It is almost time for Block Universe 2017 performing arts festival to launch and I personally cannot wait. This is Block Universe’s third year on the London arts scene. Their program includes newly commissioned performances as well as talks and workshops taking place around town at renowned institutions such as the Royal Academy of Arts and Somerset House, plus a range of unique locations around town.

I love performance art for a number of reasons. First of all, it is unique. Totally and completely one-off. Sure, you can re-create performances and if you are as iconic as Tino Sehgal you can sell a script to the Guggenheim to keep in their collection. But each time a piece is re-performed, it is destined to be different to the first, second, or third time it has been performed.

Having studied art history for my undergraduate degree and spending time in New York after I graduated, performance art was on always on my radar. I understood the premise of it and of course understood how groundbreaking the performance movement was in the 1970s, but I never felt like I really ~got it~. This all changed though when I saw my favourite performance of all time, Coexisting, by Clark Beaumont. I can’t think about it without getting chills. This work, as part of Kaldor Public Art Projects:27, 13 Rooms, completely captivated me.

 Two people (Sarah Clark & Nicole Beaumont) occupy a plinth that can barely hold the two of them. The figures constantly shift in the struggle to find a comfortable position. The performance calls for negotiation and compromise, vital to the existence of artistic collaboration. The pair were constantly moving and re-positioning themselves on a tiny surface area, and it was utterly captivating. A simple concept that spoke volumes about how we communicate, collaborate, and exactly as the title of the performance states, co-exist.

I couldn’t help it, something in me shifted and I suddenly realised that performance art = life.

Hence why I have already filled my diary with the dates of Block Universe’s programme, which runs from 29 May – 4 June this year.

I am particularly interested in experiencing Shapes of States, performance by Stina Nyberg. This intention of this particular performance is to connect political and historical writing of the body to public health ideals of Sweden in the 1920s. The body is a malleable form – how is it to be sculpted? How do we sculpt it? How do the responses to these questions impact our social identity? Shapes of States aims to consider these themes through dance sequences.

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Enter aImages courtesy Block Universe site.
Image credit: Stina Nyberg, Shapes of States, 2016. © José Figueroa

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Images courtesy Block Universe site.
Image credit: Stina Nyberg, Shapes of States, 2016. © José Figueroa

Check out the full Block Universe programme online

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front because I have been super busy gallivanting around the world (Europe). I have had a ton of fun and am so inspired by all that I have seen. Europe is flooded with good art. It pours out of museums, is littered across streets and pops up in all kinds of tiny creative hubs buried in each town. Usually when I see good-art I immediately put on my curator’s hat and thinking about everything critically: what does it mean? And is this an effective display? Instead I have allowed myself space to simply enjoy it on this trip. It feels nice to get back to the basics and greedily consume without thinking much about the effect. That said, I have at least three draft posts waiting to be polished and posted.

Recently I had the luxury of hopping on a cheap flight from London to Berlin. The flight itself wasn’t exactly luxurious but buying a cheap ticket and being ‘overseas’ in less than 2 hours? Yas please. I had visited Berlin before, but it was a quick trip and I had to navigate my way around the city in snow-fall and icy streets. For an Aussie who grew up in South East Asia it’s a pretty tricky thing to do. This time I had a bit longer to explore the city and take it all in.

One of my absolute highlights was the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin. It’s facade is grand and a little ostentatious for what seems like a small building. Do not be fooled though. This building houses an incredible collection of art across modern Romantic, Impressionist and Expressionist movements. It also maintains a collection focus on German art from famed German sculptors and painters such as Caspar David Freidrich and Adolph Menzel (#newfave).

The foyer is an ode to classical art, formed entirely from marble. Sitting peacefully at the base of a grand marble staircase is the sculpture  Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty) by German sculptor Louis Sussmann-Hellborn. The figure in Dornröschen sleeps peacefully and the work itself is a delightful sight when you first enter the gallery. It feels as though you are officially in the land of the Brothers Grimm and classical folklore.

photo: Claire DalgleishAs mentioned above, I fell in love with the art of Adolph Menzel. I had glimpsed Menzel’s work before in glossy art books but never in real life, at least to my memory. The museum is dedicated to displaying a world-class collection of Menzel works, lucky for us visitors. Menzel’s ability to capture a mood was awe-inspiring.

