objects portrayed or the general expressive mood of the art.

Often over the years many artists have told me of their considerable amusement at the interpretations of their work in the written media. This of course can be a lot of fun, as they debate with their friends that at long last they now know what they were trying to express. Many viewers of art works often don’t seem to understand the living nature of all creative endeavour, whether the work under discussion be a piece of writing or painting, they all have a life of their own. If this was not so, there would always be the danger of producing a sterile or academic piece. It seems reasonable to me that works of art need to tell us more than a  photograph would. Art works must express more, allow the viewer to gain an insight into what the creator of the work wishes to express.  There needs to be a balance between the likeness, the illustrative, and abstract qualities. Art should never be just a copy of appearance, rather it  should endeavour to tell us something more about the subject, about the hidden emotional experience. This may be spiritual, ideological, emotional, or even political.

To illustrate what I mean look at the Renaissance paintings presented here, one by Grunewald and two others by Perugino. A German and Italian, and examine how both have interpreted religious subject. One of Perugino's subjects is the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian a fairly gruesome subject you would think, but Perugino has the Saint standing there in an idealise landscape almost without a care in the world. A peaceful scene on a summer’s day, Saint Sebastian looks contented, his loin cloth neatly tied around his private parts, no suggestion of blood from the arrow wounds that killed him. We could go on, but as you can see this is a typical Italian painting of a sweet, peaceful, world. His Crucifixion presents the same serene world, which is Perugino contribution to art. Christ nailed to the Cross presents a similar emotional state as Saint Sebastian. His hands lay neatly on the cross, loin cloth nicely folded, no sign of blood, all set in the tranquil Umbria country side.

G "Crucifixion" by Perugino Mellon Collection.

Grunewald Crucifixion could not be in greater contrast, full of
 human tragedy. Christ’s suffering and sense of sorrow very much in evidence. This has been achieved by emphasising the distortions and disfigurement in the treatment of Christ’s body. Fingers sprayed skyward in all directions in a natural response to pain. Muscles distorted under stress, the torn loin cloth, mourners clenching their hands in grief. A dark sinister scene, cold uninviting as blood oozes from Christ’s nailed feet. These paintings although illustrative each in their own way of religious subjects have different lives. This is what great painting should be all about, the expression of the inner world of our separate consciousness. A world we connect to subconsciously.  Painting of the highest order does not need artist’s statements or explanation, its presence speaks to you by itself.

"Small Crucifixion" by Grunewald
National Gallery of Art. Washington. DC.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Old Age should be the Elixer of Life.


Old Age should be the Elixir of Life.

As the western world continues its march towards longer and longer life expectancy, the question remains is it possible for societies to make better use of the lifetimes of experiences of the elderly. The continual decline of working population levels to support of our senior members in a welfare state becomes more   problematical. The building of retirement homes surely is not the only answer. The problem is not confined to Western cultures, currently Japan is also facing the pressing urgency of how to cope as the percentage of her elderly citizens continually to rises.


In welfare states, such as Britain and the Scandinavian countries the spiralling cost will become prohibitive. One obvious salutation is the need to revisit the idea of the meaning of the nuclear family.  Perhaps we need to revert to the family structures of previous generations were each generation is required to care for the economic wellbeing of both the young and the old. This age old salutation has been practiced for hundreds of years in Chinese culture. This is going to require a major rethink of our current philosophy, were the priority of personal economic success is the only meaning of life. Each generation has a vital role to play as we pass through the journey of life. Grandparents can play a major role in supporting and helping in the raising of grandchildren. They often act as a stabilising force.


Many senior citizens age prematurely due to a lack of purpose in their lives, often this is a side effect of living in aged care. The most important point and reason for living is the social need to participate in human activity. No one desires or should be discarded, they need to feel useful in whatever capacity they are able. Social responsibility enables the elderly to remain young at least in attitude and mental activity. Should the working life of individuals be increased, and if so how practical would such a policy be?

