Australian Fine Artist

Archive for August, 2013

Exhibition Excursion 7 August

A full day had been planned for students in the city. I only kept brief notes about each one as it was a very full on day and I had to keep moving. Below is a list of the event we attended with my thoughts.

  1. Free, Secular and Democratic
    Keith Murdoch Gallery Melbourne Library (formerly the Victorian Museum)
    This contained books, plans and drawings for the development of the Museum buildings. There were a lot of beautifully done ink drawings, done before the drafting pens and computers we now have to do these things. It was a good reflection of the process of development of a public work or building as well as the artistic skill of the draftsmen and architects and engineers.
    There was also a lovely McCubbin painting and plaster cast of a frieze from the Parthenon. the colours in the hummingbird display were stunning as well.
  2. Permanent Collection
    Level 2, Melbourne Library (formerly the Victorian Museum)
    Paintings covering several generations of artists, some which I preferred over others. The ones I picked out for my interest were: Market Street 1912 Jessie o Alicia Traill
    the Melbourne Public Library 1883 Hne Cook
    Little Ships on the Maribyrnong River 1953 Lesley Sinclair
    The Burial of Burke 1911 William Strutt
    Robert Russel 1899 Alice Panton
    Plenty Ranges from East Melbourne 1862 Eugene von Guerard
    Wharves Near Spencer Street 1891 Alice Chapman
    Good to see some female artists in the group!
  3. Mirror of the World: Books and Ideas
    Dome Galleries, Melbourne Library (formerly the Victorian Museum)
    I visited this display during my Semester Break. I made up some time by not revisiting. I will just comment that the illustrations in the books were stunning and worth a visit.
  4. Storey Hall
    RMIT
    Peter Ellis: “Head in a Hive of Bees”, Selected Drawings
    A Parliament of Lines: Aspects of Scottish Contemporary Drawing
    I liked the quick female nude studies, the more architectural drawings and the drawing of rocks. The textures were nicely done. The little animations were clever and funny. The drawing called the One Armed Snake was a clever drawing because of what it left out and the movement created by line.
    Gosia Wlodarczac: “A Room Without a View”
    Held no interest for me at all.
  5. First Site Gallery
    Under Storey Hall
    Jewellery and ornaments. A few rather nice but didn’t hold my attention for long.
  6. Ian Potter Museum of Art
    Melbourne University
    Philip Brophy: Colour Me Dead
    Not so subtle sexual theme which I am not sure was in homage to or in exploitation of female genitalia. Overall I didn’t like this exhibition. It may have been technically well done, but not pleasing for me to look at.
    Far Famed City of Melbourne (This was finished)
    Heat in the Eyes: New Acquisitions
    Modern contemporary art. I walked in, walked around and then out. It didn’t hold any interest for me at all.
    Not on our list but I went in anyway:  I found the antiquities room was open!!!! YAY!!! I was in and soaking it all up! Ancient Greek and Mycenaen pottery, sculptures and reliefs. Lovely coins and bronzes. I loved the low relief plaster copies of originals from Greece. I was totally in my element in here!
    The John Hugh Sutton Collection, Professors Walk
  7. The Baillieu Library
    Professor’s Walk Melbourne University
    Libri: Six Centuries of Italian Books
    I love books, especially old ones! Even if I can only pick up one word of latin here and there, the way they are made, the beautiful typography and icons and illustrations are worth looking at. It was a bit of a hike over there, but it is good to see masterful book making and heritage from other places apart from our own cultures.
  8. 8 Grainger Museum: Dedicated to the Works of Percy Grainger
    Melbourne University, Royal Parade
    I was fast wearing out from our full day by the time I had found this one. I hadn’t heard of Percy Grainger, and it is a shame as he was such a talented and intelligent person. His paintings are lovely little scenes in water colour and from his biography, he was also a talented musician and composer. The old musical instruments and furniture were interesting to look at, but then I have a liking for music and antiques as well. There were also some fun Norman Lindsay etchings in the collection as well as a beautiful Tom Roberts portrait which I have only seen in books.

Final thoughts

Honestly the day was a bit too full. I was totally exhausted by the end of the day. To add to it, when I got on the tram outside Melbourne University and didn’t get on fast enough, the tram driver abused me verbally!
(At least I found out to my joy that I have regained my backbone and I asked him if he spoke to all visitors to Melbourne like that – then called him an asshole.
I also took the number of the tram and reported him to Yarra Trams when I got home! – Wow I didn’t shake, stammer or stutter once and firmly stood my ground. I have since received and apology from Yarra Trams.)

