At Maitland Regional Art Gallery it is always an exciting experience to move between several very different concurrent exhibitions.
At the moment these include the ever-popular ARTEXPRESS, with emphasis on work from local schools and attracting large school holiday crowds.
Sharing the ground floor is a remarkable exhibition whose subject is dementia.
Almost everyone will have had an experience at some level of this appalling condition which leaches memory and meaning from people's brains and transforms loved members of families into zombie-like strangers. It is increasingly common as people live longer.
Ann and Sophie Cape are Sydney painters with widely recognised reputations. They are also mother and daughter who have been caring in recent years for the man they used to recognise as husband and father. From their profoundly distressing experiences they have created a body of work, portraits of dementia sufferers, but also interpretations of the confusion and self-aware horror for those losing mind and meaning.
Sophie Cape's immense energy as a painter of dramatic landscape is evident in several huge canvases where she uses a variety of materials to create tangles and nodes of visceral darkness, in which perhaps an eye swims to the surface.
Ann Cape, her mother, is a well-represented portrait painter who brings her observational skills to sensitive charcoal studies of dementia sufferers staring mindlessly into space. They include the well-known painter Margaret Woodward, gently vacant, a shadow of her former self.
Much of the exhibition consists of double portraits of patients and their family carers, poignant reminders of relationships irrevocably altered. Sometimes the black dog of depression completes the triangle. That these paintings make such emotional viewing is tribute to the painter's gift for empathy.
The inclusion of a large work whose subject is the celebrated French mime artist Marcel Marceau exploring the walls of his imaginary cage adds a further dimension to the private dramas depicted on the other walls.
Is it significant that dementia forms a subject prominently visited in ARTEXPRESS? Is this often hidden condition emerging into a new era of openness and acceptance?
In radical contrast, though still awash with personal messages, is the collected work of 22 contemporary Australian jewellery makers from the Australian Design Centre. Most of the pieces bear little resemblance to the articles of status and adornment worn by members of conventional society.
Neck pieces are often high plastic collars or may be constructed of natural objects like the maireener shells, echidna quills or shell segments of Lola Greeno from Tasmania and the cicada shell fragments used with silver and gold by Bridget Kennedy from NSW.
Other pieces incorporate a variety of found objects, while yet others are not intended as adornments for the body but are small delicate sculptural works.
The most extreme work is almost certainly the video of the surgical snipping and peeling and simultaneous remounting of a latex glove from each of South Australian Catherine Truman's hands.
Still attracting a steady crowd is the immersive virtual reality collaboration between animator Simon Ward and inventive Art Deco-inspired painter Jess Johnson. Headsets give the lucky viewer access to propulsive journeys through the temples and palaces of an alternative world.
Spectacular journeys in the real world are among the subjects for prize photographs in the selection of works from the 2021 Maitland Salon until May 30.
At the NGA in Canberra until June 14 are 60 paintings from the National Gallery on London's Trafalgar Square, certainly the home of one of the world's most significant collections by the great masters of the Western Heritage. A similar line-up of old masters is in Brisbane at the Queensland Art Gallery June 12 to October 17 from the immense and varied treasures of the Metropolitan Museum of New York.