Be quietly optimistic – but don’t drop your skepticism

Blogs, Commentary

A great many in the arts have been celebrating the win by the Labor party in the Federal election. Looking back in history, they feel that the arts have traditionally been better supported by Labor than the conservatives and there is certainly evidense of support for the arts in university education and public galleries.

As a PhD candidate (without a stipend) and artist, however, I am still skeptical about how much I will benefit from this change of government. I say this because artists building small practices have not been supported, in my experience, as much as non-profits and public galleries, and politicians also like to support whatever will raise their profile and make them look good to the public.

With only 1 in 10 applicants likely to receive a stipend at PhD level, for a start I would like to see more money going towards those of us who who attepting to contribute to Australia as a “Creative” and “Culturally relevant” country, as well as more than just rhetoric, such as the saying that was bandied around several years ago about Australia needing to be the “clever country”. This doesn’t happen unless support is provided for higher education (Masters and PhD) and keeping the graduates in the country rather than seeing so many leave for better opportunities overseas.

Included in this situation is the issue that artists and many PhD arts students in Australia also live well below the poverty line. This is a situation that has not changed through changes of government despite promises made. Study and building an arts practice can be difficult enough, but without the finances for books, materials, internet, power, and even food, issues that are weighed up on a weekly basis, things will not change. Additionally, working whilst studying or trying to build up a body of artworks is tiring for even those in their twenties, leading to some giving up, others struggling and pushing themselves too far both mentally and physically, and in the end, it leading to producing less the ideal results because of fatigue.

So, in the end, considering this overall picture for arts students and practitioners in Australia, I will wait with some optimism, but also a retention of a little skepticism, until something other than promises eventuates. Then I will celebrate new opportunities and support opening up for the arts and post-graduate education, but not beforehand.

In Our Imaginations

Artist Critique, Artwork Crtique, Blogs, Exhibition Critiques, Exhibitions

A Collaborative Exhibition at Track Gallery
47 Miller Crescent, Mount Waverley, Victoria

Barbra Vernon and Georgia Brain have collaborated to produce a creative and engaging exhibition at this intimate and highly suitable gallery space. The exhibition was officially opened by State MP for Mount Waverley Matt Fregon in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Fregon appeared genuinely supportive of the efforts put in by both artists, and the need for local artists in the arts world, as it is these artists that often introduce the public to visual art in general, reinforcing their place in Australia’ culture. It is also the locality of such exhibitions outside the much touted cultural centres such as Melbourne CBD that make them important for local residents and their families to attend and enjoy.

What I noticed at this exhibition was how much both artists enjoy using found and natural materials in the creation of their artworks, combing sculptural and painting methods to invite viewers to explore colour, form and pattern. The colours are always vivid and complementary, adding to the feeling of “being right” from a visual artist’s perspective, and the imaginative use of materials build stories that any viewer would enjoy, making each artwork a wonderful asset for any home owner wanting a unique and beautiful piece of art to grace a feature wall. Not to be overlooked were also the imaginative craft pieces that included a beautifully made baby book, and a stunning floor lamp that I imagined gracing the bedroom of a little girl who loves pink, and a host of other items. All available to purchase at what I consider are very reasonable prices.

About the artists

Georgia was introduced to her current methods of art-making later in life, but that hasn’t deterred her from delving into a variety of materials and whilst her style is still developing, it was clear to me that she is well on her way, with some very distinctive pieces in this show. As she has said, “art is not afraid”, and this attitude is clearly seen in her choice of materials.

Barbra has been experimenting with mixed media for about five years, with previous experience as a seamstress and craftsperson in the performing arts sector. Her first solo was in 2019 and she has contributed to several group shows around Melbourne. Barbra says “I see colour in everything, I feel colour, and if I listen hard enough I can almost hear what the colour is trying to say,” indicating her total engagement with her materials and mediums.