Menzel’s Horse study was my favourite. Let’s look at three of them in a row so we get the idea. The space around the horse draws the viewer into the image and their gaze is held by the horse’s velvet texture. The work almost seems to move off the page and there is the sense that the horse is snuffing out a nearby carrot, am I right?!

All in all – if you find yourself in Berlin, visit the Alte Nationalgalerie then go for a pretzel after. ▪️

The art world calendar is punctuated each year by the Archibald, Wynne, and Sulman Prize presented at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Artists from around the country try their luck, pay $50 and cover the cost of freight to the gallery in order to enter their work into the prize. With over 1000 entries coming through the packing room doors it is a competitive process for all artists involved, but you have to be in it to win it!

Given the sheer scale and competition of the prize, it is unsurprising that the final selection and overall winners are always a talking point that not everyone agrees on. But, this is my blog and I decide what goes to print. Although the winners are yet to be released, here is a list of some favourites from each selection with commentary for your reading pleasure.

SOME ARCHIBALD PRIZE FINALISTS FAVES: 

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I’ve long admired Clara’s work. Her paintings make me feel quiet and reflective, like I have travelled to a different time and place that is simpler, somewhere with less social media. I especially loved her 2015 series that showed at MiCK Gallery.

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Natasha Bieniek took the 2015 Wynne Prize AND the 2015 Portia Geach Memorial Award. Get it, gurl. Natasha creates miniature works inspired from time spent in Japan post finishing her degree in painting at the VCA.

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Nick Stathopoulos paints beautiful, mesmerising portraits. His work has been in the Archibald Prize many times, as well as the Salon des Refusés, and the prestigious BP Portrait Awards.

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Mirra Whale is a talented,  talented artist. She has the unique ability to paint expressively in an incredibly nuanced way. Her works have a true ‘likeness’ to the sitter. Often looking away from the viewers gaze, her sitters seem to be captured in a moment of thought, unaware of being watched.

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Imants Tillers. Praise. Bow down.

From top to bottom:
Clara Adolphs Terry Seiro oil on canvas, Natasha Bieniek Wendy Whiteley oil on board, Prudence Flint Shower oil on linen, Nick Stathopolous Deng oil on canvas, Mirra Whale Philip Nitschke oil on canvas, Imants Tillers Double reality self portrait acrylic, gouache, on 64 canvas boards

SOME WYNNE PRIZE FINALIST FAVES: 

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Craig Handley I have always loved and probably always will. Do you also want to go to this house and drink tea in the kitchen and then jump off the cliff into the ocean and have a bonfire in that front yard? How can you not? His paintings are the Raymond Carver short stories of paintings.

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Stuart Watters; a gentleman and a scholar. Stuart’s works stand out as different from the rest. They can’t be hemmed in by labels. It’s abstract, but it’s also kind of contained and composed. What does this mean for artistic representation of the Australian landscape? Where do we even go from here? I’m not sure but I’m excited.

Top to bottom:
Craig Handley The banker (or the kind of comedy) oil on linen, Stuart Watters Kultureland oil on canvas

SOME SULMAN PRIZE FINALIST FAVES: 

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Liberal MP Craig Kelly felt the wrath of Twitter last year when he tweeted a picture of this #fabulous work by famed artist Wendy Sharpe with something along the daft lines of ‘Do you really think this is suitable for Parliament House?’ What’s another arse in Parliament, eh Craig? I think it’s outrageously fantastic that is has been included in the Sulman Selection, a well deserved accolade.

