Saturday, July 30, 2011

Masterworks From Three Centuries

An August full of Nuance, Whimsy  - and Menace.
STILLS Gallery have entered the new month with an exhibition"Artificial Spacial Systems" by Paul Adair, inspired by his 2009 residency in Los Angeles. This might suggest Adair has returned to Australia filled with the joy of art theory, and with the pictures to grimly prove it. Fortunately  there is an innate desire in Adair's deceptively simple pictures to entertain and sometimes confound the
viewer's perceptions, as in his earlier work, "Basketball 2008" (pictured, right). A.S.S. (as Stills Gallery has called Adair's new show) promises to reveal a further evolution of this photographer's vision. Until September 3 STILLS Gallery are also showing "Plant Life" and "Precarious", an exhibition and film by artist Merilyn Fairskye that explore the aftermath, a quarter of a century later, of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. After recent events in Japan, this exhibition will have special significance. Also until September 3.
At Point Light Gallery, Enrico Scotece has curated "Shadow Play", featuring the black and white photographs by eleven photographers (all traditionally printed on fibre-based paper) that explore moments more inferred than spelled out. Looking at Tony Sillavan's "Dark Wind" (pictured, left) with its corrugated waves of wind blown grass, I thought immediately (though I admit somewhat laterally) of French writer Francois Mauriac's description of bleak rural France in his 1927 novel, "Therese Desqueyroux"  Until August 21
Australian & International Photography in Sydney
Photograph by Carol Jerrems

