THE exhibition at Newcastle Art Space closed early on October 30 to make way for the inaugural Newcastle Club Foundation Painting Prize.
It showed work by many of the soon-to-be evicted tenants of studios at Newcastle Community Arts Centre, including sculptors, textile artists and an inventive hat maker, as well as many of Newcastle’s best-known painters.
Longest-term tenants are the Strutt sisters, whose celebrated art practice crosses over many disciplines.
Their two exhibited works take them into completely new territory in composite mosaic portraits of iconic cultural heroes. Frida has never looked so imposing.
Painters with developed traditional skills included the doyen of the local art scene, John Morris, with a pale, emotion-laden work on a grand scale. Pablo Tapia’s self-portrait overtly acknowledged once again the burnished legacy of Rembrandt.
More recent tenants include Danielle Nelson, another seriously ambitious painter of atmosphere, and Susana Enriquez, who has moved her international practice out into the landscape, encouraged perhaps by the supportive presence of other artists in surrounding studios.
Annemarie Murland and Laraine Palmer are other artists expanding into new areas. John Harrison paints traditionally loaded still-life subjects with conviction. Leslie Duffin’s relaxed panel of tinted leaves belies her busy life as a successful gallery director.
Peter Lankas is a formidable mentor and a constantly reliable painter of familiar scenes.
John Barnes, the curator of this exhibition, has also radically transformed his painting.
Christina Frogley, another newcomer to the Centre, deploys well-honed skills in exercises in nostalgia.
Fibre artists are a current strength, with both Meredith Woolnough and Olivia Parsonage using exemplary craft skills for innovative artmaking.
IN the recently launched publication Artists and Artisans documenting the Centre’s current tenants, editor Andrew Finnie provides some excellent reproductions of their art works, augmented by portrait photographs of the artists.
Many of these are radiant examples of the work of Joerg Lehmann, who combines a prestigious career as a scientist with work in his studio at the Centre.
The reproduced works amplify and exemplify statements made by the artists, all of whom emphasise the support and camaraderie of fellow tenants. Many of them have given classes at the Centre; others have demanding professional jobs elsewhere.
Frida has never looked so imposing.
The Centre has evolved over the last 28 years. When it was set up in 1988 by the City Council in the former St Aloysius High School, it was to provide a base for several pre-existing bodies.
The form of the new organisation was to foster adult education and well-funded community projects, which evolved into art-related Indigenous programs, youth-based activities and the establishment of a writers’ centre. Theatre works were a major focus rather than artists’ studios, though many artists ran workshops.
When the buildings were massively damaged in the earthquake of 1989, the NCAC was the obvious choice for the organising body of Shifting Ground, an initiative mounted by the Art Gallery of NSW to support Newcastle artists whose studios had been damaged.
With the opening of Newcastle Art Space as a professionally equipped art gallery, the focus of activities inevitably changed so that visual artists became increasingly prominent, as they are today with personal careers now superseding community events. The strength of this new emphasis was evident in the recent exhibition.
Following the Council’s sale of the building, it is proving problematic to find a suitable short-term alternative to the Centre as it now exists.
Favoured long-term plans involve the magnificent if remote BHP administration complex in Mayfield North. It could become a notable arts hub if funding and remediation issues are resolved.
However desirable an outcome this might be, the Centre as we know it will no longer exist.
The exhibition just concluded was indeed a valedictory event.
Graduates in frame
A LESS catastrophic valedictory event took place at Newcastle Art School, with graduates of the 2016 Advanced Diploma spreading their wings in an exhibition that closed yesterday.
Some of them may well have had an extensive existing art practice, but Peter Gallagher is a painter and sculptor to make any art school happy.
It was good to see so much printmaking. It requires skills worth keeping from extinction.