Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Art Day..."Dark Heart" - Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art 2014

Saturday 1st of March was opening day for "Dark Heart", an exhibition I've been looking forward to for some months. I always attend exhibitions with high expectations. Sometimes I'm disappointed (Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize, 2013), sometimes I'm ambivalent (Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide, 2011) and sometimes I'm giddy with happiness (Ron Mueck, Melbourne, 2011).
Wonderfully for me, "Dark Heart" fell into this last category.
First stop was the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, where Patricia Piccinini's "Skywhale" was  hovering for a few hours on that day only. As we made our way through the gardens, the giant hot-air balloon sculpture could be seen peeking through the trees, and when in full view it was an amazing sight. I was surprised at how "fleshy" it appeared, especially when I looked back at the photos I took.
From the gardens we moved to the Art Gallery of South Australia, where our first experience of "Dark Heart" was a house that appeared to have either fallen from the sky or emerged from under the earth - for me it was wonderfully disconcerting and the concept and blackness of the building had a Wizard of Oz feeling about it.
Happily, photography was permitted inside the exhibition, and the photos below are only a tiny sample of the artwork on show. These were two of my favourite works. The first is a piece by Alex Seton called "Someone died trying to have a life like mine". When I entered the room and saw the mass of empty life-jackets strewn across the gallery floor, there was an immediate emotional reaction...then I realised that each and every life-jacket was in fact a perfect replica carved from marble. It was extraordinary.
The last group of photos are of Julia deVille's installation, "Phantasmagoria", a menagerie of taxidermied animals presented as children's toys in a Victorian-style child's bedroom. I guess this is the kind of artwork that really divides opinion. The reactions to the work in the small amount of time that I was there ranged from wonder and fascination to horror and bewilderment. I really enjoy deVille's work, so my reaction was the former. I won't go on here, but you can check out Julia's website and I should point out that all of these animals died of natural causes and to my knowledge Julia is in fact a vegan.
Like I said, this is a very small part of the "Dark Heart" exhibition and it's well worth a visit (or two) if you're in or near Adelaide. I will definitely be going back at least once.
We concluded our "Art Day" with a visit to the Adelaide Convention Centre to see Emma Hack's exhibition of her incredible body painting. You can see more of her work here. A great day overall, this is definitely the time of year when Adelaide shines.

First glimpse of the enormous sculpture, "Skywhale".

Full view.

Underneath the back end (tail).

Those lips!

The giant, pendulous breasts really 'amped up' the overall fleshiness of the work.

Side view.

The 'dropped house' outside the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Alex Seton's marble life-jackets.

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Emma Hack

Emma Hack
















Thursday, February 27, 2014

Patricia Coombs & the "Dorrie" books

I learnt to read somewhere around the age of four. I have a very clear memory of the actual moment that the words in my "Dr Suess's Beginner Book Dictionary" made sense and became recognisable. From that time until the present, I have loved books and reading and could count on one hand the number of nights in my life where I haven't read myself to sleep. Even if I fall asleep without a book, I invariably wake an hour later and reach for whatever story I am currently engrossed in. I can't even imagine not reading every day and I am truly and deeply amazed by people who tell me they don't read for pleasure.
When I was primary school age, some of my absolute favourite books were the "Dorrie" series by American author and illustrator, Patricia Coombs. The books centred around a little witch called Dorrie who lived with her mother the Big Witch and her cat, Gink and a female cook. There was no father ever mentioned in the books and I wonder now if that played a sub-conscious part in their appeal for me, as I grew up without a dad in a completely female household.
I was lucky enough to live literally just down the road from a large and very well-stocked
community library. Whenever the Dorrie books were available I would borrow as many as my
card allowed and take them home to read and re-read until it was time to return them and hope
that new ones had come in.
Possibly even more than the stories themselves (which were, and are, completely wonderful) the
most  appealing aspect of the books was the incredible illustrations. I am lucky enough to own several of the twenty Dorrie books (click here for a full list) and when I look at them now, which I often do, I am no less impressed. The illustrations are mostly monochrome with occasional splashes of colour and are rendered with either ink or graphite. Each character has a distinctive and immediately recognisable silhouette and the mood of each story is deftly maintained throughout every book due to the skilled and sensitive use of these two mediums.
I'm sure that these books were very popular, but I've never met another person my age who read or remembers these books from their childhood. Perhaps they weren't in wide circulation in Australia? Pity. I read the books to my own daughters when they were younger and they all loved them. So, I'm sharing some of the illustrations here in the hope that more people will seek them out - I've heard that some are being re-printed, but I'll have to look into that further. Would love to hear from anyone else who read and loved these as a child.

