Writing the Collection Project
Writing the Collection began in 2004 as a collaboration involving the Curtin community, the John Curtin Gallery and, most importantly, the Curtin University Art Collection itself. The result of this collaboration was an exhibition drawn from the Collection with accompanying texts that reflect and elaborate upon the works. A complementary publication featured images and personal responses to the works from members of the University community. This successfull project was revised in 2006 in a way that encourages continued interaction between the Collection and the Curtin Community.
Regularly during exhibition periods, a member of the Curtin community will be asked to respond to a work chosen from the Collection. Both the art work and the text are then displayed in the foyer area of the Gallery.
Artist: Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri
Writer: Tony Hume
Marsupial Mouse Dreaming, Acrylic on canvas, 1996, Curtin University of Technology Art Collection, Gift of Dr Jo Lagerberg and Stephen Swift, 2002
This painting struck me from a distance as a fusing of cultures. I knew it was an Indigenous piece of art, but from my first sighting, I was reminded of the classic Asian blossom blooms that are captured so precisely in so many reflections from the Asian region. The colours remind me of spring, and immediately took me away in my thoughts.
Finding out that the title was Marsupial Mouse Dreaming just gave the piece more appeal to me. The colours are reflective of parts of Northern Australia, and create a mood of landscapes merging together, with a positive outlook. The work is classically Australian Aboriginal in style and would lighten up any wall.
Overall, I just found that the painting had an uplifting effect.
Director of Advancement
Curtin University of Technology
Artist: Lucy Anne O'Dea
Writer: Jennifer Chandler
Lucy Anne O'Dea, It's just white semi-gloss acrylic paint, Semi-gloss acrylic paint, 2001, Curtin University Art Collection, Gift of the Artist 2002
I have always loved circles. I'm not sure why. I find myself counting them on my bus ride to work - windows, brickwork, signage, potholes and traffic lights.
I've seen Lucy O'Dea's series of artworks It's just white semi-gloss acrylic paint before in photos and was delighted when I discovered they were in the Curtin Collection. Upon viewing these beautiful works I wonder if they are about circles; a meditation on the form perhaps? Or maybe a playful exploration of concentric rings: the circle's never ending and repetitive nature or its reaction to a surface that has squashed its perfect symmetry?
These works make me reflect on the simple beauty of the circle, but the title suggests more to me about the discoveries of the medium from which they are made. They are humble in their naming; 'we're nothing fancy - we're just white semi-gloss paint'. I think of the possibilities of this wonderful medium and wonder about the joy and experiments that Lucy may have experienced when squishing the paint into concentric circles, rolling up layers of paint like a huge toilet roll, or dropping the bundle onto a surface and watching it disfigure.
To me each piece is a mandala for a different mood: a feeling that ripples outwards from the artwork's centre core; stillness, restlessness and slumped exhaustion. When contemplated together the works offer me a serene calmness and appreciation for the process in which they were made and the possibilities of paint. They become more than just white semi-gloss paint.
John Curtin Gallery
Artist: Sonia Payes
Writer: Kiana Jones
Sonia Payes, John Mawurndjul, C-type photograph, 2006, 127 x127 cm, Ed 10, Curtin University Art Collection
What first struck me was the intense stare of his watery brown eyes and bam! I was transfixed. So glossy! So direct! So intense! This, combined with the frown lines, creates quite an emotional photograph: is he in pain? Is it too bright? Is he angry? Is he angry at me? (He's looking at me).
When you look into someone's eyes, whether it's a passer-by on the street, someone sitting directly across from you on the bus or the girl bagging your groceries, a connection can happen. Some people are plain boring, others are dead and cold on the inside and when you look into their eyes everything just glosses over and reflects. We're not interested so much in these people. In fact, we're almost offended by these people, "What's their problem?" But when someone looks back so directly, so full of life, so full of emotion, almost ready to fight, you have to wonder who they are and what their story is. This is especially true when they're presented to you in large photographic work, you're forced to look into his eyes and he is always looking straight back at you.
The title tells us one thing; his name, John Mawurndjul. John Mawurndjul is not only a muse or model for the artist to photograph, but an artist himself. In fact, he is a very successful contemporary Aboriginal artist.
He has recently had his first retrospective in Europe and is now known nationally and internationally. From Mumeka in the Northern Territory, Mawurndjul is known as a family man (having eight children), an amazing hunter, and a passionate painter.
This portrait was taken by Sonia Payes, from her series, Portraits of Australian Artists.
3rd year Student, Department of Art, Curtin University
Artist: William Scott
Writer: Kiana Jones
William Scott, Muted Browns, 1968, watercolour, Curtin University Art Collection, purchased 1973, ©Estate of William Scott 2009
As a young girl, before attending art school and learning 'what it's all about', abstract expressionism often confused me. Even to this day, 'non art school' friends of mine will ask me, "I recently went to an exhibition and on the wall there was a painting which was all blue with a red bit on it...what does it mean?" They look up to me with their big naive, expecting eyes, waiting for some sort of spectacular explanation which puts everything into place.
