Ruark Lewis @RKD

Ruark Lewis’ exhibition WEAVE was held at our studio gallery @RKD this fortnight. See images and an interview text below…

Extracts from an interview with Olivia Kurt

In the late 1980s I had made a series of graphite drawings based on a group of bark paintings collected by Charles Mountford in 1948 at Yirrkala in the Northern Territory. It all began with those drawings. Maybe there is an inherent democracy in that fundamental part of us all being able to draw, to fill in the page with haptic marks and lines and colours which we all have practiced from since we were children.

The approach I take all begins with drawing, everything else seems to do so too. Recently I was looking at the childhood drawings of Frank Lloyd Wright which must have been rendered sometime in the late 1870s. They were crystalline, made almost entirely of triangles, which he sets within triangles radiating upward and incorporating colours and line in a remarkable and sophisticated manner. He was using 120 and 60-degree angles almost entirely. The same sort of rationale present in his juvenilia you can still identifiably in his late 1940s drawing/designs for the Berger, Patrick Kinney and Ward McCartney houses in California, Michigan and Wisconsin. I don’t know if I can claim anything like that for my most recent oil paintings which in fact are really drawings not paintings.

My interest in the weaving of Pacific Melanesia began when I was looking at the techniques and decorations of Papua New Guinea pottery in the 70s. I have seen how woven materials range across a vast range of material cultures and thatching and building structures, basketry and other everyday utility items. These all have similar systems. There is a common unit which you can also seen with the Yolngu where the use of bark for shelters runs back through a number of these other applications. There are amazing photographs of fish traps and bark shelters that use the flexible nature of the bark in complex ways. Much of this technology is governed by the location and the seasonal conditions. Continue reading →

Colouring Out

Curated by Kirsten Farrell. @RKD, 20-28 May 2017. Artists: Anthony Bartok, Emma Beer, Helen Shelley, Mitjili Napurrula, Derek O’Connor, Dionisia Salas.

Colour does all kinds of things. It can erase, structure, reveal, disguise, beautify, confuse, measure time. Paint and colour are inseparable but not the same. Painters have a tendency to talk about colour and paint as if they are the same thing. Or, they don’t really talk about colour because it seems self-evident. Interrogating colour yields fascinating potential answers for the way we think about the world and how meaning is made.

Part of colour’s charm is that despite the many attempts to theorise or systematise colour, it escapes. Colour gets out. Artists instinctively know this and work in this space outside the edge of these systems.

Derek O’Connor uses colour intuitively. I have often heard painters describe their use of colour this way. I used to feel annoyance at this (something to do with a feminist’s annoyance with abstract expressionism), but what is intuition if not an embodied knowledge gained through experience? There is a hint of the pejorative around the word ‘intuition’ in English, perhaps because of its common association with feeling rather with hard facts and stats. Something feminine about it, perhaps: like colour.

O’Connor has certain predetermined processes or rituals that are used to produce each painting. After a certain amount of time, the paint attains a kind of duration on the surface of the book covers he works on, defaced Time Life books. Sometimes the photographs on the surfaces he allows to be visible, sometimes they are totally obscured and other images are suggested.

There is a constant pull back and forward between figuration and abstraction in the works. The work of colour in his paintings, the persistent layering of the paint within such a small arena, is an erasure, but paradoxically the painting acquires physicality with the erasure, a weight that suggests time.

Dionisia Salas’ Untitled 2016 is a painter’s stab at screen printing. Free of the rigour of a printmaker’s training, she has made free with the technique, delighting in imperfection and off-register marks. The whole surface of the paper appears to be an abstract drone of CMYK, without an image, and this is reinforced by the blank of the translucent white polygon printed in the middle of the work.

In fact Salas was experimenting with the four colour print process trying to represent some flecked terrazzo she saw. It still seems improbable to met that four colours, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (‘Key’ because the black in the print is the layer to which the rest of the colour layers are registered) can so effectively represent coloured images in print, particularly photographic images. Salas colours outside system in this work.

A physicist I know has found, on closely examining the iridescent wing of a certain butterfly, that in fact, at a molecular level, the transcendently wondrous colour visible to the human eye contains no coloured material. He calls it ‘structural colour’, because the structure of the material in the wing itself deals with light in such a way as to produce the effect.