Generally it is not the mental capacity of individuals that first declines, but rather their physical state. A person who has spent a lifetime engaged in a mental occupation has a better chance of retaining that capacity and general vigour well into later life. On the other hand a person whose life experience has been hard physical work often appear to age more rapidly. This of course this is generalising, but often professional individuals retain their mental powers well into their nineties. However this need not necessarily always be the case, a farmer who can draw on a life time of experience is quite capable of contributing productively in terms of practical advice, or to carry out work within his physical capacity.


There appears to be no reason, why a vast number of elderly people could not continue to be usefully employed within their skill capacity. A part of the problem is the attitude of employers, but also there seems to be an opportunity for retirement homes to utilise the skills of their inmates for a few hours each day. Naturally the individual would need to be willing to engage in such work.  Everyone has useful skills that have economic value from cooking to repairing toys, such activity must be within the physical capability of the individual, men’s’ sheds are a good example. These activities could be of considerable economic benefit to both the senior person involved and the institution. Governments need to be encourage and fund such activities were possible for the economic, physical, and mental wellbeing of all concerned. How you choose to live your latter years is dependent on your inner strength and your view of the purpose of life.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Art from Trash [Dada, Arte Povera, Amercian Junk Art]

John Chamberlain "Scotch Vapor" 1989.
Collection Berardo. Sintra Museum of Modern Art.

Art from Trash  [Dada, Arte Povera]  and beyond the world of Consumerism.


In a world of rampart consumerism, there is little wonder that many creative minds have turned their imaginations to trying to express this new situation through found objects. Through the use of found objects, both found or ready- made they have attempted to draw attention to the over indulgence of modern day societies. Not that the use of throw always is anything new, the Dada movement after the First World War adopted this anarchic revolt against traditional western values. The philosophy behind the movement was the disillusionment and collapse of civilized behaviour exemplified by the slaughter of the recent past. Artists questioned the values of those societies who had orchestrated such carnage and concluded that they were morally bankrupt. They deliberately flouted accepted standards of aesthetic taste and the concept of concern for market value. Technically accident and chance played a major role in their output, a concept that was to reappear and be exploited later by several 20th cent art movements such as abstract expression.

Alberto Burri "Sack no 5" 1953.
Collection the artist.

The spirit of Dada continued through the 20th century reappearing after the Second World War in Italy in the form of Arte Povera, and American Junk Art. In would seem crises creates the necessary environment for human kind to re-examine the purpose of life and its’ values. One of the major exponents of this new art form being Alberto Burri, who deliberately chose materials of worthless value such as old newspaper, dirt, rusty metal, broken pieces of wood and so on. He would splash red paint at times onto plastic or sacking material to simulate the blood soaked bandages of the battle field. Burri had been a medico in the Italian Army before being taken prisoner. In this sense Arte Povera had a similar relationship to conflict as did First World War Dada.

Rosalie Gascoigne "the fall" 1981.
Private collection Rosalie Gascoigne Estate, Sydney.

                                                Louise Nevelson "Royal Tide-Dawn" 1960
                                           Berardo Collection, Sintra Museum of Modern Art.

However it would be wrong of me to suggest that all art forms using found or throw away materials necessarily dwell on the macabre aspects of life. The current revival of the Trash Art Movement, produce many works that can only be described joyous and happy in concept. The philosophy behind new revival is to draw public attention in this consumer age to waste, were nothing has any long term value. A world were packaging and workmanship seems to be in decline. Everything is constructed with the shortest life span possible in order to maximize profit.  Over the last few years here in Hobart, the Resource Co-Op has staged an annual exhibition based on trash.
Lyn Bester "Goose Step"
Art from Trash Exhibition 2013 Hobart.


The 2013 show, staged in the Salamanca Art Centre was a great success Both in vitality and youthful exhilaration. Both established artists and high schools took part and it was difficult to walk around the exhibition and not be seduced by many of the works. One of my favourites was Lyn Bester’s “Goose Step” a construction made from discarded jig-saw puzzle pieces. An old tennis racket, wooden spoons, and various throw away objects became cockroach like creature. All the exhibits were constructed from discarded items and the overall impression was one of fun. The exhibition just goes to show what can be achieved from discarded items and at the same time draw attention to our society’s waste.

Art from Trash 2013 Hobart.
Peter Kreet "De Stijl Wine"
Art from Trash Exhibition 2012. Hobart.