Each book begins with these words.
("Dorrie and the Blue Witch", 1964)


I love Dorrie's profile and her faithful companion, Gink.
("Dorrie and the Wizard's Spell", 1968)


Lovely pen and ink.
("Dorrie's Magic", 1962)


Splashes of colour heighten the atmosphere.
(Dorrie and the Blue Witch", 1964)


Beautiful, soft graphite drawings.
("Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs", 1971)


("Dorrie and the Wizard's Spell", 1968)


("Dorrie and the Screebit Ghost", 1979)


("Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs", 1971)






Friday, February 21, 2014

Narrative Project

Towards the end of last year, one of my major assignments involved storyboarding a narrative of my choice. As children's picture books and stories played such a vital role in my childhood and beyond, I regarded this as an opportunity to explore the process of illustrating a children's text.
The story I chose to illustrate is called "Brave Molly" by Terry Jones, which is from a book of short tales by the author called "Fairy Tales" (Puffin Books, 1981). I love this collection of stories. They are a perfect mix of fantasy, humour, darkness and danger - all of which, I believe, are the essential components of a good fairytale. Besides, who doesn't love Terry Jones...he was always my favourite Python and he's worked with Brian Froud (the 'Lady Cottington' books).
Anyway, "Brave Molly" is a terrific little story about a small girl who encounters a big monster when she seeks shelter in an abandoned cottage to escape a thunderstorm. Ultimately, she discovers that the monster is not what he seems and finds her courage in the process. The story is full of fantastic imagery to illustrate and besides being very laborious and a steep learning curve, this whole process was a complete joy for me.
I did storyboard the entire story, even though I was only required to complete sixteen small
(80 x 90mm) cells and I'm continuing the project in my own time by rendering each spread at full
size with type.
I thought I'd share the process for one of the completed spreads here and then post more as I complete  the final versions.
1. Initial sketches for Molly and the Monster.

2. Rough line cells (there were many more of these, but the one on the right was
the concept I chose to go with so I've just shown one of the alternatives).

3. Tonal study for chosen cell.

4. Colour rough for spread.

5. Final spread (full size) - coloured pencil, gouache and ink
 on illustration board.

6. Final spread with type.







Monday, June 18, 2012

An overdue update and some first semester drawings...

I can't quite believe it's been eight months since my last post. For those of you who don't know (an oversight by me, as confirmed by that last sentence), I have been studying full time at Uni SA since February this year. I made the decision to return to study (Bachelor of Design - illustration) around midway through 2011 for a number of reasons, the main one being, quite simply, that I needed to learn more.
So now I am back in a stimulating, challenging learning environment and I'm as happy as a clam. It's been a pretty gruelling pace for the last fifteen weeks, but I've achieved so much it's all been more than worth it. Now, I have five weeks break to recover (and do some much missed sculpting!) before it all starts again in second semester.
Of course, things ('things' being: campus, computers, referencing systems and above all, my age) are VERY different to the last time I was at Uni, which was *ahem* twenty-odd years ago. It took a while to find my feet, but the incredible and unwavering support of my husband and kids played a huge part in building my confidence and giving me the strength to persevere. Now the place seems like a second home and I can concentrate fully on absorbing the knowledge of my tutors and applying myself to the tasks at hand.
Anyway, I hope to be posting more regularly during my break and thought I'd share a few of my favourite drawings from the past few months. All of these were exercises completed as part of the Introductory Drawing course.

