Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Direction (right) now

Our final major exhibition for the year has officially launched and already drawing some terrific interest. Direction Now is a wonderful insight into contemporary abstract painting in Australia right now. With artists from Brisbane, Sydney, northern NSW, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide it is a rare snapshot of the national scene in one cohesive exhibition. 

And one thing worth mentioning right off the bat ... these works are quite something else in the flesh. While they could be said to be two-dimensional works that hang on the wall, that would be understating their true physical character. These are all highly haptic works - works that are just as sculptural as they are purely visual. Artworks like those by Amanda Ryan, Anthony O'Carroll and Miles Hall are especially object-like. Screen and print representations don't truly do them justice - not in the same way that standing in front of them, walking around them and feeling their presence in space will do. 

Anton Hart

Opening launches are always great fun and this was no exception. We are particularly pleased to have all three gallery spaces filled with large, vibrant works. These are powerful pieces that command the room and are all the better served by the wonderful spaces we are fortunate to have here at Town Hall Gallery. Independent curator and researcher Andrew Gaynor officially opened the show to an enthusiastic audience and two of the artists from Sydney (Anthony T O'Carroll and Amanda Ryan) flew down to be at the opening with fellow abstractionist Terri Brooks.

Andrew Gaynor officially opens the exhibition
Terri Brooks, Amanda Ryan and Anthony T O'Carroll

The artists have published a great exhibition catalogue for the show as well, which they are generously providing for free - so be sure to pick up one when you're in. You can also find out more about the artists on their Facebook page and their own websiteDirection Now has arrived from its showing in Port Macquarie and will next head on to Lismore Regional Gallery in 2015. The exhibition will continue here in Melbourne right through until 17 December - and is a perfect place to spend an afternoon inside air-conditioned comfort!

Admiring the work of Anthony T O'Carroll
A detail of Terri Brooks' fabulous artwork
Miles Hall and Ann Thomson commanding the space of Gallery 2
Our Pop-Up Art Library and relaxed reading area in Gallery 3
Opening night crowd
Gallery 1 and the works of Anthony T O'Carroll (l) and Anton Hart (r)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Direction Now Pop-up Library

Direction Now is an exhibition celebrating artists using elements of abstraction such as the lyrical, gesture, texture and colour field to convey an individual expression. The works are bright, bold, textured, intriguing and indebted to the long history of non-representational art. What is this history you may ask? It is a history that reached its peak in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the mid 20th century (think Jackson Pollock). 

As part of our public programs for Direction Now, Town Hall Gallery has partnered with the City of Boroondara Libraries to bring you a Direction Now reading list! Filled with lots of wonderful books and references, you can pick up a copy of the reading list in Gallery 3 at our pop-up library. 

When you visit us at the gallery, feel free to spend some time in the pop-up library browsing through a number of books about Abstraction in art. We have comfortable couches, temperature control and lots of delicious information for you to digest about the exhibition. 

Abstraction can be an abstract concept to understand (a cheap joke, I know). Our pop-up library provides some context for the exhibition and will allow you to take some time out of your visit to educate yourself on the 'ins and outs' of this particularly significant movement. Titles range from those dedicated to Abstract Expressionism, to more contemporary books, such as Art Now Vol. 4 (pictured below). 

All of the books that are in our pop-up library can be borrowed from one of the City of Boroondara Library branches. Our libraries have an amazing assortment of other titles in their database if you wish to pursue this style of art further. Click on the links below to get directions to your nearest City of Boroondara Library:

154 High Street, Ashburton 

336 Whitehorse Roa,d Balwyn 

340 Camberwell Road, Camberwell 

584 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn 

Corner Cotham Road & Civic Drive, Kew 

Phone number for all libraries 
9278 4666

Monday, October 20, 2014

Direction Now

Launching tomorrow (from 6pm, Tuesday 21 October) is the last major exhibition for 2014 - Direction Now. All the works are on the wall and the gallery spaces are transformed again with the new works. This is a show full of colour, composition and a sense of visual language. Abstraction is a special form of art, in which the exploration of visual cues is set loose from any direct representation of 'things'. Meaning is more firmly transferred to the viewer, where interpretation is open to translation of feeling and the sheer reality of the painted surface and materials.