"Well...", I would start out, carefully trying to choose my words in the simplest and most understood manner, "sometimes they don't have to be 'about something', sometimes the 'not being about anything' is the point. Its interest is in the paint on the canvas." The slightly confused, yet processing look starts to set in on their faces. "Umm... but sometimes they are referring to things outside of themselves. Instead of just duplicating it exactly, which is what you could do much more easily and quickly with photography, they are trying to abstract certain elements from their subject and paint them in a more expressive way, to re-present them to the world again, without being entirely representational."
I believe William Scott's work is doing the latter, himself saying:
I am an abstract artist in the sense that I abstract. I cannot be called non-figurative while I am still interested in the modern magic of space, primitive sex forms, the sensual and the erotic, disconcerting contours, the things of life. (http://williamscott.org/biography accessed 15 October 2009)
Scott was one of Britain's first Abstract Expressionist artists who was primarily interested in landscapes, nudes and still lives. "What really concerned him was the relationship of a few simple shapes and their arrangement and spacing against the plastic emptiness of the backgrounds." (R.Alley, William Scott, Dublin 1986, p.15)
This piece Muted Browns, as the title suggests, is one of Scott's paintings that is more interested?? in the tonality of the colours, rather than the subject matter. The forms are irregular circles and squares and a large expanse of brown, a 'muted brown', dominates the background. He could have painted it whilst observing objects on a table top. It could be his interpretation of a landscape that he finds alluring. The beauty is that we don't know what it is, and so whilst our eyes play over the lines, the forms, the black and white shapes, the muted colours, our mind can try and fit together the shapes into something recognisable to us - much like making shapes out of clouds on a beautiful day.
3rd year student, Department of Art, Curtin University
30 October - 5 December 2008
Artist: Norman Creighton
Writer: Dr. Christiane Keller
Norman Creighton, View from the veranda, c.1976
Sterling silver, nickel silver, copper, acrylic
Curtin University Art Collection
Wearable Icons of the Australian Outback
During my extensive journeys through the Australian outback, I fell in love with the continent. I started tailoring my personal and professional life so that I could come back and, a couple of years ago, I left Germany to settle in Australia permanently.
I started working as Collection Manager at the John Curtin Gallery in June this year. One of my first duties was to familiarise myself with the collection and I discovered View from the veranda, c.1976, by Norman Creighton. The ring intrigued me because it captures so vividly the icons of Australia's outback: a water tank, a windmill, the scorched earth and the solitude.
One can just imagine somebody sitting on the wooden veranda of one of these old farmhouses I love so much. The rocking chair creaks and a beer in a stubby holder is devoured. The gaze trails over the flickering and hot scenery and the eyes are drawn to the only elevations in the flat landscape. The windmill is standing guard over the precious water supplies. A lonesome cloud floats over the incredibly blue and endless sky.
The ring is bold and chunky but beautifully crafted. The icons are exceptionally detailed and have been given a used but functional look. The combination of materials including acrylic, copper and silver works well to capture the burnt soil and the whiteness of the cloud. The use of texture on the hilltops surface or the flatness and shininess of the silver base evokes the naked earth and the emptiness of the landscape.
Unfortunately my research into the artistic career of Norman Creighton produced only limited results. As an artist and jeweller Creighton seemed to be most active in the late 1970s and beginning of the 1980s. He then devoted his career to art education and became professor and head of the Gippsland School of Art. His work is represented in national collections including the John Curtin Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). The NGA holds a 'Rainclouds' Ring, c.1974, and the Australian Farm Game, 1979. Both pieces, like View from the veranda, celebrate rural Australia.
Dr. Christiane Keller
John Curtin Gallery
1 September - 10 October 2008
Artist: Bevan Honey
Writer: Gonnie Bruekers
Bevan Honey, Untitled (Index), unique state etching, screenprint, 1275 x 1770 mm
Curtin University Art Collection
I love maps. All kinds of maps: graphic representations of time and distance, imposed boundaries, measurement and ownership - loving them for the human graphic control of lines, colour, typography. I've never been able to reconcile them with reality, with their complete inability to capture what it feels like to be in a space. They start off stories in my mind, lend themselves to imagination. This map has wonderful qualities of bleakness, repetition, overlay. The multiples reinforce stories of ownership and control. Ownership over time - a history. Same boundaries, different time, different perspectives. Imposed boundaries, straight boundaries. No wiggly boundaries speaking of nature confounding the straight boundary maker. A block of land.
Look up from the map.
Fill in the boundaries. Another representation. New stories, stories of the senses.
A moment captured, an alternative history. The sensuality of space and place - colour, texture, depth. What it feels like to be in that space. Confronting reality.
A hot dry land. Storms. The reality of prickles and bull ants caught in little sandals. Whirring grasshoppers. Hot, vinyl car seats. Empty beer cans. Cool shady trees. Fences. Granite clusters, height and space. Towns that don't have the emphasis they have on the map. Moments that flash by, are left behind.
And stay as images.
Coordinator of Multimedia Design
School of Design and Art
1 - 31 August 2008
Artist: Tom Alberts
Writer: Justin Randall
Tom Alberts, Untitled [3 figures], charcoal and conte crayon on paper, 1990, 1040 x 1040 mm
Curtin University Art Collection
The very nature of this piece by Tom Alberts being 'untitled' is a catalyst to its own evocative translation. The despair unveiled by the woman and her crouching counterpart invokes a sense of dread and misfortune upon the shrouded figure. But to what end? We are witness to a revelation that breeds disappointment and misery. Perhaps a tragedy that our gentle subject is forbidden to witness? Or does he deny his own mortality in favour of blissful ignorance and self-pride?
