Pure form: Japanese sculptural ceramics*, is a new exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia showcasing Japanese ceramics from the 1950s to the present day.
The exhibition spreads across several rooms and is breathtaking in it’s array of forms, textures and graphic presence. I had only a limited time to draw in the gallery today. The hardest thing was to decide what to sketch first.
I started with a darkly glazed vessel by Mihara Ken, whose concertina-shaped folds reminded me of Issey Miyake garments.
Next to the work of Mihara Ken was a form by Misaki Mitsukuni. The surface, which I was unable to do justice to, is created by the artist rubbing slip into the surface, which he has described as ‘Rothkoing’.
Turning my chair I could see another work by Mihara Ken, a form that appeared as if folded out of sheets of clay. The glazes were very subtle blue greys and deep brown.
Finaly, I did a very quick sketch, part contour drawing, of Kaneshige Kosuke’s work, Tall sculptural form, c. 2006.
*Pure form: Japanese sculptural ceramics is accompanied by an extensive catalogue (which I will be looking at for quite some time).
The exhibition and book are by Russell Kelty, Curator of Asian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia.
The exhibition runs until 6 November 2022 at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Get there if you want to see some amazing ceramics!
We found ourselves in an odd situation the other day. We went to see a major travelling exhibition, Shakespeare to Winehouse, which has come to Australia from the National Portrait Gallery, London. We knew that there was no photography allowed, but I was taken aback when the security guard asked me to put my pencil away as there was no drawing allowed in the exhibition either.*
Apart from being very annoyed I was at rather a loss because sketching is my favourite way of recording exhibitions. After going through the exhibition we beat a quick retreat to the coffee shop where I furiously wrote notes on the paintings/ photographs that caught my attention. Did I mention that you couldn’t even take notes in pencil in the gallery?
However, after we got back home, it dawned on me that I could at least try and paint some of the works from memory – it’s hard to keep a determined artist down.
This is a first for me and I can’t say that I had prepared myself for the experience. Nevertheless I managed two acrylic studies, neither of which give a terribly accurate rendering of their sources, but it was fun. (And yes, I do know that I can download all the paintings online. It was just more fun doing it this way).
If you are interested in 15 minutes of relaxing video you can watch me paint this study by following this link.
I have confirmed with the lending institution that both photography and sketching are allowed in their gallery. It just seems that our local host organisation has gotten all draconian. I don’t know why as so far they haven’t gotten around to replying to my complaint email. I will update this if and when I hear from them.
Shortly after posting this blog I heard from the local gallery to say that the restrictions were, in part, to do with copyright issues for living artists. Also that high visitor numbers in their relatively smaller rooms made photography and sketching a problem with obstruction (my words). They are at least holding out a ray of hope for the sketchers. Apparently, they are monitoring visitor numbers to identify quieter periods when sketching might be allowed.
The full text of both replies can be found on my Instagram account @leonieandrewsart.
As I walked into the large room, people moving in front of me, I looked up and saw ‘The Duke’. Our eyes met, a shiver ran down my spine. OMG! IT’S A GOYA!!!
If you are wondering about my delirium over this work, apart from the fact that it’s just a bloody marvellous painting, it’s because paintings by Goya rarely make it to our shores. I did a quick check and the only Goyas permanently in Oz are of Goya’s Los Caprichos series of etchings.
I was also surprised as nowhere in the pre-publicity for this exhibition did I see a mention of a Goya, nor Vermeer or Velasquez, all of whose works were in the show.
Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, (1769-1852) was arguably the leading military (and political) figure of the 19th century in the United Kingdom. His most prominent victory was the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo alongside the Prussian army under Generalfeldmarchal Blücher.
As this was my second visit to the exhibition (see my previous post here) I decided to prepare my page with a splash of red paint. This reflects the colour of the Duke’s uniform, but I wasn’t trying to be literal about painting it.
I also chose to do a closer study of the lower part of the face. By this time I had realised that trying to replicate the fine modelling of the oil paint was more than my pencil could manage.
The actress of the title is Mrs Siddons (Sarah Siddons, nee Kemble, 1755-1831). A famous tradegienne she was renowned for her portrayal of Lady Macbeth and Isabella from Isabella, or The Fatal Marriage by Thomas Sotherne. As an interesting aside, Siddons also played the role of Hamlet on numerous occasions over a 30 year period.
The portrait of Siddons in the exhibition is by Sir Thomas Gainsborough (she was also painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence whose work is also included in this exhibition). Her head is shown in profile with her powdered wig and her dramatically large hat framing her face.
William Hazlitt said of Sarah Siddons “Tragedy personified … to have seen Mrs Siddons was an event in everybody’s life.”
The final grace note was to find out, via Wikipedia, that the Duke and Mrs Siddons were acquainted, as the Duke attended some of Mrs Siddons receptions.
From March to June 2021 the National Gallery of Australia is hosting a raft of paintings, including many masterpieces from the National Gallery, London,in the Boticelli to Van Gogh exhibition. I have to say masterpieces because there is not a single work by a female artist is included in this show! Really? Yes, the National Gallery London is a very blokey affair, although I would have been happy to see their works by Rosalba Carriera, Artemesia Gentilleschi, Rosa Bonheur or Berthe Morisot. Rather ironic as the Know My Name exhibition of women artists is taking up almost all of the rest of the main floor of the gallery at present.