Dealing with Disappointment

Some of the things not covered when you learn art are how to gain confidence, how to have faith in yourself and how to cope with rejection or disappointment.

It seems that only by experience, and a lot of it, do you start to gain a thicker hide that helps you not crawl into a corner of self doubt what you think you have produced something very special or even you best, and it is rejected or dismissed. Even worse can be if it attracts negative remarks or assessment or is beaten by what is agreed by many as an inferior work.

I am going to speak from experience here.

I have found that the distance of exhibiting my work and not selling or winning an award at a venue I am not present at, is easier than being in the room with it. I enter about thirty exhibitions a year at the moment. I am not winning heaps of awards and sales have been slim. I am OK with that as I know I am still building up a name. I don’t have to be in the room if someone doesn’t like what I have done, I don’t have to listen to what they have to say – especially if I disagree.

When you are present and don’t do well it is harder. Especially when I am not the only person in the room totally confused by results of an art competition.

I have a few things I have learnt to apply in these cases.

  1. How important is this person’s opinion in my long term plans?
  2. Has the person said anything positive that I can glean out of everything and use?
  3. Did I do the best job on this work I could?
  4. Am I proud of the work I produced?
  5. Have I received positive feedback from elsewhere to balance this out?
  6. Were there merits in the artworks that were positively commented on or that were awarded or sold?
  7. What can I learn by have a good look at these works to see how they were done?
  8. Do I need to show my work in front of this person/group/panel again?
  9. Be a good sport no matter what. Reputation is hard to build and easy to lose.

What then?

If all else fails, you may want to do this. Have a “don’t bother” list. In other words, there are some places, groups and judges who will not like your work. They have an idea of the type of art they like and will not select other types they don’t like.

Not every group or exhibition etc has a list of criteria for judging artworks. As a matter of fact, I doubt if many have them. Some judges are prominent members of industry, politics or the community with no art qualifications at all. Some are professional artists who have the ability to produce their art, but still have no training in assessing artworks. Some just don’t like what you do.

What ever the case if you are serious about being a professional, you need to glean what you can from a negative situation and move on and if you need to, become more selective about where you show your work, and to whom.

In the past month I have had two big disappointments where work I thought was some of my best was not awarded even a place by a judging artist (the same person both times). Many at these events were also confused by the decision. I applied my list of suggestions (as above) and when I checked my “don’t bother” list I realised I should have checked it first, as the name was on it from over three years ago.

I can now let it go. It is still disappointing, but I can now look forward with the confidence that I did my best and I have new events and challenges in mind. One thing that will not happen, is me giving up.

Peter Smales

Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists

Topic: Seascape in Oils

Arriving in Australia from London in 1966 with his parents, at the age of eight, Peter remembers that the family lived in an area “where quite a few artists lived”. Water-colourist Dudley Wood who held exhibitions at his home encouraged Peter’s early endeavours. Peter also received encouragement from his neighbour, Sir William Dargie who explained tonal expressionism to him. Later Peter studied under two of Max Meldrum’s pupils, Ron Crawford and Alan Martin.

Peter attended the Melbourne State College and completed a Bachelor of Education, which included a study tour of the European art galleries which opened his eyes to the broader vision of painting.

Peter taught painting and drawing at Melbourne State College for three years and then devoted some years to full time painting. Peter held his first exhibition at Charles Bush’s Leveson Gallery in 1982. Each year Peter has continued to have one main exhibition.

In 1988 Peter was invited to join the Twenty Melbourne Painters group. Peter has returned to teaching at various venues, the Victorian Artists’ Society, the Council of Adult Education, at his home and at the gallery the Doncaster-Templestowe Artists’ Society.

After seeing Peter demonstrate several times over the past five or so years in some ways it can be difficult to write yet another blog or commentary about what he does. Like most of us, however, Peter is continually working to modify and perfect his style and methods. Like all of us he is still learning. To be an artist is to take on the challenge of a lifelong task of assessing, modifying and adjusting your work as you take on more understanding of your subject and the mediums you use.

This is why I continue to go to demonstrations by the same artists over the years, to keep on learning my own craft and profession.

Today it was all about taking on some of the technical details of constructing a painting from a photo. As i have learnt with my own work, Peter starts with a photo and then does a sketch from it, then a small colour oil sketch. As you go through these processes, the photo is less important and making the scene your own, and into a work of art rather than a copy of what you were looking at are concentrated on becomes the main concern.

