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Ben Quilty is genius

My exhibition “City ditty” is happily hanging at Gallery Mercure (226 Victoria Street Potts Point NSW 2011 Australia) and on April 14th there will be a drinks talk and tour from 4:30 - 5:15 pm, drinks from 4:00. We’ll have various smaller items available for sale with various paintings printed onto them (e.g. cards, tiles, postcards)… and I’ll be sharing what possessed the goldfish.


In another part of town, at the National Art School*, Ben Quilty’s exhibition After Afghanistan is hanging until 13 April then will begin a 2 year tour of the country.

I saw the first of two ABC Australian Story documentaries with Ben talking about his experiences as war artist, and watched him working on these canvases via my TV screen, but was unprepared for the genius and power of these works. They are big, and they are visceral in the application of paint, the silences of blank canvas, the bold and tender disconnected swipes of pigment which create an intensely moving and powerful response in the viewer, you just have to glance at the faces of those in the gallery, and at the same time are intensely exciting as works of art. We are seeing Ben’s soul in the passions of paint, as much as we are seeing the souls of his subjects which he and they have shared with complete candour. We are not seeing paintings OF subjects - we experience a melding with them.

There are no images to accompany this post because this collection of works needs to be experienced, in person.

*National Art School, Forbes St  Darlinghurst NSW 2010 Australia

What about that Francis Bacon

On Saturday February 16th I finally got to the Francis Bacon (post 2nd world war British Artist) exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Francis Bacon's work is described as confronting, eliciting a visceral reaction, representing isolation and man's brutality to man. It wasn't an exhibition I was sure I was curious enough to see. Then I caught a documentary where he was being interviewed and was struck by his almost naive and vulnerable demeanour, sometimes like a rabbit caught in the headlights, his fascination with images, his hanging out at the pub talking, and his comment about being an optimist about nothing. Which is not the same as not being an optimist about anything. His studio was a pile of chaos. He appeared haunted, but behaved much like a precocious child trying to look grown up. It was interesting to see how the relative status of Bacon and the interviewer reversed as the interview progressed; I wondered if the interviewer was unconsciously responding to the child.

I wonder if Bacon's images are confronting because we are viewing a differently-organised collection of recognisable fragments of the human body, and carcasses, for example, which we would normally only see as injury, accident, dismembering. It surprised me that rather than shocking, the paintings were exciting and set me to thinking.

The curation of this exhibition was brilliant - particularly the vivid colour scheme of the walls.

Bacon's works are quite different in life than reproduced as small photographs. I wasn't expecting to find them so stunning.

Francis Bacon’s optimism is evident, I think, in the beautiful colours he used even in the most confronting works, when you get up close and look at the detail.


His assembly of just-on-the-edge-of-comprehensible fragments to make up a face or human form made me think immediately of the experience of people who have been blind from birth, then through medical intervention suddenly gain sight. They are not at first able to see distinct forms because their brain hasn’t yet learned how to take in all of the visual information and organise it into a chair, a floor, a face etc.. I love how Bacon’s conglomerations convey perfectly the sense of the person or interaction between figures using fragments that we recognise at almost a primitive level.


I wondered if the chaos of Bacon’s studio helped him feel less restrained with his painting practice (throwing paint at a canvas, for example) when he wanted to be. It mirrors the chaos and unexpected juxtapositions of imagery in his works. I wonder if it stimulated and inspired some of his assemblages.


Bacon’s tryptich of John Dyer after his suicide was powerful because the flesh is so alive, the figure sitting as if alive, but the closed and sunken eyes reflect the fact that Dyer is dead. It takes me immediately to a sudden death in the family when I was a child - I remember feeling the almost surreal sense that I was still in the same day when the person had been alive, but completely and irreversibly separated. To me Bacon has captured the desperation of grief, of willing life back into the almost as good as still alive body.


I'm glad I went.

Lots of doings and White Rabbit Gallery

There are lots of things on the boil - if you visit the newsletter page you'll see a few!

I recently visited the closing days of an exhibition of
The White Rabbit Gallery's private collection of works by contemporary Chinese artists, here in Sydney. The exhibition, Double Take, was all about things that aren't what they appear to be.

I loved it; such invention, such a brilliant concept to give us stimulation to truly
see familiar things, only after learning to mistrust our senses. So many layers. For example ...

A chocolate shop! Yum, even the smell of chocolate wafting through the room and Valentine's Day hearts. Then you realise that the chocolates are made in the shape of military machinery - tanks, guns, soldiers - complete antithesis to chocolate and chocolate shops and all of their associations, and the gulf between them packs a punch. Then you discover that the objects are actually made of plastic and the chocolate scent which comes from behind the counter is deliberately driving you to a wrong assumption about what you are seeing. But plastic soldiers are toys. We are familiar with them and give them happily to our kids, oblivious to and not even connecting them with what a soldier actually is and does and suffers and represents. But let us believe that they are made out of chocolate and the contrast opens our eyes.

This is reminiscent of one of the most disturbing pieces I’ve experienced,
Remains of a suicide bomber by Diane Worland, Melbourne, Australia at MONA in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Created from chocolate. The impact of such juxtapositions is powerful.

Tu Wei-Chengs Happy Valentines Day
Tu Wei-Cheng's Happy Valentine's Day, 2011
Photo by Kerry Thompson, reproduced courtesy of the White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney

A true delight was the dust caught in a spotlight's beam - which turns out to be myriad tiny objects from daily life all recreated in miniature by the artist, Cong Lingqi, and suspended from the ceiling ingeniously in such a way that their shadows on the wall almost never overlap. The further the object is from the wall, the more its shadow is out of focus giving the shadows a three dimensional flavour.

Dust by Cong Lingqi
Dust by Cong Lingqi Photo by Kerry Thompson, reproduced courtesy of the White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney

This exhibition has finished, but I am looking forward to the next.