As an artist and arts writer, I enjoy seeing women artists of any age exploring their creativity in the visual arts, proving that gender and age are no indicators of talent, dedication, or ability to make beautiful art that can engage and delight any viewer. What I know, is that putting your art out into the public sphere is, in a way, an act of bravery, because each piece holds a little of each artist’s heart and soul. So, while not many of us can afford to purchase a painting by a famous artist, something that would be found in a major public gallery, it behoves us to remember that every artist, even the very rich and famous, started somewhere small and intimate just as Barbra and Georgia have done. So when you find yourself in front of a lovely artwork made by a local artist, if it “speaks” to you, if you can imagine it in your home, on your walls, talk to the artist if you can, find out the story behind the art and the artist’s journey in making it and support Australian art art at the “grass-roots” level. Our living artists need your support so why not?

In Our Imaginations is open this week from June 4th to 12th (excluding Mondays and Tuesdays) from 11am-4pm weekdays and Sundays, and 11am-6pm Saturdays

Order and Beauty

Artist Critique, Blogs, Commentary, Exhibition Critiques, Exhibitions

Isaac Newton once asked “Whence arises all that order and beauty we see in the world?” Something that has been debated by philosophers and artists for generations. Each, in their own way finds various ways to interpret and express their understanding of beauty, what it is, and why it is that that we all see it so differently. Visual artists in particular have historcially expressed beauty as it is seen in the physical world around them, but this interpretation deals mainly with the phsyical manifestions around us, and how the artist’s perspective alters that “reality” creatively.

As art entered the 20th century, artists such as the Surrealists searched for what lay under the surface of our physical reality, and how the human mind and creative energy could be brought into the visual realm. The ephemral and the illusive, the spiritual or cognitive all became expressions of the creative’s output bringing viewers into a “new reality” where the laws of physics often gave way to those of the imagination.

Artist Diane Williamson’s art takes the familiar world around us and looks further, looking both inward and beyond the physical to that “something more” that the Surrealists explored. Her art is inspired by music and a concept of an eternal reality, similar to the thoughts of Plato who posited our physical existance and the objects of our endeavours as flawed copies of archetypes of eternal perfection that we aim for but can never fully achieve. Thus, her work takes viewers on journeys of exploration and discovery as the tempo and notes of music, and the symbolism of the physical and spiritual are brought together using the medium of paint.

Diane has been painting for over 20 years after working and supporting her family as a single parent. Her husband John, also a painter of a different genre encouraged her to begin exhibiting after they met via a newspaper dating service. It was the meeting of like-minded souls. John paints in a more traditional “realist” style, reflecting (literally) the beauty of the landscape and the lifeblood of water within it. Both Diane and John have as a goal, a singlular ambition of bringing beauty into the lives of the viewers of their works, and it is interesting how they approach it from such different perspectives.

Diane’s spirituality comes alive in her most recent work where she looks beyond the physical representation of the environment we live in on the Mornington Peninsula, by bring the ethereal nature of music into the “eternal” of our existance and our part in the cycles of the universe. As Diane says “For me, art is about Love and about looking beyond the outward physical sense of things … to see the spiritual qualities that these things symbolise in order to see added meaning, as material life without spiritual depth is meaningless to me. Our mental environment affects our physical environment so it’s essential to look beyond the outward physical sense of things towards ideas instead”.

Looking into the work by each of these artists creates invitations to explore and find the little “notes” and highlights that help the viewer to build a unique story, personal and changing as new aspects reveal themselves. The opportunity to listen to the motivation and passion behind each painting also frames a special and unique moment that many art enthusiasts miss out on when buying online or from a commercial gallery, making the Peninsula Studio Trail open studios event that much more special.

John and Diane are currently exhibiting their works as part of the Weekend Open Studios event. After its completion art collectors, buyers and patrons are most welcome to book viewings from 10am to 5pm most days. To make an appointment to visit follow the contact details below.

Phone: 0416 126 962



Living Artists: Let’s not overlook them whilst focussing on the past

Blogs, Commentary

A recent event in France made me rethink the state of things for living artists not only in Australia, but wordwide, in particular during the past two years.

Whilst it is good to remember our artistic heritage, as is the case of the work by Christo and Jean-Claude, an important fact that I urge everyone to remember, in deference to them, is to support the living artists who work in our communities.