This doesn’t mean that painting plein air is not important. Observational skill are very important, that is why we do life drawing. The process is that of learning to observe, learning to transpose and translate and then using your creativity to make it your own. Even when painting on site, you don’t have to use all the same colours, you don’t have to put in every detail you are looking at. You are, after all creating your own interpretation of what you see.

To complete one of his paintings, Peter has a set palette with a warm and cool of each of the main six colours he will be using. He adds a couple of tertiary colours to these plus white. With these basic colours he is able to mix anything he needs.

The canvas had already been undercoated with a light buff colour to take away that glaring white that intimidates a lot of us. No detailed drawing in was done, as Peter went straight in with a thin mix of a cool dark to lightly paint in his composition. Is it this stage that some of the changes are made from the photo. Areas are pushed back by making them smaller and a little more random in shape, the mid ground cliff is made to run over the edge of the background shoreline so that it will look closer. The shoreline as made a little wider and the foliage is roughed in so that it will have more layers of alternating cool and warm colours later, instead of the solid block of green in the photo.

Remember to start with darks and keep the paint thin and use a big brush. As the painting is built up you can go thicker with lighter colours and use some smaller brushes as you decide on where you want sharper edges and shapes leading you in to the focal point.

An important point was made about the horizon for seascapes. The sea may be a good dark blue, but to help it recede into the background, run the very edge with a soft line and make it slightly lighter then go into the darker blue. This will help give the illusion of distance.

As the painting is built up from back to front, keep things random and try not to have repetitious shapes. Keep you lines random as well. Some broken and some softened.

As you get to the foreground try to bring some of the colour in the background or sky into this area. Balancing a painting from top to bottom and left to right is important. The other thing is making sure that you keep your light source consistent. This should be chosen before you start so that you have one side of the painting lighter than the other and shadows falling in the right angle.

Another thing to keep in mind as you work your way forward is that colours generally cool or grey off as they recede into the distance and worm up as they get closer. This method of colour perspective helps to give depth to your painting as well. So even if an item in the foreground is not yellow for example, it may pay to include yellow or some warm colour to help it pop forward. A dash of a high key colour (cadmium red for example) in strategic points in the foreground will also help give spark to the work. If you decide to put in a new details like this over very wet paint, don’t be afraid to use a rag to wipe back the paint before you paint it in.

The final touches to Peter’s work were the scurried hints of branches in the foreground. We were all concerned that to bottom left side was left underdone, and one lady asked what he was going to do with it. “Sign it” was his response. Fortunately, he had a frame with him to give his painting that final lift that a good set of matts and a nice frame can do. Suddenly that quiet area that looked undone, was un-noticable. Proof that you don’t need to madly paint in every centimetre of your canvas especially when attempting more impressionist style painting.

“When is your painting finished?” was asked. The response was, many paintings if not all are never finished, they are abandoned. In other words, it is done when you say it is. That is the big headache of most artists and what leads us to overpainting many of our works and taking them to the point where we ask ourselves, what the hell did I do to stuff this up so badly!!? That is where practice, and more practice and continual learning comes in. We learn when to stop (most of the time). Like Peter did, and like I am going to do right now!

Geoff Ricardo

Printmaker and Sculptor

Visiting Artist Talk at Chisholm TAFE

The trip to Chisholm for Geoff was a nostalgic one, as he attended here thirty years ago. It was a kind of anniversary trip to share what he has achieved. I think we were all very happy he made the trip!

I love it when a speaker has such an unassuming nature to them, they speak to the group and not at you, and share the journey like they would to a group of friends.

The huge body of his work was amazing. The folders on his computer were endless, each with heaps of photos of his work as it has evolved and grown over the years.

Geoff said he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, but he had always drawn. He eventually ended up in TAFE and he found a place to fit in and be with like-minded people (artists). He went on the tertiary studies and majored in printmaking. He likes the process. There are parts that are a bit out of your control and he likes the transferrance of the image from one surface to another.

His images makes statements about the world and humanity. Sometimes serious but often with a touch of humour, he has used the image of animals in particular to tell stories.

His works vary from the very small to the very large – both the prints and his sculptures.

Geoff admits that he uses deadlines for upcoming exhibitions and projects to make sure that he keeps producing and his mind on the job. It is easy to get “lost” in the studio.

Some of his prints are from single copper plates and others are from several as he builds up an image’s colours. He goes from dark to light in most prints which is different from how I have been taught so far, so that was interesting. It reminded me a bit of the newer method of scratchboard art which has similar finished looks.

