THERE are strong exhibitions of printmaking and painting in the Lower Hunter, with new exhibitions at Art Systems Wickham and Gallery 139 while Glen Skien’s major touring exhibition, Mytho-Poetic is in its final week at Maitland Regional Art Gallery.
It would be hard to imagine two artists whose artistic expression and approach to the landscape are further apart than Grant Vercoe and Andy Devine but their combining for Responsive at ASW proves to be a very successful union where Vercoe’s hard-edged, highly coloured, stylised architectural paintings are played against Devine’s dark and moody abstract ruminations to produce a mutually enhancing and satisfying exhibition.
The two artists followed a similar path through the Advanced Diploma at Newcastle Art School and then to the University of Newcastle where they received their masters degrees in Fine Art in the last few years. The work in this show continues the themes and technical pursuits that have been central in their latest exhibitions, giving Responsive a sense of familiarity. But the variations and developments give this exhibition its freshness and vitality.
Art Deco posters are the direct reference point in Vercoe’s precise, geometric, exaggerated, vertical perspectives of New York’s classic Deco buildings such as the Chrysler and Empire State. Since his return to Newcastle his sight has come down to a low-rise Canaletto horizontal where the port and industry share the space with civic landmarks. While still adhering to the strict conventions he has established for his practice the acrylic paint has been enhanced to an enamel sheen and the presentation of small studies in gouache makes an interesting comparison, with the latter’s looser treatment and dry surface.
Andy Devine continues to probe and examine new ways of artistically expressing his concern for the environment and the future of the planet while continuing to use coal as the central motif. In this exhibition his group of “carborundum” works see a simplification of his earlier, highly structured representations of nocturnal, industrial landscapes to the point where they have been reduced to dark, monolithic forms, backlit by a molten glow.
These would seem to be an end-point for the work done in collaboration with Peter Tilley for their successful touring exhibition Black Harvest, (showing at Manly Art Gallery) and their recent Newcastle Art Gallery collaboration with Andrew Styan, A Dirty Business, as in the second group of meditative, monochrome paintings the reference points have all but disappeared and the coal itself has become the focus as layers of rubbed-back painted dabs produce great depth beneath shimmering surfaces of shifting light.
Mytho-Poetic at Maitland is a complex and impressive exhibition of prints, collages, artist’s books, assemblages and installations from highly skilled Queensland artist Glen Skien. Postcards, maps, charts, lists, letters and envelopes are stitched together, etched, drawn on and overlaid with a small selection of motifs to create an often melancholic, fractured journey through undefined times and places, creating new narratives where notions of absence, belonging, relationships, memory, loss and myth are questioned and reassessed. The same motifs are repeatedly used in and on the sculptural pieces and installations where a large sculptural wing, in memory of victims of an airline disaster in the artist’s childhood where all were killed, pulls all the elements together.
After a run of group exhibitions Gallery 139 presents Coal Dusted, its first solo exhibition for some time, from prolific artist Helene Leane. This is a well-balanced presented exhibition where the artist’s new home in Carrington has provided the stimulus for these suites of prints and paintings. Four series of monotype prints, photo transfers, acrylic and encaustic paintings are linked by shared imagery and a similar colour and tonal range. Silhouetted images of frogs, dogs, skinks, bats and birds are juxtaposed against an abstracted vegetation and a stylised, industrial landscape. While painting is a relatively recent expansion of Leane’s practice and appears a little hesitant, her close-toned monotype prints are much freer and lively.