Visual Art

‘A voyage round my father’, to quote the title of John Mortimer’s autobiographical play of 1963, has been a popular form of personal memoir in Britain from Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907) to Michael Parkinson’s just-published Like Father, Like Son. The same form produced some of the best Australian writing in the twentieth century, with two assured classics in the case of Germaine Greer’s Daddy, We Hardly Knew You (1989) and Raimond Gaita’s Romulus, My Father (1998). The tradition has continued into the present century with – to list some of the choicest plums – Richard Freadman’s Shadow of Doubt: My father and myself (2003), Sheila Fitzpatrick’s My Father’s Daughter (2010), Jim Davidson’s A Führer for a Father (2017), and Christopher Raja’s Into the Suburbs: A migrant’s story (2020). Mothers in such sagas are far from absent, and they can emerge, though not always, as the more obviously loveable or loving figures. As signalled by most of those titles, however, mothers loom less large over the unfolding narrative. Fathers may not always know or act best, but, partly because of their often tougher, commanding mien, they become irresistibly the centre of attention.

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Symbolist art has received an unusual amount of attention recently. First there was Denise Mimmocchi’s Australian Symbolism: The Art of Dreams at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (which Jane Clark reviewed in the September 2012 issue of ABR). Now Sydney Long: The Spirit of the Land celebrates Australia’s foremost exponent of the movement. Sydney Long (1871–1955) was born in Goulburn, so the National Gallery in Canberra can claim him as a local talent. More importantly, they have staff with relevant expertise to mount this major retrospective. Anne Gray, the exhibition’s curator, is an authority on Edwardian Australian art. Ron Radford, the NGA director, was one of the first to look seriously at Art Nouveau in Australia; he curated a landmark exhibition on the subject as far back as 1981.

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Having attempted to connect with the art of painting by submitting to instruction on how to represent ‘apples and bananas and pumpkins and plaster casts’, Danila Vassilieff realised ‘it was all a waste of time, it was meaningless to me … That was dead life and I wanted to paint living life, life and nature and people in action and movement.’

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A thirty-year correspondence between two Australian artists is notable, but when the artists are father and daughter it is doubly interesting. Hans Heysen and Nora Heysen corresponded regularly throughout their lives: Hans writing from The Cedars, the family house near Hahndorf, in the Adelaide Hills; and Nora from Sydney, London, New Guinea, Pacific Islands, or wherever she happened to be. Hans Heysen is celebrated for his landscape paintings – those South Australian views of eucalypts in a landscape, which changed the way generations looked at the Australian countryside – and for his desert landscapes of the Flinders Ranges. Nora, the only one of his nine children to become an artist, is known for her still lifes and portraits. Their work is well represented in Australian public collections. Hans was unquestionably the better artist, and always had the greater reputation. Nora, however, won major prizes (including, somewhat controversially, the 1938 Archibald Prize) and managed to forge an independent career for herself; she by no means lived in her father’s shadow.

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The Art of Frank Hinder by Renee Free and John Henshaw, with Frank Hinder

by
November 2011, no. 336

Frank Hinder’s abstractions, light works, and kinetic art have appeared in several recent survey exhibitions and publications, arousing renewed interest in the Sydney modernist (1906–92). It is thus timely for the first Hinder monograph, written by the curator Renee Free, with a chapter by the artist and teacher John Henshaw. No revisionary account, it began decades ago as a collaboration between the authors and the artist following the retrospective on Hinder and his wife, Margel, that Free curated at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1980. After Frank Hinder’s death, Free continued working with his family. This self-published book – accompanied by an online catalogue of works of art, compiled by Adam Free, her son – is a labour of love by both families.

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The writers of two books about Fred Williams published in the 1980s, Patrick McCaughey and James Mollison, were friends of the artist, and involved with him in their roles as art critic/historian and gallery director. Their respect for Williams led them to write against the grain of their usual modes. Mollison, professionally always on the knife-edge of making judgement, held back, exploring with great precision within the factual boundaries of materials and processes, numbers, dates, and sequences. McCaughey, too, looked between art and artist rather than to mainstream contemporary art. In a new chapter written for the 2008 edition of his book, McCaughey endorsed the insights of younger writers, thereby providing a springboard for Deborah Hart.

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This is the second major retrospective of the art of Eugene von Guérard (1811–1901). In 1980 he was seen as Nature-inspired, like the German Romantics and the Humboldtian visionaries Frederick Church and Thomas Moran (American painters of von Guérard’s own generation). This time, the viewpoint is science.

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The painter and outdoor draughtsman John Wolseley is utterly unusual among artists in this country. Marvellously accomplished yet old-fashioned, he could be seen as an artist who cheekily leapt from  traditional to postmodern without passing through any of the intermediate stages. His deeply natural pictures can’t be categorised easily, for all that they are entrancing. In Lines for Birds, they are reproduced side by side with the comparably responsive poems of Barry Hill.

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Encompassing installation, sculpture, drawing, photography, and the moving image, Patricia Piccinini’s fifteen-year survey exhibition of sixty-five works at the Art Gallery of South Australia coincides with the period of her exploration of issues surrounding genetic modification/manipulation in the biotech era. Piccinini’s investigations are, as the exhibition’s title suggests, cautionary tales.

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The Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award is the major event on the Indigenous visual arts calendar. Its significance rests with the quality art exhibited under the mantle of the award and the crowd it attracts to Darwin every August. Artists from disparate communities mingle to cement relationships through shared kinship, songlines, and history. Excited coordinators from community cooperatives mix with urbane curators and gallery owners – projects are conceived. Collectors jostle to reserve the best works.

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