The Island at Newcastle Art Gallery is a major exhibition of recent work from Alex Seton, one of Australia’s most highly regarded sculptors who is right at the top of his game.
In contrast to the blazing colour and energy bursts that dominated The City’s Son by John Olsen, The Island is a quiet, contemplative and evocative collection of inter-related pieces; a homage in marble to the thousands of refugees who have fled the persecution and destruction of their homelands in search of sanctuary only to find death at sea, criminalisation and imprisonment on remote island gulags.
Seton works mainly in marble, the stone of memorials, and his technical mastery and deep understanding of the particular qualities of this unforgiving material coupled with the contemporary issues that underpin his work differentiates him from most other artists working today.
While he uses all manner of modern tools to carve his pieces he is totally adept with the chisels and mallet of Classical Greece.
The themes that dominate his work are of immediate significance but the origins of his lifejackets, paddles and inflatable rafts can be found in the work of Phidias and Praxiteles over 2000 years ago.
A solitary paddle with timber handle and polished marble blade leans against the wall, softly lit in the reverential, darkened space while 28 scattered lifejackets wend their way around an imaginary shoreline, each one individually formed, their marble surfaces like woven canvas with synthetic webbing straps adding a strange sense of authenticity to the installation.
Only the people are absent, their fate unknown - missing presumed dead.
A marble outboard motor has sunk in a sea of blood-red oil and a giant anchor hangs ominously from a thread.
A constant soundscape of chugging engines and breaking waves entitled Odyssey intensifies the feeling of constant uncertainty and danger faced during these perilous journeys.
An airless inflatable rescue craft is neatly folded and bound beside a stack of paddles but the promised island paradise is only blow-up plastic palm trees perched on an atoll of rubble. Nearby an off-shore circular armada of 400 paper boats spins as if caught in a whirlpool.
The theatrical lighting of each work within the darkened gallery spaces concentrates our thoughts, accentuating the commemorative, memorial nature of this project which unfortunately diminishes on entering the light and activity of the main foyer.
While inherently political The Island comes from the artist’s deep sense of shared humanity and the absence of this consideration in the national discourse.
This is an important, strong and thoroughly rewarding exhibition from one of our most significant contemporary artists which possesses the integrity that made Nigel Milsom’s show at The Lock Up and Brett McMahon’s at Curve Gallery, the stand-out exhibitions of 2016.
In collaboration with Gallery 139, the University of Newcastle Art Gallery’s first exhibition of the year features the work of three of Newcastle’s most recognisable artists; Dino Consalvo, Peter Lankas and Paul Maher.
These three highly accomplished painters have exhibited together over a number of years and this show is a development from their joint exhibition at the Depot Gallery in Sydney last year.
Each artist takes a unique approach to their city of Newcastle and its surrounds, which provide endless inspiration.
Maher’s multi-faceted, shifting tonal perspectives give us a structured overview of the coastal strip in contrast to Lankas’ bold and brightly coloured ‘en plein air’ visions of night-lit service stations and scenes of suburban bliss.
Dino Consalvo details often missed aspects of the ocean baths he has been painting for years, producing large softly-textured abstracted works where mauves, greys and subtle greens play in the shifting light.
Until March 18.
Curve Gallery continues its policy of presenting solo exhibitions from some of Newcastle’s most highly respected artists with Double Vision opening on March 3, featuring more than 50 new works from Michael Bell in his first local exhibition since Studio Head at Art Systems Wickham a couple of years ago.
Opening this weekend at ASW, the very talented Kilgour prize finalist Edward Milan presents sculptures, drawings and assemblages in Carnival, his first solo exhibition in 16 years.
Until March 5.