Category Archives: Art

Dark Heart at SA Gallery – Worth Many Looks

At a time when institutional galleries struggle ever more for relevance, it is good to see the South Australian gallery struggle and succeed.

The 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art has much to recommend it. Sex and Death worked for MONA down in Tassie, so with State and National galleries under pressure to catch up, Death is a pretty safe bet for an edgy (but not too edgy for a State Gallery) theme.

So please – leave your catalogue at home, close your ears to the inevitable gallery guides telling you what you should experience, and walk around with a smile for this clever artwork.

On entry, Julia deVille’s room is a treat, and the cat as Victorian bride/mummy is a particular delight.


There’s a lovely absurdity about the work, and the Victorian separation from reality is marvellous, with its unsettling nuance of Beatrix Potter’s animals-as-people.

Walking on through, Trent Park’s room of vastly enlarged photographs is another highlight.


Anyone familiar with Antonioni’s masterwork “Blow-Up” (1966) will get the concept of the film negative enlarged until the grain takes over, but for me this resonates even more in the digital age, when we are increasingly forced to decide for ourselves the point at which the surface ends and the image begins. This is good, successful photography on an institutional scale.

Skip Sally Smart next door and go through to Brook Andrew.


He’s taken early colonial illustrations of indigenous Aussies and screen printed them onto metallic backgrounds. It worked for Andy Warhol and it works for this Andrew. Like Trent Park’s work, the interplay between the surface of the work and the larger image is what makes it intriguing. Go and stick your nose in it.

Then duck back for a break with a bit of good video art.


(Yes, I know “good video art” is an oxymoron, but bear with me here) Richard Lewer’s animated piece is great. Simple, warm drawing and faux-simple animation techniques tell the story of a failed suicide pact. Sounds grim, but remember how Romeo and Juliet ended up, and that was a love story too. Maybe it belongs more on YouTube, but its presence here in the gallery pointed out to me how crap the other Video work in the show is. An unintended consequence perhaps, but a happy one.

The Ben Quilty work is a huge disappointment, because it’s huge, and it’s a disappointment.


I’m a big Quilty fan. I love his virtuosic control over thick oil and his brilliant draughtsmanship. I’m glad we have an Art superstar in Oz and I’m glad it’s someone who can actually paint. But this work is a mess. It’s (yes, literally) a Rorschach blob of an island, with all Ben’s beautiful oil paint squished into a drab smear. Maybe that’s a metaphor, but it ain’t satisfying. The room is full of the wonderful smell of raw oil paint though, so it’s still worth spending some time there.

There’s lots of other stuff of course – gosh, 28 artists and I’ve only mentioned a few. It’s free, so go often: I intend to.

Until 11 May 2014
Art Gallery of South Australia
North Terrace
SA 5000


Exhibition – The World We Live In

The World We Live In

This post is about my most recent exhibition – a series of six works inspired by the LIFE Magazine book The World We Live In.

In 1954 the US Magazine LIFE brought out an ambitious series of twelve articles under this title in consecutive editions of the magazine.

The articles used majestic illustrations painted by the best natural science artists of the day – coupled with grandiose prose by Lincoln Barnett – to describe the natural world. The articles had titles such as “The Earth is Born”, “The Miracle of the Sea” and “The Starry Universe”.

Cover - The World We Live In

Upon publication they were recognised as a marvellous achievement, and the following year these articles were combined into a book with the same title. As a child I was fascinated by this book. Too young to read the articles, I spent hours poring over these illustrations. Their detail was astonishing; huge scenes of deserts or mountains, examinations of the birth of planets and the creation of oceans were printed in fold-out folio pages. The detail that these tableaux contained drew the viewer in closer and closer in to the scene in an invitation to seek out the finest elements of the picture, all of which were rendered with meticulous care.

Pages from The World We Live In

On peering closer and closer at the pages eventually the illustration was lost, becoming nothing more than coloured dots that were the result of the half-screen printing process used to produce them.

The skill used to produce these articles was matched by the ambition of their vision; this goal –  to represent the scope of the natural world in one volume – and the belief that it might be realised, bordered on hubris.

Looking back at the volume nearly sixty years after its production it is still majestic, but it is certainly dated.

It seems to come from a more optimistic time, when science was leading a path forward to a golden future. Of course, the nineteen fifties were not without their problems – the threat of nuclear weapons was very real – but it seemed then that the world was more under the control of man than it appears to be today. At that time it seemed that all problems could be solved by scientific advances and judicious government, whereas today we see a planet slipping into decay that we are powerless to stop.

In this work I seek to convey a nostalgia for that optimism – exemplified in the purity of the volcano, in the majesty of the nebula and the immutability of the fossil.

I also want to juxtapose the hand drawn illustrations against the mechanics of the reprographic techniques of the time.

How Mountains Are Born

In zooming in, and magnifying small sections of an image 25 times, the halftone screen of the printed book becomes a visual element of these works. I then have reproduced the images digitally onto polyurethane sheeting of the type that is used for signs and advertisements. By increasing saturation and contrast I hope to have highlighted the gulf between the delicacy of the originals and the mechanisation of their reproductions. It is an affectionate examination I hope, because of course the work would not have become available to a wide audience had it not been reproduced. The digital reproduction and disposable polyurethane I have used is again at odds with the permanence of the original illustrations and the world they portrayed.

Visit exhibition on David Hume website