Direction Now features the work of some of Australia's finest abstract artists. We are excited to have this group, drawn from right across the nation, presenting their art across our three main gallery spaces. The artist on show are Mostyn Bramley-Moore, Terri Brooks, Michael Cusack,Steven Harvey, Anton Hart, Anthony T O’Carroll, Claire Primrose, Peter Sharp, Ann Thomson

Direction Now has arrived in Victoria from its most recent showing at Glasshouse Gallery in Port Macquarie. The philosophy of the show is best expressed by the group itself:

Currently, the visual art community is producing work in all forms, from performance art to traditional realism. Research is diverse. Yet abstraction is perhaps the least recognized and understood painting form, particularly by a public that in the 1960s understood it more due to curator and critical support. Following in the tradition of ‘Direction 1’, the first group exhibition in Australia to legitimise abstraction in 1956, Direction Now brings together a group of ten artists for whom abstraction is their chosen visual language. The show was initiated out of respect for each other’s work and a quest for recognition that abstraction has a valid, vibrant and lively existence in Australia. 

The exhibiting artists have developed a distinctive personal rather than ‘movement’ based visual language. Abstraction has many facets from art informal, process painting, the hard edge and minimalism. In Direction Now notions of technique, process, and reoccurring themes linked to the artist’s individual experiences and immediate environment such as identity and place are presented. Above all Direction Now is an exhibition celebrating painting with artists using elements of abstraction such as the lyrical, gesture, texture and colour field to convey an individual expression.

The exhibition launches tomorrow and will run through until 17 December. We've got public programming to run alongside the event, and stay tuned for artist interviews in our ongoing 'In Conversation' series here on the blog.

Friday, October 10, 2014

In Conversation: Laura Woodward

Laura Woodward is an artist with a work ethic that'll exhaust you just by reading about it. Designing and producing large-scale kinetic sculptures, she also makes video art, produces music video clips, teaches at several tertiary institutions simultaneously, runs an artist studio facility in North Melbourne, co-owns and manages a fabrication and design business with her partner and gets commissioned to make public sculpture in places like Horsham and Craigeeburn. And to top it off, she just completed her PhD in which her thesis was nominated for a Vice-Chancellor award! Somehow we managed to pin her down for a few moments and interview her in order to get some more background into the ideas feeding her art practice.

Dr Laura at work
THG: Why is it important that your artwork moves?

Laura Woodward: For a long time I've been interested in creating works that are accessible and engaging; that might have an immediate, non-intellectual connection with a viewer. I think that's perhaps where the first kinetic works I made came from. When something moves, we respond. More recently I've started to consider this as an empathic response, at a basic level. The idea that our bodies might try to imagine ourselves into something that is so very different from us is fascinating.

The other factor in making kinetic works is the way in which they develop in the studio. Working through such systems creates a dynamic between artist, material and artwork that is quite non-hierarchical; where it often feels as if the work is developing through the materials, with my hands as tools for it to do so. The functionality required in each material and component really brings this dynamic to the fore. It's both frustrating and exciting.

Laura Woodward's The Return in Composing Common Worlds
THG: That non-hierarchy aspect is very interesting. I know you're quite interested in New Materialism, is this a connection to that way of thinking?

Laura Woodward: There are definitely correlations between my experiences with these works in the studio and New Materialism. New Materialism considers the ways in which matter (of which humans are a part) materialises - in other words, it explores the way things come into being, their ontologies. In seeing matter as active and as having agency, New Materialist considerations do away with the idea that the human has hierarchical control over matter - a particularly 'humanist' perspective. Instead, the human - the artist - is one agent amongst many through which things - in this case artworks - emerge into being.

THG: There's perhaps a connection here with how you describe your very obviously machinic, highly engineered sculptures as inspiring empathy and as being 'introverted'. Can you explain how a sculpture made of steel and silicon and motors can be 'introverted'?

The idea of 'introversion' in the work actually came to me when I was watching one of my pieces "Shallows" in the gallery. I had a distinct feeling that this piece had made itself - that I hadn't had much at all to do with it. I was watching it move in its own particular way and the thought occurred that it was introverted: driven in its manifestation and in its ongoing functioning by its own internally derived logic. Since then I've explored the idea by trying to set up scenarios in the studio where each work's internal logic - it's introversion - can have most potency and agency (and it was through this kind of thinking that I came to discover New Materialism as a discourse that resonated with these experiences).

THG: Another aspect I find intriguing about your overall working ethic and approach - your ability to make art, run an artists studio, co-run a fabrication business and lecture at multiple tertiary institutions. Are you really just one very complex self-organising introverted organic sculpture yourself?