Then again, he could just be really ugly and a doctor has compounded his mother's misfortune by revealing that he has six toes.
First Year Co-ordinator, Department of Design
1 - 20 March 2008
Artist: Matthew Hunt
Writer: Ruth Williams
Matthew Hunt, Beach Scene, 4 colour photo etching, 1994, 475 x 210 mm, Curtin University Art Collection
The beach is a spiritual place for me. It is all about the sand both wet and dry, the waves crashing furiously or slowly and languidly, the smell of the ozone, shells, seaweed and saltiness. The sunset, the sunrise, the ever-changing shape of the clouds and the endless horizon can take one to another world. Being at the ocean gives me an opportunity to reflect and to renew, to plan and to share.
But the beach is also about the everyday. I am reminded of this when I look at this print. It is about the people who visit the beach. Their various swimming styles, the way they move toward the surf, the outfits they wear, the beach paraphernalia, the umbrella, the towels, the toys for the children, the beach games and the conversations they have. For some, the beach means solitude, time to lose oneself in a good book, the Sunday papers or the ipod.
And I am reminded always that the sand and rocks, so varied in colour and texture, are home to the ocean creatures that live in the cracks, the crevices and the damp sand, and with whom we share this precious place.
Being at the beach is an important aspect of my life, which is why I responded so immediately to Matthew’s print.
Protocol Co-ordinator, Curtin University
5 November - 7 December 2007
Artist: Max Pam
Writer: Courtney Morey
Open Letter to Beirut Hostage John McCarthy St Brides Church altar of vigil London, black and silver gelatin print, 1991, 400 x 500 mm, Curtin University Art Collection
“John, We do not know each other, but I think of you everyday.”
The bells rang out at St Brides—the Journalist’s Church—with news of John McCarthy’s homecoming. Abducted by Islamic militants in the war torn capital of Lebanon, Beirut, it would be 1943 days before the British journalist would see the light of day. As news of John’s kidnapping circled the globe, family and friends campaigned relentlessly for his freedom. St Bride’s Church hosted night-long vigils and prayers were printed in the London Sunday Express - a new one each week until John’s return in 1991.
Twenty-five years prior, Melbourne teenager Max Pam experimented with his first camera on the Victorian coast. His shots of local surfers at Anglesea provided “those ideal moments when the universe stands still—between breathing in and breathing out”. In 1970, a spirited Max drove from Calcutta to London in a Volkswagen. The photos from this trip would change his life. Accepted into London’s Harrow College of Technology and Art, Max spent two years honing his skills as a visual artist. His dedication paid off. Shot in a myriad of locations, such as India, Japan and the Middle East, Max’s work continues to fuse art and travel.
John McCarthy suffered five years at the hands of his fundamentalist captors. Chained in cells infested with cockroaches the size of small mice, he was transported to secret underground locations, bound wrist to ankle in a sack. John still credits his sanity to fellow hostage Brian Keenan: “This experience—of sharing life with somebody, even in the dire extremes of that form of captivity—was in itself a reason to live”. Imprisoned in stifling heat and tormented physically by guards, both men would eventually be released. It was John’s fifth summer in Lebanon when his luck finally turned. With a letter addressed to the UN Secretary General, McCarthy was freed on 8 August as an ‘Envoy’ for Islamic Jihad.
I have imagined Max in the hushed church courtyard. A choir, still rehearsing, sings Sir Bullock’s Give us the Wings of Faith. Indoors, parishioners take their seats on wooden pews. It is 1991 and for 2000 years St Bride’s has been a place of worship. The Journalist’s Altar stands in the north isle of the Cathedral. In decades, it will commemorate the lives of hundreds killed, but on this day, for one man, words of hope: “You live in the hearts of millions like me who pray for your freedom”.
Communication and Cultural Studies Student
Professional Writing intern at the John Curtin Gallery
August – November 2007
8 October – 3 November 2007
Artist: Tom Alberts
Writer: Adrian Wood
Senseless Young Man, oil paint on linen, 1994, 1180 x 1130 mm, Curtin University Art Collection
For over a year I've worked by myself in a small room in the corner of Curtin's Records and Archives office. No view of the outside, apart from an occasional glimpse of the VC's car park. Boxes, files, standard issue office furniture and carpet. And every day on the way to my desk, I pass the senseless young man.
…The glowing warm flesh but the cold marble...
A profligate night on the town in Rome it was when Tom met Lucia and her friends. Songs, food, laughter and quite a lot of grappa there was. The water in the fountain was warm. A swim seemed the most reasonable thing, but he was so tired. Ah, why not? The others laughed when he lay between the granite thighs of the nymph, but Lucia's laughter only lulled him more. He closed his eyes...
This is going straight in his ear. His dainty little shell-pink. He won't know what's hit him!
If you pour that on me I'll have to scream – don't!
No, don't, please, I couldn't bear the racket. And he'll think he's going mad if he wakes up now, poor thing.
He's quite sweet, I think, and so small and soft.
Tom Alberts is in his studio arranging a mirror so that he can see what he would look like lying across the body of a marble nymph. Setting up the lighting, mixing paint, arranging brushes and turps, then locking the door and taking off his clothes. Folding them neatly. Lying on a table with an ironing board covered in a dark grey blanket leaning against it. Does he get up and go to the easel? Or does he paint from there? Is that why his fingers are in the water, because they are really holding a brush? How long does it take? Does he get cold? Does he worry that someone will come in?
Light and shadow. Warmth and hardness. Humour and austerity.
I have to laugh. Tom is a good looking guy, but he never had those shoulders. We shared a house in Vic Park for a while, with some others. This was years ago. He painted, and talked, made clothes, ate avocado, tomato and pepper on soft white bread for breakfast. We played music, had parties, philandered. Anyway, in this picture - it's Tom, but the cheekbones, the jaw line, the musculature: all a bit more heroic than the real thing.
Years ago. I haven't seen Tom since 1990. He's in Melbourne, still painting. I'm here, working, teaching. And now I pass him every day laid out on a giggling marble nymph in the back room of the Records office.
Project Officer, Information Management Services
September - October 2007
Artist: Max Pam
Writer: Lennard Bailey
Self Portrait, Khunjerab River at Sust, Pakistan, diptych, black and white silver gelatin print, 1993, 390 x 40cm, Curtin University Art Collection
The natural environment is a contest between elements. To me, Max Pam’s Self Portrait, Khunjerab River at Sust, Pakistan, captures the struggle between conflicting elements perfectly. Striking in feature is its potential: whilst there is no definitive indication, the artist’s stance foreshadows his struggle against the unrelenting terrain and his potential to overcome it. The mountains behind soar, intimidating, but remain diminished in scale beside the human figure. The placement of the foot reveals a degree of confidence: comprehending that, whilst distinct from the confronting wilderness, humans, over centuries, have come from nature. There is nothing to fear here. In this moment the will to master and subdue his environment seems unnatural.
I imagine the intake of one simple, cold breath, lasting but a moment, before he once again moves on in a direction determined by desire. The terrain is isolated and desolate. Not a place for comfort or mistake, but rather the chance for humanity to be freed from the unnatural environment. The opportunity to be as he truly is: at one with nature, in the same manner as the river, or rock that creates his path. Rather than challenge his environment, the figure experiences its elements and becomes nothing more than simply another part of the world.
What is the purpose of his journey to Northern Pakistan? I can’t help but wonder why here and why now? Is there a reason that the artist is at this point, this place, at a pivotal moment in life? The image conveys a powerful sense of immediate purpose, without divulging what this might be. An illustration of a moment in time, I enjoy the sense of mystery that the image creates.
July - August 2007
Artist: Elsje van Keppel
Writer: Olga Sankey
A delicate balance of rawness and delicacy, of deliberation and accident is what first drew me to this work by Elsje van Keppel. Suture (1997), a large work on paper, made me think of the poems of celebrated twentieth century British poet, Ted Hughes, which have been described as harsh, sensuous, imaginative - but never sentimental.
The tonal subtlety and graphic delicacy of the surface marks, the record of an existing surface – wall, ground perhaps - is countered by the crude DIY attempts to repair the tears in the paper: the tears a result of the process of placing a lightweight paper over a textured surface and then rubbing it with a crayon to yield a print.
Frottage is a technique of creating images attributed to the surrealist artist Max Ernst who ‘discovered’ it in 1925. It allowed him to combine accidental marks and found textures (he was first inspired by the surface of worn floorboards) to create an entirely new pictorial object, with the texture effectively replacing the brushstroke. In Suture, however, the sense of the autographic mark is retained and there is tension between the energetic, flowing marks of the crayon in certain passages and the more static marks, which are a record of the more prominent protrusions of the recorded surface.
This is a work that rewards the unhurried viewer. It can evoke the sensation of flying over a landscape of swirling grasses and fault lines, which are at the point of splitting apart. It can just as easily become an image of the geography of the body with all its surface imperfections: a body that has been subjected to violence and then roughly mended.
Suture consists of two layers of oriental paper, which is lightweight yet strong. This layering only becomes apparent where the stitches fail to bring two torn edges together and one is able to glimpse what lies beneath. If the surface of the work alludes to some sort of landscape, then one would expect to find a different kind of material lying beneath the epidermis. Instead, the artist has chosen to present us with the same textures/marks as those found on the top layer. The result is quite unnerving, reminiscent of a dream where you open a door and enter a room the same as the one you just left, and you almost expect to find another door that will lead you into another room…Paradoxically, while there is an emphasis on surface, there is also a suggestion of infinite depth.
Elsje van Keppel was a highly respected textile artist and teacher. She came to Australia from Holland as a child in the 1950s and died of cancer in 2001. I am grateful to her for this poetically resonant and formally satisfying work.
South Australian School of Art
University of South Australia
June - July 2007
Artist: Laurel Nannup
Writer: Clotilde Bullen
Laurel Nannup, ...they thought it just wonderful that their uncle should find a lolly tree..., woodcut, chine colle and collage on BFK paper, 2001, 57.5 x 57.5cm, Curtin University Art Collection
Laurel Nannup was born in 1943 at Carrolup Mission, now known as Marribank, which is just outside of Katanning in the South-West of Western Australia. At this time, the prevailing government policy was to remove children of mixed Indigenous and European heritage from their families to missions, orphanages and foster homes as it had been since the 1905 Aborigines Act was introduced. Carrolup was one such place where large numbers of Nyoongar people were taken. This is where the ‘Carrolup style’ and tradition was born.
Nannup’s work bares little resemblance to the Carrolup style except for the apparent simplicity of the composition with its clear horizon lines. Her work brings to life the story of her family and her childhood at Carrolup and at Wandering Mission. ...they thought it just wonderful that their uncle should find a lolly tree...is a direct and engaging piece, laden with visual text and a deceptively simple narrative. Nannup’s style is aesthetically humble, with the work depicting emotional memories made actual by capturing particular moments in time on paper – emotionally charged snapshots of historical moments. Nannup’s work doesn’t necessarily only articulate ideas about Nyoongar identity, but about the universal emotions that relate to real and imagined memories and the ways in which we account those recollections.
Nannup’s work invites the viewer into direct cognitive engagement with an intangible reminiscence. The confident marks of the etching are not overworked and evoke the realistic and pragmatic nature of the memory being recollected. There is a great sense of solidity about this work – as she is very clear in her revealing and capturing of the tale, it is clear to the viewer that the vision that Nannup has transmitted onto paper is a strong and important memory for the artist. There is also a whimsical and innately humorous aspect to this work which shines through, despite the backdrop against which it plays out.
What makes ...they thought it just wonderful that their uncle should find a lolly tree..., and Nannup’s other work, unique is that there is a clear sense that her life was complex and not remembered as inherently good or bad but as a series of diverse encounters and memories that contained all aspects of the emotional and experiential spectrum. The work has universal qualities that speak to all human beings: she presents us with a hopeful message about taking the best from the worst of circumstances and using those experiences to create a profound and meaningful life.
Nannup was awarded the Best Nyoongar Artist at the Katanning Art Prize in 2005, the Most Outstanding Fine Arts Student at Curtin University in 2001 and Student of the Year at Fremantle TAFE in 1997. Her work has been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions and she has been commissioned for a number of public art projects, including a commission for the Roe Highway Project for the Department of Main Roads, and artwork design for the Survival Day concert and for the Mundjah Festival at Curtin University.
April - May 2007
Artist: Olga Sankey
Writer: Sue Grey Smith
Olga Sankey, Perfect Flaw, lithograph, 1982, 440x375 mm, Curtin University Art Collection
Perfect Flaw by Olga Sankey (1) appealed to me immediately: it has an elegant understated strength and though there's no grand, flamboyant slash of colour or line, this muted, minimal piece is still very powerful.
The touches of red are reminiscent of work on Japanese rice paper where the ink is absorbed into the fabric of the paper to leave a soft, slightly blurry edge. The lines too have a Japanese feel and even though they are slightly wobbly and tentative in their nature, they show confidence. At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that a child had drawn these lines across the off-white surface, but this is deceptive. There's an elegance, a sureness of touch and a confidence here that is very satisfying. The lines lead your eye into a space and the blotches of red work to balance the movement. The lines wander unevenly off the edges of the paper, making you look again - this lack of symmetry is intriguing, yet, to me, the work has a satisfying sense of completeness.
Sankey's work is often linked with text, or with the 'traces of human thought and endeavour' (2), and her imagery often includes cryptic marks that can be read as text. The lines in this print have an almost calligraphic feel, but perhaps the textual reference in this work relates more to the title: Perfect Flaw. It makes me wonder about the meaning - can a flaw be perfect or is this a contradiction of terms? Are we, as humans, drawn to flaws? Are flaws part of the human condition?
Is Sankey making us think about the way a tiny imperfection can make something that is attractive quite beautiful? Are the small blotches of red the flaws, or are the gashes the lines make in the square the flaw? Do these, in fact, work to make the piece as a whole more perfect?
I find it intriguing to think about these possibilities. For me the most interesting works of art are the ones that offer more each time you look at them. This print is a deceptively simple abstraction but it makes me wonder about the meanings and implications of flaws and perfection.
Robertson Library, Curtin University of Technology
(1) Olga Sankey is a Senior Lecturer at the South Australian School of Art, University of South Australia, and an accomplished printmaker.
(2) Grishin, Sasha (1997) Australian Printmaking in the 1990s Artist Printmakers: 1990-1995, Craftman House, p.260
Artist: Fiona Foley
Writer: Erin Madden
Fiona Foley, Badtjala Woman, one of a series of three photographs, black and white silver gelatin print, 1994, 456 x 356mm, Curtin University Art Collection
At first Badtjala Woman makes me want to look away. Is this a prudish reaction to nakedness? Perhaps, but taking a second look I sense the political and cultural burden that hangs heavily with these images. The protagonist is a naked woman; she is also a naked Indigenous woman. Her body represents a site of ambivalence and conflict.
Traditional Badtjala necklaces of nautilus shell and reed snake around her breasts. In each photograph she averts her eyes from the gaze of the camera and therefore from myself. She is an exotic object of curiosity and desire, an object to be observed. Caught and framed in black and white, I feel that at one time or another I have seen her hanging, anonymous and impassive, in a museum.
