IN THIS ISSUE
Bob McTavish and the '48 Holden
Max Dupain & John Witzig
50 years of Australian beach culture
Dickerson Gallery Melbourne: 31 March - 17 April
Dickerson Gallery Sydney: 28 April - 15 May
Max Dupain's ‘Sunbaker' is unarguably one of Australia's most iconic photographs. Part of its power lies in the anonymity of its subject; we can't see the sunbaker's face - he is a typical ‘bronzed Aussie', an everyman to whom we can all relate. But - just who was this sunbaker? Recently, ABC Television explored the question in its arts program, Art Nation. The program revealed he was in fact an English man by the name of Harold Salvage. He'd migrated to Australia in 1925 and befriended a young Max Dupain. Along with their girlfriends, Harold and Max spent many weekends together on the NSW south coast beach of Culburra. It was here that a 26 year old Max Dupain took the photo that would entrench him as one of Australia's favourite photographers. Interestingly, the ‘Sunbaker' image did not enter the public consciousness until 1975, when it was used as the cover image for a Dupain retrospective. To watch the full story, click here
In contrast, John Witzig's most popular subject is renowned Australian surfer and surfboard shaper, Bob McTavish. Witzig's images of McTavish and his '48 Holden, along with the iconic, ‘Headless McTavish' were both taken in 1966 - a period of exciting social change in Australia - and an immensely significant period for Australian surfing. For 42 years, a battle has raged - did McTavish invent the shortboard - or was it the work of American surfer, Dick Brewer? The debate has recently been revived thanks to a new feature film documentary, ‘Going Vertical'.
According to the film's makers - back in 1967, Bob McTavish was a wild larrikin and leading Australian surfboard shaper, discovering breaks even before the sport's big names surfed them. It has been widely claimed that he led the Shortboard Revolution after he cut three feet off the average length of a surfboard and road the new board at the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku invitational at Sunset Beach. Meanwhile, American Dick Brewer had established himself in Hawaii as a big wave rider and surfboard designer by charging big Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach. He met Bob McTavish in Hawaii in 1963, where a life-long rivalry between not only between both men, but both countries, erupted. But McTavish has told the Sydney Morning Herald, there's no doubt the shortboard was an Australian invention. ''I took the first shorter eight-foot boards to the Bells Beach Easter Classic in 1967. By the end of 1967 we Aussies en masse had fully ditched the longboard and all its trappings ... . That's at least six months before Brewer started cutting boards down."
First Class Marksman
Walking Man I
The top end of the auction market appears to be extremely buoyant with new record sale prices being set both in Australia and overseas.
On 25 March a Sidney Nolan painting of Ned Kelly went under the hammer for a record-breaking $5.4 million.
First Class Marksman, a 1946 painting of the legendary outlaw, smashed the previous $3.48m record set by by Brett Whiteley's The Olgas for Ernest Giles, which sold in 2007.
Meanwhile, a life-sized bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti has became the most expensive piece of art to ever sell at auction after it sold for more than £65million.
The 20th century artist's sculpture L'Homme qui marche I (Walking Man I) sold for almost four times its asking price after just eight minutes of bidding.
Its sale marked the first time that a Giacometti of its size had gone under the hammer in more than 20 years.
The previous record price for a work of art was for the Picasso painting, Garcon à la Pipe (Boy with a Pipe) which sold for $104million US (£58.5m) in New York in 2004 and which became the first $100million painting.
Honor Bradbeer is one of Dickerson Gallery's most promising emerging artists. Honor will stage her second solo show with the Gallery in May this year. Melbourne Gallery manager, Dave Hagger, recently sat down with Honor to talk about the upcoming show, her practice, and her art world connections.
DH: Your distinctive surname is well known within the art industry thanks to your artist uncle Godwin Bradbeer, who has been exhibiting here in Australia since the late 1960s. There have been a number of prominent Australian families that have produced multiple artists; none more so than the Boyd's, where generations of artists came from the one family name. Likewise with the Kngwarreye's and Petyarre families. Are the arts a common thread through the Bradbeer family?
