Genius and Ambition Exhibition May 2014
This exhibition had been advertised for several months and I had been especially keen to attend as soon as I read the names included. The Bendigo Art Gallery for me had been a place that I had sent one or two artworks to for art competitions in the past few years, but not been able to see for myself. Now that such famous and brilliant artists from the Royal Academy of Arts in London were there I felt I just had to get there one way or another. This was an opportunity to see artists that greatly influence many Australian painters in the past and present.
On the list were such greats as Constable, Reynolds, Millais, Sargent, Turner and Waterhouse. There were other painters represented and I was surprised when finally in the exhibition how many I didn’t know of and how much of their work I just loved. I think we tend to forget that around the big players of a period in art, there may be many other artists of great merit whose names we don’t know about until we are ready to get out and learn more. I have discovered this when looking into the Australian and French Impressionists.
I want to talk about the experience as it unfolded for my on the day. The impressions of a gallery begin as you walk up to the building. The Bendigo Art Gallery has a beautiful building but the entrance they are using for this exhibition, and I don’t know if it is the one they use all the time, I felt was a bit less than impressive, given the reputation that went before it for me. It isn’t messy or old, or cheap, just not in keeping with the architecture of the buildings around it like the library (information centre), the law courts etc.
We were given a friendly greeting and I found the staff were excellent in their engagement with us as visitors, and very knowledgable about the art world in general. I was pleased that they had not problem in accepting one of my business cards, as this gallery also collects from living Australian artists (well you never know unless you give it a go).
On entering the exhibition I wasn’t too happy with how dark the gallery rooms were. I understand that light is the enemy or art especially on paper, but the spotlights on many of the glossy surfaces of the paintings made them difficult to see, on a few the single light didn’t help in seeing the small works well at all. I am not sure how you can get around this problem, but as we were not able to get close to all the pieces and the lighting was creating glare on many, it detracted from the experience.
Unlike other exhibitions, however where seating is not arranged, there were places in each room to sit in the middle of the area to contemplate a piece. Major artworks were central to a room or wall and nicely spaced so we didn’t feel like a conveyor belt running from one painting to the next.
There were few paintings that really stood out for me in this exhibition and not by artists that I expected. I know that I have a love for Turner for example, but his paintings in this exhibition were not on my favourites list, as stunning as they were. The ones that really stood out for me were:
- Millais “Portrait of a Child” Lashings of luscious paint and a stunning focal point.
- Sargent “An Interior in Venice” Wow, this one! I couldn’t believe how 3D it was. I felt like I could reach in behind the main figures, it had so much depth and was just amazing. I couldn’t stop staring at it! The lighting was fantastic.
- Frank Bramley “Confidences” I knew I was looking at people in front of a fireplace before I got to it. The lighting was just that well done. There was not fire in sight, but you just knew it was there.
- Henry Herbert la Thangue “Violets for Perfume” The dappled light on all the figures in this attracted me from across the room. It was so atmospheric.
- James Jebusa Shannon “Black and Silver” This is a portrait of a woman with her dog, with lashings of paint, great lighting again and a sweet spot surrounded by an impressionist touch that I just loved.
In the gallery were also paintings by Tom Roberts and a fantastic Streeton, “Windsor” which had lovely reflections in the water. The permanent collection of Australian art is as good in this gallery as I have seen anywhere. Going from the one exhibition to the permanent one, was a chance to see the influence of on generation of artists on another across the globe. As we know many of the Australian artists, along with those from the USA for example, of the Impressionist time went to Europe to learn what was happening and expand their styles and methods.
I very much enjoyed this visit to Bendigo Art Gallery. Lighting problems considered, getting fairly close to works that you have only seen in an art history book, or never seen before, of such quality is an amazing experience. Paintings that have a realistic look from a distance or reduced for print in a book, can show a much looser application of paint when viewed close up, giving a new perspective on the methods of a particular artist. The major lesson that a tutor of mine is trying to get to me is coming across in these paintings. “Make the one stroke of the brush work and don’t over work it” Something that doesn’t come naturally, as like many other artists, we think we have to really work the stroke, and keep working it until we think we have it right, to only find that again, we have overworked it and lost the effect we were looking for.
This is why I travel out of my way to learn more about what I do. By continually looking at what the artists of the past did to create the work we so admire and trying to understand how they achieved what they did, I hope to better understand what it is that I am attempting to achieve in my own work. Why did something work, why do I like it, why does it have relevance to my own style and methods? What can I learn from it and how much of it should I take on for my own arts practice?
Also of importance is that venue itself. What do I think of how an exhibition is run and presented? What do I think of the venue building? Are these the ways that I would like to see my art represented in the future? Am I comfortable in them? It isn’t just a matter of getting my art out anywhere, just so it can be seen. It is how I present my work, where I present it and how the event is run for both me and the viewers of my work.
I came away a little more informed about my solutions to these questions and having very much enjoyed the afternoon with some of the greats as well as being introduced to some new names to learn from.