The elephant has become Geoff’s signature look. He must have depicted them in nearly every contortion and direction over the years, as well as exaggerating many of their physical  assets. He has also included the patterning of squares in with his elephants and gone on to make them an abstract feature on their own.

Geoff moved into sculpture as a way of using his copper plates, in a way, although I suspect he may have done it anyway as his work is so innovative and he seems to love it so much. He now has to use purchased material as he doesn’t have enough used plates to make some of the huge sculptures he completes.

Geoff also has a lot of sketch books. He is making sketches and plans all the time. The seeds of his projects can come from theses books so they are a good practice for any artist. He has also been artist in residence, which he says is a great way to extend yourself by trying new materials, styles or subject matter. He produced books of water colours, a series of imagined flags for pretend countries, been artist on a ship in the Antarctic and worked in a rural hospital as resident artist. All these gave him a new lease in creativity and ideas he may not have had otherwise.

He spoke of constantly being on the outlook for ways to increase his output, broaden his horizons and improve his art. After over thirty years practising as an artist, his enthusiasm was still obvious. He gave a friendly and informal talk which was still very informative.

Business Studies Week 3 Semester 2

Our regular tutor has been away ill recently so we had a stand in for this session with a couple of interesting videos for us to watch and consider. It was a bit difficult to concentrate I must admit as the room was freezing and I spent a lot of time swapping hands over to get them warm! Never the less we persevered and I think, gained a lot from what we watched.

Video 1: Charles Saatchi

The name Saatchi is very well known in the advertising profession. As a graphic designer for over thirty years I have not only heard of them, but in my capacity in a bureau years ago, I indirectly worked for the Melbourne office as their artists came in with jobs to be processed and we handled their overflow work when the inhouse departments could not meet deadlines. I saw how the advertising business tended to burn out even very young artists during the 1990s as they often put in over twelve hour days on a regular basis, it was and still is a tough business.

Charles Saatchi decided to move his interests from the advertising industry focus to that of promoting and selling fine art about 20-30 years ago, around the same time as I was working. He put together an art prize in Britain by the look of the video, where a selection of artists competed to smaller and smaller groups until one was decided on by Saatchi himself for the opportunity to display at the Hermitage in Russia and other prizes to help boost their career and raise their profile.

The Saatchi Gallery itself looks a very imposing and grand building. It would rival any public museum or gallery in the world. Why Charles has decided to change his interest from advertising to fine art, in the form of contemporary art was not the focus of the video, rather the process the artists who were selected went through to go from one round to the next by interview and showing and explaining their work to a selection panel.

The final six were interviewed by Saatchi who would choose the artist he thought would have the skillset and ability to fulfil the obligations of the prize. The final six were mostly tertiary art graduates but there was also a member who was an experienced practising artist with no formal training. Painting and sculpture as well as video and mixed media were all considered. Past winners have gone on to be very well known all over the world and their prices have risen extraordinarily into the millions of dollars.

I found it interesting that one of the tasks set the competitors was a life drawing session. I have been taught and teach that basic drawing skills and the ability to observe and translate is very important no matter what form of art you are practising. I couldn’t believe how poor some of the drawing skills were in this group. Even in a contemporary art competition, which I think this was, basic traditional methods and skill sets were being looked for and expected. It was interesting that out of the six finalists, three were painters who could draw at least a bit.

This does not take away from the potential and innovation that was also being looked for from each artist, as well the ability to explain their process and motivation for each piece. Some of this was also lacking. Some found it very difficult to stand in front of their work and clearly explain what it was about. What were they trying to say or express, what gave them the idea?

We didn’t get to see who was the final winner and the process of and reason for the competition was to me, a bit contradictory. Was it like a game show similar to many on TV in the past decade, or was it a genuine attempt by Saatchi to encourage and promote art? I can not really give an answer to this. What it did show clearly to me was that no matter where or how we are going to show our art, compete with our art, or try to sell it, we must be prepared at some stage to explain why we do it.

As professionals in any business, continual training and improvement should be a part of our practice. All professionals have their basic training and make sure they keep their qualifications up to date, they have standards and rules of conduct. We should be prepared to understand the basics of our profession, be prepared to continually learn and aim to have a business that is always aiming for improvement. We should be able to stand in front of our art and know why we did it, what process we went through to create it and an idea of its value.

So was this about the “king maker” or showing up the need for us all to lift our game if we want to make it in a world that doesn’t owe us a living, hence, if we wish to be respected as a professional shouldn’t we make sure we train and act like one?