HB: I like to think so, but we're a fairly young dynasty, so far! Godwin is the first to make a career in art, I'm the second. I have some cousins showing passion and promise, too. I do what I can to encourage them: as soon as there are even just three of us, I can stop being 'the Other Bradbeer'!
DH: Were you conscious of Godwin's achievements, or did you perhaps even aspire to follow suit as a young girl?
HB: I don't remember perceiving them as achievements when I was little. Drawing was just what he did, and it connected with what I liked doing most. I got it. If anything, the normalness of it was crucial. Many kids, I believe, don't have 'artist' on the list of things they could grow up to be. It's either discouraged or too-revered, too remote. I think I was privileged to grow up thinking of art as a job like any other. I wanted to be an artist as early as kindergarten, and my family took it seriously.
I also loved the spaces connected with what Godwin did. The largeness of the studios and galleries, the quality of the light and the smell of paper. His studios often doubled as party spaces on special occasions, too. My first experience of a wedding was Godwin's reception at his Smith Street studio when I was three. I idolised his wife; they had an exotic cake and I was allowed to stay up late dancing. Perhaps a part of me still associates artist's spaces with that sort of thrill.
DH: To have a mentor like Godwin must have been very handy for you as a student, especially in your formative years.
HB: Of course! Godwin has always been supportive and encouraging, and does me the kindness - and always has - of talking to me as a fellow artist. He has resisted teaching me though, except in formal situations. I had to enroll at RMIT to have that privilege!
DH: There are certainly similarities between your work, but then that could be said about many, related or not. Do you find it frustrating at times, having your work scrutinised and compared in relation to his?
HB: So far it has been more of a fear than a reality, but I try to use it as a challenge - a standard to work by. I don't mind our being compared as long as I'm not considered derivative. So far I have been spared that criticism, and quite rightly, I think. I am extremely conscious that my work must be excellent in its own right if it is to have any value at all. If anything, having Godwin ahead of me makes this even more important. I think his work is extraordinary, and it's good discipline for me, trying not to look shabby by comparison! But I am also determined not to veer away from my own interests in order to avert the charge of mimicry. Some of our concerns overlap, but I see those concerns to be more characteristic of our family's idiosyncratic atmosphere than specific to Godwin or myself. We have writers, doctors, ministers, teachers, musicians and lawyers amongst us, and if they were to turn their concerns into drawings I think there would be a strong family resemblance.
DH: In the past you told me that you and Godwin decided not to contact each other with regards to your work during the final years of study. Why was this so important to you?
HB: It wasn't so formal an agreement as that. As I have said, Godwin resists teaching me unless I turn up to one of his classes, and the Masters took me out of that context. He hasn't taught me since 2003, though we talk quite often. I think he is anxious not to over-influence me, but my sense of my own practice is actually much stronger than that. I certainly aspire to be as good as Godwin one day, but not to be like him.
Godwin came to see my work once during the three years of my Masters, and made only one criticism, "your blacks need to be blacker". Let me tell you, I have belly-ached over my blacks ever since. They are surprisingly elusive with ink!
DH: Throughout your studies, and in particular your Masters (RMIT) you focused intently on sacrality through the study of ordinary objects. By ordinary, I mean very a simple rag that you have used in the process of drawing, an egg, a pair of shoes even. How is it that these seemingly mundane objects form the foundation for your practice?
HB: It's as much a curiosity to me as to anyone. It was an unexpected deviation from my imagined path. I started out with the human figure, and still sometimes hope my inquiry will lead me to it again... But the human figure is so conceptually loud! What I have been looking for in the last few years are vessels for a kind of meditative engagement. As soon as I draw a human figure it's either clothed or unclothed, male, female, or androgynous, active or inert, of one racial type or another, making eye contact or not... every variable inspires an association or may be read as symbolic for something or other. It is very difficult to represent a human being in such a way that it communicates only its humanness. Objects are a little more straight-forward in this way, and the humbler they are, the better. The things to which we pay the least attention are, ironically, most readily identified for what they simply ‘are'. This sort of simple beingness is a subject of great fascination for me.
