Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Violent Grass

March has been a month of action, exposure and ambivalent reflection. At Podspace, The Drawing Room: Violent grass, a series of my own recent paintings and at Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Speaking in colour  for which I was guest curator. Allow me a little vanity publishing. It won't become a habit.

I have exhibited in  Newcastle before; once at the conclusion of my  PhD in 2009 Long to belong: Landscape Memoir and in  2007, Portraits of Trees at Watt Space.  I felt compelled to paint Violent Grass for my own reasons, but it was also important  (to me) to show for the local audience.

The Drawing Room: Violent grass paintings were made following a family holiday to the UK in 2010. Witnessing centuries of the figure painted on that verdant grassy island, sitting in private drawing rooms and hearing family stories all informed the violent grass imagery. A boy is punished for touching wet paint; a baby is placed out of hearing range to cry alone.
My imagination roamed on the reaches of Empire based on a careful 'disregard' for children and what  part this might have played in the violence implicit in Colonialism. This is a just one simple glance at the complex history linking the lush-green and the grey-green islands. We all have ancestral collages in our heads. Sometimes we’re compelled to get them out and put them down.

‘Cute little show’ said a young curator, full of pluck and blindness. Or that’s what I thought, prickly (and unfairly). A significant person from another art institution  made the effort to come – most appreciated – and avoided the delicate duty of looking into  the work and responding. I am (still) surprised that no discourse slips ‘twixt the lips of such professionals. Politeness is pointless at the pictures edge. Or at least that’s what I thought, prickly. I will yank on the reins now, avoid an artist’s rant. Pointless, and now is the time to be polite.
I’m not the first to reflect on a body of work, sitting the gallery space. Artists often bemoan the duty, but it’s an opportunity to know the work differently: outside of the studio, looking takes on a different slant, past decision making and  into content, present and future.  Podspace's spartan country hall charm has grown on me too, and I no longer resent the florescent lights (Anna Schwartz in Melbourne would have nothing less). The exhibition experience with Alison Smith & Jen Denzin co-ordinating was also a pleasure.

In defence of a good review: Jill Stowell, whom I have previously acknowledged as the incumbent Herald Arts writer,  gave Violent Grass an engaged, thorough and positive review. We met some years ago, over my work, and she liked it then too. She hasn’t let our friendship get in the way of writing what she wants to write.  Someone suggested Stowell’s review would ‘look bad’ for me (I am the stand-in Herald Arts writer),  that Newcastle  (artists?) would be down on me.  I can only take that half seriously though. My  feedback from H2 readers is usually responsive, intelligent and enquiring.

Bleak show’  said my anarchic friend J. ‘Unsettling but strangely enjoyable paintings’ said another J. Many viewers’ conversations  have been inspiring,  commenting with insight, looking slowly. Like music, most paintings get better with familiarity. Return visitors are welcomed.

‘I can't stop thinking about Violent Grass. It really is a thought-provoking show. Although it's a very literal reading, I keep thinking about the introduction of non-native grass species and the subsequent colonisation of Australian bushland …Then I'm reminded of Virginia Woolf. Domestic, mesmerising, insightful yet unsettling’-J.D

‘Soft and strong at the same time/deep and lush, spiky and resonant/lush, rich and  slightly disturbing/thought provoking/the grass looks so soft and there is a wind’-miscellaneous.

I’ve cherry-picked the guest book comments, but no one (except Hank Williams) said anything negative. It’s the ritual.

1 comment:

  1. I'd very much like to have viewed these 'unsettling' works in person Una... alas... too far away!
    Just viewed the slideshow ... comtemplated which I would choose to take home... several appealed!

    'Violent grass' it is though... the text on your works is riveting... your comment re children and colonialism hits home.
    S (proud owner of a Una Rey dyptych)