Fiona Foley is a direct descendant of the Badtjala people of K’gari (Fraser Island), and is both subject and art director of the photographs. She has spent many hours scouring museums and anthropological collections for records and artefacts of the Badtjala. In her work she creates a dialogue between traditional Badtjala culture and the white colonial powers, which both documented the existence of her people and, through genocide and displacement, forced them from their homeland at the turn of the 20th century.
This piece is a direct and personal response to one set of archival photos, dated around 1900, which feature a Badtjala woman, naked to the waist and adorned with shell necklaces. She too refuses the camera’s gaze. Pictured from three angles, the woman is nameless, a caption below simply stating: “Aborigine, Fraser Island.” A telling silence resounds in this absence of detail.
In Badtjala Woman Foley appropriates this 19th century ethnography. The very device used by her people’s oppressors – the camera – becomes a tool of empowerment. By staging the photographs and collaborating with the photographer, she reinserts herself into the image, into history. She reclaims the space within the frame. The unidentified subject now has a name, a story, a history. Possibly this is why I initially find these images disquieting. As a spectator I am implicated in her objectification. Foley exposes the violence of the viewer’s gaze and stirs a latent white guilt.
While Badtjala Woman is shown bowed under her dilly bag, conscious of the historical weight of white oppression, she also seems equally buoyant and provocative in her cultural performance. A clever playfulness lurks within the frames and in the corners of a smile I can imagine erupting from her lips a second after the final photograph is taken.
It is in the first image that Badtjala Woman is most defiant and dignified in her posture and it is this impression that stays with me. Her body speaks of memory, of a past and present reconciled, of cultural survival. I’m left with the feeling that she has been triumphant; that somehow, in being framed and encapsulated, she is liberated.
Post Graduate Student,
Department of Communication and Cultural Studies
Artist: Brett Whiteley
Writer: Stephen Harvey
Brett Whiteley, Bird and Branch, etching, 1977, 750 x 965 mm, Curtin University Art Collection
Given the diversity and quality of the Curtin University of Technology’s Art Collection, I thought that choosing a work would be a challenging exercise: however, I selected Bird and Branch the instant I saw it. While I was not aware at the time that Bird and Branch was a Brett Whiteley, I was not surprised when told; I don’t know what it is about Whiteley’s works but for me they have immediate appeal.
Like many of Whiteley’s works, Bird and Branch is strongly influenced by Asian art forms, and, like Japanese painting, this work is beautifully composed, superbly drafted and elegantly simple. The work imparts a sense of order and tranquillity, an order and tranquillity that apparently evaded Whiteley in his own chaotic life.
Whiteley once quipped, “I paint in order to see”. In doing so he helps us see into his world, sometimes serenely beautiful, sometimes fascinatingly ugly. With Bird and Branch we have the former. Or do we?
A closer examination of the bird in question reveals a countenance that reflects anything other than peace and tranquillity. In fact, if anything, it is an expression of tortured paranoia!
Looking for answers I did some background reading. It turns out that Whiteley loved birds; indeed towards the end of his life he thought he was one. His favourite song was Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire and an exhibition in which he took exceptional pride was the Exhibition of Birds in Sydney in 1983. Interestingly the only painting not of birds in that exhibition was a self-portrait by Whiteley who one critic described ‘as looking like a jaded magpie’.
So is Bird and Branch the subtle elegant painting that I first thought or is it an insight into Whiteley’s own troubled life?
Executive Director Properties
Artist: Jim Brodie
Writer: Tom Freeman
Visitor to the Gallery in front of the works by Jim Brodie, Mikado Pool, screenprint, 1985, 45.5 x 61 cm, Curtin University Art Collection
There is a comforting nostalgia about Jim Brodie’s Mikado Pool prints. Looking back at the prints twenty years after they were made, it’s hard not to see a third period of reference: not only 2006 and 1985, but also a 60's/70’s evocation. It could be the current popular fascination with a ‘vintage’ period that creates this interest, although I like to think there’s more to my aesthetic judgement than a pop cultural fad. Then again, I was born in 1985 so I might attach more affection to this year than is reasonable.
The imagery plays on the way we nurture past comforts and fond memories, and blurs anything bad that might have been. While the Violent Femmes sing “good feeling, won’t you stay with me just a little longer”, Jim Brodie visually evokes this sentiment. That said, there is certainly a darker intimation of what is initially suggested. Unpopulated, desolate, foreboding and forlorn, the images allude to life outside of their picture and narrative frame. Has something happened there to cause this mood, or is it an imminent action waiting to unfold? Brodie’s use of a cheap magazine and advertising aesthetic adds to this feel, like twisted travel advertisements or romantically idealised cigarette billboards.
For me, the two prints work as a medium close-up and a wide shot from a film. Like stills from an early Morrissey-directed, Warhol-funded film, full of seedy motels, Hollywood glamour, and free love gone bad. How is it that cinematic conventions evoke such a pleasant ambiance? It’s as though the action of viewing is cast through rose coloured glasses, directing and affecting what we think and how we feel.
Of course this is only my interpretation, based on my experience and knowledge.
Everything outside of the literal images and their physical state (material, framing, display etc), the viewer interprets. We unwittingly and incessantly bring our own readings to art. The best an artist can do is to try to direct their audience’s imagination, memory and understanding in a certain direction.
I like these Jim Brodie prints. The charming, if a little melancholic, nostalgia brings a tear to my eye and warmth to my heart.