Laura Woodward: Ha - I hadn't thought of it like that before! I guess it makes sense that the kind of thinking that applies to juggling multiple commitments also underscores the juggling of multiple factors at play as a system-based kinetic work emerges.

THG: There's been a new development in your work with video based elements entering your production. What's driving this aspect of your work?

In some respects it was a pragmatic decision to make some works that would be better suited to exhibition contexts where I'm not close at hand to deal with technical challenges that arise. But more so there are things that can be explored through video more expansively when they're not limited by the temporal qualities of certain materials. For example, the little silicone vessels in the work "Five" in this show are quite fragile; as video they can expand and contract many more times than the actual vessels would be able to. So the video then allows other considerations and ideas to come into play, because it circumvents the temporal to a certain extent.

Close up of Laura's sculpture, Five
THG: So - what's next on the horizon?

Laura Woodward: Five is heading up to a group show 'In Motion' at Airspace in Sydney next month. The show has drawn together artists who engage with motion in some way within their practice.

My next solo show is at Ararat Regional Gallery in July next year. It will be a brand new work that responds to both the surrounding landscapes and the gallery's textile art specialisation: it will, if all goes well, be a large amorphous form that combines hundreds of little components that undulate and weave. It's particularly exciting as I just received a grant to develop it which will allow it to be as expansive as I originally envisioned. As happened with my work The Return in 'Composing Common Worlds' I'm planning to develop this new work so that it really pushes beyond the systems that already exist in my sculptures. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Password is Courage

Town Hall Gallery is very pleased to present an exhibition of artwork devoted to the idea of resilience and courage in the face of adversity, as part of Mental Health Week. The Quest Hawthorn Community Project Wall is graced with 30 original artworks and 30 poster versions of those works by community artists from Boroondara. We launched the show yesterday to a very enthusiastic crowd and much merriment. City of Boroondara Mayor Cr Coral Ross officially opened the exhibition to a thronging mass of artists and art lovers.

Mental Health Week aims to activate, educate and engage the public about mental health through a national awareness campaign. Led by CROP (Community Recreation Outreach Project) Coordinator, Laurel Gorman, this exhibition brings together the artistic talents of our community in recognition of issues around mental health and celebrating a creative resilience through art.

Limited edition runs of the posters sell for $10 and original artworks are for sale for very reasonable prices. The exhibition runs until 1 November, so come on down and support a worthy cause and celebrate some terrific local Boroondara talents.

Just some of the artists and their work on show (photos courtesy of Amanda Florence)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

In Conversation: David Glyn Davies

The launch of David Glyn Davies' solo exhibition Overgrown was the largest opening event so far at the Quest Hawthorn Community Project Wall. The hustle and bustle of the thronging crowds made for a warm and exciting atmosphere. The general feeling for the art and, most especially for the artist himself, was one of quite intense goodwill. Having spent the last couple of years away from the full-time rigour of art practice to care for his wife, David has returned with a resounding declaration of his talents and his capability as a significant artist (and his wife has returned to full health as well!). We put some questions to David about his work, and he kindly took the time to give us an insight.

A capacity crowd at the opening
THG: What pathway has led you to your career in art?

David Glyn Davies: I knew I wanted to be an artist from the age of eleven. My parents took the family on a trip to Paris and during the trip we went to the Louvre. I saw Theodore Gericult’s ‘Raft of the Medusa’ for the first time and was taken over completely by the size of it. I announced to my parents and brothers that I was going to be an artist. I can remember them laughing. Forty six-years later, I’m still at it and the ‘Raft of the Medusa’ is till my favourite painting.

THG: How would you describe your work, what are the major themes present?

David Glyn Davies: I don’t believe artwork should ever remain static in its content or development. I tend to work on one or two thematic ideas at the same time. The major theme of the paintings and statement exhibited on the Community Wall was developed to draw attention to the many beautiful buildings (religious and secular), in Melbourne’s suburbs that have been demolished for redevelopment. All of my thematic ideas start with stories and poetry. I pick and choose from these before working in my sketchbooks. I am drawn instinctively towards subjects that are rich in subject matter and imagery.

THG: How do you use the materials that you use to express these themes?

