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An Exhibition of Contemporary Australian Art May 26th - June 5th 2010 The Menier Gallery Southwark London SE1
5 BY 5
Essays by Ashley Crawford
Launched in 2009, COMODAA (Contemporary Modern Australian Art) was established to promote Australian art to a wider international audience and give talented contemporary artists new exposure. Our mission is to present and promote serious contemporary Australian art by a select, collectable and highly respected group of innovative artists. COMODAA is a privately owned independent art business that is not tied to any other gallery, dealer or auction house. This enables greater flexibility with a personal bespoke service on offer. Founder and Director of COMODAA, Jonathan White, moved to Australia in early 2001 and has lived in both Melbourne and Sydney. He has worked in the Australian art market for the past 7 years. In this time Jonathan has amassed a wealth of experience including running a Sydney gallery, curating many exhibitions both in Australia and Asia, advising to private and public collections including The Australian Museum and MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) and visiting many of the Aboriginal Art Centers in the Central and Western Desert, meeting the artists and handpicking artworks for exhibitions. Through a regular exhibition schedule starting in September 2009 COMODAA will undertake various solo and group exhibitions in London to showcase the current contemporary artists of Non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australia. As well as regular exhibitions COMODAA’s primary home will be its website, www.comodaa.com. Visitors to the site are able to view artworks, find out about current & upcoming exhibitions and read the latest news on COMODAA artists. The website also provides a membership facility to My COMODAA (the personal members page). Here guests are able to create their own gallery or wishlist, preview upcoming exhibitions, enjoy monthly updates in the form of a newsletter, Australian art market updates/auction results and new paintings from the COMODAA artists. In addition members can update their profile and have access to the latest artworks released. As a launching gift from COMODAA annual membership will be free until the end of 2009. Any visitors or members who purchase artworks from COMODAA become Clients and automatically receive free membership. One of the main benefits of becoming a member of My COMODAA is the bespoke advice on what and who to buy, whether it is for a collection or part of an investment portfolio. Advice is also available for art portfolio management. Membership to My COMODAA also allows members to obtain guidance on framing, shipping, valuations, cataloguing, conservation and restoration. COMODAA has facilities in place to allow clients to purchase artworks by way of payment plans. A permanent gallery in the UK is planned for 2011.
Helen Pynor Tony Lloyd Anthony White Dennis Nona Laith McGregor
Budding native plants float in the ether, seeming to gently sway amidst the clouds, tenderly cocooned in fragrant tissue, romantic bouquets of red gum and wattle, a lover’s carefully arrayed gift. But, as always with Helen Pynor’s work, there is something amiss in these timelessly elegant works. In the past she has utilised the tissues and organs of the human body to illustrate traditional means of attending to illness – at times, in this day and age of pharmaceutical-obsession – sounding so archaic as to resonate like fairy-tales. In those works the organs hung in some form of viscous fluid, like the results of a painstaking autopsy. For all of the spooky materials, the love with which her work is arrayed made those works oddly palatable. Words would be stitched from hair and tendrils would appear to drift and float into the surrounds, freed from gravity. There are similar tendrils floating in these new works, but in this case they are the plants’ roots, not so much torn from terra firma as delicately removed. It is nigh impossible not to feel the delicacy of these root systems and to be reminded of the similarly complex structures of the human nervous system. Pynor herself has described the roots as being almost the equivalent of “nakedness” but it is hard not to feel that the root systems are more than that. To be naked suggests a degree of vulnerability, but these root systems go far deeper, these are organic filaments that were never designed to be exposed, that have been flayed from the earth. For all of the intellectual curiosity that feeds into Pynor’s work, the results are always far more sensual than academic. There is a decidedly feminine sensibility at play here. While the research may be the core initial motivation, it is the appearance, the delicacy, that remains tantamount. Pynor’s choice of plants was guided by Dharawal medicinal remedies, passed on to her by the Aboriginal botanist and Dharawal man John Lennis (The Dharawal are the Indigenous people of the regions lying to the South of what is now Sydney). As with her previous work the embroidery at the top of each image gives us a more concrete interpretation, balancing out the ethereal nature of her floating world. For the Dharawal each of these plants had a very real function in the very real world. Pynor’s Milk 4 (wattle) is captioned “wattle – dysentery.” Sweet pittosporum, we discover, was used as a poultice for swellings. The Sydney red gum was used as a treatment for diarrhea. What we may casually put in a vase on the window-sill had distinctly pragmatic usage in the times before Western intervention. Pynor has exhibited extensively in Australia and France at venues such as Linden-St Kilda Contemporary Arts Centre (Melbourne), Artspace (Sydney), Passage de Retz (Paris), and Chez Robert (France). Pynor was recently honoured by being named winner the prestigious RBS Emerging Artist Award in Australia for her triptych Milk. The Award came with a residency at A.R.T. JAPAN in Tokyo, which she will undertake this year along with a second residency at the world-renowned biological arts research facility SymbioticA at the University of Western Australia, where she intends to make work exploring the complexities of organ transplantation. In addition she has been awarded the Australia Council London studio in Bethnal Green for 2011, and has previously undertaken residencies at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, The Gunnery, Sydney, and Sydney College of the Arts.