3rd Year Professional Practicum Student
Artist: Deborah Paauwe
Writer: Dr Robert Cook
Deborah Paauwe, Slipperless, 2000, type C photograph, 1200 x 1200 mm, Curtin UniversityArt Collection
Bare feet bug me. I’m quick to cover them, push into the closest pair of sneakers handy. They slip on with relief. I’m ready. To receive visitors. To move about the world. To run from the fire and the carjackers.
It’s only natural therefore, that Paauwe’s work shocks and repulses me. I see these bare feet and they’re not just naked. They are too naked. Lack of shoes is a more radical disrobing than any other. It’s as if their state of nature overwhelms the rest of her. It is of no account that she has a dress. The girl, the woman, the youth – who can tell? - is over-exposed.
Does it matter that, in the sibling image, she has glass slippers neatly placed on her feet? No. Whoever put them on was not the sleeper herself, but another agent, an agent that fitted her without her knowledge, that had been searching, travelling hundreds of miles in a cart or in an express train, alighted, brushing the dirt and crap off their hands, reached down and caressed the feet so gently she did not wake, and claimed her for some kind of awful specialness.
With this her over-exposure is more unbearable than ever. Because now we know so much more than her. Her unwelcome nakedness impinges on us, the viewers, as a burden. And it follows, then, that her vulnerability doesn’t make me feel protective. Far from it. While she knows nothing about it, she exists on a different plane now. When she wakes there will be a different life to lead. Her vulnerability is not, therefore actual, but a sign of her difference from you and me. It is cute. It is duplicitous. That is why it is painful to see. Because it marks out the gulf between our destinies. Our’s bitter and prosaic. Her’s glimmering and light. It is not the nakedness of exchange, but the nakedness of an ultimate, heartless difference.
She is too naked, and will always be so.
Dr Robert Cook
Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of Western Australia
Artist: Salleh Japar
Writer: Professor Jeanette Hacket
Salleh Japar, Centrefire, mixed media on canvas, 1989, 52x53cm, Curtin University Art Collection
This painting by Salleh Japar is evidence of the journey of an international student and artist in a globalised world. The artist lives in Singapore, the island republic with a commitment to multiculturalism in a dominant Chinese culture, a nation that seeks to implant a beating cultural heart in a city of on-line commerce. Does Japar live in a city of Asia or a city of the planet? Do all the on-line conversations with other cultures hush the sound of Chinese calligraphy?
In his painting the artist gives us a 'walked map', which he describes as a "A map that is characterised not...as a picture but...part of the body that he inhabits". His painting is based on topographies of the Australian bush, as are the works of Australian Aboriginals who 'knew every bush, bird, brook and creek'.
The artist emerges from Singapore and develops his knowledge over two decades of travel and international study including a Diploma of Fine Arts at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore, a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Distinction at Curtin University in Perth, a Post Graduate Diploma in Art Education at the University of Central England, and a Master of Fine Arts at RMIT University in Melbourne. Does he keep 'his' culture, or has he become an artist of the globalised-generation - replotting his map from his vision in the new land? Maybe 'world'? Does he have one new land, or is he an example of a globalised citizen?
Japar the international artist has painted and exhibited globally in Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Venice, Canada, and the Philippines. He has undertaken artist residencies in Canberra, New Delhi and Melbourne. He works as an artist in the dynamic multi-cultures of his varying landscapes. What is 'his' culture and how does he transmit his views? How do we read his works? Do we know what language he is speaking and what he understands? Does he still speak in concepts and experience that his parents could understand?
Now Japar works as an art educator for the Faculty of Fine Arts at la Salle in Singapore. Are his students from his own city or have they come from China or India to join the global conversation of art? Are these students just like Japar?
Can this artist speak to a global audience without this odyssey through countries and times? Is he a Singaporean artist? Is he a global artist? Does he have a choice?
Professor Jeanette Hacket
May - June 2006
Artist: Michael Mbatha
Writer: Dr Joan Wardrop
Dr Joan Wardrop during her Talking the heliCOPter floor talk on 7 June 2006
Fragments of memory: driving out of Hlatikulu, a tall woman striding fast along the road, green t-shirt, patterned skirt, a yellow miner's hard hat on her head, a walking work of art; Mabopane 1992: the police helicopter circling closer and closer and we've never felt so conspicuous in our lives; three little boys by the Warwick Triangle overpass, underneath the peoples' murals, attentively working pieces of fruit cases and wire to construct a toy car; the police helicopter circling closer and closer, searching, maybe for hijackers, and I rush to make sure the outside doors are locked; a woman sits beading in the African Arts Centre, purple beads onto red cloth, a small soft cloth sculpture of a woman and a pram beginning to take shape.
Township children all over Southern Africa make their own toys from materials found and “borrowed,” pieces of wire, empty cartons and tins, sparkplugs, nuts and bolts, oddments of wood and string - the objects which daily surround their lives. Running along a dusty red-dirt street, pushing model cars, not perfect factory-made replicas but hand-crafted wire models, the internal spaces precisely conceptualised, doors that open and close, wheels that turn, steering wheel, gear stick, engine, internal components transparent, made visible, legible, engineered by an eight year old boy who impossibly dreams of driving a BMW M3 when he grows up. And an adult man captures moments in his own biography, dreaming as Michael Mbatha has done of designing for the motor vehicle industry, but for now transforming flattened pieces of tin and odd lengths of wire.
