Poetry in Paint

It’s hard not to compare John Olsen’s paintings to poetry. His lines lyrically travel over the canvas, the varied colours bringing either subtle beauty or dramatic power. In The You Beaut Country at the NGV, you can see Olsen’s work and T.S Eliot’s words come together with a natural affinity.

Not only had I come to see Olsen’s works, but also to hear Ben Quilty’s talk. A great artist in his own right whose painting of Margaret Olley is one of my favourite Archibald winners.

Ben Quilty started the talk by mentioning the negative review by Robert Nelson. Quilty asks why anyone would write a bad review about art in Australia. As he says, ‘Why would anyone want to stop people going to a gallery?’

It’s true that art needs all the support it can get but we also need truthful critics.

During the Q&A, one person mentions that we should all write a review. This seems a lot closer to a solution. We are all so different, why give only certain people the power over the critique. Let’s share our thoughts. Let’s have a conversation.

I would like to share one sentence from the aforementioned review, John Olsen retrospective: mildly entertaining at best by Robert Nelson.

“His tumultuous panoramas spread out in convulsive swings and encounters, making us think of streets, places and ratbags, the nooks and monstrosities that surge and eddy with random impulse; but at the same time, this hubbub of a life teeming in its crannies is also pure painting, nothing but marks of painterly spontaneity that read as an abstract gestural language on a flat surface.”

A lovely description that loses me at the end. I don’t see anything wrong with art that is gestural mark making. Art is a way we can work through thoughts bigger than words, how we can communicate emotion, how we can try to make sense of the world or ourselves. Quilty tells us that a couple of weeks ago Olsen’s wife, Katherine, passed away. In this terrible time, Olsen has made more work in the last couple of weeks than he has for a while. Art is there to express the best and help us through the worst of moments. Does it need to be anything else?

olsen2

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The Colour of Current

The Art:
David Hockney Current
NGV, 11 nov – 13 Mar

My first reaction was anger. The first room of the David Hockney exhibition at the NGV is filled with iphone and ipad drawings. Each wall covered. A hit of colour. As I looked closer I couldn’t help thinking that if I had done any of these, they would have been considered hockney1novice attempts. Although I probably would have placed them in a folder within a folder on my hard drive, never to be opened again, assuming they’re not good enough.

This question on ‘what is good’ is a constant battle I have with myself and with
contemporary art. But as I continued through the exhibition I realised that this is not a question that should enter this space. It’s not about finding perfection, but the act of creation. And there was so much joy to be had in the creation of all of these works.

There were still things I didn’t like. That’s okay. There were others that re-imagined our world into one of colour and joy.

There was playfulness in ‘The Chairs’ room.

Character in all the portraits.hockney2.png

Hockey describes his ‘82 portraits & 1 still life’ as a complete work and went further to say that he see’s his whole career as one work. I can see that. Each piece is focused on the present, but with it comes a lifetime of experience.

The aspect of creation is further developed with screen recordings of Hockney’s ipad drawing. We can see each stroke, each decision. As I sat watching the complete creation of a work, with juggling music echoing from further along the exhibition, I felt the absorption and joy of the artist.

I left with one impression deeply implanted: Shut up and paint.