Helen Pynor Milk 3 (bird’s nest fern), 2008 C-type photograph face-mounted on glass 100 x 66 cm Edition 5 + 1AP
Helen Pynor Milk 2 (sydney red gum), 2008 C-type photograph face-mounted on glass 100 x 66 cm Edition 5 + 1AP
Helen Pynor Milk 4 (wattle), 2008 C-type photograph face-mounted on glass 100 x 66 cm Edition 5 + 1AP
There Are More Things: There is always something hidden in Tony Lloyd’s works. Not necessarily in a literal sense, where there’s a hidden code or magic-eye playfulness. Indeed, what the authorities would have secret – the existence of UFOs for instance – is there in plain sight. What is hidden is just what impact the plain-sight secrets have had. What narrative precedes or follows these strange moments. Lloyd is like some old-world conspiracy junkie photo- journalist who doesn’t trust cameras and thus resorts to such ‘old’ technology as paint. No doubt he especially doesn’t trust digital cameras – if the government can tap into our phone calls and e-mails what’s to say they can’t upload our digital photographs? And Lloyd might be onto something there. Is he capturing a world in climate crisis caused my human activity? Or is the whole global warming thing a trick by the aliens to make our world more suited to them? Regardless of what Lloyd might be trying to tell us here, he manages to do it with such sublime beauty that we get distracted along the way. The core information – the conspiracy – gets buried beneath the sheer pleasure we receive before we’ve had a chance to de-code it. Which makes one wonder, is it Lloyd who is creating the disinformation himself, throwing us off the X-Files track, leading us into Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness via pure visual seduction? In the ‘real’ world, if we can call that construct Australia real, Lloyd is a highly successful artist, having held over 20 exhibitions since 1994, including three in The Netherlands and inclusion in group shows in London, Rome, Amsterdam and elsewhere. He has won numerous awards and critics, curators and collectors alike are beguiled. Lloyd’s landscapes are like ciphers. They could be the Swiss alps, but they could just as easily be the Alpine Country of Victoria in Australia where Lloyd lives (no, Australia isn’t just desert). What is key to these is the sheer grandeur of these remote landscapes, places unsullied by human intervention. This is the tableaux of Caspar David Friedrich, the ideal world of Friedrich Nietzsche and Henry David Thoreau. The difference between those figures and Tony Lloyd is that Lloyd has a wonderfully cynical sense of humour. There are hints of the wonderful schlock of The Day The Earth Stood Still, the phantasmagoria of Jack Kirby’s Marvel comics and the paranoia of Philip K. Dick’s sci fi. During a 2008 residency in Rome Lloyd found a decidedly odd precursor to his own imaginings. “I was doing some research in the Vatican library on the 16th Century heretic Giordano Bruno,” he says. “I was principally interested in his ideas on light and shadows and imagination but I found that he was also interested in the idea of an infinite universe containing other worlds.” Lloyd once took the title of a show from a deeply creepy story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, There Are More Things, who in turn had taken it from Shakespeare. In a further literary twist Borges’ story was a homage to the infamous American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft who, at one stage, wrote that: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”
Tony Lloyd Hidden Forest, 2010 Oil on linen, 95 x 125 cm (9 panels, each 30 x 40 cm)
Tony Lloyd Untitled 1, 2009 Oil on linen, 28 x 38 cm
Tony Lloyd Tilt, 2009 Oil on canvas, 122 x 91 cm
Layer by layer, colour by colour, he builds them up, painstakingly constructing the surfaces until finding the perfect texture. Anthony White comes from the gestural abstractionist school of painting that emerged from Australia’s National Art School in the last decade. It is a realm that in the cool post-pop, postmodern years seemed to fade from sight, at least for a while. But for White this was never an issue. He was not an artist to be subsumed by the variables of fashion – indeed, if anything fashionability was a thing to be ignored or, better yet, assailed by a wall of colour. After spending time painting in New York City over the past two years, White has brought together a body of work that reveals a passion for colour, form and movement rarely seen in a painter his age. The results are not unlike slices of the world uncovered by an archaeologist. He seems to absorb and then exhale the weight of the earth, both natural and man-made. The sense of movement in the works reflects his own restless energy as he travels the world, capturing slices of the environment in which he finds himself. While it is easy to describe White as an abstractionist he is arguably more a stringent realist. When he paints the Seine in Paris he gets down into the dirty detail of a river assailed by centuries of industrial