Is Jenny Watson Australia’s equivalent to Tracey Emin? Watson is about a decade older; she is less concerned with listing everyone that she has ever slept with and more obsessed with horses, but shares Emin’s interest in punk and street culture, feminism, the conceptual dimension of art and the use of unconventional materials. Both artists are also fine draughtsmen in the conventional sense of the word, but choose to break the rules and cultivate an intense, awkward line.
These reflections on the art of Watson have been provoked by a substantial retrospective exhibition of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Jenny Watson: The fabric of fantasy is her largest show to date, with over 100 pieces spanning over 40 years and accompanied by an excellent catalogue largely written by the curator of the exhibition, Anna Davis.
Watson was born and trained in Melbourne, initially at the National Gallery School (subsequently known as the Victorian College of the Arts) and then spent a number of years travelling and living abroad, mainly in London, Paris and New York. She is quoted in the catalogue as saying, "I turned from the observation of the outside world to recording an inner space … I wanted to shatter the techniques I had learnt … to let a random uncontrollableness take hold of the work."
Jenny Watson, White horse with Telescope 2012, synthetic polymer paint on rabbit skin glue primed cotton. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery ©the artist.
Developing an interest in combining text and image; embracing techniques of collage and bricolage, and engaging with feminism and punk culture certainly gave her art of the 1980s and 1990s a sophistication and internationalism that was uncharacteristic for Australian art at the time and made it highly attractive to curators who wished to work on the international scene.
In Watson’s CV there is one entry that stands out from the rest: “1993 Jenny Watson, Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale”. To represent Australia at the Venice Biennale is the highlight of any artist’s career and Watson had that opportunity thrust upon her at the age of 42. The circumstances for her selection may not be relevant for us today, but she felt at the time, and has told me on a number of occasions, that it would have been better if this had occurred a bit later in her life. However, the chance was not to be missed.
Her exhibition at Venice, Paintings with Veils and False Tails, was quirky, unusual and controversial. Most of the oil paintings were of horses or girls with ribbons and false horsetails on red velvet and accompanied by inscriptions. One reads, “She realised she was in love with him after he visited the other girl for afternoon tea”, while another, “I feel like when Mum caught us smoking as kids”.
The combination of childish innocence, autobiography intertwined with fiction, adolescence and obsessions with horses, the “fab four” and pop culture of the 1960s, Twiggy and movie stars were part of the fabric that prepared the way for this significant exhibition.
Watson likes to think of herself as a rebel for whom a prohibition and a declaration that something cannot be done is sufficient incentive to try to do it – she is a compulsive rule breaker. Her major preoccupation in Venice was, in her words, “My decision to filter the life of a suburban girl through a conceptual lens [which] was a slow developing but key moment”. This remains a preoccupation throughout her art.
The other challenge that she has taken upon herself is not simply to succeed as an Australian artist, but as an artist on the world stage, who was born in Australia. The Venice Biennale gave her a brilliant platform from which to be picked up by international galleries.
Two of them did precisely that and Watson showed with some success and to some acclaim in Europe, America and Japan. Things generally came undone with the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/08 when sales largely evaporated and Australia and Australians once again became her primary market and audience.
Jenny Watson, I’ve got a dirty pig on my mind 2013 oil paint on cotton, grounded with rabbit skin glue frame.
Image courtesy the artist, Galerie Transit, Mechelen and Verlag für zeitgenössische Kunst und Theorie ©the artist Photograph: Bert de Leenheer.
Jenny Watson is, in some ways, a maverick artist in the Australian art scene. Although she is sometimes associated with Tracey Emin and Jenny Holzer through her extensive use of text, her strange and unconventional creations on cloth are immediately recognisable as uniquely her work.
Her love of the horses that surround her on her property in Samford, some 21 kilometres north west of Brisbane, keep her grounded, while her imagination still explores reality through the eyes of the little girl in the backblocks of Melbourne who sees and questions the structures of the physical world and its intersection with the world of the imagination.
Jenny Watson: The fabric of fantasy is at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney until 2 October.
Banner image: Detail from Jenny Watson’s The Pretty Face of Domesticity, 2014, oil and synthetic polymer paint on velvet striped shantung. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Transit, Mechelen ©the artist.
Julius Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald Prize finalists in recent years. If he wins, he'll be the youngest ever artist to take the prize.
By Sarah Hall
When third-year Victorian College of the Arts student Julius Killerby asked the former Essendon Football Club Chairman Paul Little to sit for a portrait, he did not expect to become a finalist in Australia’s most popular portraiture competition, the Archibald Prize. But, as was announced today, that's exactly what's happened.
