Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Assimilated Artist

The story of one of Queensland’s first contemporary aboriginal artist is currently on show at the Queensland Art Gallery. Joe Rootsey: Queensland Aboriginal Painter 1918-63 is open until the 26th of September. The exhibition showcases the life and art of Joe Rootsey from 1954 when he was discovered as a patient sketching in Cairns Base Hospital, until he died in 1963.

(Cape Melville lava rocks) 1958
Image: Queensland Art Gallery

The work in the exhibition was greatly impacted by the political context of the time. His contemporary and European approach to his landscapes greatly reflects the cultural ban on customs and practices of aboriginal people in the time of Assimilation. This policy had a dramatic effect on the indigenous population of Australia who not only ultimately lost some of their past and heritage, but also the connection with their home and their ‘country’ which is a huge part of the Aboriginal ethos.

Working in this political context his landscapes, although lacking in any traditional aesthetics, still reflect his culture through his connection with the land. This connection with his heritage in a time when practicing Indigenous culture was forbidden is a defining feature of Rootsey as an artist and is something the exhibition doesn’t duly bring to light.

After traveling to Brisbane in 1958 to receive technical training in watercolour painting his works become more confident and coherent and the vibrant colours and passion for his subject matter is articulated in his landscapes. The works, although individually beautiful, are quite similarly composed with the viewer continually looking down on the landscape from a higher plane. These repeated viewpoints result in the works blending in with each other making the exhibition unexciting.

(Eastward from Bathurst Head) 1958
Image: Google Images

A different curatorial approach that directly looked at the indigenous cultural context of his assimilation driven art practice would have benefited the exhibition. As this would have provided a more insightful understanding of Rootsey’s landscapes, accentuating the underlying melancholy of his works as an attempt to hold onto something that was in jeopardy of being lost forever.

Regardless of the success of the exhibition it is still celebrating the amazing story of an incredible man through his art and is well worth taking a look at.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Edward Woodley at Nine Lives

Walk into Nine Lives Gallery at the moment and expect to be overwhelmed by 'Surface Tension', the new exhibition from Sydney based artist, Edward Woodley.

Physically overwhelming is one feeling arising from the exhibition, upon walking into the space you are visually hit in the face with what appears to be a massive billboard, taking up the entire wall, from floor to ceiling. The first glance of the work leads you to believe it is one giant work, however once your eyes get over the first initial shock, you process what you are looking at is numerous works pieced together in a grid like fashion. Each separate  piece of the grid is a fragmented brand or logo, some are manipulated in colour and are not entirely mimetic to their original representations, but they retain the fundamental font of the brand.

It is interesting Woodley entitled this exhibition  'Surface Tension'; it seems such an appropriate name for the tension which arises out  of identification. This makes the work mentally overwhelming, it challenges the viewer to contemplate the process, to mentally piece together the fragments.  Rol' becomes Rolo, 'okies'; Pokies and 'Chee'; Cheetos. It is evidence against anyone who claims advertising has no affect on them.

But what exactly are you buying? The work is not just straight undiluted advertising, it plays on your preferences. Like Andy Warhols Campbell Soup Cans it poses the question, do you purchase a work for aesthetic taste or make a selection according to your preference for a particular brand? It is an interesting concept. Edward Woodley is exhibiting 'Surface Tension' at Nine Lives Gallery until September 14th.

Bonne journée