TRADITIONS of body decoration and ornament across Australia's Indigenous cultures show great variety, from the ephemeral ochre body-painting of ceremony to the life-long marks of cicatrices (ritually applied scars).
Off northern Tasmania, Aboriginal women have always harvested shells in the waters of Bass Strait to make body adornments and Lola Greeno: Cultural Jewels, at Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, showcases the exquisite sculptural jewellery that marks the fusion of this tradition and contemporary art practice.
While the rare pearlescent green mariner shells are synonymous with the Cape Barren Island-born artist's name, Cultural Jewels shows the range of Greeno's raw materials, from abalone and mussel shells to kelp, echidna quills and possum fur.
This is the eighth in the Object Gallery's series of Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft and Greeno's work is well-worthy of the focus. A short film shot by Indigenous artist Julie Gough that gives insight into the process of shell collecting and shell-working traditions is a lovely inclusion.
Greeno makes exceptionally beautiful, inspiring pieces but these gems are somewhat lost within the overly designed display cases and text, innovative and practical as they may be for a touring exhibition.
I missed the well-received Your Collection: the extended version at Lake Macquarie, but there is evidence of its impact in After Your Collection, in which four artists exhibit works made from their residencies during the previous show.
Hannah Batty and Aaron Bellette's abstractions are geometric and organic respectively, and the intrigue here is to guess at the original inspirations. Rachel Milne's accomplished oil-paintings feature local art figures as well as artworks as their subject, while Dale Collier continues his fascination with redundant photographic technologies. Curiously, each artist is very much in signature style, raising questions about the nature of residencies and external influences.
- FINISHING tomorrow, Michael Bell's Studio Head at Art Systems Wickham is populated with happy heads, hands, feet and dogs in his recurrent inventory. A delightful series of graphite drawings do however betray a new love: the fish-tank. Bell, who has an impressive exhibition history in Newcastle and Sydney and has taught for years at the Newcastle Art School, comes across as a natural optimist with an eye for funk.
The exhibition is a great counterpart to Krazy Kunst at Maitland Regional Art Gallery, which features individual works and printmaking collaborations with Berlin-based Menno Fahl. Sculptural assemblages by the latter are bold three-dimensional examples of German expressionism and for both artists colour, form and a sense of creative dialogue animate their works.
- A GRADUATE of the University of Newcastle, Ellie Hannon has recently returned from three years living in south-east Asia. Her show, Traces, at Newcastle Art Space is a visual treat.
Smaller scaled circular paintings - or tondo to borrow the Renaissance term - are reinforced by a set of larger works on canvas. Botanical detail pattern adds complexity to what is a colourist's paradise.
Strength and potential such as this is what the Newcastle Emerging Art Prize is committed to supporting. NAS is calling for 2015 entries, due on September 7.
Also at NAS are appealing urban images by Damien Slevin. He has previously shown smaller-scaled works drawing on local watering holes and feeding dens but Windows reaches further for subject matter, with paintings made in Paris, Tokyo and Montreal. Slevin's interest in the work of water-colourist Joseph Zbukvic is revealing, as his work has the lightness and sparkle of watercolours, with the richness of oil paintings.
- STUDENTS of the University of Newcastle Art Gallery's School of Built Environment are strutting their stuff at the University Gallery, finishing today.
In Subversive Representation, Ian Wyn Owen, Michael J. Ostwald and Nicholas Charles Foulcher present witty interpretations of modernist and post-modern architectural icons making some clever pastiches of major works by the likes of Frank Gehry. Also showing is Harpeet (Neena) Mand's Neel Raga, a poetic photographic installation celebrating the use of blue in the city of Jodhpur.