Helen Shelley’s recent works remind me of this. [Ed. Impossible to photograph in situ. Apologies.] Painted on the back of transparent Perspex, using iridescent glitter in dark grounds, what little ‘colour’ there is moves with you. For some time now the experience driving Shelley’s work has been a vision she experienced upon the death of her father, in which light particles emanated from his body and she came to understand that he would continue to exist in a different form. Her painting is a ritualised form of memorial, but significantly, like the illusion of colour in the wing of a butterfly, in her work colour delivers an abbreviation of her vision.

Mitjili Napurrula is an Pintupi/Luritja woman from Haasts Bluff in Northern Territory. The small works in this exhibition, painted in 1996, both untitled, seem to be experimental exercises in colour and pattern. On closer inspection the colours are not delivered in any discernable pattern, but play out the original form chosen (stripes in one case, lozenges in the other) within the confines of the canvas. Being untitled, like many of her smaller works at the time, they resist the usual whitefella entry point into Indigenous art as a representation of a dreamtime story. They are the result of an artist with a proposition working it out in her own way.

Anthony Bartok is an artist whose work I discovered on Instagram, that sea of imagery, with its attendant colour filters that (potentially) shade the meaning of each picture posted.

The works in this exhibition mimic colouring-in books, but offer comment or critique on aspects of contemporary life. The works’ stark, dark humour (Chloe is so angry about war, corruption and the environment that she posts a photo about it on Facebook) is augmented by messy colour, defiantly outside the lines.

 We can recognise the ennui and angst of middle class western existence because the people are us and the people we know. Colouring in, once the domain of the child and the childish, has been a recent (though fading) trend and touted as relaxing and good for mental health. Bartok’s wry use of colour and the reference to colouring colour subverts paintings aesthetic function of mastery, of the artist in charge of his medium and instead fucks us around, pokes fun at us.

In making patchwork Emma Beer has found the freedom to think in alternative modes to painting. It is slow, too, which is opposite to her usual efficient painting techniques.

She has used mostly blue fabric and uses up each lot as she goes. In #whatsitfor the linen canvas ordinarily be used as a ground for paintings serves as both a reference to painting and a structure for the whole quilt. The tawny colour is a good neutral mid-tone around which she riffs on endless combinations of triangles and squares.

Textiles are the original abstract composition. Bauhaus women artists were onto this and Anni Albers, Sonia Delaunay et. al did attempt to re-theorise the practice of textile design. Only comparatively recently has the theory caught up with practice and their research recognised. Beer is well aware of the masculine-feminine split that does correlate with textile and painting.

The answer to the question of what colour means usually ends up being superficial. Much better to ask how colour means. Each of the works in Colouring Out offer a prompt towards this open question.

Kirsten Farrell

List of works, in order of reference above.

Derek O’Connor

Fence, 2017, oil on book, 44 x 28cm

Double Bull, 2017, oil on book, 29 x 49.5cm                                         $

Dionisia Salas

Untitled, 2016, screen print on paper, 112 x 77cm

Helen Shelley

New Life Old Life New Life, Save Our Souls no.1, 2017, mixed media on Perspex, 45 x 35cm

New Life Old Life New Life, Save Our Souls no.8, 2017, mixed media on Perspex, 45 x 35cm

Mitjili Napurrula,

Untitled (lines), 1996, acrylic on linen, 46 x 31cm, private collection

Untitled (lozenges), 1996, acrylic on linen, 46 x 36cm, private collection

Anthony Bartok

Chloe is so angry about war, corruption and the environment that she posts a photo about it on Facebook,

2016, acrylic and pastel on canvas, 56 x 46 cm

Mark and James want to “fuck the system”. They work in a big supermarket and live with their parents.

2016, acrylic and pastel on canvas, 56 x 46 cm

Emma Beer

#whatsitfor, 2016–work in progress, canvas, cotton, linen, paper, cotton thread, dimensions variable

Paint + Object


Paint + Object is an exhibition at Annandale Galleries, Sydney, curated by Andrew Leslie. It shows work by Edgar Diehl, Emma Beer + Nigel Lendon, Andrew Leslie, Ruark Lewis, Francesca Mataraga, Jacky Redgate, Trevor Richards, Helen Smith, Nicola Stäglich. The exhibition runs until August 6th.



Thoughts about collaborative art.

