Entries Tagged 'EXHIBITIONS' ↓

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.



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 (iconophilia@gmail.com) 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

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 →

Conceptual / Minimal



exhibition slideshow here at Milani Gallery.

Minimal \ Conceptual is the first in a two part exhibition exploring the transition from minimal to conceptual practice in Australian art. Part one includes the work of Ian Burn, Peter Cripps, Robert Hunter, Peter Kennedy, Nigel Lendon, Mel Ramsden and Normana Wight.  Part two will focus on the dematerialisation of the art object into other forms of practice, and will take place in 2014.

Who would have thought relational art would become so lucrative?


Nearly two decades ago Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term ‘relational art’ to describe “a set of practices which takes as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” (Bourriaud 2002: 113) Relational artists are, he said, orientated towards collective rather than individualistic expression, and envisage their art as a political rather than aesthetic project. Nowadays everyone is a relational artist, or so it seems.

With the latest acquisition by the National Gallery of Australia of the work ‘A–Z homestead unit’ by the Californian relational artist Andrea Zittel, it is the presence for ten days of the Canberra/Melbourne artist Charlie Sofo that will provide the work with its social context, as he “customizes” the work, (according to the Gallery blurb) and blogs his experiences. Sofo has been invited to inhabit this diminutive “dwelling” – on his own terms – using it either as a space for work, for thought, or to sleep over.

In itself, habitable art has been around for a lot longer that relational art. In the mid-seventies, the Californian/Australian artist Marr Grounds, together with his two dogs Mutt and Pete, “inhabited” a sandbag bunker (entitled the “art thing”) that he had built under the stairs in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


People visited, and contributed to his evolving concept of a participatory art practice: visitors to the “art thing” poured sand onto prepared “art bit” cards, and took them away as their own work. Grounds’ motive was as much a commentary on the elitist climate of the art world as it was an experiment in a “democratic” mode of practice.


Like the later work by Tim Burns and Michael Callaghan in the same museum, living in the gallery space was a deliberately disruptive gesture aimed at challenging the prevailing modernist dogma of art’s autonomy from its social context, intending instead to  re-conceptualise the gallery as a social space.

If these were some of the precursors of relational art in Australia, Zittel’s work occupies another world indeed. Like a piece of DIY backyard furniture, if it were more functional, and a lot less expensive, it’s the kind of thing you might buy at Bunnings, the local hardware store. More like a commodity than a piece of sculpture, it gestures towards lived spaces, without having to function in anything but a nominal manner as a space in which anyone might actually live.

Made of steel, glass and chipboard-based building materials, it’s about the size of two double beds, and contains the kind of basic equipment you’d need for a camping holiday. However its functionality leaves a lot to be desired. There are no windows to open, no screens, and the mosquitoes are free to come and go through the gaps around the roof. The glass walls are enhanced by printed imagery which depicts a kind of abstracted reflection of a surrounding landscape. Other than the print imagery, there is nothing to suggest that this is a sculptural object, or a work of art in any recognizable sense. It is so loaded with other kinds of referents (to homelessness, to isolation, to incarceration, even) that it functions both as a kind of inversion of an aesthetic discourse as much as it suggests its impossibility as a space to live in.

While this work has been located on the lawns of the NGA sculpture garden, for it to have any kind of longevity it will ultimately have to be moved to a sheltered environment, or the galleries indoors. In that context its aesthetics will be rendered even more bizarre. One wonders in what context this could be shown… as some banal parody of Utopian Design, perhaps?

Perhaps it is only its rumoured price tag of $150,000 that will signify its institutional significance as a work of art. Clearly relational art is no longer a zero-sum game.

Author’s disclosure: Pete the dog also belonged to your iconophile.

Automatism and/or involition

are nicely reviewed here on Hyperallergic by Albert Mobillo.

Was Alighiero Boetti the last Orientalist?

Hopefully, yes. In the text below you’ll find me proposing that the work of the late Alighiero Boetti should be recognised as a contemporary form of Orientalist practice, despite all the protestations to the contrary. And further, that the surge of biographical and curatorial activity of the last few years – culminating in Boetti’s recent retrospectives at the Museo Reina Sophia, the Tate Modern, and the MoMA, another at the Fowler, and soon another at MAXXI – has produced its own form of a contemporary Orientalist discourse. This has been achieved in the Boetti literature through strategies of denial and negation which have amplified and exaggerated the artist’s original avant-gardist postures. This is posited through a strategy of inversion: the artist’s own denial of agency is set against the retrospective claims now made for his refugee camp workers’ “co-creative” “relational” “collaboration” in the production of his embroidered works. So suggests Mark Godfrey, his most recent biographer, and the Tate Modern curator of his retrospective. To the contrary, I argue that his workers’ anonymous, abstracted, and mystified representations, both in the work and in the literature, is but the latest manifestation of a contemporary orientalism.

Sceptical? Listen to this: “Ali Ghiero, the Bedouin in transit, camped next to the Pantheon” – exemplifies how the latest blurb from MAXXI has (even further) mythologised/orientalised his practice. See here.


In recent years biographers, curators, and followers of the late Italian Arte Povera artist Alighiero Boetti have gone out of their way to deny the orientalist character of his work – in favour, even, of presenting him as a prophet of globalism. And yet although Tate Modern’s Mark Godfrey at one point recognises the inherent idealisation in Boetti’s engagement throughout the 1970s with his Afghan “Others”, he also remains convinced that, for Boetti, “Afghanistan should be understood neither as some “other” place untouched by Western civilisation nor as a culture somehow under-developed or ahistorical.”[1]  How can such contradictory views be reconciled? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, including Boetti’s opposition to the modernisation of Afghanistan and his problematic “relationship” with his outsourced workers in the refugee camps of Pakistan, in his recent biography Godfrey asserts his mode of production was evidence of Boetti’s  “determination… [not to] represent them… the peoples he met… as an exotic other.” Such are the twists and turns of the logic of denial and inversion in the Boetti story.

Art History 101 teaches us that Orientalist Art is characterised by analysis of the representation of “exotic” Others and the conditions of their presentation and reception in the Euro-American West. The consequences for an understanding of the historical context of the colonialist relations between ‘the West’ and its ‘Eastern’ subjects places such art in its wider socio-political context. So it goes, in university classrooms around the world.

Continue reading →

How to look at a Rothko

Answer: through a guard, sideways. This prescient photograph is from Meredith Rosenberg’s analysis of the effects of the recent Basel art fair, here discussed at Hyperallergic.