Shoes (cropping)

Still Life

Hands (continuous line)

Still Life

Garlic

Coffee Break

Glass of water with spoon

Persimmons

Skeleton
Till next time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Pobble.....









A couple of months ago I was asked to contribute a piece of work for a show at Imagine Gallery in Suffolk in the UK. The exhibition was to coincide with the release of Jackie Morris' new book "The Cat and the Fiddle" and in fact was also the book launch. As I love Imagine Gallery and the beautiful and unusual work they show there and I adore Jackie Morris' superb illustrations, I felt honoured to have been asked.
The theme of the exhibition was, of course, nursery rhymes. I have to confess that traditional nursery rhymes as such were not a huge part of my childhood. In fact, I have no memory of ever reading any or of having them read to me. For me it was always stories, some read from books, others made up on the spot by my mother or grandmother. But there were some funny and weird little things thrown in occasionally, little poems like;

"The night was dark and stormy,
the Billy goat was blind.
He ran into a barbed-wire fence
and tore his...never mind!"

or

"Adam and Eve and Pinch-me
went down to the river to bathe,
Adam and Eve fell in
but who do you think was saved?"

(Of course, as soon as I answered 'pinch-me' that's precisely what happened!)

or a very odd one about a bear being bulgy and the bulge being algae(!)

However, I did love the nonsense poems of Edward Lear. Most people are familiar with "The Owl and the Pussycat" but my absolute favourite was "The Pobble Who Has No Toes".

The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we;
When they said "Some day you may lose them all;"
He replied "Fish, fiddle-de-dee!"
And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink
Lavender water tinged with pink,
For she said "The World in general knows
There's nothing so good for a Pobble's toes!"

The Pobble who has no toes
Swam across the Bristol Channel;
But before he set out he wrapped his nose
In a piece of scarlet flannel.
For his Aunt Jobiska said "No harm
Can come to his toes if his nose is warm;
And it's perfectly known that a Pobble's toes
Are safe, -- provided he minds his nose!"

The Pobble swam fast and well,
And when boats or ships came near him,
He tinkledy-blinkledy-winkled a bell,
So that all the world could hear him.
And all the Sailors and Admirals cried,
When they saw him nearing the further side -
"He has gone to fish for his Aunt Jobiska's
Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!"

But before he touched the shore,
The shore of the Bristol Channel,
A sea-green porpoise carried away
His wrapper of scarlet flannel.
And when he came to observe his feet,
Formerly garnished with toes so neat,
His face at once became forlorn,
On perceiving that all his toes were gone!

And nobody ever knew,
From that dark day to the present,
Whoso had taken the Pobble's toes,
In a manner so far from pleasant.
Whether the shrimps, or crawfish grey,
Or crafty Mermaids stole them away -
Nobody knew: and nobody knows
How the Pobble was robbed of his twice five toes!

The Pobble who has no toes
Was placed in a friendly Bark,
And they rowed him back, and carried him up
To his Aunt Jobiska's Park.
And she made him a feast at his earnest wish
Of eggs and buttercups fried with fish, -
And she said "It's a fact the whole world knows,
That Pobbles are happier without their toes!"

So that is the piece that I decided to make.







I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from John Foley the day after the exhibition opening, telling me that "The Pobble" was the first piece sold. Having just returned home from a pretty exhausting weekend away in Broken Hill (next blog post) it was wonderfully welcome news.

Till next time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who'd have thought ugly could be so dull?






