THE Lock-Up fulfils its mission statement in the present exhibition project, using its many historically loaded spaces for a highly politicised polemic. Its subject is the shocking and shameful fact that Australia’s original population is currently ‘The most gaoled race on earth’. This is brought to visual life in an artistic collaboration between white academic Adam Geczy and black artist activist Blak Douglas.
Inevitably, there are video rooms of talking heads, though a dramatic installation of black-arrowed prison clothing dominates the main space and the theme expands into angry confrontational drama, with the former exercise yard hung with multicoloured nooses, each with its so-called hangman’s knot. But weighty issues may not translate easily into visual images. In this case, the Lock-Up and its ambience seem to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Inventive images on the periphery of the main theme are formal jackets for ‘performing aboriginality’, as the wall texts describe the now familiar ‘welcome to country’ on official occasions. One in particular, a play on white on black and archetypal dots, transcends polemic with effortless visual wit. See it before April 24.
I HAD no idea how sculptural felt can be. At Timeless Textiles until April 10, two artists from the other side of the Pacific explore this material in a series of garments, utilising felt’s capacity for shape-changing manipulations and rich textures. Echoing the moods and palettes of the ocean, both Fiona Duthie and Katia Mokeyeva stretch and contract the felt, modelling it into scalloped ruffles, moulding it into body shapes and floating panels, teasing and twisting strands. The clothes are inventive, but seemingly wearable, accommodating the medium’s fluid flexibility with the organic plasticity of living things. I believe this is the first time the work of these notable individual artists has been shown in Australia. Let us hope for more.
THE FLORAL EFFECT
PAINTING flowers has a long and distinguished history. At Gallery 139 until April 2 many different artists provide a local context, curiously without much colour. There are no poppies. Lydia Miller has recently come to Newcastle. An accomplished painter, her many delicately spotted pitcher plants are a menacing highlight. John Earle has a single pansy, Leslie Duffin a flourishing cactus and Christina Frogley a bunch of dried natives. It might be worth trying this thematic exhibition again in the spring when more flowers are actually in bloom.
BIG AND BOLD
IT is hard now to imagine the novel exhilaration of seeing big bold paintings in big expansive spaces. It was a revelation in the 1970s and 80s to find in the newly re-housed Newcastle Regional Gallery the new monumental Australian abstractions. Their immaculate surfaces were evidence of spray guns and masking tape, as well as the scale of the hard edge, colour field paintings emanating from New York.
Newcastle Gallery in fact possesses two paintings from the seminal Field exhibition held at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968. John Peart (1946-2013) was one of those original artists. His Colour Square, with its all-over squeegee blots of orange, mauve and green, occasioned veritable outrage when it won the inaugural NBN 3 Prize in that same year. It is still exciting.
The Newcastle collection contains a comprehensive sample of his paintings and graphics. A recent addition is a gift from Orica Limited, a tapestry woven from a painting in 1988 by the Victorian Tapestry Workshops. Its busy surface, with a wealth of elaborate detail, is a tribute to the skill and dedication of the weavers. It complements the gallery’s Peart paintings, showing the evolution from densely layered overall patterning to emptier canvases populated by enigmatic shapes.