Video 2: The Great Contemporary Art Bubble

I had not heard of the “Great Art Bubble” but have been aware of the economies of Australia and countries overseas for a few decades as we have gone through recessions and growth to booms and back. Australia lags behind the rest of the world in how and when a recession or burst in economic bubbles occur. Sometimes it doesn’t affect us the same way, it may not be as harsh, or it may hit some parts of the economy more than others. Sooner or later though, it tends to affect us. What I have noticed in business in particular is that art departments are always a first up for cut backs in companies, and art in general as more of a luxury item rather than an essential is what people tend to stop buying.

It makes sense, if you are worried about meeting your obligations you are not likely to spend on art, go on expensive holidays, buy new cars or eat out in expensive restaurants. If your business is struggling are you still going to go out and fill the offices with expensive art?

This video brought to light the practices of collectors, brokers, auction houses etc to bathe in the good times by making sure that the artists which they backed and promoted had not only good prices, but increases in sales and sale prices that were to become unsustainable practice. Artists looked like they gained fame and money along with these businesses and groups with something like 800% increases in sometimes only a year but it really looked more like it was “about” the sellers and buyers and not the artist.

Art can be subverted. It can be all about ego, money, prestige, status. Raise an artist’s profile, make their work the stuff you just must have on your wall, make it what you have to collect and hang on your office building walls, make sure that this artist’s work continually keeps going up in price at auction and who gets hurt you may ask?

Consider this, how does the rest of the community get to see the art? The public galleries are pressured into hanging artists that are in demand. Who pays for this? It comes from the public purse.

As an artist, of course I want to see my work being promoted, I want to see it grow in value. The difference here is the following.

Who do I know? Quite often it is not the talent but the contacts that get the high profile and the money.

What am I willing to do to raise the profile of my art and become a “success”? Some artists buy back their own art to keep the prices up rather than have it passed in at auction.

Who am I willing to do business with? Am I willing to willing to join the bleeding edge for the sake of money? Galleries have a look they want to sell.

The methods of trading and secret deals that were exposed in this video were only what I have suspected of parts of the art market for many years. You can’t see some of the poor standards of art being hotly sold at huge prices without wondering, who did this person know to get that sold or hung? What has gone on that we don’t know about?

Of course all this speculation and unrealistic trading was hit by the inevitable 2008-9 GFC. Changes in the law in recent years may cut down some of the practices of the 1990s by auction houses, but the ego factor in parts of the arts market I feel may not go away, but just cool off for a while until the next big thing to push or promote for money.

The amount of artists, the quantity of “contemporary” art works that look similar was also addressed during this video. I have felt this when attending some exhibitions. I couldn’t tell one artist’s work from another.  I have failed to see significant effort to create an individual style or show any indication of formal training or understanding of traditional methods of creating artwork (EG: composition, materials, design, colour theory, understanding of tone, light, line, texture, final presentation).

Damien Hurst, who became very well known and wealthy from sales of his art through auction houses and purchasing by collectors at one stage experimented with going direct by holding his own show and auction. Contrary to the looming economic downturn predictions for the success or more likely failure, he made good sales for this event, but the inevitable downturn did come.

Even in Victoria there are galleries holding on to a lot of work and handling a lot of artists, with works hung for quite a while without selling. Several galleries have closed over the past few years and I have not seen good percentages of sales in many cases in the bottom and upper end of the market.

The video cited 2009 as a year where there were many failures to sell including works by very well known artists.

What people tend to forget is that what goes up, can easily go down, particularly in a speculative market. Even though people can buy what they want rather than what they need, when the money runs out, luxury items get put on the back burner. There isn’t enough wealth out there to support the amount of artists practising to bring in big money for all of us or even many of us… and do we really want to be involved in the suspect practices of certain groups? It takes the power out of your hands and the whole thing becomes speculative. It is ego run amok.

As the economic downturn hit, Hurst closed studios where he had assistants assembling his artworks, his mass produced process was taken back to production of paintings 100% completed by his hand, out of one studio, which to my thinking shows better integrity and quality than something he only finished off.

The movie Wall Street kept coming to mind during this video. Greed is good, the love of money, status and ego all went through my mind. Where in all of this was the art, the love of the process and production of work of integrity and quality? Of course I don’t want to live as a pauper, I want a comfortable lifestyle, I would also like to see my work recognised, sell and be known as a good if not great artist (preferably before I die) – but for the work, for the effort I put into making it the best I can produce and for the love I have in doing it, for being an artist of good and honest character. Something in stark contrast to a lot of what I was looking at today.