This topic came to mind as the recent dedication to Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon was created in Paris. Both have now died, and the project that was never realised during their lifetimes has been completed by completely wrappping the L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Covered by the Guardian newspaper and various social media sites, there has been both support and criticism of this event. Some saying, according to the Guardian, it likens to “the wrapping to an unmade bed. Journalist André Bercoff stating that it looked like a giant bin bag. “One of the critiques is that this is too much of an event, and people say that means it is not really art but something more like megalomania,” Koddenberg says” (Guardian September 24, 2021).

What wasn’t mentioned is that attention like this takes away from what is, or is not happening for living fine and visual artists, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t misunderstand, I appreciate, and have learnt much from many historical work by artists. What they have contributed is important to understanding our culture and who we are. What I am saying is that sole or concentrated attention on work by non-living artists often takes away from living ones who still need support both financial and moral.

It is, I think, more than time to not allow artists to live in poverty working for the love of what and who they are, only to have, sometimes, and not that often, their work “discovered” after their death and suddenly given values that would have seen them living a much better standard than they may have had during their lifetimes.

Too much sensationalist art takes up the space that should be allowing for a more diverse admission of creative work by living artists. So, if you have ever thought, “oh I would have loved to be able to buy a painting by that famous artist, but it is valued way above anything I could ever pay” remember that often that artist never saw the kind of money that is now being asked for their work. Their work often only barely paid their rent or bought them food and materials unless they were from wealthy families. Think about that if you are considering entering the art market for a purchase.

There is more to consider than a famous name. Do you like the artist? Find out about them. Do you love their work? Are they living and will your purchase and support make a difference to their lives? Will it help them to continue to produce their art? Please think about that because your decisions and preferences make a difference to living artists, rather than big art aucton houses, and art brokers of the deceased.

The dead have no needs other than that we remember them, learn from them, protect and preserve their work, and as artists pay respect to their achievements. The living on the other hand…

A TImely Discussion

Blogs, Commentary

Recently I noticed, and signed a petition that will be sent to the major news publishers in Australia, that I hope will catch people’s attention.

The petition asks that arts reporting be included in regular new reporting. This is not talking about art as a “happy note” at the end of a news bulletin, or a sensationalist article about a whopping high price paid at auction for a master piece, or some new or controversial artwork.

Australia is noted to be a “sports mad” nation, which is widely supported by the attention it is given in the media. However, not everyone follows the footy, rugby or whatever, on a regular basis. Personally, I only get interested when a good tennis match is on, and my other “sporting” interests rarely get a regular look in, just like the arts, unless you are willing to go to the ABC or “cable” channels for their input.

These sadly do not encourage the arts to be perceived as an important, and regular part of our modern society, and something that be enjoyed by everyone, not just the academically elite, or financially well-off.

Artists live and work as part of the community. They write and visualise the world around us and attempt to bring their visions to life to engage with the public. I know this as a visual artist. It is because of this that I lament the lack of stories about the broad range of activity that is going on in the arts in Australia in our media and am happy that a small, but significant, group are starting to make waves.

I welcome input from people in the arts, and those who are interested in art, or would like to be. Do you think that arts critiques and reporting should be introduced as regular items in the news, and if so, do you think that uniquely qualified professionals should be responsible for presenting it? Afterall, we have political reporters, finance reporters, etc. who have specific expertise, so why not qualified arts critics and arts reporter, specialising in visual art, performance art, theatre, music, or movies?

2022 Frankston Art Centre Open Exhibition

Blogs, Commentary, Exhibition Critiques, Exhibitions

A brief critique at this year’s open visual art exhibition

Image © Frankston Art Centre, 2022

Frankston Art Centre is situated in South Frankston next door to the live theatre complex. It has been involved in higlighting the work of local artists for several years with the open exhibition being the event that enables emerging and mid-career artists to bring their work to the public.

The open exhibition invites local painters, mixed media, sculptors, photographers and video artists to created a work based on a particular theme with the winner being awarded a cash prize and opportunity to hold a solo exhibition in the following year.

This year the winning piece was a photograph, based on the theme of ‘belonging’. This broad topic allowed for a broad interpretation by the entrants, which resulted in a huge variety of mediums and subjects. Belonging, as I saw t as a visual artist, related to human belonging to the land, the history of our belonging, both the original custodians and the more recent residents since colonisation, and the environment’s relationship with the animals and dangers that accompany living in the Australian bush.

