ELS van Baarle is an artist with a long and distinguished history as one of the founding influences in the development of today's dyed and embellished art textiles. She has taught and exhibited all over the world, absorbing many cultural influences and developing innovative techniques.
Her works at Timeless Textiles, until October 11, reflect a lifetime's accumulation of processes and experiences in densely layered fabrics, richly dyed, often with textual constructs, overprinted with cultural references.
These include blocks of newsprint and many maps and town plans invoking everyday means of communication. That they are unreadable and out of context suggests a contemporary irony, where once vital information has become decoration, underlining the evolution of functional sewing skills into a very popular outlet for abstract creativity.
As the success of Newcastle's specialist textile gallery demonstrates, yesterday's necessity to darn, sew and patch has become today's creative pastime.
Art takes many forms, but inherent in work with textiles is often a dedication to long, meditative processes, building up surfaces, incorporating repurposed materials, providing new context for vestiges from the past. Els van Baarle's works are densely layered in cultural complexity.
- DISPLAY boxes fixed to the walls of the Newcastle Art Gallery are an appropriate means to display the porcelain bottles, bowls and mugs of master potter Kirsten Coelho. They concentrate the eye on the crisp silhouettes of these pale pristine objects, while inevitably suggesting the arrangement of utensils on traditional kitchen shelves.
Nostalgia plays a role. These ostensibly functional objects are made from clay, but strongly invoke the eggshell surfaces and familiar forms of the enamel vessels of the pre-plastic age. The glaze may have the hard grace and perfect sheen of those mugs, jugs and candlesticks, but a hint of slippage suggests the chipped rims of long use, the prized rubbish-tip finds of Rosalie Gascoigne.
Kirsten Coelho worked in Britain for many years, but now has her studio in Adelaide, where ceramics is one of the art forms proudly fostered by the Jam Factory.
Several of her distinctive white vessels are in the Newcastle extensive ceramic collection. They too break their classical outlines with occasional quirky details.
- IS Forsight the only gallery that still hangs artworks on raw brick walls? It also has two conventionally white walls, but the expanse of softly coloured heritage bricks must be a challenge to hang, recalling the 1960s and the indented spaces of the von Bertouch Galleries further along Laman Street.
The present exhibitor, until September 27, Callum Docherty, meets the challenge with bold black and white paintings featuring big-brushed verticals reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy. Further equally minimal works play enigmatic games with more colour and less gesture.
- GALLERY 139 has an exhibition until October 3, taking the great portrait painter William Dobell as theme. Surprisingly, there were many people willing to make pastiche versions of his famous canvases, no doubt a learning experience, while others seek to comment on his life story, notably Susan Ryman's would-be prophetic version of an early self-portrait.
The most successful works are less literal tributes. Sally Reynolds paints the Wangi foreshore with brio. Libby Cusick has a thoughtful portrait of Barb Nanshe. Lynette Bridge has two small bushland studies.
However, no one attempts the old master glazes or the graceful scumbled surfaces we admire from Dobell's originals.
- AMANDA Davies is no stranger to the Nanshe walls. Once again, her gentle pastels evoke a lived-in bushland.
Sharon Williams, also until October 3, takes us into a very different place, where clownish figures express vivid emotions.
Between these extremes, a bewildering variety of necklaces and bracelets reveal anew Barb Nanshe's inexhaustible imagination.
- I DON'T understand whether the Arts Emporium is an art school or an artist collective. At Studio 48 until September 28 is a large mix of works by many people with no common focus.
Standouts are Mark Kempton's dark-based pastel landscapes and Michael Craig's elegant drawings of the Customs House tower.
Also on display are good examples of Heather Campbell's gently nostalgic ceramic figures.