David Glyn Davies: I use a combination of digital media and traditional painting techniques. I recently changed from using oil paints to raw pigments. I have a slab of polished marble in my studio upon which I grind the colours. I find that pigments give me a far greater range of tone, texture, translucency and luminosity than oil paint. I tend to work in layers, which are sealed at various times during the process. It’s a bit like physical Photoshop (that uses transparent layers in the same way). This technique of painting is not new.  The Ancient Etruscans painted this way in their tombs three thousand years ago. There’s nothing new under the sun! I saw these beautiful works of art on a trip to Italy (Tuscany) thirty years ago and have been painting the same way ever since.

THG: What is your work practice like, do you work from a studio or from home?

David Glyn Davies: For the past thirteen years I have worked from a studio. The studio is well laid out in two parts; one side for my digital art and printing and the other for writing, painting and drawing. I don’t like working in mess so I tend to keep the studio tidy. I keep regular hours.

THG: What do like best about what you do?

David Glyn Davies: The best part of what I do is the moment when an artistic idea comes into being. I am influenced artistically from so many different sources. Part of the challenge of bringing an artistic idea to fruition is to find an aesthetic that is mine while at the same time acknowledging the artistic and political history from which it sprang.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In Conversation: Cameron Robbins

Cameron Robbins is a conjurer of natural forces, a corraller of wind and waves. Working predominantly with large kinetic sculptures he works in collaboration with forces generated by the weather, the environment and motored machines. For Composing Common Worlds we were excited to exhibit some of Cameron's photography and a very subtle, but weighty, new sculptural work. A fortnight ago, Cameron also conducted our very first Kids Drawing Session in the foyer of the Arts Centre and guided a group of eager young artists in the production of two large scale abstract drawings. We recently talked to Cameron about his work, his music and his engagement with the forces of nature, looking to unpack some of the driving energy of his own creative will.

Cameron Robbins talking about his work with the audience on opening night
THG: We’re excited to have a series of your photographs in Composing Common Worlds, from your Mt Jim project. I enjoy describing them to visitors as an integration of performance, drawing and photography, and I can see people trying to mentally retrace your pathways in the images as I talk about their making. You’re well-known for building kinetic sculptures that create drawings but in this instance it feels like you took more control of the process and you allowed your body to be the driving mechanism of the work’s creation. What motivated you to put your own body, invisible as it is, more at the heart of this series?

Cameron Robbins: Walking and mapping with the body in motion are historical subjects in art. In fact, the Older Volcanic high-plains area of “Mt Jim” (elevation 1818m) is also home to the Falls Creek Artists Camp, which I have participated in for the last 10 years and which evolved from bushwalking and camping with other artists. So this work has grown out of both an international and local history of artists camping and walking.

My work often involves a technical approach to bring out images or marks from otherwise invisible forces/energy. The ideas I develop have their own technical needs. For instance, the wind drawing machines grew out of simple experimentation and got more complex, rotary, engineered; so I had to learn some skills to express these ideas.

‘Mapping’ is a familiar word in art, but I really am doing that at Mt Jim. I wanted to try and visualise the shape of this very localised special magnetic force on a remote rock outcrop. So I had to think of a way to do it, how to actually outline this force field, make a drawing of it, maybe a sculpture. How could I walk 3 hours into the mountain in a backpack, camp for 3 nights, and come away with something to show?

I realised that a way I could draw this field was to begin making outlines by day using the compass, and with a small lightbulb trace them out at night during long exposure photographs. I developed a system using more or less lines to express intensity of the field.

I like the idea of experiencing this place with mind and body. Despite there being little or no scientific basis for the idea of geomagnetic–field influence on the person, I couldn’t help wondering if something strange could be felt, sleeping up there. What’s the Indigenous take on the place?  Even the name has been lost, replaced with this off-hand and ridiculous nickname. Every trail we walk is part of the most ancient map.

Cameron Robbins, Mt Jim Anomaly Loop 1 (2012), (c) Courtesy of the artist.
THG: Well, speaking of navigating trails and invisible forces, you have a fully functioning compass setup in the gallery. It activates the space in a very intriguing way, making it somehow energised by articulating a force not normally acknowledged in galleries. Can you tell us about the construction of this sculpture, with its gorgeous rock support and sextant/oil rig looking construction on top?

Cameron Robbins: The experience up on the magnetic mountain stirred my enquiries into geo-magnetism. For some time I've been looking to present a geomagnetic piece in a show. I really like the way the compass links to the greater earth outside the galley; it has always awed me to think of the whole earth, the molten iron core, south and north poles, when you look at even the tiniest compass or a cork and needle in a bowl of water. It's a fantastic reminder of scale: the earth and a person.