The belonging and displacement of both humans and animals within the context of the Australian landscape, with the ever-present danger of bushfire, over time, was a challenging topic, as painting is a static medium. So how does an artist represent time in paint? For me, that was overcome by using the style of painting used during the Impressionist period of the last 1800s, and moving to the colurs and styles of contemporary painting as the viewer moved from right to left in a 183cm wide painting. As the totem of the original peoples flew away, fire, the common fear, took the viewer to the present, with hints of new settlers, and the ever-present birds and wallaby reminding us of their resilience. The painting is one that invites discussion about who belongs, how we belong, and with whom we share the land.

My Artist’s Statement.
Janice Mills. Impressions of Belonging. Oil on Canvas 183x60cm. 2022.

Unfortunately, my painting did not win this year, the award going to a local photographer, whose photograph of him and his dog, was the winner. The image was well portrayed, and warming, as this relationship between animal and human was clearly and emotively depicted.

The opening of the exhibition, where the winner was announced, was a well-attended event, with the Mayor of Frankston presenting the award to the winner. I had a chance to have a chat to the mayor, and found him to be a friendly, approachable and engaged person, who is genuinely interested in the development of the arts in the area. Not just there for a photo op. he got around and chatted to many in the audience for more than just a hello, and was eager to talk about the various works in the exhibition.

The judge was not present, which was a shame, as it is always of interest to entrants to understand the criteria by which the art has been judged, and the merits of the winner according to that judge and explained by them. For example, I would have liked to discuss their views on the future of painting, for example, in comparison to video or digital computer created images. This was a topic that I was, however, able to talk about with entrants this year, discovering that photography and video have been selected as winners for the last several years, which, allowing for the percentage of digital works in comparison to paintings and sculptures, makes me question the place of traditional mediums, like painting, in public exhibitions going forward. Sadly, as a painter, my conclusion in reference to entering them in the future, is one of pessimism and wariness. I will be checking more thoroughly the recent winners, most commonly used media, and judges, to analyse trends and preferences, so that my work will not be out of place in regard to materials and mediums.

If you would like to see the various artworks for yourself, the FAC Cube 37 exhibition is on until August 25th, and the gallery is open from 10am-5pm Tuesday to Friday and 9am-2pm Saturdays. A lot are avilable to purchase, including my own work, and I am sure your support will be welcomed by artists who have been severely hit by the recent COVID pandemic.

Finally, even if you do not buy an artwork, this year a people’s choice award has been added, so I invite you to go along to vote for your favorite piece. You may help a local artist to be able to attend the theatre for the night’s outing.

Chisholm 9×5 Exhibition at Cube 37

Artwork Crtique, Blogs, Exhibition Critiques, Exhibitions

Frankston Arts Centre, Victoria
July 2022

Sadly, I missed the opening of the 9×5 exhibition this year, which is unusual, as I try to get there every year to support the art students in person. This is an exhibition that I was happy to enter when studying at Chisholm especially as I made a few sales.

So, despite my visit being a little late, I was happy to give all the artworks a good look today before the exhibition closes.

One major difference to the presentation of artworks this year, which I was very happy to see, was the addition of frames around each piece. Whilst they are only for presentation, and do not accompany the artworks when sold, they do set them off nicely, giving potential buyers a glimpse of how good they will look in their home.

Cube 37 also always allows room for artworks to ‘breath’ by not cramming them together. In this case the artworks are set on the walls at about eye-level, making them very easy to see. No artwork is set up at the disadvantage of another, and the lighting is well managed.

In regard to the artworks themselves, the topics and materials are quire varied so there is something there for everyone. The topics include landscapes, seascapes, figurative pieces both realistic and inspired by graphic novels, still life and abstract. Materials, I noticed this year, also included digital artworks, reflecting Chisholm’s inclusion of digital and graphic art-based artworks in this exhibition. It was also good to see water colours and gauche on paper used for some of the works.

The quality of the artworks, as I have noticed for previous 9×5 exhibitions, varied, as they are completed by students from Certificate 1 through to Advanced Diplomas, and possible degree level study, so this is to be expected.

