LAKE Macquarie City Art Gallery's celebration of Higher School Certificate visual arts students is now in its seventh year, and First Class 14 is, like previous years, full of heartfelt works and inventive approaches to subject matter.
Identity is the primary theme but it is explored through the social, cultural, personal and political challenges facing this young generation.
Aside from the expression of empathy for difference, and pleas for tolerance, the diverse approaches are inspiring: beautifully rendered and well crafted, from traditional drawing media and found objects to sophisticated digital technologies, there is evidence of focus and visual thinking.
Singling out works in a field of 39, selected from 125 submissions across the Hunter and Central Coast, is challenging, as each has its own character and integrity.
Combing the beaches, Amy Bruce's flotsam and jetsam Cloudstreet installation in relationship with Matthew Turner's impressive balsa-wood Suburban Monsters is just one of the many subtle visual cues suggested by curators Ann Caddey and Belinda Howden.
If Memphis Bourne Blue's name isn't enough to achieve art fame, his careful drawing and sense of justice may be.
Jiping Feng also makes bold use of the composite drawing method to address issues of difference, a theme eloquently portrayed in photographic portraits by Phoebe Metcalfe.
Kate William's use of installation and film to explore the dream-state is engaging, while Jake Murgatroyd's ironic response to war monuments suggest he will find plenty of material as 2015 commemorates the Anzac centenary.
Official war artist Ben Quilty campaigned hard for clemency in the case of death-row inmates Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, whom he met when he gave art classes in the Bali prison.
The focus at Lake Macquarie presents a handful of familiar works, from skulls and Captain Cook Rorschach or "mirror" canvases to his Torana car imagery and a DVD documentary featuring recent work. One of Australia's most well-known artists, Quilty takes his social conscience with him; his paintings of Australian soldiers which revealed post traumatic stress disorder have been something of an embarrassment to the government, another heroic act on Quilty's part.
- HUNTER Street west of Auckland Street remains a difficult strip. Number 451, a Renew Newcastle venue, briefly occupied as Snake Nation, is now host to Wakarla Studio/Ann Snell Gallery.
The husband and wife team (Jason Coulthard also sells his work at Olive Tree Markets), are hoping to build on their 10-year success selling Aboriginal art in Surry Hills.
With a collection of North Queensland and Central Australian paintings and a limited range of top-end sculptural and craft objects alongside Coulthard's T-shirts, there are a few nice surprises here, such as Shaun Edward's pastel drawing, Saaten River Woomera.
- OPENING a gallery anywhere is always a risk, but Ahn Well's Gallery 139 opposite Nanshe in Beaumont Street is well placed for passing foot-traffic. Wells has pulled in lots of old friends (and likely a few new ones), to fill her inaugural exhibition, BEGINNINGS.
This optimistically and literal titled show holds over 70 works, many interesting and mostly small in scale.
A surreal Pablo Tapia from circa 2007 expresses the kind of magic I referred to recently in this column. Rob Cleworth's painted head is intriguing, and I continue to hope Newcastle will see a solo exhibition from the Lake Macquarie curator.
Mathew Tome's diode inspired paintings are consistent but lacking voltage, while Grant Keene's ceramic pun on the teapot is earthy, elegant and witty, offset by Catherine Tempest's striking, linear digital print.
- FINISHING tomorrow at Art Systems Wickham is another first in the impressive solo exhibition by Hannah Batty.
New Zealand-born and fine arts trained at Canterbury University, Batty's love of meditative drawing processes sees her urban-inspired geometric grids form striking graphic motifs.
These are most compelling in her one-off, hand and machine cut aluminium wall pieces and light-box work, though her mandala-styled drawings on paper have their own black and white charm.