Photograph by David Potts

Now fully resettled in a former bank building in Anzac Parade, Kensington, the Josef Lebovic Gallery are currently showing an extensive selection of Australian and International photography from the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries. Josef Lebovic has long had a penchant for photography's first century and this exhibition is no exception, with extensive portfolios depicting life in Australia, especially, during photography's absolute infancy. It is the 20th century work, however, that shows a series of strong calibrations of the muscular new art form in this country - with works by David Potts (pictured, right) David Moore, Max Dupain, Roger Scott, William Yang, Josef Vissel and a photographer with a distinctive way of seeing and style of printing - Melbourne's enigmatic Robert Besanko. (pictured, below left) This photographer has a unique visual signature, especially when portraying the female form and once an image of Besanko's is seen, it lodges stubbornly in memory - ever sculptural and alluring. Another Melbourne enigma, the late Carol Jerrems, is represented by one of her, and Australian photography's finest portraits, especially of a woman - "Lynn" (pictured, above left) I confess this picture of a confident, intense young Australian woman resonated with me so strongly that in 1994 I selected it as the catalogue cover image for "Critic's Choice", a personal survey of the Art Gallery of NSW Photography Collection that I curated at the time.It's wonderful to see it again in Josef Lebovic's gallery. (in the spirit of full disclosure I should also declare that as a photographer, I am represented by the Josef Lebovic Gallery) Until August 13.
Australian Talent Flowered in Manhattan, Long Ago.
Swimsuit advt, 1951 Photograph: Anton Bruehl 
Anton Bruehl was born to immigrant German parents in Naracoorte, South Australia in 1900, and emigrated to the United States nineteen years later. Coming from a country where his German father, a skilled Physician, Surgeon and Opthalmologist, effectively lived and practiced his profession under the political cloud of being a possible German sympathizer, it is perhaps not surprising that Bruehl, with his brother Martin, travelled to the United States to find a new life, and eventually, a new home for their parents. However, within a decade Bruehl had transformed his own life, turning a hobbyist interest in photography into a profession where he pioneered an elegant, graphic and for the times, erotic use of colour photography in magazines. After initially getting work as as an electrical engineer, Bruehl saw an exhibition by the students of legendary U.S. photographer Clarence H. White at the NY Art Centre that would change his life. "My hobby had (also) emigrated and I read ... books and attended exhibitions," he recalled in Gael Newton's book 'In The Spotlight'"I found it (White's Student Exhibition) very impressive." Bruehl sought out White and persuaded the eminent photographer to teach him privately. Nothing if not decisive, the next day Bruehl took six month's leave from his employers, Western Electric, and determined "to try for a full time career in photography". He never went back. How brilliantly the young Australian succeeded is on exhibition in the National Gallery of Australia  touring exhibition "Anton Bruehl - Into The Spotlight", at Melbourne's elegant Monash Gallery of Art until September 11. Bruehl would master not only the technical demands of large format colour photography for reproduction (he would work extensively for pioneering magazine publisher Conde Nast) but would develop a style of photo illustration for advertising, that in hindsight, shows some kinship for the affectionate portrayal of Americal life employed by illustrator Norman Rockwell. The difference with Bruehl was in his portrayal of women. Using elegant, sometimes surprisingly explicit nudity, the charming young Australian produced subtly coloured images that eschewed sentimentality and, at their best, gave their subjects unmistakable erotic appeal. When one photograph (pictured, above left) of model Ruth Corlett, quite obviously nude and wearing only a bright red, circular hat, was deemed too risque for the US Postal Service and moved from the cover of U.S. VOGUE to inside the magazine, Corlett drily protested, defending its tastefulness, as Gael Newton noted, saying, "(but) I was adequately clad in Mr. Bruehl's best shadows."
Beneath Bruehl's elegant colour fantasies and his complex theatrical tableaux, there was also yet another photographer waiting - capable of mastering austere, beautifully exposed and printed observations of society - specifically, a series of images which Bruehl made in Mexico, and which he then published in luxuriant, finely reproduced book form. Photographs of Anton Bruehl at the peak of his career reveal a handsome young man apparently enjoying life by taking playful, yet professional delight in the elegance and beauty of his subjects. This exhibition is not to be missed. Until September 11 and afterwards in January 2012 at the Queensland University of Technology Art Museum.
TAKE - A Fine New Avenue for Australian Photography
Austalian photographers now have a new, well reproduced and designed magazine in which to showcase their photography. TAKE magazine. Part of a stable of magazines which also includes the excellent, provocative  art magazine EMPTY, TAKE will be published twice a year and offers a series of portfolios of fine, contemporary Australian and International photography. Once again, seen en masse, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that photography in this country produces some remarkably individual visions - such as those of Adam Ferguson, Lisa Wiltse, Martin Mischkulnig, Jessica Tremp and David Flanagan.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Two remarkable exhibitions that have since closed but which should not be forgotten are Prudence Murphy's "Boys with Guns", an exploration of boys and their traditional obsession with playing games featuring guns, (pictured, above) and seen recently at the Monash Gallery of Art and Ella Dreyfus's remarkable colourist visions "To See Beyond What Seems To Be", recently shown at Articulate Project Space (pictured, above right) in Sydney. Both artists are difficults to categorise, with Murphy showing her series of droll observations of young boys playing with weapons - while Dreyfus, well known for her portraits and unsentimental, brutally honest nudes, showed a series of seductive images suffused with colour, but little defining detail. Looking at her photographs I thought immediately of two artists from  very different centuries - J.M.W. Turner with his vistas overwhelmed by colour and suppressed definition; and Lloyd Rees, whom I photographed in 1982.(pictured, right) With his fading eyesight, Rees (1895-1988) was reduced, as he diligently rolled his sleeves up to paint every day, to creating a wan Impressionism.
POST SCRIPT for "Boys With Guns"
When looking at the seemingly trivial domestic vistas in which Prudence Murphy's young subjects play out their fantasies, I was drawn to thoughts of the recent ghastly mass atrocity in Oslo, and reminded myself that it was perpetrated by an open-faced, handsome young man, nourished, we are told, by fear, prejudice, a love of guns and the explicit, mimetic games he played incessantly on his computer.
Text Copyright 2011 Robert McFarlane

1 comment: