Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Newcastle Art Gallery - Kilgour Prize 2015









Well I’m back.  In what capacity only time will tell.  It’s the Kilgour Prize that’s lured me.  And perhaps a deep desire to get back to writing and acknowledge that I love art and its ability to inspire the seeking of an aesthetic, understanding that this too is an ever evolving part of me.

Yesterday I ventured into the Newcastle Art Gallery for the third time to see the Kilgour but this time to persuade my “financial backing” to part with some cash.  “Horseshoe Beach 2015” by Michael Bell was the bait.  Some smaller versions are available at Gallery 139 in Hamilton at the moment and owning one would be superb.  But alas…

However there was another reason to return to this worthy exhibition.  I was browsing through the Newcastle Herald on Saturday and came across an article about The People’s Choice Award for the 2015 Kilgour and I was astonished that I didn’t recognise the work as part of the exhibition.  Obviously I didn’t vote for it and obviously I peruse an exhibition seeking works I find aesthetically pleasing.  This work was clearly not visible to me though it is a beautifully rendered painting.  However I enjoyed reading the article about the inspiration and the layer hidden beneath the painting that without the artist’s insight would remain invisible to the viewer.  It’s a gentle reminder that every art work produced has value regardless of its visual appeal and the artists’ skill with materials and composition.

Today I’ve chosen three works from the exhibition that I was drawn to and hopefully can explain why. The first is of course Bell’s “Horseshoe Beach”.  I admit that when I began taking an interest in art many years ago I found Bell’s art ridiculous.  I was beginning my journey and admired only those works that fostered realism, showed talent with the brush and a clear understanding of visual representation.  In other words I wanted to see on canvas what I could see with my eye.  Forget acknowledging that there’s an imagination in there, a desire to delve into the depths (pardon the alliteration) and produce work with character, personality and quirk. I  didn’t get what the word “edgy[1]” meant and for that matter I did not want to.  These artist’s that spoke in their fancy shitty language annoyed me. They didn’t know what they were talking about.  Give me a painting that showed a perfect execution of a thing and I’d give you an artist.  I was still unaware that perhaps the artist had transcended realism.  Oh how knowledge and a good deal of art watching has changed me. 

Bell’s work successfully demonstrates the naive.  It’s the guileless antics of dogs so blissfully unaware of anything other than their own need at that one little moment to have fun.  It’s the microcosm of utopia, that place that does not exist but in the imagination.  A dog, a stick and a human to throw it is all that matters.  But although there is frenetic energy, bustle and crowding there is peace in this image, a meditative nod to the slow life movement.  Apart from the character of this work and the artist’s profound ability to see and impart that information, is the strength in regards to the application of paint. A careful look at the sand shows so many colour gradations.  Lighter hues are confidently used to highlight dog snouts and darker hues saturate beneath a person’s arm and between chin and shoulder bringing the head to the person to the foreground.  It’s an exercise in sureness.  Also wonderful are the outlined images.  These spontaneous drawings assist in breathing movement and validity to the impression of the work.

The second piece is the work by artist Tom Phillips titled “Between the clock and bed 4”.  I was drawn to this work purely owing to the bed.  This bed is drawn and painted so well I know I would be enticed even if it were the only character in the composition.  There is a distorted appeal to the way it has been sketched but it’s the vintage style that takes me back to holidays as a child in an old home by the beach. The lazy afternoons laying on the bed wiling away the time reading is a delightful nostalgic memory. The tonal quality of the entire painting is rich and wild with highlights of pure white and is extremely adventurous.  The paint is fiercely applied and mimics the anxiety of the work.  I admit to being attracted to strange looking dogs in work but oh how accomplished this painting is.

Lastly is the artist Diane Ingram with her work titled “Look here”.  Abstraction is the basis of the painting with delicate line work signifying to me our loss of power to the will of fate.  I find the notion powerful in the face of this subjection.  Any interference is just part of that fate.  Giving up to the universe and observing the consequence is a beauty so wonderful and shocking and in art sublime.  So in this piece it is a philosophy as well as the artist’s response to the materials that appealed.  The figure of the girl emerges seemingly by accident.  But its innocence is as fleeting as the will of the butterfly. Perhaps ascribing the sublime to this painting is a step too far but regardless there is so much to enjoy in this work.

Irrespective of whether this regional gallery gets a makeover it’s a peaceful space and I do so love the idea of observing art in this environment.  I hope you get to see the 2015 Kilgour Prize which is on exhibit until 7th February.

[1] Perhaps this word was overused a little.

Kerri Smith
Guest Reviewer

14th November 2015 - 7th February 2016
www.nag.org.au
thelaymanreviewer.wordpress.com