development. When he visits Au Bonheur des dames, rather than paint a romantic Parisian street scene, he unearths the dirt and grit of the aged metropolis. “I am fascinated by maintaining the spirit in painting,” White has stated. “Painting has been declared dead numerous times, but there is something in the finding of form through observation and abstraction which keeps me coming back for more. Now that painting has been freed from serving any moral, illustrative or religious purpose then the very essence of a painting could be revealed.” A finalist in many of Australia’s most respected prizes and awards, including The Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship, The Churchie Emerging Artist Award and in 2007 he won The Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship, which took him to New York. During 2009 White lived and worked in Paris at the Cité International des Arts as part of the Storrier/Onslow Studio residency made possible by the Friends of the National Art School. As well as showing with COMODAA in London, White will participate in The Leipzig International Art Programme and hold a solo show with the Iain Dawson Gallery in Sydney. Of his Sydney show White says: “The work in this exhibition was made in residence at Australia’s Storrier Onslow Studio, at the Cite Internationale Des Arts, Paris. This studio award enabled me to paint and live in Paris for three months,” he says. “The architectural surfaces of Paris are laden with centuries of graffiti, posters, filth and humanity. The works draw upon these references and the sense of transience, the passing of time, the organic and the antique.”
Anthony White Enleve, 2010 Oil on linen 51 x 51 cm
Anthony White Levitan, 2010 Oil on linen 51 x 51 cm
Anthony White Accoutrement, 2010 Oil on linen 51 x 51 cm
They could be nature studies from another planet, or religious iconography from an ancient civilisation. But the reality is only fractionally less fanciful: Dennis Nona hails from the Torres Strait Islands just above the very top-end of Australia – a place so remote that most Australians, let alone the rest of the world – know next to nothing about it. Despite this distance Nona has become world-renowned for his almost baroque etchings, lithographs and linocuts. His work resides in almost all the major Australian art institutions as well as London’s British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Cambridge University Museum, the Musee d’Art & d’Historie Naturelle de Lyon and the Musee d’Art & d’Historie Naturelle de laRochelle in France, the Museum of American Indian Arts, USA and major galleries in Sante Fe, New Mexico and Tokyo. Born on Badu Island in 1973, as a youth he was taught the traditional craft of woodcarving. Prior to the arrival of explorers and missionaries, the world of Nona’s forbears was one of animism and spirituality, a world where all living things – plants, animals and humans alike – were embroiled in monumental stories of creation and rebirth. It was a world of headhunters and warrior castes, of mysterious legends told by ancient leaders and sung in intricate ritual. Since the arrival of Westerners, much of the culture of the islands has been diminished. But artists and artisans such as Nona have been determined to keep the heritage afloat. Nona’s work is imbued with the myths and legends of the Torres Strait Islands and throughout his intricate designs one can discern references to tribal mythology. His works are deceptive in their simplicity; they are loaded with history and meaning. Nona’s work is often included within Australia amidst exhibitions of Aboriginal indigenous art. But, as is abundantly clear viewing Nona’s work, the visual cultures of mainland Australia and those of the Torres Strait Islanders are vastly dissimilar. One is jolted into recognising the extraordinary cultural diversity of this region via Nona’s work – the hints of the Indonesian isles, of Papua New Guinea and mainland Australia – all filter in and out of these works in an exotic pot pouri. Where much traditional Torres Strait Islander work concentrates on a singular, graphic image, Nona’s embraces entire narratives and an extraordinarily rich diversity of story telling. The complexity of Nona’s mark-making has inspired Roger Butler, the Curator of Australian Prints at the National Gallery of Australia, to compare Nona’s approach to that of the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, where the simplicity of technique makes for extraordinarily complex images. Indeed, like Dürer, Nona is engrossed in the stuff of myth-making. His visceral mark-making, honed over the years in wood and metal for his printmaking, shimmers like a dazzling kaleidoscope of information, a palimpsest of language and story. Nona holds a Diploma of Art from Cairns TAFE, a Diploma of Visual Arts in Printmaking from the Institution of Arts, Australian National University, Canberra and is currently completing a Master of Arts degree in Visual Arts at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane.