“I sort of used the Archibald as an excuse to approach Little so I could paint his portrait,” said Killerby, who is currently working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) at the VCA. “I'm pretty surprised to find out it has made it into the finals – even though, of course, I was secretly hoping it would get picked.”
Killerby’s work will be judged alongside 43 finalists, including VCA Art alumnae Prudence Flint, Yvette Coppersmith, Sophia Hewson and Kate Beynon, former VCA Art staff Jon Campbell and current staff member Richard Lewer. At 22, Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald finalists in recent years. Should he win, he will be the youngest ever artist to take the prize (as it stands Nora Heysen is the youngest ever winner– who was 27 when she took the prize in 1938). The winner, to be announced on 28 July, will receive $100,000 and significant media recognition.
Killerby’s oil painting casts Little in shadows against a black background – indicative, possibly, of the dark times Little led the Essendon Football Club through in recent years.
Killerby described making it to the finals of the competition as a validating experience, and said his art was in tune with the style of the Archibald. “I don’t think I was compromising my work at all by entering it for consideration.”
Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw said she was delighted by Killerby’s inclusion in the prestigious competition.
“Julius has been diligently working on this portrait of Paul Little for a number of weeks,” she said. “He is such a generous and hardworking student, and has committed to making some serious gains in his work this year.”
Killerby’s art practice involves spending six to eight hours in the studio every day. “You can’t be an artist casually,” he told Precinct, likening the creation of a painting to a "slow battle".
Already an admirer of the work Little has done as a philanthropist and businessman, Killerby said it was important for him to get to know him on a more personal level before painting his portrait. They met in May this year and became acquainted before Killerby spent approximately 100 hours working on the oil painting in his studio at the VCA.
“I was just exceedingly happy to paint Little’s portrait regardless of the prize itself and really enjoyed the process,” he told Precinct.
“Becoming a finalist was just the cherry on the cake.”
Banner image: Olga Filonenko/ Flickr
The Archibald Prize is held annually at the Art Gallery of New South Wales You can see the work of the 2017 finalists on the Gallery of New South Wales’ website.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowships, worth $75,000, were awarded last night to four University of Melbourne graduates from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA & MCM).
Awarded biennially to theatre, music and visual arts graduates, the Fellowships were established in 1994 by the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE to enable young artists to travel and study overseas in the early stages of their careers.
Dame Murdoch’s granddaughter, Julie Kantor, presented the awards last night at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery on behalf of her grandmother, saying the Fellowships were created to help students become “artists of the world”.
“It seems to me, and certainly to my grandmother, that an essential feature of the artist at any stage in their career, is to find compelling means of creating a bridge between the private world of feeling and insight, and a public world that has an enormous need for inspiration and understanding,” Ms Kantor said.
“To understand this need and to refine one’s feeling and insight, my grandmother and grandfather believed that young artists need to be able to experience the world beyond the place of their study and residence.”
Dean of the VCA & MCM, Professor Barry Conyngham, said providing young artists with international travel opportunities was of benefit to Australian culture more broadly.
“Travel can provide emerging artists, musicians and performers with inspiration and connections that last well beyond the initial moment, and indeed continue to inform their creative development throughout their careers. As consumers of culture, we all stand to benefit from that,” he said.
The main $25,000 Prize for Visual Art, judged on the day by a panel comprising Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw, multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Mangan and Director of Gertrude Contemporary Mark Feary, went to Trent Crawford, who graduated from the VCA in 2016, for his video installation work Liquidity.
Crawford’s work, along with the other shortlisted works for the visual art fellowship, will be on display at the 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship Exhibition in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery (40 Dodds St, Southbank) until 5 August 2017.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship recipients are:
Trent Crawford, B. Fine Arts (Visual Art). Born 1995, Crawford lives and works in Melbourne. Interested in dissecting images and technology to explore them in a passive state, Crawford’s work focuses on entering the in-between moments in time where the subject or material exists in a state of lapse; often with its function usurped or absent. By disassembling, restructuring and repurposing new media, he calls to question how the framing devices of screens and filters are active in the construction, fragmentation and degeneration of the image. Award of $25,000.
Theatre (two recipients)
Leticia Cáceres, M.Dramatic Art (Direction). Cáceres has been lauded as one of the most exciting directing talents in the country. She was Associate Director at MTC from 2013 to 2015. She has also directed for Belvoir, La Mama, Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Opera House, La Boîte Theatre/Brisbane Festival, Melbourne Arts Centre, and Brisbane Powerhouse. She is the co-founder of nationally-acclaimed RealTV. Award of $15,000
Eugyeene Teh, M. Production (Design). Teh has worked with mainstage companies, earning him Green Room Award nominations for both his debut works; Endgame at MTC and Meme Girls at Malthouse. Last year, he worked on Straight White Men (MTC), In Between Two (Sydney Festival with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah), Lady Eats Apple (Back to Back Theatre) and Blaque Showgirls (Malthouse). Award of $15,000.
