Sunday, August 13, 2006

Weird words and great art

Now it may seem a bit trite to focus on artist’s press releases, but hell, is it any more trite than the official focus of Art and Mayhem on the quality of refreshments at exhibition openings?

I think not.

Lately mayhem has been swooning in a sea of arty words.

I could go off on a Derridean tangent about words being the framing structure in which art operates – and as essential to the operations of the free exchanges within the free flowing field of art as anything else – but deep down you and I both want to believe that’s bullshit – so I’ll cut straight to the bitching.

At the opening for Anna Wheeler’s paintings on Saturday, I think I heard THE WORST exhibition opening speech in the history of the universe. It was something like a cross between a best man’s speech at a drunken wedding and something from a Lion’s club annual dinner. Not that I’ve been to either for a while.

Fortunately there were plenty of excruciatingly delicious bright paintings to provide a visual balm for the audio pain.

But I digress.

I received A REALLY WEIRD PRESS RELEASE for the group show of July Fragar and Fiona Lowry at MOP which opened last week. I didn’t look at it before the show – which was kind of fortunate.
I went for the names – Lowry was in last years primavera with some great spooky airbrushed photographicky things and mayhem wet herself after a preview of Fragar's solo show last year.

Deep in the belly of the Tokyo Metro Mr. Lu gives her an early early morning lesson in Japanese. It’s too much. She aches. Bye Bye he said. Sayonara Mr. Lu.

Never had a lesson I ever learned
I know I could never learn not to love you
Come in now closer
Come in closer closer closer ahhhh
Cease to resist, come on say you love me
Give up your world, come on and be with me
I'm your kind, I'm your kind, and I see

She was living, in short, on the edge of a landscape of vast shame.
A vegetable patch on a railway line: insistent.

Between two thousand houses, in the time it took the express to pass, she saw a black van with national flags and loud speakers.

I'm your night prowler, break down your door
I'm your night prowler, crawling 'cross your floor
I'm your night prowler, make a mess of you, yes I will
Night prowler, and I am telling this to you
There ain’t nothing you can do
Where are all the entrepreneurs in China?

She saw him behind sunglasses. He was wearing the sneakers she wanted her boyfriend to buy. But the goatee undid all the hard work. The toil of his presentation made crappy by the self-consciousness of a patch of hair on the underside of his chin. Idiot.

Come on come on, ooo I love you pretty girl
My life is yours, and you can have my world
I'm your kind, I'm your kind, and I see

These are evil minded people, and like dogs with rabies there is only one way -
they have to be put down and destroyed.

When she said the last thing she wanted was contact with the art world she understood what she meant. But you can’t just go around killing everybody.

So ahhh yeah, eh?

Do you know what that means?

Julie Fragar is great with photorealism, intense woven textured paint and cool text. So I guess the text is important. The highlight of the works at MOP consisted of
Which was in elegant faecal colours and reminded me of my waylaid vigilante project of CACA.

Fiona had a great mauve spooky spatial thing and Julie had lots of ink sketches of weird Sino-imperial jade court scene things… but THE WEIRDEST THING IN THE WHOLE SHOW were a bunch of works by some guy called Brian.

Think of Ron Swan meeting – well, err… some really sweet intense surrealist spooky painter – and err… maybe this was the bastard love child of Defiance gallery and Brenda May?

OK I’ll cut out cultural references.

40 x 60cm paintings on a wall – and kind of dark colours and weird spooky little heads and DEEP titles that have serious social comment you know. Some looked like a bunch of Neil Armstrong/Jetsons style space cadets. And then there were these WEIRD curved painted bits of metal over the top – with these impeccable cut out holes.

So I don’t have the analytical language to describe this. Errs… pastiche? Errr.. Discombobulated? Errr. What?

There was another foray into ART MEETS SCULPTURE earlier I the week at Virginia Wilson Art. Andrew Frost was the star curator of IRONIC EXPRESSIONISM.

I received the blurb, read it and ate it, which is why I can’t give you pithy excerpts of it here. A pity coz it was witty but deep.

Oh well. I think the show was mean to be based ‘ironically’ on some of the big boy stars of the new male expressionism in sinney art scene. So there was a big painting (with some scarey tones of beige) by Ben Quilty of a car moose/confabulation that took up one wall of the gallery with another big painting of a rooster named George by Craig Waddell. Waddell’s cock was delightfully playfully elegantly coloured – a nice counterfeed to the brash moose-car of Quilty.
On the back wall there was some vagueish autumnal sensuous toned abstracted thing by Todd Hunter, and then the side wall had an intriguing combination of Nigel Milsom's white on black sketchy painty things of churchy looking structures and Ash Hempsall's WEIRD trippy little brightly coloured painty freaks. Mayhem loved the latter unconditionally. Miro eat you heart out. Which reminds me of Craig Waddell’s 23rd birthday but that’s another story.

None of this is visible from the outside of the gallery. Which is small. Amazingly small and amazingly capable of holding all these big boy masterworks. Was that part of the irony?

What were visible were some small canvases of Todd’s, and then lots of WEIRD GLOOPY BEIGE things in frames by Craig Waddell. Extreme sports drippy stuff and not a jot of those lovely blue greens, chocolate smears or ecstatic pinks.

Heavens! Had he been conquered by the Sydney school of beige gestural painting? Fortunately not –this was just a funny segue into the divine power of liquid nails. I liked the cerebral forms the best.