Top to bottom:
Esther Stewart Flatland dreaming acrylic on board, Wendy Sharpe The witches oil on linen

Prize winners will be announced Friday 15 July, exhibition opens Saturday 16 July. The best of the rest, the alternative Archibald and Wynne selection is on display at
S.H. Ervin Gallery Salon des Refuses exhibition from Saturday 16 July

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To say Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, from the Jaques and Natasha Gelman collection has been a highly anticipated exhibition is an understatement. I have been planning my trip for a year and my stomach flipped with anticipation each time I thought about it. Media outlets have pushed the exhibition; a casual write up here, a mention there, a cover of Art Almanac here. Mexican art + AGNSW + Frida + murals = exciting. This was an art cult favourite that most of us had only ever seen in books before. If you are like me, maybe you also ate tacos and enchiladas while flipping through the pages to make it somehow feel more authentic. It didn’t, that was a stupid but delicious idea.

FYI, Jacques and Natasha Gelman were long time friends and supporters of Frida and Diego. Their collection developed from their patronage of Frida and Diego. This exhibition contains 33 significant works from the collection and over 50 photographs by contemporaries such as Edward Weston, Lola Alvarez Bravo, and Guillermo Kahlo (Frida’s father). Collectively this exhibition presents a unique insight to the artists world; their relationship, their politics, their art, and their friendships.

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The exhibition itself was held in the smaller galleries on the top floor of AGNSW. It is an intimate space. It wasn’t an entire retrospective, but it was enough to let me feel like I had worshiped at the alter of Frida and Diego while I continue to save moollah for the day I can head to Museo Frida Kahlo.

I already knew a brief history of their lives before I visited. I knew about Frida’s tragic accident and the role it played in her life work. I had a vague understanding of their romantic and platonic relationships, but of course I had no concept of what was really true and what was folklore. Like other great artists whose lives have been marked by tragedy and adversity, the story of Frida and Diego is legendary, filtered through art history textbooks and Hollywood interpretations. Knowing all this is very different from seeing it though.

I find artists self-portraits fascinating. On the rare occasion that I have attempted to do a self portrait, I’ve found the activity quite confronting. You can’t ever hide from your own face. And, I guess it is for this reason that quite often, artists say it is easier to paint a self-portrait than a portrait of someone else. There is less room for offense and vanity when the task at hand is quite simply just to paint or draw your own face, imperfections and all.

Frida’s self-portraits are not concerned with re-creating a simple likeness. Her portraits are frank, striking and cement her standing as the queen of resting bitch face. Frida captures her whole sense of self by filling the canvases frame with not just her own presence, but other imagery that alludes to who she is. There is as much attention to detail taken in capturing her necklaces and cultural dress as there is in capturing her eyebrows, mustache, and headdresses that altogether present a kind of emotional intensity that is not typically associated with self-portraits.

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At first I was struck at how flat both Diego and Frida’s paintings were. And the fact that their aesthetics were strikingly similar. In works by Frida and Diego, finer details like a lace collar were traced with a thin brush and can almost be missed if you don’t get up close enough to the work.

Diego is famously known for his murals and political alliances, I was struck by how quiet his subjects were. Without trivializing the darker connotations these pieces had, the flower picker series made me want to believe in an idyllic way of life where we could all tend to flowers and work together, young and old. But that is a shallow reading. What does the burden of the flowers represent? What social status of these girls is articulated through their dress and bowed heads? And what are we to think of the man trying to maintain the weight of the calla lilies in the background? Without seeing his face all we know of him and his working life is a to be read by a quick glimpse of hit hat and hands.

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Although this exhibition was not a blockbuster show, it is valuable in its intimacy. The range of photographs and works on display are all intriguing and act as a small piece to a larger puzzle. It would be impossible to fully articulate the lives and tales of these legendary artists, and it refreshing to be free of that expectation.

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Long live Frida and Diego’s bohemian spirits and artistic freedom, and the dedication, appreciation, and friendship of patrons like Jacques and Natasha Gelman.