I have purchased a season ticket that allows me to visit the exhibition as many times as I can. My first post focused on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers 1888, but I must admit I have spent a lot more time looking elsewhere in the exhibition.
By drawing my way through the exhibition I can spend time looking closely at the paintings trying to learn what I can by copying. Though the reality is that a pencil (the only drawing tool allowed in the Gallery), is not always the right tool to capture a finely wrought portrait.
My first sketches included Joseph Wright of Derby’s double portrait of Mr and Mrs Thomas (Mary Barlow) Coltman, c. 1770-72 (NG6496) and Frans Hal’s Portrait of a Woman with a Fan, c. 1640 (NG 2529).
The Coltman’s were painted in a ‘conversation piece’ portrait, which was a popular convention of the time, showing the couple in a charmingly relaxed pose, (something that the Curator Susan Foister notes that would have required quite some forethought on Wright’s part). It is a portrait of ease and nicely observed detail, including Mary’s horse with it’s ears back, because their spaniel (not in my sketch) is nipping at it.
Alas my sketch of the Woman with a Fan was rather less successful. I have turned the sitter from a young woman into a middle-aged version of herself! The figure itself and dress with the lace collar and cuffs I am quite happy with.
I made a somewhat better go of this work the next time I visited. At least there is some vague resemblance in this version, although she still looks much older than she does in Hal’s portrait.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we meet the Duke and the Actress!
“roll up your catalogue and view each picture through it. … You will be rewarded with a wonderful suggestion of light and air and sufficient detail, and finish.” So said critic Percy Leason and fellow student of Clarice Beckett (1887- 1935), of her 1931 solo exhibition *.
Clarice Beckett’s work, rather like the artist herself, can be difficult to pin down. Her life story of is the stuff to make movies of and has inspired at least one novel (Night Street, by Kristel Thornell, joint winner of the 2009 Vogel Award). Her work only entered public collections in Australia some 35 years after her death. The vast majority of her output has been lost to both accidental and deliberate destruction. (I have included a very brief bio of her at the end of this post).
This major retrospective at the Art Gallery of South Australia features 130 works by Beckett. I believe that this is the largest exhibition of her work ever shown.
Clarice Beckett falls under the broad rubric of an Australian Modernist artist. Her control of light and atmospheric effects is equal to that of Turner. She references Whistler in her own painting titles, is frequently compared to Corot and her colour studies (such as still remain) are a precursor of Rothko’s. That pretty much ticks the boxes for me.
The subject matter of the majority of Beckett’s extant work is of Beaumaris, a bayside suburb of the city of Melbourne and the city of Melbourne itself.
It strikes me that you could easily be misled by the deliberate simplicity of the composition of the paintings. Beckett’s approach was a “technique of applying broad areas of finely graded tones produces an image that is slow to come to life”.* While there is weight in the subject matter, this approach allows the focus of her painting to be on the light effects she observes.
In many works the subject matter is almost an abstracted form, such as Passing Trams, c 1931 and in others, such as Wet Night, Brighton, 1930, an exercise in geometry, and yet there is such intensity in her focus that the results transcend such easy charaterisations.
Beckett made most of her paintings on location. She wheeled her hand cart with her supplies, walking around a 5 km radius of her house, or travelling into the city. Her paintings are quite small by today’s art extravaganzas, often no more than A3 size, so the intensity of her work is all the more focussed into these small works. I am apologetic as these photographs barely do justice to the intensity of the paint surface. I will share with you some detail shots so hopefully this may become a bit more apparent.
Per usual I took as many painting notes inside the exhibition as time permitted, alas never as much time as I would like. I also did some further studies of her work from the exhibition catalogue.
Clarice Beckett: The Present Moment is currently on show in Adelaide at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The exhibition runs until 16 May 2021. The exhibition is ticketed, but there are no timed entry requirements.
All quotes in this post come from the exhibition catalogue The Present Moment: The Art of Clarice Beckett, Tracey Lock, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2020 ; p 104 quoting P. Leason, ‘Current art shows’, Table Talk, 5 December 1931, p14; p 104 Tracey Lock
Beckett, the eldest daughter of a rural bank manager, studied art at the National Gallery School in Melbourne with Fredrick McCubbin (1914-16) and also for a brief period under the tutelage of Tonalist painter Max Meldrum. Clarice regularly exhibited and her work gathered notice, among a small group of people and was recognised briefly, even as far afield as New York. She exhibited with several groups and held solo exhibitions every year from1923 to 1933. But when she died from pneumonia at age 48 her work was largely forgotten.
After her death some of her work was deliberately burnt by her father. Other major pieces from her time staying with friends in rural Victoria were lost in a house fire. The vast majority of her canvases were put in a shed in rural Victoria where they disintegrated under an onslaught of weather and vermin. The canvases were tracked down in 1970 by Dr Rosalind Hollingrake who had been searching for years to find out more about the work of one C. Beckett. Of those canvases some 369 were saved and 1600 were beyond retrieval.
Beckett’s work was never acquired by a public gallery in her lifetime. Her works first entered the National Gallery of Australia in 1971, after Hollingrake showed the work at her gallery in Melbourne.