Dennis Nona Thurr, 2008 Etching on Hahnemuhle paper, Edition 45 156 x 87 cm
Dennis Nona Kupi, 2009 Etching on Lenox paper, Edition 45 180 x 99 cm
Dennis Nona Margul Urab, 2008 Etching on Hahnemuhle paper, Edition 45 58 x 43 cm
For some people it just comes naturally. It’s like breathing. It flows from the ends of their fingers like mercury. It’s called drawing. But it’s one thing to have a natural gift – quite a few people can draw like angels and produce boring work. Laith McGregor is not one of the boring ones. Often utilising that most mundane of instrument – the biro – McGregor produces work that is either totally of the zeitgeist or utterly, fabulously timeless. Indeed there are times when one is tempted to imagine these works as the artifacts from an aged master executed two centuries ago. That is, of course, not the case. For one thing, zombies and aliens were rarely the domain of the Renaissance masters. For another McGregor only finished his training in 2007. McGregor is, in fact, an artist very much of his time. His oeuvre pulses with the return to figuration that has occurred in the new century. It throbs with the strange themes that have become part of the contemporary pop-culture sensibility – mutants, zombies, aliens, fictitious tribes and down-toearth homo-sapiens sprawl across his pages suggesting weird graphic-novel narratives. Faces are assailed by strange ectoplasm, eyeballs are distended like alien antennae or snail-like membrane. When he turns to collage architecture becomes the stuff of headdress. When the work is linked to the real, as in a series of portraits of Jacques Chirac, ‘reality’ takes on some of the malleable notions of a Philip K. Dick sci-fi novel. When he takes on history, Robinson Crusoe is no longer stranded on a tropical island but instead abandoned in the snow complete with frostbitten nose. When he takes on Caspar the Ghost the poor fellow is reduced to a pair of floating, pleading eyeballs. When he takes on Rasputin the result is a portrait of a balding man with a flourishing, robust – indeed absurdly massive – growth of facial hair, surreal in the extreme. The result is excruciatingly intense, the man’s eyes glaring from the surface of the picture. It is also odd in that it is rendered purely in blue Biro, a common Bic to be precise. Eschewing more traditional materials such as Indian ink, pencil or charcoal, McGregor has made the Biro his trademark. It’s not the only media he tackles, but it is distinctive in the extreme. There is an immediacy to these sprawling, compulsive lines, a distinct visceral tactility to the tiny ball spreading its obsessive trail across the bubbling paper. For a still young artist McGregor, perhaps not surprisingly, has a swathe of awards behind him. With seven solo shows (successful, both critically and commercially) and innumerable group shows, one is tempted to imagine the pile of used up Biros littering the floor like gun shells at the end of a Rambo movie, their blue life-blood sprawling along kilometres of faces and figures, beards and eyes. But while his imagery is evocative of a post-apocalyptic world of destitute outsiders, the element that links all of McGregor’s drawing is the overpowering sense of humanity. It is impossible not to respond to the sheer passion that McGregor’s pen evokes.
Laith McGregor Like a Tiger, 2010 (Detail) Biro on Arches paper 76 x 56 cm
Laith McGregor Open, 2010 (Detail) Biro and perforations on Arches paper 76 x 56 cm
Laith McGregor The Desert, 2010 Biro on Arches paper 76 x 56 cm
Editor: Jonny White Photography: Provided by the artists Essays: Ashley Crawford
Thank you to my brother, Toby, all the sub-editors and spell check. Lastly (not least), to Marisa for her continuous encouragement and support.