Poets, musicians, dancers, visual artists/craftspeople, KwaZulu-Natal clans such as the Mchunus, Gumedes, Nxumalos, Mbathas, foster cultural practices in the young, teaching colour, rhythm and shape by repetition and mimicry, engendering deeply-ingrained understandings and creative interpretations of the worlds they see around them.
Historically, some of the most convoluted of those relationships have been with mapoysa, the police, at once apartheid's enforcers and a source of employment for Zulu men, protectors of individuals and oppressors of group rights, to be called in emergencies, to be feared in times of political trouble. In Durban, sub-tropical, laid-back, most African of South Africa's cities, yet also most Indian, mapoysa presented two distinct faces: the national South African Police, Afrikaner-dominated even here in the least Afrikaans of cities, whose helicopters swooped over the townships in the years of the States of Emergency in the 1980s and into the early 1990s, surveilling, intruding, menacing, imposing the public on the private. And historically the only metropolitan police in the country, the Durban Metro Police, the City Police as Michael Mbatha names them on his helicopter, low-key, consciously part of the community, hard-hitting if they needed to be, cruising the streets, knowing the streets.
But now too flying the helicopter low over the city, watchful, rescuers, avengers from the sky for criminals violently hijacking cars, trucks, armoured vehicles, but still Michael Mbatha informally calls the city “Durbs”, the affectionate name shared across languages and ethnicities by those who live there. So, a helicopter flying the new South African flag, symbol of something no one can quite define, a hope for a future which was denied for too long, omnipresent, on beach towels and takkies (sneakers), cars and briefcases. It says: I declare myself part of the new South Africa. And Michael Mbatha chooses to fly it on his evocative helicopter, hand drawn in pencil on fragment of a leaf from a notebook.
Dr Joan Wardrop
Associate Professor of History
Deputy Director Humanities Graduate Studies
Artist: Philip Hansen
Writer: Larry Foley
Philip Hansen, Sunset Dreaming 2004, acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 120cm, Curtin University Art Collection, gift of Larry Foley 2005
I first became familiar with the work of the Carrolup School and the Nyoongar painters of the South West of Western Australia about thirty-five years ago and I have always had an appreciation of their depiction of the landscape of the Great Southern.
Three years ago I was asked to assist a group of painters from the Katanning and Bunbury Workshops to set up an exhibition of their work at the Annual Water Polo International Meeting at the Bicton Pool.
I got to know most of the artists including Athol Farmer, Swag Taylor, Troy Bennell and Petrina Neufeld, to name a few, and bought this work by Philip Hansen at that time. His work was very similar to earlier works by Bella Kelly, Reynold Hart and Revel Cooper. The show went well and the next year was similar, with more people becoming interested in their work and the previous buyers coming back for more.
Later in 2005 some of the artists were represented at the World Handcraft Fair in Tuscany, which also included ceramics and furniture from Western Australia. It was a first for the painters of this school, although work by the Carrolup children had been exhibited internationally fifty years ago to great acclaim, probably before works from the Hermansburg painters, who had a similar style and had started painting about fifteen years earlier, achieved similar recognition.
A friend of mine commented recently that these painters observe and depict the landscape as we do. Well, perhaps that’s true, but they manage to convey something else. They have an affinity with the land that only they can feel and appreciate and their art is peculiarly their own. It is quite different from that of the communities in the Kimberley and Central Desert that most people have come to identify as ‘typical Aboriginal art’.
Fifty years ago those little fingers left behind a lovely legacy and I’m sure today’s Nyoongar painters will continue in that tradition.
Donor to the Curtin University of Technology Art Collection
Artist: Tony Windberg
Writer: Candice Anderson
Tony Windberg, Out Near Hyden, 1987, oil on board, triptych 80 x 56 cm each, Curtin University Art Collection, purchased 1987
When I arrived in Western Australia a year ago I saw the environment through the eyes of an American tourist, full of pre-conceived notions of an exotic place occupied by hopping kangaroos and crocodile hunters. I would have never guessed that the contemplative and sensitive environment portrayed in Tony Windberg’s Out Near Hyden was a reflection of the ‘real’ Australia, one you are not able to find on television or in the movies.
The ‘real’ Australia I have come to know consists of silent, star-filled nights, lush green winters that smell of something burning, and never-ending bush roads that are sprinkled with isolated, dehydrated towns. Death has left its traces everywhere yet life continues to thrive on the unique resources and beauty that defines Australia.
Out Near Hyden reflects the isolated environments of Western Australia; places like Mt. Magnet, Wiluna or Leonora. Windberg’s strong value contrasts and vibrant colours express the extreme yet sensitive surroundings that are full of a variety of cultures and histories. The natural subject matter and narrative sequence of Out Near Hyden implies a sense of time passing, of a journey that the viewer can relate to both literally and figuratively.
On a personal level, Out near Hyden reflects my life-changing experience with the distinctive environment and cultures of Australia. I have found that the people of Australia have been imbedded with a strength and determination that can not be found anywhere else in the world. The trials that define Australian history have created a culture of people who embrace and respect all of the pain and pleasure life brings.
International Postgraduate Student, Cultural Heritage Studies, 2005