Troy Rogan, B. Fine Arts (Contemporary Music) (Hons). Rogan is a Melbourne-based composer, orchestrator and cellist, who brings his passion for making meaningful, engaging music to each project. He draws his inspiration from the art of storytelling, with a fascination of the parallel that various musical languages can impart. Award of $20,000.
Banner image: Trent Crawford with his video installation work Liquidity. Photo: Sav Schulman.
Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room is a one-day symposium featuring an impressive line-up of speakers and thinkers, chaired by the Victorian College of the Arts’ Dr Sean Lowry and the University of Adelaide’s Professor Jenny McMahon. We asked a handful of the participants to enlighten us on their philosophy on art.
By Sarah Hall.
Q: What would the world be like without art?
Answered by Rowan McNaught, MFA candidate, Victorian College of the Arts.
“Without art our physiologies would adapt to have gigantic eyes. They let too much light in. We can’t go near others because of the risk that they will elaborate an impossible darkness. But all the stuff that people have in their houses is really much more beautiful. Esperanto is a success but was not invented, and June Huh cannot prove the Rota conjecture despite his best efforts. There is the same number of wars. In our dreams we can see figures from history but only as they rush by, wearing the clothes of today, made of technical materials."
Q: What role does art have beyond aesthetics?
Answered by Sophie Takách, Monash Art, Design and Architecture.
“Art has the potential to exceed; to exceed appearances, exceed expectations, exceed habitual responses. It can (and should) affect our way of thinking about possibilities and reality, make us feel the world.
“Art can bring us closer to the world, to materials and forces. It is possible that this affect is reached through aesthetic appeal, and I believe there is no reason that art should distance itself from aesthetics in pursuit of meaningfulness. On one hand, if it is only about looking, and not feeling or thinking, art can be too easily consumed and assimilated, lessening its power. On the other hand, if there is nothing in art to invoke sensation, how does it reach beyond the narrow confines of an already interested audience?
“The power of art to effect change in the world is through an intensification of sensation, by commanding attention, by engaging with people. I believe that the role art has in the world is to break established habits of consumption and action, and by doing away with established notions of beauty in the pursuit of the new it is possible to define a new aesthetics. So art does not leave aesthetics behind by going beyond them, instead it pushes aesthetics before itself as a cresting wave.”
Q: How does studying art help or hinder our understanding of it?
Answered by Dr Sean Lowry, Conference convenor, Head of Critical and Theoretical Studies in Art, Victorian College of the Arts.
“Art education can radically extend expectations for ‘understanding’ art.”
Q: Does an artwork still exist if nobody is there to appreciate it? Why?
Answered by Dr Kate Just, Graduate Coursework Coordinator, VCA Art, Victorian College of the Arts.
"My work's engagement with people is central to its purpose. However, a work of art can also exist or emerge as a gesture of love and devotion. An act of love does not need to be seen or reciprocated in order to exist. It can just emanate."
Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room takes place on 11 July, 2017, 9.30am–5pm, at Federation Hall, Southbank, Melbourne. Free event, but booking is essential. More details.
Main image: 03 Immanuel Kant 03, by Willie Sturges. Flickr.
On July 6, 2017, Richard Frankland, Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development at the University of Melbourne, will be performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre with The Letter String Quartet. Ahead of the show, Richard was interviewed for, and performed songs on, Radio National's Books and Arts program.
In the words of Michael Cathcart, the host: "He's worked as a soldier, a fisherman, a field officer during the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. These days we know him as an author and playwright and filmmaker, an activist, an academic, a musician ..." The list goes on. You can listen to the full audio of Richard's interview below.
Image: Richard Frankland performs at Wilin Week, 2016. By Jorge de Araujo.
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Find out more about the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development.
On 15 June 2017, on the eve of the opening of the Victorian College of the Arts' landmark 9 X 5 NOW exhibition, Curator Dr Elizabeth Gower and participating 9 X 5 NOW artist Tai Snaith spoke with RRR Smartarts presenter Richard Watts about the show.
More than 300 visual artists have contributed original works for the exhibition, which runs from 16–25 June at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Southbank, Melbourne. Proceeds from the sale of the works, most of which will be sold for between $500 and $1,500, will go to establishing the new ART150 Fellowship to support emerging artists.
Image: David Rosetsky's 9 X 5 NOW work. LYV (partial version). C-type photo collage.
New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist Kirsty Budge is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, recipient of the 2014 Stirling Collective Award for Painting and recent nominee for the 2017 Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize. This month, she will exhibit alongside more than 300 contemporary artists in the landmark 9 X 5 NOW exhibition.
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