On Mt Jim I used a compass to map out the magnetic anomaly. I noticed that on particularly strong field areas there, if I lifted the compass vertically the needle would turn right around, indicating that the fields are twisting in vertical planes. I feel a lot more work could be done up there.

It occurred to me that using strong magnets and a very low friction bearing and nice balance, I might be able to create a large scale sculptural compass. So I used non-magnetic materials - brass, tungsten, glass, to make a sculptural instrument which relates to landscape. Magnets, iron and iron filings provide the motive force.

It's very important to have the presence of basalt in my piece.  It is that material that binds the work together, the photographs and the sculpture, the locality and the physicality of the site. The whole volcanic outcrop at Mt Jim is basalt, most likely with the presence of magnetite creating the anomaly. This stone in the exhibition is from a different region, and from much younger lava flows to the near north of Melbourne, and was collected from a marginal site on the stonemason's land.
Cameron Robbins, Outcrop (2014), photo by Jim Lee Photo
THG: Can you tell us a bit about your working methods? You often make these wild and complicated machines for your sculptures that ultimately produce drawings. What led you to making these and how do you experiment with them in the studio with a view to their on-location positioning?

Cameron Robbins: Actually I started working with boats to make abstract 'automatic' drawings in 1990. I recorded their responses to waves, wind and tides by directing them to draw on the walls of the boatshed via simple devices of wires, weights, and pulleys. 

I was reading about Benoît Mandelbrot, the mathematician who developed fractals and chaos theory. The variations in natural energies and processes that he was describing struck me as an analogue to art-making: the way nature takes an energy and kind of riffs on it, developing endless variations a bit like a jazz improvisation. 

I began to work on a series of rotary wind powered drawing machines - which I am still working on and find endlessly exciting - that could draw something like a planetary orbit, complete with non- repeating cycles and the capacity for flexibility within my parameters; skeins of lines relating to the Poincaré maps of chaos theory. The drawings really interested me; I had found a way of working with the world that reflected my observations and was my own thing. For me it also offered a nice side step over vexing issues like self-consciousness in art making.

Over many years I have worked on methods to create devices in the studio and test, using electric motors and fans, for interesting motion and reliability, before taking them out environmental energy sites - including galleries, ocean and mountains.

THG: You mentioned jazz improvisation, which helps me segue into a your audio instrumentality. You’re a musician and on occasion you’ve incorporated your music with your art - the audio with the visual. How do you see that relationship playing out for you, are these things intimately entwined or is there a division in your mind?

Cameron Robbins: In the last few years I have very consciously tried to bring the worlds of art and music together, creating improvised performances using the sounds of drawing machines together with bass clarinet and other musicians/sound artists. Around 1998 I started making really musical artworks, such as the pipe organ works connected to bonfire steam generators, ocean waves, blowholes, and waterfalls.

From the age of 15 I studied classical music formally at High School and jazz at home, with my dad on piano teaching me how to improvise and play by ear. So especially older swing and New Orleans jazz has a place in my heart and soul. I have a professional life as a musician on clarinet - I play a weekly gig with some great musicians.

It was very separate for a long time, because it often felt awkward playing in art circles because of the different expectations of music. The traditions of jazz can be quite demanding and sort of conservative too, and I had difficulties making it work with art. It feels like a very different space, working with old jazz tunes, or making art with wind machines and waves in the landscape. I hope one day to make something that brings these more together. It must have some relevance or currency when you think about it - a person doing both these activities here and now, a cultural occurrence of this time and place.

THG: You’re about to head off to Japan very soon. What are you going to see and do over there? Visiting some interesting geography?

Cameron Robbins: I'm in volcanic Japan looking into geothermal steam vents as a potential driving force for a drawing machine or art thing. There is a residency program for artists here in Beppu, the project called "Mixed Bathing World"! Beppu is on the island of Kyushu in the western end of the archipelago, the same island which is home to Nagasaki. This town is the second most geothermally active place on the planet - pouring out of the earth is 100 million litres of hot water a day, and steam vents everywhere.

I applied for the residency but got knocked back, but contacted them again and found there is the Platform 5 project you can apply for, a studio residence you can book for any time period.  Apparently the steam vents are powerful, fast and very hot of course - so I will see how it could be approached.