DH: So then, are you trying to create a dialogue between the viewer and the artwork that is, in a way, spiritual?
HB: Maybe a dialogue in whispers. When I draw these things - when the magic works! - it becomes an imaginative process of paring my own self back to its elemental nature, of lulling my chattering ego into silence so that the object and I can face each other as equals.
It's a rare sort of experience - especially elusive in everyday life - and it pleases me to imagine that someone else might encounter it in my drawings, once in a while.
DH: Fundamentally, the ground on which you work - paper - has become the most important tool for your drawings. What is it about paper that makes it so critically important to your practice?
HB: On a technical level, the properties of the paper I use really are critical to the process with which I draw. Different papers possess different qualities, and I need one that is tolerant to extreme saturation without buckling; strong enough to be scratched, rubbed back and abused in my various cruel ways; while thick enough to remain pure white beneath it all. At the same time it must be soft enough that its fibres can be lifted gently from the surface to reveal that underlying white, as well. To be honest, I've only found one paper that responds exactly as I need.
DH: I always imagined ink to be a very unforgiving medium to use; however looking closely at your work you can see just how tactile you are in your approach. It is as if you are working in reverse at times, building up through the tonal range to deep black and then rubbing back the surface to reveal the crisp white of the paper as your highlights. Is the physicality of the drawing process just as important as the image itself?
HB: Yes, it is at least as important. Indeed, on days when no subject presents itself as particularly worthy of drawing, the process itself can redeem an object that had seemed, at first glance, to have little value. Of course, with drawing, the paper retains evidence of its treatment, so there is a wonderful sense of the memory of the process being inherent in the finished work. Perhaps one day I will discard the training wheels of objects and freewheel my way into abstraction... But I'm not ready, yet.
DH: I have already mentioned the use of rags as a drawing instrument. What else do you use to apply the ink to the surface?
HB: I have a collection of Chinese brushes that I've accumulated over the years. They're marvelous things. Wolf hair and ox horn, mountain horse hair, goat hair and bamboo... They sound like a cross between a haiku and a witch's brew. Some I have been using for ten years or so, and many of them are in terrible disrepair, but it takes so long to feel comfortable with a new brush that I tend to favour the shabbiest ones.
DH: It is interesting to hear you call them drawings then, given that the brush plays such a large role in the creation of the image. What is it that distinguishes your drawings from, say the ink and wash paintings of East Asia, where the brush has also been the primary tool for hundreds of years?
HB: My first formal art tuition was in Chinese brush painting. It was a quirkof conscientious parenting and what was locally available in art classes. I took a weekly class for ten years, from the age of eight. My love and understanding of ink definitely came from this background, and I'm more comfortable with Chinese brushes than traditional Western ones.
As to calling my works drawings - well, they're a far cry from traditional Chinese painting, where no line should be drawn twice in the same place, nothing is erased, and the work is made with a clear mind, almost as an extension of meditation. Erasure is integral to my drawing process, the paper is treated with a mix of violence and tenderness, and every drawing is born of struggle. As you observed earlier, the paper is really my most important medium, and my engagement with it determines the success of each work. For this and many other reasons, I call my process drawing.
DH: I am particularly fond of Nicholas Harding's ink works. He laminates sheets of paper and tears back into it through the image creating texture and three-dimensional depth, as he does so with the heavily impastoed surface of his paintings. You tend to work through the layering of washes instead. Can you explain in more detail the process of drawing that you have adopted?
HB: Although mine is an unorthodox treatment of ink, the process is not unlike an erasure method quite commonly used with dry media, such as charcoal.