All of the above is just a mild little warm up for the serious rapturous art moment of the year. It’s hard to write about ART when it is linked to horrible tragedy, so I’ll warm you up with some nasty narky bitchiness.

I usually avoid THE OX, and especially OX opening nights. Partly coz they are right down the arse end of paddo – and all I get flashbacks to all those scary history books I read in High school mentioning the razor gangs and plague outbreaks.

And the street surfaces down that end of town – not unlike Woollahra are made only to be negotiated in a 4WD. The street surfaces are lethal for legs, bicycles or small cars and there is no street lighting. At all.

Lucky the ox has big pink and blue neon sign.

Anyway the opening night soiree was a bit of a fright. The crowd were all in ‘NOIR’, sweetie –that serious art crowd in morning thing – including one woman in a delightful velvet and tulle party frock. And lots of the men were in suits. And they were casting nasturtium laden glances at mayhem (who was wearing a GREEN dress – that didn’t come from Prada, or even Kmart)

I’m not used to my sartorial presentation being aspertioned by snooty visual glances (and I hang out in PARIS) so this was a bit odd. I was so disconcerted that I buried my nose in, err, the art on the wall, and on the ground.

This was no mean feat – given the win swilling throngs in mourning. All with backs to the work – except for occasional cursory glances followed by a fleeting ‘oh, god, how tragic’ (unsure if referring to me or the tragic death of the artist) and ‘yes, if only they were for sale, well which one would we buy sweetie?’

Because the works weren’t for sale, the show was a memorial tribute to Oliver, who was an amazing mid-career artist in her mid-forties, and who killed herself last month. So this show – at a commercial gallery, which doesn't feature works for sale, and there’s no buzz and flurry of red dot spotting or price speculation. All people could do was look at each other, or, you know, like, the work.

So I started looking at the work, and got sucked in big time.

Bronwyn Oliver is best known for those large seedpod – metallic basket weaving type things that you see every now and then. There was a great one at the botanic gardens, and LOTS of artists have sort of copied her since. So it’s become a bit of a style…

But don’t be fooled. Oliver composes her pieces with an intrinsic sense of the organic method of construction, assembling pieces according to the rules of placement, structure emerging, gradually, perfectly.

My god its’ a good show. Close up – not just the overall forms of the pieces, but the minutiae – their impeccable structural integrity that really sucked me in. this extended to the tracery of oxidized patinas of the brazing where she melted and joined metal elements together. Metal was metal, but opened itself up to something else.

This is absolute alchemy of material, form, suggestion, imagination…. And so immensely, intensely moving….. So mayhems eyes lingered, following each segment, meditating on the divine structure of each piece –highlights included cascades of tumescent budding breasty forms, exquisitely balanced stone like structures, a mighty pentacled anus, and some delightfully laced woven threading forms composed into long stem like structures. Oliver composes new structural laws for each piece, and the time, the time just to look, to comprehend, well it’s more ZEN than ZEN ART. It’s amazing.

So now, after this I have a definition of GREAT ART. And it is timeless. (A classic line).

But really amazing work, draw you into its own logic and its own time. You don’t just look at it and go ‘oh, its about that’, you get invited to explore further what it could be, has been, might become.

It takes a very special, intimate and knowing love of the material, of the medium in order to convey that. So heart, hand, eye, imagination. Time space, medium.

This is one of the best things I’ve seen all year (I mean ANYWHERE – including Europe).

The Ox ain’t easy to find – but until September 2, you can be guaranteed snarky suit free epiphanic eyeball delight. Those school-aged minions at the ox have outdone themselves in the installation and lighting department. Each piece is well placed, well lit and there’s the right ratio of space to art.

Roslyn Oxley is a 20-minute walk from 5 ways in Paddo or a 10-minute stroll across the oval near Edgecliff station. Shanks pony can get you there easily in daylight. Soudan Lane runs off Hampden Street, which runs off Glenmore. I don’t usually promote the big end of town galleries – but Oliver’s work is so wonderful and it’s doubtful if she’ll get a retrospective at AGNES WALES in the next 30 years so this may be your last chance to enjoy her work.


Anonymous said...

Please use "discombobulated" whereever possible. The last time I looked it up, it wasn't yet officially a word!

Anonymous said...

I first encountered that word in one of Paul Zindel's later works which I read in 1985.

Anonymous said...

Was the book called "The Pigman"?

Ian Milliss said...

Gimme a break you guys, discombobulated has been around since the sixties at least. I reckon it probably comes from the nutty professor or flubber or herbie or one of those types of hollywood kids films.

Anonymous said...

no! let me just google it....'Harry and Hortense at Hormone High' favourite was always 'the undertakers gone bananas'

Anonymous said...

...and the cover art from "Z for Zachariah" ...magic... would go down a treat at Deutscher Menzies.

lauren said...

I hope you don't mind Mayhem, but i've pinched your way of describing that big public gallery on the eastern side of the Domain as Agnes Wales! Using the whole name was such a mouthful - and Agnes is such a lovely way of describing her anyway!
And who else but Mayhem is going to describe Craig Waddell's cock as "delightfully playfully elegantly coloured"!!

Anonymous said...

a word right up PZ's alley, starting his writing in the late 60s. the mid 80s reference comes from my teen years when I was reading 'im.

Ian Milliss said...

Did you see the story about Mayhem the panda getting a new mate in today's Herald? Very cute.

Anonymous said...

The woman who mistook a what for a Waddell.

Friend of What said...

Yeah, those window works at VWA were by the artist known only as What.