The Exhibition

I have been living in the mountains for about 3 years now, and it would be fair to say that I know very little about the place that continues to surprise and enchant me. It is a work in progress, and it is interesting to see what other people encounter when they visit briefly or live extensively in the mountains.

The Exhibition, which is currently showing at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba, is a celebration of various works that capture some of the elements of the mountains and mountain life. It is the first showing of the gallery’s own collection and is a sample from over 90 significant artworks by local and Australian artists.

One of the original tourist attractions, Jenolan Caves, is featured in 5 canvases by Evan Macleod. The painting tracks the scale of the caves, ascending from the depths of the caves into the light. There is a series of 14 artworks consisting of various well-known spots in the mountains by Peter Kingston. These pieces capture the essence of many familiar places including Leura, Katoomba, Mt Wilson and the Hydro Majestic. I particularly enjoyed the beanied dog travelling on the Scenic Railway.

Another highlight was the portrait of Jenny Kee by Scott Marr. This is a fittingly vivid portrayal using pyrography and natural pigments on paper, honouring her love of the Australian landscape and devotion to Buddhism. There is also the portrait of Kee in the 2015 Archibald Exhibition showing in the gallery.  ‘Wollangambe Wilderness’ by John Caldwell was memorable, capturing the mountain landscape in a dark mix of blues, greens and greys, along with the crisp portrayal of rocks and vegetation. There is a rolling storm gathering around the mountains, true to life.

Four of Andrew Merry’s photographs are on display, and my eyes were drawn to the Casino Cupola of the Hydro Majestic. It is a magnificent photo of the iconic dome, and I was interested to read that it was captured using a cherry picker during very specific atmospheric and lighting conditions, 18 metres off the ground. Merry was the official photographer during the Hydro’s recent extensive renovations. His other photos depicted storms, sunlight and the devastation of scorched earth following bushfires. I also really enjoyed four pieces from the Black and Blue exhibition. This was a collaboration of artists and writers portraying stories, real and imagined, in visual and written form.

All of the pieces meet the selection criteria of excellence, relevance, value and ability to celebrate the cultural identify of the Blue Mountains.

How is the cultural identity of your neighbourhood displayed?

[Photo: Katoomba outlook from the viewing platform at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre]

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The Archies are @ Katoomba

It is fantastic how some of the exhibitions in our national and state art galleries are encouraged to roam around the countryside. Of course it is far more strategic than that with months, if not years, of planning required to share some of the amazing work and collections with people in regional areas. These touring exhibitions bring amazing talent to people who may otherwise not have the chance to see them or to experience the transformative moments that come with experiencing something different.

I was delighted when I found out that the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition was making its final regional tour stop at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. I had seen the national portrait prize a few times when I lived in Sydney, and had been an ambassador at the Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo when the 2009 exhibition of the award finalists came to visit. The winner that year was Guy Maestri’s portrait of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu which was incredible. Other highlights included Brandon by Vincent Fantauzzo and Jan Williamson’s portrait of Nancy Kunoth Petyarr. As an ambassador, it was an experience not only to be able to walk around the exhibition to assist as required, but to hear people’s impressions of the artwork as they experienced it first hand.

At the opening on Friday night, Jacquie Riddell from the Art Gallery of NSW gave an interesting overview of the history of the Archibald Prize. She also spoke of how this year’s prize was about to open, and that the gallery was expecting about 1000 entries. The paintings arrive upon a variety of transport methods, from cars, vans and bikes to mules. Well, okay, perhaps not mules. But the competition is intense, the quality of work and array of portraiture methods extensive. And the gallery smells different during this time – all the fresh artwork gathering together, pending the judgement of the board.

The work of the finalists is a staggering scope of artistic talent and method. I do not pretend to know anything about art – I like to look but have no dialect for methods and styles. All I can note is my reaction to the work which is typical of how subjective art is for everyone. The luminosity of the portrait of Michael Caton by Bruno Jean Grasswill stayed with me, and even when I moved away from the painting I had to look back and see it again. The creativity behind Paul Ryan’s portraits of Noah Taylor (Thirteen Noahs), employing a collection of paintings and pictures and even table tennis paddles gathered at op shops and the like as the background to the work really appealed. The winning portrait Judo house pt 6 (the white bird) of Charles Waterstreet by Nigel Milsom was mesmerising – particularly the hands and face. One of my favourites was Paul Kelly as painted by Jason Benjamin. The artist’s notes included how he tried a couple of approaches before painting PK as a landscape. That is another aspect of getting out and seeing art up close – you can find out more, understand a little better what has influenced the artist in the act of creation.

The exhibition is on at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre until July 24 and is well worth the outing. Also check out The Exhibition, a sample of the gallery’s own collection which I’ll write about in a future post.

How often do you get to wander around an inspirational exhibition?

[Photo: Blue Mountains Cultural Centre from viewing platform – the Carrington Hotel forms the backdrop]

Beneath the surface

The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre at Katoomba is an amazing space. Located beside the equally fantastic Blue Mountains City Library  in Parke Street, above the Coles/Village complex, the site offers a wide variety of exhibitions and resources along with a great cafe and gift shop. And the outlook from the viewing platform is spectacular.

The current exhibitions include Mapspace and Hayley West’s Remnants of the dead and demands on the living.  The West exhibition is defined as an artistic inquiry into death rites, a contemplation of life and loss, a reimagining of objects and memories. A range of media is used to highlight the transformation of objects; their role and importance change over time as they are passed on to the next custodian. This transformation is often shown as cathartic, ‘a way to sit with grief’. 

One of the aims of the exhibition is to raise the level of death literacy through arguing that by being informed and prepared for death, this knowledge is in turn empowering not only for ourselves but for others.

Grief can be difficult to display in our society. The visible signs of grief are seldom on show; there are no widow’s weeds or black armbands to demonstrate to others that you are grieving. There was a podcast about this last year on Earshot (Radio National) which outlined how it was challenging at times not only to reveal that you were grieving, but also how to signal that you were ready to return to the world. Another interesting podcast on this matter was an interview earlier this year with Airdre Grant on her book, Stumbling Stones. Grant is able to articulate the wild despair that can accompany loss, the sense that everything that mattered so much before the loss subsequently barely matters at all.

West’s exhibition offers some insights into how objects can be transformed to help with the process of grieving and of acceptance. It is thought provoking and despite the gravitas of the subject, it offers hope.

[Photo: Hoskins Memorial Presbyterian Church (Uniting Church of Australia), Bridge Street, Lithgow]