At the moment, there is a major show of strength in Newcastle by artists who happen to be women. There must be almost 70 represented in related reciprocal exhibitions at the University Gallery and Newcastle Art Space, each with huge crowds of supporters at opening events.
Is this odd in a community where at least 80 per cent of the graduates of our art schools are women, and where more than half of the regular programmes of exhibitions are by women? When so many of our most prominent and recognisable artists are women? With so many promising young women artists emerging?
It still appears, however, that they can feel marginalised, that they are underrepresented in the nation's public galleries and prize exhibitions, that they lack the instinctive assertiveness of their male counterparts. Many of them are too busy juggling demanding jobs, shopping and cooking dinner, driving children to soccer practice or ballet, to find time or energy to promote themselves.
Is this wave of female solidarity a new trend? It must be significant that Nick Mitzevitch, director of the National Art Gallery, is running an initiative to give women artists the acknowledgement and recognition they deserve, mining the nation's collections for rarely seen major works.
From looking at the exhibition at the University Gallery, it is hard to identify a lack of confidence. On view until November 15, curator Annemarie Murland celebrates artists rather than agendas. They know what they are doing, are eager to extend their practice into new areas, many of them mentor figures and inspiring teachers. Their work covers every area of practice and a wide range of materials. Few of them deal overtly with gender.
One end of the space contains adventurous new work from such established artists as Lezlie Tilley, Vera Zulumovski, Patricia Wilson-Adams and Rachel Milne, with a particular pleasure the photographic sequence by Clare Weeks. Her studies of electrifyingly uncoiling tangles of her own hair give these cast-off combings a vibrant new life. Is this a subject specifically for a female artist?
Highlights from the opposite end of the gallery include Dan Nelson's portholes into a vivid paradise, Sarah Edmonton's weavings utilising the fluorescent colours of hi-vis shirts and the archaic photographic processes of Chris Byrnes for fast-fading family reminiscence.
With or without polemic, this is a rewarding exhibition.
Wrapping around the stairwell at the University Gallery is an ambitious and evocative charcoal panorama of bushland, the work of Alessia Sakoff, who is the organising curator for the much larger exhibition of work by female artists at Newcastle Art Space, until November 17.
It brings together work from the art schools and beyond, with a range of paintings, sculpture and graphics by young artists and would-be artists, rather oddly combined with the assured work of such well-known figures as Robyn Werkhoven, Shelagh Lummis, Kerrie Coles and Susan Ryman.
There is an augmented family photograph by Lottie Consalvo and a glittering chandelier by Jen Denzin. A particular pleasure is a construction of mirror-encrusted ceramic hoops by Tracie Bertram, who is also exhibiting her eccentric organic forms at Back to Back Galleries alongside the classically inflected paintings of Michelle Brodie.
At Newcastle Art Space is also the first painting to be completed by Virginia Cuppaidge since she relocated to Newcastle; a cat's cradle in a tangle of joyful colour.
There is, of course, a problem at the rehoused Newcastle Art Space in Tighes Hill to find adequate space for individual works by 55 women. In the confined area for exhibitions visual clutter is inevitable.
Coincidentally, Newcastle has a handsome new gallery, tucked away down an arrestingly paved laneway at the Wickham end of Beaumont Street in Hamilton. The inaugural show at The Showcase, until November 10, features four painters from the established group of Seven Painters.
Michael Bateman still finds rewarding subjects, often verging on the surreal, among the heritage streetscapes of the East End. Patricia Williamz has moved on to beach-based large figure groupings, bleached as it were by the sun. Malcolm Sands extends the minimal landscapes of his recent solo show, while the group's front man Andrew Finnie uses the visible world for new explorations in paint.