A contemporary approach to thinking about collaborative art is in the appreciation of the aesthetics of relational art. It is not possible to look at an artwork made by more than one person without asking/imagining what was the nature of the interaction, how aesthetic effects came into being, how the process of production causes visual pleasures in a distinctively new way. Whether or not one knows the details of the social relations of production, the consequence of a non-individualistic mode of creativity gives rise to a new mode of aesthetic appreciation. Through the imagination/understanding of the social relations of production, the beholder of a collaborative work creates their own place in the sociality of its appreciation – a form of aesthetic engagement that simultaneously questions the spaces of production and reception. The viewer of a collaborative artwork engages with the relational aspects of its production by the recognition of a newly created social relations of reception – a many to one, one to many, many to many cycle of interaction. The viewer is drawn into the web of relationship. Imagining a social relations of creation is analogous to interrogating the creative dimension of one’s own processes of aesthetic appreciation.


This work is by myself and Emma Beer: 2016:7. “Blue tesseract”. This work is currently on show at “P+O: Paint and Object” curated by Andrew Leslie at Annandale Galleries, Sydney.

And for its cross-cultural implications, see my Relational Agency: Rethinking The Aboriginal Memorial at

See also my Relational Agency: The Elcho Island Memorial at

Time to rethink The Aboriginal Memorial

Just published at emaj art journal:

NIGEL LENDON | Relational Agency: Rethinking The Aboriginal Memorial

See also:

Nigel Lendon: Relational Agency: The Elcho Island Memorial

The Endless Column is 100 years old

The first version of Brancusi’s Endless Column was made in Paris in 1916. The largest version, at Targu Jiu in Romania, was finished in 1938. It is a memorial to those Romanians who died defending Targu Jiu during the first World War.


The Afghan Modern @RKD

Nigel Lendon Gallery Rugs 316_01_668

Perhaps it is only from the outside that one can decode aspects of the visual culture of a country like Afghanistan and formulate a proposition like “The Afghan Modern”. To propose an indigenous modernism within a distant culture is, inevitably, an act of cultural projection. And yet the bodies of work we have encountered beg the kind of formal analysis and iconographic interpretation that applies in any number of contemporary cross-cultural circumstances.

Nigel Lendon Gallery Rugs 316_05_668

Afghan Modern @RKD is a small exhibition of ten conflict carpets from Afghanistan at Nigel Lendon’s studio space (@RKD) at Wamboin, near Canberra. The exhibition may be viewed by appointment ( until 24th March.

Nigel Lendon Gallery Rugs 316_03_668

The essay posted on Rugs of War summarises my thoughts about this group of Afghan conflict carpets produced in the years from 1988 to 1992, in which the dominant visual framing device is a map. Innovative in character, these carpets are distinct from other conventional uses of the map in the same medium during the same period, which I have written about elsewhere. These particular examples are, I suggest, artefacts that collectively constitute an instance of a regional, or indigenous, modernism which has emerged independent of any cultural dependency or external influence, and which signals a break with the continuity of local traditions. In this sense, at least, it is like any other modernism.

Nigel Lendon Gallery Rugs 316_04_668

continued HERE

Nigel Lendon: Modelling the now

Videography by Axel Debenham Lendon, photography by Rob Little.

modelling the now


Image: video still from “Self Portrait (Homage)” 2013 (Rob Little, photographer)

And see the discusssion that came with the companion exhibition at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery:


Australia at the Royal Academy

Iconophilia is pleased to post the text of Ian McLean’s talk given at the Royal Academy symposium on November 1st, 2013.

‘Anxious identities: Reinventing Australia in a changing world’

A child of the Enlightenment, the conception of Australia was inadvertently set in train by the Royal Society 245 years ago, coincidentally the same year that the Royal Academy was established. I say inadvertently because the Royal Society had its eyes on Venus, not Australia. An afterthought of Cook’s secret mission to explore the South Pacific after the transit of Venus, Australia was unintended and unloved from the beginning. Be that as it may, the result was its birth as an idea and eventually a nation.

Beginning with these thoughts is my way of acknowledging this venerable institution, the appropriateness of the exhibition ‘Australia’ being here, as well as a mentor, Bernard Smith. He believed Australian art began under the sign of the Royal Society not the Royal Academy, by which he meant it was about nature and science, not neo-classicism and fine art. I think he put too much weight on this difference. For me they were essentially the same institution: each an arm of the Crown and Empire. Nineteenth-century Australian art is a happy alliance of neo-classicism, naturalism and science, and so has a natural home here, in Burlington House, which the Royal Society and Royal Academy shared for 100 years. Half the art in this exhibition, the first half, really belongs to it. It is the art of Empire, not Australia, which conveniently narrows my topic to the other half of the exhibition. Continue reading →