Paintings of which I would ike to make special mention for the quality of drawing, painting skills, use of colour, and style are:

  • Artwork 56, based on graphic novel styled art was very well drawn and drew the eye in with some emotive action hinted at
  • Artworks 30, 6, 9 and 8 were more traditionally painted and the attention to the medium was well done creating an attractive little painting
  • Artwork 32 was a figurative piece showing only the eyes, but they were very well done, showing a wealth of emotion for such a small section of a face
  • Artwork 11 containing a little girl reading a book with a possum on her shoulder and dog at her feet was a very charming and beautiful little painting.

At the time of my visit five artworks had been sold, which is about average for this exhibition, although I would like to see more support from the local community for these emerging artists.Congratulations to Meagan Kent, Ashley Michelle Cooke, Leisa Holland, Nicholas Lederer and Naomi Ryder for selling artworks.

I totally enjoyed looking at the work by Chisholm’s students again this year and the only things I can criticise in the exhibition would be the few artworks that did not fit into the frames, or were ill-fitting. This detracted from viewing them, so I think a little more care would have invited me stay to enjoy them longer. Just a small thing, but when selling and exhibiting, it is the little finishing touches that make the difference.

Overall, however, well done to all the participants and I look forward to catching up for this event next year.

A Little Birdie Told Me

Artist Critique, Artwork Crtique, Commentary, Exhibition Critiques, Exhibitions, Uncategorized

This week at the Malvern Art Society gallery

1297-1299 High Street, Malvern. Victoria

Rhonda Owen

It was my pleasure last night to attend the opening of Rhonda Owen’s solo exhibition at the Malvern Art Society gallery. Rhonda has a lifelong passion for all things feathers and furred, which is obvious in her beautifully detailed paintings.

Rhonda draws her inspiration from her photography and en plein air sketches of wildlife and domestic animals from around the world. As I spoke with her, she described how she uses her images for inspiration to create artworks with unique compositions by taking only the idea and rearranging her animals to reflect their characters and personalities. As an emerging artist, it is not always obvious to see a clear style, but this is not the case with Rhonda’s work. She has definitely indicated in this prolific exhibit of paintings that she is on track to an identifiable look that engages viewers. On close inspection of her work, another important aspect is the care she takes to ensure that the anatomy and features of every creature is correct to the smallest detail, which if you know a lot about a particular animal, makes her work so much more appealing.

Rhonda’s exhibition is only on this weekend, May 27th to 29th 2022, so I urge animal and art lovers to attend to check out, and purchase a piece to enhance your home or office. Artworks like these also make wonderful gifts if you know someone who has a passion for the world’s wild animals.

VCA 2021 Zoom finissage, graduation and awards

Blogs, Commentary, Exhibition Critiques

For those of us who are not fluent in French, which especially includes me as a student of German, the finissage is the finish or finishing which in this case refers to the completion and graduation of the art students at VCA.
The past couple of years have been severely impacted by the COVID pandemic with many courses having to be completed online taking away the opportunity for art students to collaborate and network in person. As someone who has completed two masters online by choice, I know that it can be done, but you do miss out on the face to face interaction that completes and enhances university study.
Given these restrictions on in-person study, and live events, the quality of the presentations and speeches over Zoom were adequate but certainly not professionally produced. Of most interest was a video of the art spaces with accompanying music written and produced by one of the graduating students. The quality in this video was outstanding as the music reflected the spaces and artworks beautifully creating an atmosphere of tranquility that came across the web extremely well.
The reading of the award winners, was, as expected, probably of more interest to the students involved than to casual observers like myself. In my opinion, I would have liked to see examples of each student’s work along-side their names, which would have made a far more engaging few minutes.
The feedback issues during the speeches and readings also impacted the quality of the presentation, which, if the VCA wishes to continue with this style of ceremony, has to be worked on. VCA has a reputation, built up over decades, of high quality as a premier higher education establishment for art, so everything they publish has to reflect that.

Catalogue launch
During the event the graduating catalogue was announced as going live online. This I thought would be an opportunity to look at the quality the work created by the students from bachelor to PhD degrees.
After several failed attempts to find the catalogue, I went to Instagram for some images.
In these I found a few well presented and creative works that indicated a good understanding of academic training in composition, colour and materials that were engaging enough to hold my attention. However, there were, as I have noticed in previous graduating exhibitions at other institutions, a good amount of “experimental” and “contemporary” works that I found to be less than impressive. Again, in my opinion, if the viewer needs to read an artist’s statement to find out what they are looking at, to some degree the artist has failed to engage on a human level. An artwork should at least begin a dialogue, even if it can’t elaborate on it.