Ok, here's the thing. I'm not a huge fan of ugly Art. I realise that is a very generalised, ambiguous statement and it comes from someone who intentionally creates 'ugly' little creatures often with 'ugly' little personalities to match. It's difficult to explain exactly what I mean by this. I'm certainly no Art critic and let's be very clear, I don't consider the work that I make to be 'capital A' Art. I'm not out to change the world, make political statements or comment on society. In my opinion there are more direct and effective ways to do all of those things if that's what you really care about. My 'small a' art is personal to me and my hope is that through shared human experience, it is personal to some other people....that they connect (another ambiguous word) with it on some level.

That said, the Saatchi exhibition 'British Art Now' is in Adelaide at the AGSA. I've been twice now. The first time I was very excited and filled with that delicious feeling of anticipation....this show is a big deal, a real coup for Adelaide and a chance to view cutting edge work by important contemporary artists. It's a massive exhibition taking up three quarters of the entire gallery space. The blurb on the AGSA website is as follows:

"Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide: British Art Now brings together the audacious best of contemporary art straight from London's internationally acclaimed Saatchi Gallery - arguably the biggest influence on contemporary British art over the past 25 years. It features groundbreaking works that challenge conventional artistic sensibilities, created by more than forty of the new generation of daring British contemporary artists."

It's not that I didn't know what to expect. This was not going to be like a visit to The Jam Factory Gallery....no art made for the love of the process here. What I didn't expect was that by the end of making my way through rooms filled with scrunched up plastic, white-washed cardboard, inflated garbage bags, and (deliberately, I assume) poorly constructed 'sculpture' with bits of fabric hanging off it, I was pretty much over it all and my over-whelming feeling was one of disappointment bordering on boredom. That, and the fact that I had never seen so much 'ugly' Art in one place at one time.

This isn't to suggest that there weren't points of interest along the way. I really enjoyed the room of work by Juliana Cerqueira Leite (pics above) but it was actually more the process she used to make the work rather than the finished objects that I found fascinating.
Tessa Farmer filled a large glass case with tiny (and I mean tiny) faeries made from thread-like plant matter and riding on desiccated insects.....that was right up my alley for obvious reasons, not the least of which is the almost 'OCD-like' dedication of the artist.

But it was still ugly.

So I went back a second time. I did enjoy myself more, having no expectations whatsoever but I just couldn't shake the feeling that this type of Art is a joke at everyone but the Artists' expense...'expense' being the operative word here. This is an exhibition about the business of 'capital A' Art and also the weird irony of Art that claims to be "subversive and avant-garde" while being sponsored by Saatchi. It does raise a lot of questions and it certainly makes for interesting and spirited conversation, but does the Art itself inspire me, excite me, engage me or provoke me in any way that isn't directly connected to it's financial 'worth'? The short answer is, no.
I love Art. I like to think I have an open mind and that my tastes are diverse, but I need a little more than someones unmade bed even if it is a "confessional revelation of the artists sexual exploits and self-destructive lifestyle". Yes, I found the piece disturbing but it would be just as disturbing if I saw a bedroom like this in someone's actual home....I'm not entirely sure what emotion the bed being displayed in a gallery is supposed to elicit. We all know, or know of, people who have these kinds of experiences in their lives. Does being confronted with it in a gallery make us care more? Are we even supposed to care and if not, then what's the point? Of course, there's the price ticket. Saatchi purchased the piece for 150,000 pounds.....can anyone say 'KA-CHING'!

Anyway, I could go on and on but really I don't want to. Like I said, I'm no Art critic, certainly no expert. I do like to be challenged, engaged and inspired....and I do like beauty. True, beauty is different things to different people and if bad papier mache floats your boat, then I say trot along to the Saatchi and buy a season ticket.

For me, I'd rather visit this, or look at this, or this....there are countless others.
So now I'm on a quest...a quest to see more work containing beauty, talent, insight, love and joy.

I may not know Art, but I know what I like.

Oh, and before I go, one more thing I'm liking very much...The Stuckist Manifesto. Not convinced of point #4, but I can't argue with the rest of it.

Till next time.