Saturday, April 23, 2016

En Plein Air at the Track

After Dawn at the Track, 2015, oil on linen, 46 x 61.5 cm

My last exhibition had horse racing as its theme and I've continued with this subject matter from time to time. This painting was done on the spot in the early morning at the Caulfield racecourse in Melbourne when the sun had just arisen. As I've mentioned on previous posts, I love outdoor paintings, and the work of artists from the latter half of the 19th Century is one of my favourite periods of Art History.

The horses were based on some quick oil sketches and observation during track work, so they're a mixture of looking and invention, as all my work is. The horses on the right were based on the left-hand horse in the sketches, reflected in a mirror to reverse their positions. I rarely work from sketches because when an artist paints or draws from life, what is before one's eyes is a readymade sketchbook, and it's up to the artist to change and edit the subject matter as the work unfolds.

Oil Sketches during track work, oil on MDF, 18.25 x 36.75 cm

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Grayson Perry at the MCA Sydney

Last Sunday Deborah Klein, Paul Compton and I flew to Sydney to view the Grayson Perry exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art called My Pretty Little Art Career.

Shane Jones, Deborah Klein and Paul Compton 

It was an amazing collection of artworks, including sketchbooks, prints, pottery, sculpture and tapestries. There were three video interviews with Perry, and what comes across is his intelligence and warmth for human beings. As he says, his cross-dressing has given him a tolerance for people and their differences and this comes out in is art.

His imagery is loaded with visual and textual information but it doesn't overwhelm the brain and eye. Instead, it engages one's curiosity, proven by seeing the many onlookers bending forward, deeply interested in what was in front of them. You could spend many hours scrutinising just one work.

His use of words enhances the atmosphere of his imagery, a rare achievement, since text is often used to explain the subject or enhance poor drawing. Perry's text brings forth a sense of the nostalgic and the contemporary at the same time. Using well known commodity brand names, puns, historical references or describing satirical situations, he creates an environment that's easy to enter. He also has a sense of the Medieval and the Renaissance which influences some of his floral patterns and pseudo-animal images.

Perry loves to transform traditional materials into art, and there's a fast motion video called Time Lapse, 2003, which shows him creating one of his pots from scratch to the finished state.

He also talks about his many influences inspired from his museum going, but this also reveals his interest in Art history. He is obviously an artist that sees himself as someone who wants to add a link to the chain of the art that has come before him, rather than someone who doesn't understand its relevance to an artist's development.

There were a number of large tapestries, designed by him in Photoshop but woven through a computer controlled loom program which allows for large tapestries to be made quickly. Although he always uses traditional materials and often traditional processes, the exception is the computer controlled weaving which is not the same as the hand woven, although the finished artwork is an impressive sight. On close inspection, there are a number of layers so I'm not sure just how they were made since a traditional tapestry has only one layer.

But Perry is a maker and a thinker, and his sketchbooks are fascinating as it allows one to look over his shoulder and watch his ideas take their first steps as art. He has a graphic art and design sensibility, and a lot of his work looks like large scale illustrations, but his drawing is a strength and along with his amazing compositions, these qualities have enabled Grayson Perry to make many memorable images.

Walthamstow tapestry, 2009, 3 x 5 metres, wool, cotton, polyester, silk

Lamentation ( from the series The Vanity of Small Differences) 2012,
2 x 4 metres,wool, cotton, polyester, silk

The Rosetta Vase, 2011, glazed ceramic

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

State Library of Victoria Acquisitions

The State Library of Victoria has recently acquired four of my racecourse paintings, which was quite a thrill, since it's one of the great cultural institutions in the country. It also means that eight of my paintings now have a home at the Library.

All the paintings were done on site, except the running rails, which were done in the studio. The Flemington Racecourse from the Old Grandstand took 39 sittings, and it's a view around the entire circumference of the course.

The Old Grandstand will be replaced in the near future, so the view in the painting will become an historical one. The open air condition of the grandstand will be changed to a glass enclosure, which will be a very different experience for members.

In case you might be curious, the horse statue in two of the images is the great mare Maybe Diva, the only horse to have won three Melbourne Cups.

 Flemington Racecourse from the old Grandstand, 2014, oil on linen, 213.5 x 81 cm

 Flemington Racecourse, 2012, oil on linen, 71.5 x 122.5 cm

 The Straight Six, 2011, oil on wood, 45 x 50 cm

Caulfield Racecourse, 2013, oil on linen, 71.5 x 91.5 cm

Friday, April 1, 2016

Tom Roberts at the NGA

Deborah and I spent our Easter weekend in Canberra to see the Tom Roberts exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. Roberts is an artist whom I've admired all my life, and it was a privilege to see a retrospective of his work. I expected to see a good exhibition, but the quality of his achievements literally shone from the walls in a way that my expectations were exceeded.

Most of the works were beautifully lit. I saw details that had alluded my eyes for years, and the paint texture and colour subtleties revealed themselves in all their richness. Every painting reflected what could only be called a love for his materials, subject matter, and the process of making images in paint. This is often mistaken for skill, but heart alone produces the richness that is present in a Tom Roberts painting.

Not many artists introduce a style of painting into their country, but Roberts did just that. He lived at a time when Impressionism swept the world, and it was his destiny to bring its influence to Australia. The group of artists he worked with has been called the Heidelberg School, and they emphasised the practice of making pictures out of doors - en plain air, although their colours were closer to nature  than French Impressionism. The brushwork of the French artists was generally broader than their Australian counterparts, but I like the way Roberts and Streeton used detail in distances, which has the effect of taking one into the far spaces of their landscapes. I've also admired the way the Heidelberg School artists captured not only the light of the sun, but its heat, perhaps more so than artists from other countries. Whenever I'm driving into regional areas, I always think of Roberts and Arthur Streeton and the truth of the outdoors they captured in paint.

The philosophy of Impressionism claimed that the important thing was to complete paintings directly from life in the open air, but this didn't always happen. Impressionists sometimes painted their outdoor works partly in the studio, nevertheless, many works were completed out of doors. Artists from previous centuries painted en plain air, but these works were never considered complete in themselves. The atmosphere of the outdoors was an impressionist's principal concern and they adopted a technique and colour sensibility that could best realise this. It's these aspects that separates them from previous artists, rather than en plein air painting itself.

Roberts' subject matter is broad, so I thought I would show a few images from different genres he explored.

This great Australian artist's work can be seen by googling Tom Roberts paintings.

A Breakaway, 1891, oil on canvas, 137.3 x 167.8cm

Holliday Sketch at Coggee, 1888, oil on canvas,  40.3 x 55.9 cm

Miss Isobel McDonald, 1895oil on canvas, 46.5 x 41.8 cm

Still life with Pomegranates, 1883, oil on canvas, 31.1 x 64.3 cm