Last Impressions
I have always held the VCA in highest esteem, as the inheritor of the Gallery School and the aspirations of the many students and teachers who became a part of our national visual arts heritage. Sadly, I saw a disconnect or something else that I can’t quite explain going on that leaves me disappointed in the Zoom presentation and limited artworks that I could access on the web. I can only hope that there were more examples of extraordinary artworks that I have yet to see in person that were not evident in my explorations online to date.


Consider the Source

Artist Critique, Blogs, Commentary, Exhibition Critiques

Despite my desire to move on to another topic this month, the controversy over Hunter Biden’s artworks continues. What prompted me to address it again was the remark by Berlin-based art dealer Georges Bergès organiser of Hunter Biden’s debut exhibition, who said that Biden’s work would make him “a great artist” of the 21st century. As a practising painter and art academic, I found this statement incredulous and maddening, as well as financially self-serving on his part.

I still have doubts and concerns regarding the “emerging artist” status of Biden, and his “discovery” and subsequent exhibition and sale of his work for such high prices. Whether Biden has been painting most of his life or not, my concern lies with the fact that there are many emerging artists, and struggling professional artists, especially during the COVID pandemic, who have never made such high prices or been so well represented. Many are living under the poverty line despite dedicating years to their profession, having formal qualifications, and obvious expertise in their field. So, what is the difference? I would argue that it is not so much what an artist can do, the struggles they have overcome, or how well they do what they do, but who they know or are related to.

I stand by my previous remarks that Biden’s work is in my opinion, not bad art, and in the examples I have seen, not unlike the work produced by many art students at TAFEs and universities. What I still contend is that there has to be more to the underlying reasons for the prices being asked, and the fact the art is selling for that much, for an “emerging artist”.

Bergès organiser of Hunter Biden’s debut exhibition in the gallery that he owns states that Biden “worked at this and that” spending 20% of his time painting, which considering his previous extremely high salary, is more than most if not nearly all people get for doing a bit of “temp work”. He then goes on to say that he was in a cheap motel as an addict, which as the son of a then senator, seems strange, and leads me to ask how he continued painting whilst under those circumstances.

More incredulous is the following statement made by Bergés, “In the long-term, I’m thinking about museum acquisitions and who I’m going to target, because —  mark my words — I believe that he’s going to be considered a great artist of this century. His father will be known, of course, as a US president, but most importantly as the father of a great artist.” Firstly, in response to this statement, consider the source, because as Biden’s manager and curator/gallery owner, a hefty amount goes to this person out of each sale, so promotion, fuelled by controversy (often used by contemporary artists and their managers and curators) fills his pockets. Secondly, we are only in the early years of this century, so a little early to speculate on who will be remembered as a “great artist”, as these things tend to rely on future art historians. Lastly, I will reiterate my objection to an “emerging artist” with influential contacts being touted as an historically significant great artist and linking that with astronomically high sale prices. 

This is all underpinned by what the Art Newspaper says about the turnout, saying “Several outlets have also reported that turnout to the show has been dismal so far” and that few collectors were likely to brave the crowds of paparazzi in front of the gallery, especially considering that buyers are remaining anonymous. Rolling Stone has also voiced ethics concerns in this regard, confirming that the art market is not regulated enough to prevent or even monitor the prospect of buyers expecting “favours” from the White House after purchasing Biden’s work.

The attention that this is getting from major news outlets, no matter the result, I worry, is that it will only do what controversy has done for artists in the past, and that is to raise more interest, and increase sales, even if they are outrageously priced. This can only take attention away from artists who don’t have the connections and sway that Biden has in the media, who may continue to be ignored because they can’t break into the high end of the market.

This is not only of concern to the American and other overseas art markets, but to Australia as well. This is because as long as controversy and connections can make or break an artist’s career we will never have open and fair opportunities for them to be successful, or at least have a reasonable standard of living based on a remunerative arts practice, that makes significant contributions to our culture and appreciation of art long term.