I usually begin with a mid-tone ink ground, which covers the page, and then erase areas back with a damp rag to describe light. The drawing is built with many washes, lines, erasures, scratches... It's very much a tug of war between light and dark, adding and erasing ink repeatedly until there's some sort of reconciliation between the two.
DH: Some of your works feature very fine details, such as a bowl of screws, fraying strands of a cloth or a feather. It must be incredibly difficult to control the ink using the tools that you do.
HB: I don't think there's much about drawing that isn't difficult! It's essential to me that I connect deeply with the process itself, so that the engagement overcomes the struggle, or at least makes it worthwhile. My painting teacher used to hold up a fat-bellied Chinese brush and say "you can draw an ant's leg with this!"
No-one ever thought to ask, "but why would you?" There is a sort of wonder and power in that defiance of the improbable. I don't think many artists are interested in making their process easier... Ask Nicholas Harding!
DH: Using such a limited colour palette and a preference for the 'ordinary' as your subject, it is clear that you are not so much interested in replicating what is actually there in front of you, but rather drawing attention to form in its purest sense.
HB: I'm not exactly sure what form in its purest sense would be. Certainly the way something manifests visually is integral to its representation in a drawing. But you are right: I am particularly fascinated by the very presence, or 'beingness', of things, and that influences the choices I make when I draw them. The 'ordinary' subjects interest me because, as I said before, I think it is possible to see them clearly, and not through the lens of hundreds of years of symbolic associations.
But I'm still young. I hope my abilty to see, understand and communicate things clearly will grow to overcome the power of that lens.
DH: How then, do you measure the success of a drawing?
HB: By how astonished I am that it came from my own hands!
If a work can transcend the clumsiness, futility and oddness inherent in the act of drawing, so that it seems to have its own raison d'être, it's a winner.
DH: Your last exhibition (2008) featured a bolt of cloth in many of the works. In some it appeared floating, in others falling through a black void. In one work there was a small hole torn in the centre. What was the significance of the cloth in these works?
HB: That series was uncharacteristically symbolic, for me. Actually, all of them had a hole torn in them, somewhere. I made them in response to the untimely death of a family friend. These things happen, of course, but it felt like an anomaly: as though he had slipped through a flaw in a fabric that binds us to life. When I brought this curious image to my work, it took on a monumental aspect I had not expected, and as a metaphor for that liminal territory between death and life it presented a lot of imaginative scope for me.
DH: And the black void?
HB: Your guess is as good as mine.
Spirit of Connections
The Water's Mark
Congratulations to Ben Smith - named a finalist in the Sulman Prize for his work, 'Even Cerberus has become doubtful'. The work is on display at the NSW Art Gallery until 30 May as part of the Archibald Prize exhibition.
Filomena Coppola has recently completed two commissioned works for the offices of the Shugg Group in Mildura. Interior designer, Pam Shugg, designed the interior specifically for the installation of major artworks.
A show of works by Gallery artist, Damon Kowarsky, has been held recently in Lahore. Called ‘Perdesi', the exhibition showcases works inspired during Kowarsky's 6 months in Lahore in 2007 during which he taught drawing, studied miniature painting and subsequently travelled through Pakistan and India. After exhibiting at Alhamra Art Gallery Kowarsky travelled to Karachi to conduct workshops in printmaking and drawing at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. Perdesi was made possible through the generous support of the Australian High Commission Islamabad.
An exhibition of photographs by John Witzig will be on show at the Grafton Regional Gallery until 25 April. The exhibition will feature icionic surfing images of the 1960s and 70s.
Congratulations to Jason Cordero for being named a finalist in the Glover prize - the richest landscape prize in Australia
Congratulations to Zai Kuang for being named a finalist in the 2010 City of Albany Art Prize
Katherine Bowman is exhibiting jewellery pieces in the exhibition 'Figment', part of the L'oreal Fashion Festival, at EG et Al, 167 Flinders Lane, Melbourne until 31 March.