By Kylie Eastley
Each year the Glover Prize interests and delights with its incredibly diverse collection of works that hang on the unassuming white walls of the Evandale show pavilion. It’s Australia’s richest landscape art prize and every few years it seems to attract controversy and derision when the winner is announced. 2012 is one of those years. Before we get into that I want to talk about a few of the works that struck a chord with me.
Each year I find paintings that I love, I hate and I feel indifference towards. While I could have reflected on most of them I have selected a few to discuss in more detail. The 43 entries ranged from photorealism to abstract and everything in between and I am drawn to so many of them for so many different reasons.
Paul Snell’s Lull #201201 is a large rectangular lambda* print on metallic paper. Hung in the traditional landscape format this is an abstract work with high gloss lush green blocks of colour book ending thin strips of contrasting colour which is positioned centrally. This work leaps from the wall and creates a beautiful sense of landscape and lusciousness.
Death’s Dominion by Tony Sowersby received my vote for the people’s choice because of the many layers within the work; the irony and the sadness. This is a bold acrylic painting that captures a suburban scene; the tops of hedges and a house. Powerlines follow the horizontal lines of the work, while to the right is a single statue; a war memorial. Set against the white billowing clouds is this lonely soldier with his head hung. He seems superfluous and invisible against everyday life and has almost faded into the background.
The intricate detail of Robyn Mayo’s A Kelp Basket on a Path to Rocky Cape is incredible and admirable. It’s a watercolour on satin paper, but the fine line work and details are reminiscent of a fine line pen or pencil drawing.
Many paintings including Michaye Boulter’s In the Distance and Glenn Miller’s vividly coloured Bay of Fires celebrate the seascape, while others convey a more poignant message about the state of our environment. The message is obvious in Matthew Quick’s Catch 22. It is an underwater scene with a bed of coral and a school of fish swimming through the clear blue water. However, the fish are those that frequent our boxes of sushi; namely the small plastic soy sauce dispenses. The little red noses eke their way through the pristine waters; an obvious comment on ocean pollution.
While some entries follow more closely to Glover’s approach to landscape painting, others use a variety of colours, techniques and materials to convey a sense of place and environment. Jamin, or Benjamin Kluss to some, creates an enigmatic work titled Monalalia; a portrait of MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) using sandpaper and glue on wood. Nabowla by Jane Tangney is almost abstract, with a series of confident and well positioned blocks of oil paint that create a sense of space and solitude.
And finally, there is the winner of this year’s prize, Port Arthur by Rodney Pople. With all the media attention I expected to see an ostentatious, pompous creation sitting central in the room. What I found was a work that was understated and humble in both its position and its demeanour. This is a dark, ominous oil painting that depicts what was once the Port Arthur prison. In the foreground is the bay, the water lapping at the dense grasses that once saw the blood of thousands of murdered aborigines and standing to one side is a figure. At first glance this could have been a red coat or a prison guard, but in this case it is the clouded figure of Martin Bryant, the man convicted of killing 35 people in the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. The painting has a murkiness about it that is reminiscent of old family paintings pulled from derelict houses or dusty attics. The landscape, in both its construction and colour, is a mixture of English colonialism and Australian bush. The brooding dark grey clouds and tiny glimmers of cold light combine to capture a mood; the dark depressing past of this place that has seen such misery.
Without going into too much detail there is the rule of thirds approach which teaches that by positioning a subject two thirds to the right or left in a painting an artist can create greater tension and interest. Some have argued that by Pople placing Bryant in this position he has drawn attention to the figure; intentionally sensationalizing the work. It is possible that Pople took this approach; however, if you observe other of his paintings you can see this is a technique he, and many other painters and photographers, often use. This would suggest that this decision was one which came naturally to this accomplished painter and was not an intentional ploy for notoriety.
Art, film, music and literature is strewn with stories and characters that depict or resemble real life criminals and tragedy. Is it a case of censoring such discussion through the arts? Or is it better to be open to such depictions and discussion? I guess, just like our taste in art, it is a very personal thing. But in the words of one of the many hundreds of those commenting via Facebook...Ben (you know who you are)
‘I still don’t like talking/thinking about Port Arthur. That’s why it’s a good painting’
This year the 2012 Glover Prize has delivered a series of thought provoking, humorous and delicious works that continue the legacy of Tasmanian artist John Glover, who perhaps throughout his own career had both admirers and critics. The drawcard for this exhibition is in its boldness and diversity, two qualities that are sure to maintain the appeal and relevance to artists and audiences in the future.
*Lambda prints are produced using three coloured lasers (red, green and blue) and exposing directly on to conventional photographic paper which is then processed in the same manner as the traditional photographic print by developing in "wet" chemistry. Lambda is the name of the machine these prints are produced on. The prints are often called C-type or digital C-type. (http://www.troikaeditions.co.uk/information/glossary)