Tuesday, February 23, 2016

In Conversation: John Nixon

We are very excited to have a suite of paintings by international-renowned Australian artist John Nixon, as part of the exhibition Reducing Landscapes. In this exhibition, Nixon's work is paired with that of Fred Williams in an exploration of abstracted space and a compositional translation of the Australian bush. The show comes to us courtesy of La Trobe Regional Art Gallery and The CBus Collection of Australian Art. Having exhibited with us in 2014 as part of Eye Score: The Audible Image we are very pleased to have Nixon's work again gracing the gallery walls, as are our audiences. Generous with his time and his experiences, he chats to us here about the current show and some of the ideas informing his work.

John Nixon in 'Reducing Landscapes'
image courtesy of Christian Capurro
THG: Your paintings in this series are derived from your residency at Laughing Waters and pertain quite specifically to that environment. Were you aware of their future inclusion in a show with Fred Williams’ work or did that exhibition premise come after the works were complete?

JN: The studio and the exhibition were organised separately to each other. After completing the paintings in the residency, a collector friend of mine from Canberra visited me at the Riverbend house and took some photos of the paintings I had completed. He then showed these photos to a mutual friend, David Sequeira, who had recently been appointed director of the LaTrobe Regional Gallery in Morwell. David suggested the idea of making a two person exhibition with works of Fred Williams which were also paintings of close ups of tree trunks.

The Latrobe Regional Gallery had these very works of Fred Williams already in their collection. This is how the exhibition came about. 

Nature and art could be said to be zones of contemplation, places and things upon which to ponder. How do you see abstraction’s role in this context?

As abstraction as a form came about due to abstracting or simplifying from nature it is not such a difficult  premise to continue to work from. Seeing that the artist in residence house was located in bushland, I took this location both inside and outside the house and visualised what I saw in abstract terms. Green and brown were chosen as the basic colours - because the nature itself provided me with these colours - and the graphic forms of straight and angled lines come from the trunks of the trees. I could use this as my theme and thus create variation on this theme.  

Fred Williams (l) and John Nixon (r) in 'Reducing Landscapes'
image courtesy of Christian Capurro
Fred Williams was only 55 when he died but he has had a rather large impact on an officially sanctioned Australian art history, and certainly also continues to have an impact on the art market. He would be one of the leading proponents of abstraction with a particularly Australian flavour. Do you see your work (your whole body of work) in the context of an Australian abstraction voice or does your abstraction spring from somewhere more universal?

Fred Williams was primarily successful as a landscape painter even though his works have a certain abstract quality, his subject was still the Australian landscape. As an artist, he was also influenced by the likes of Cezanne, so that the European influence was still firmly rooted in his understanding of painting. 

In general, my work is influenced by European, Russian and American abstract painting from the beginning of the twentieth century. It was at this moment that the language of abstraction became developed - a language outside of any strict national base.

Abstraction was the first form of international language. With this idea in mind, as an analogy, it's interesting to reflect on the development of modernist architecture and the local variants that occur in each country.

There seems to be a rather strong abstract art community in Melbourne in particular - thriving, healthy and productive. Is this something you see and what do you think might be driving that at the moment?

Yes, this is definitely true and it is interesting to me that a large number of younger artists find value in the various forms of abstraction. 

You are well known for your music and sound work, notably with your band The Donkey’s Tail. And there is occasional hints to the overlay of sound and vision in your paintings. Do you see correlations with composition, tone and rhythm across these media and is that something you reflect on when you’re working?

There are some similarities between my practice as an artist and as a musician. Seeing that I am working from principals of abstraction in both areas and that the music has actually developed out of my art practice, it is these qualities of abstraction that guide me.

John Nixon (far right) performing with The Donkey's Tail
at 'ECHO SETS' sound art event at Town Hall Gallery in 2015
Having not been trained musically, I use texture (shrill as against smooth, loud against soft, acoustic and electric, etc) as a way of building musical compositions. My paintings and my musical compositions are built from separate parts. I can use the singularity of the monochrome or the monotone of one material or of one instrument allowing the colour and sound their own place. Then, at the other end of the scale, I can use multiple colours or multiple instruments to build with. My method is always an open one.

The series of works in this show were created on an artist-residency program, how important is this type of program for artists and how do you think influences/impacts artists’ abilities to produce work?

I was very pleased to be given the artist in residence house in Eltham as even though it isn't far from where I live, I had a project in mind that I wanted to do in that situation. I wanted to do a group of artworks that dealt with the interior of the house and the landscape that it was in. The project I wanted to involve myself in was open ended and I let the project evolve of it's own volition. 

Once you have made a certain number of works other possibilities come to you. Then after having done those, more possibilities come. The two month period was very productive for me and I did a large number of paintings, drawings, collages and photographs during my time there.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

EOI: Public Art Commission

The City of Boroondara is seeking to commission a public art work or series of works, to be located within the newly developed Hawthorn Arts Centre Civic Square.  The completed work will be integrated within the newly landscaped outdoor environment adjacent to the Hawthorn Arts Centre and will form part of the City's Town Hall Gallery Public Art Collection.  The City has committed substantial funding to this project which aims to have an artwork installed by mid-January 2017.

City of Boroondara seeks expressions of interest from experienced professional artists who wish to be considered for this exciting project.

The project site has been identified as the corner of Glenferrie and Burwood Road at Hawthorn.

It is envisaged that the artwork could take several forms including: a three-dimensional work of a scale and form, a series of installation based works and or works that utilise the existing design elements.

The primary experience of the artwork will be from pedestrians passing through the surrounding area or while sitting in the square. 

To be considered for this project artists should submit the following:
* A full CV covering demonstrated experience in public art
* Images of previous works
* A brief concept outline illustrating the creative idea and themes for a proposed work that responds to the site.

Assessment Criteria:
The City of Boroondara's Public Art Collection vision is to collect and display innovative high quality works within public and civic spaces through the integration of art, design, architecture and related elements.  These works are expected to be engaging and accessible whilst thought provoking and creating a sense of community belonging (Boroondara Public Art Strategy 2010-2015). The City's public art collection is developed on principles which value: contemporaneity, excellence, innovation, high aesthetic quality, relevance and authenticity,

Expressions of interest will be assessed against the following criteria:
* Demonstrated experience in designing and delivering public art works in an outdoor environment
* Artistic merit (including evidence of professional standing within the arts sector)
* Capacity to attract and engage a diverse audience
* Capacity to enliven and enhance public space of the precinct

Selection Panel:
Assessment will be conducted by a selection panel comprising representatives of the Public Art Working Group, City of Boroondara Arts & Culture Department, and Town Hall Gallery Management Group. Advice will be sought from the Collection Advisory Committee during the assessment process. All expressions of interest received will be responded to in writing within 3 weeks of the closing date 11 March 2016.

Selection Process:
Up to six (6) artists will be selected from this EOI process to progress to the next stage of selection. Invited artists will then have the opportunity to develop their concept further and present:
* Concept design proposal illustrations and technical details:
 - maquette, sketches and/or computer generated mock-up
 - sample illustrating a detail of the design material sample
* Overview of any community engagement and or research that will be undertaken in commission phase

* A preliminary description of proposed installation method·   Indicative project timeline outlining an estimate of the time required for final design, fabrication and installation of the proposal. A preliminary indicative budget that includes at a minimum a breakdown of the following costs:-          
artist fee/s, engineering and certification, all materials & fixings, fabrication costs, transport and travel costs, including overseeing of artwork installation, public liability, product and transit insurance, contingency

Artists selected to progress to this second stage of assessment will be paid a fee of $1,250 for their services.

Documents detailing the specific requirements are available electronically for download by registering at www.boroondara.vic.gov.au/your_council/tenders.

Tender closes at 4pm on Friday 11 March 2016.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Art Swap: Art for Art

Swap Meet: Art for Art

We are very excited to offer artists a wonderful opportunity to acquire artwork and to have artwork acquired. In the tradition of artist-swaps the Gallery will be conducting an Art for Art swap meet, where artwork can be exchanged for artwork. The process and premise is outlined below, with a simple application procedure that will focus purely on the quality of the work and give you the opportunity to have your work go into the hands of another artist and get you own hands on someone else's work.

Entries open: Monday 1 February, 2016
Submission deadline: Friday 25 March, 2016
Selection of works: Wednesday 30 March, 2016
Delivery of works: by Wednesday 13 April, 2016
Event date: Saturday 16 April, 2016

Program concept:
Town Hall Gallery will be exploring ways in which Art Collections come about, how they are operated and how they influence the art, artists and collectors involved. The Gallery will be conducting an open Art Swap Meet as a way of actively engaging with these ideas and allowing artists to participate in the act of both acquiring artwork and having their own artwork acquired. It is a way of providing a participatory connection to the growing phenomenon of artist collections, where artists themselves are building their own personal art collections through acts of bartering and exchange. A printable copy of this program is available here.

Program process:
Artists are invited to submit for inclusion in the Swap Meet and from those submissions the Gallery will select a limited placement of 50 artworks. Submissions are open to anyone who makes art. The artwork submitted must conform to a set of simple criteria outlined below. There is no submission cost for artists, as the program is designed to reflect the nature of barter and exchange evident among artists in the industry. Applications will be made via email to:

Selection criteria:
* Media: all forms are accepted, except video or sound works
* Size: maximum of 50cm in any one direction for all media
* Amount: a list of 50 artists will be selected from submissions, based solely on the quality of the piece submitted
* Age limit: 18 years and over
* Creation: must have been created within the last 12 months
* Attendance: artist must be able to attend on the day, all swaps will take place only in that allotted time. If unable to attend, a proxy can be sent.

Program delivery
On the day, the 50 artists will be invited to participate in the Art Swap. It will be held in the Community Art Space where all the artworks will be displayed. None of the names of the artists will be shown, only the artwork without any other identifying feature.
Each artist will be allotted a number and the numbers will be drawn sequentially from a barrel. When an artist’s number is called they will be able to make a selection of the artwork they would like to acquire, placing their number at the base of their selection.
After all the artists have had the chance to make their pick, they can collect their newly acquired artwork and discover the maker of the work.

Please download the Submission Form and fill in the following details:
* Name of artist
* Age (are you over 18)
* Title of artwork
* Medium
* Size
* Date of creation
* If you are represented by a commercial gallery, are you permitted within your contractual arrangements to participate
* Attach an image of the artwork, maximum size 2MB, and then email the form to the gallery at:


In Conversation: James Armstrong

One of our favourite artists from the current exhibition, Dialect: Works from the Town Hall Gallery Collection, is Ian Armstrong (b. Malvern, 1923-2005). His artistic oeuvre includes portraits and landscape paintings, where his later works developed into Abstract Expressionism, utilising printmaking techniques such as etchings, lithographs and wood cuts. His dedication to his craft was matched by his passion for teaching and love of regional Victoria. 

Gallery & Curatorial Assistant Marion Piper recently spoke with Ian's son, James Armstrong, who generously loaned two paintings to Town Hall Gallery for Dialect.

Ian Armstrong's suite of works currently on display at Town Hall Gallery 
in Dialect: Works from the Town Hall Gallery Collection.

[MARION PIPER]: Can you tell us, if you know, where your father Ian drew his inspiration from?

[JAMES ARMSTRONG]: That is a big question and probably deserving of a whole thesis rather a short email, however here goes. 
I have had look at his library to get some insight, if I break his book collection into 3 areas of influence for simplification, it could be looked at like this:

1. Classical influences: Ancient, Medieval, Japanese and Renaissance art.

2. Romantic influences such as Delacroix, Rembrandt, Velasquez etc

3. Modern influences from the late 19th century and early 20th century : Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Derain etc. Also the Australian Heidelberg school and the George Bell school.

This is a very brief account of his influences and obviously doesn't do his 60 year career justice, but maybe that can wait for a thesis sometime in the future.

[MP]: Yes, I had figured it was a big question to ask!
I’m interested in the second group of books - the Romantic influences. How do you think this plays out with his depictions of the landscape? Do you have a work of his that, for you, best exemplifies this influence?

[JA]: I'm not formally art trained, so I can only give you my acquired knowledge. Only to say that there are probably elements of all these influences in his work.

ARMSTRONG, Ian, Self Portrait (1944), oil on canvas,
(c) courtesy of the artist and Town Hall Gallery.
Photograph by Matthew Stanton, 2013.

If I were to point to a work by Ian in the THG collection that fits that "Romantic feel", it would be the early Self-Portrait. I know that Ian loved the Rembrandt self-portraits and may have been inspired at that age. 

It is also evident he was influenced by these artists as he kept an artist journal inspired by the Delacroix Journals, a copy of which is in his library. Ian's journals are now held in the SLV. There is a woodcut print that Ian did in 1978, The Buffoon (After Velasquez), which is further indication of his admiration for these artists.

[MP]: Yes, I can definitely see the romantic influence in the self-portrait you mention from our collection.

We have loaned a couple of works from you for the exhibition Dialect. Can you tell us a little bit about those works?

ARMSTRONG, Ian, Mill Road, Yankalilla SA (1988),
(c) courtesy of James Armstrong.

[JA]: The two works we have loaned to the Dialect exhibition are Mill Road and Roadside Café. They are both testament to Ian's love of taking landscaping road trips.

Detail of ARMSTRONG, Ian, Mill Road, Yankalilla SA (1988), oil on canvas, 
(c) courtesy of James Armstrong.
Mill Road is painted at Yankalilla South Australia where Ian often visited, staying with Mark Pearse a former National Gallery School student of Ian's. They would spend weeks at a time painting the Fleurieu Peninsula and decorating ceramics at Mark's Bungala workshop. 

ARMSTRONG, Ian, Roadside Cafe (2002), oil on canvas, 
(c) courtesy of James Armstrong.

The Roadside Café is inspired by the long drives that Ian would do to get to South Australia. It depicts a coffee break at Tailem Bend on the Murray River, which is where Ian would often take a break from the long drive to visit Yankalilla. He would have made a quick sketch of the scene on a small card (that he always kept on hand) and later it would be worked up to a large painting. The process may have taken a few years, the café scene was a favourite of Ian's that he used over and over in his work.

Detail of ARMSTRONG, Ian, Roadside Cafe (2002),
(c) courtesy of James Armstrong.
The two works sit well with Barkers Road, which represents the drive into Melbourne from the Eastern suburbs. The Roadside Café is a celebration of getting out of the city and the Yankalilla landscape is the homage to the South Australian coastline that he grew to love.

ARMSTRONG, Ian, Barkers Rd (1977), colour woodcut, 
(c) courtesy of the artist and Town Hall Gallery.

Dialect: Works from the Town Hall Gallery Collection is open until Sunday 6 March, 2016, and also features other wonderful Australian artists such as Fred Williams, Helen Maudsley and Eric Thake.