Istandwiththearts

June 17 2016 was a national day of action for the Australian visual arts sector in reaction to the recent Australian Council funding cuts. Arts administrators, artists, organisations, and institutions were called to wear black and share their unity with #istandwiththearts

The message of June 17 call to action was to draw attention to the arts and remind politicians that what they consider ‘tiny cuts’ have fundamental impact across a range of institutions. Additionally, the call to action aims to make the arts a campaign issue. There is an alarming lack of coverage in the current election campaign that runs for another 2 weeks despite the fact that the arts industry in Australia employs more people than mining and has contributed a massive $50 billion to the economy.

Without arts and culture, what are we even living for?!

#istandwiththearts

The Sydney art scene is blessed by a stellar showcase of emerging and established artists whose works remind us that painting is still very much alive and, more importantly relevant, as a creative medium. Sure, the Biennale is filled with video works and large scale installations that are inspiring in their own right, but at the crux of the Sydney art world, in it’s homegrown heart; painting rules.

Successful paintings can be as exciting and inspiring to see as a Clark Beaumont performance or a Nam June Paik visual loop. Successful painting has vibrancy and vitality that captures a viewers attention and carries them away. Successful paintings articulate the subjects context through application of paint and colour, as well as the the energy of brushstrokes and positioning of subjects. And if you’re still not convinced let me just tell you: when you see a good painting, you just know, you know?!

Laura Jones’ recent exhibition Wildflower at Olsen Irwin Gallery encapsulates all that is great about painting. In Wildflower, Jones’ imagery is larger than life. Large bouquets of native flowers expand to fill the frame and stretch beyond the viewers gaze.

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Laura Jones, ‘Flannel flowers’, oil on linen, image via Olsen Irwin

When she is painting, Jones is always moving; marching toward the canvas to apply paint and stepping back for perspective and to see the overall picture. The effect of this is thickly applied paint that has been well worked in the canvas.

Studying Jones’ painterly trajectory it is clear to see how she has perfected this technique. Earlier works are looser with wider brushstrokes and planes of flat colour. In Wildflower, Jones has tighter compositions created with smaller daubs of paint that results in more detailed works that viewers are instinctively drawn into, eager to see more. By filling her canvas and leaving parts of the composition spill over the edge of the stretcher, the artist is able to create a sense of mystery of what lies beyond the viewers vantage.

Although her painterly technique has progressed, Laura’s interest in painting floral still life’s seems to remain the same. Having worked for Grandiflora as a florist, flowers and floral arrangements have become the centrepiece to much of her work.

While Jones’ often uses a signature bright colour palette to create a lively and uplifting scene, there is an occasional dark undertone that filters through the canvas that mirrors the ideology of her subject. We typically think of flowers as being Romantic, capital ‘R’. But their undercurrent is tragic. Flowers are associated with happy occasions: weddings, celebrations, anniversaries. But they also represent sad events: funerals, loss, and apologies. This dichotomy has always been an undercurrent in her past work. But in Wildflower, we see a slight break away from this.

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Laura Jones, ‘Burnt banksia and hollyhocks’, oil on linen, image via Olsen Irwin

Still-life’s in Wildflower do not seem as fragile as in prior series. In  Wildflower, Jones develops her traditional still life to include Australian native flora almost exclusively. Not only are the flowers that Jones has selected are chosen for their beauty or aesthetic, but for their durability and sturdiness. These are flowers that are seen unrestrained in the Australian landscape, able to withstand our harsh climates and seasonal changes.The effect of this is that it creates a sense of place and identity formed from our natural landscape.

By creating a suite of works that speaks to the Australian sensibility of place and landscape, Wildflower speaks to the time and inspired-painterly-place that Jones is working in.

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Laura Jones, ‘Flannel flowers and banksia’, oil on linen, image via Olsen Irwin

Laura Jones is represented in Sydney by Olsen Irwin Gallery and in Exeter (NSW) by Gallery Ecosse. To see Jones’ portfolio and read artist updates, you can view her website here.

Wildflower, Olsen Irwin Gallery, 2 to 20 March 2016