Art | Phantom's influence can't be masked

LEADING MAN: The Ghost Who Walks His Dog, by Michael Bell, being hung for the Phantom Art Show. Picture by Simone De Peak
LEADING MAN: The Ghost Who Walks His Dog, by Michael Bell, being hung for the Phantom Art Show. Picture by Simone De Peak

One of the earliest exhibitions at the new Newcastle Region Art Gallery in 1977 was Ghost Who Walks Never Can Die, a Pop Art inspired show in which a large group of artists, including Richard Larter, Garry Shead, Phillipe Mora and Martin Sharp, focused their creative energy on the popular comic book character, The Phantom.

The Phantom, (Ghost who walks) was created by American cartoonist Lee Falk over 80 years ago, a few years after his hugely successful Mandrake the Magician hit the news-stands and three years before Bob Kane’s Batman scaled the skyscrapers of Gotham City. Although the world’s first crime fighter to don a figure-hugging body-suit came  from Bengalla, (the fictitious African/Indian country not the coal mine) he was an instant planetary success. In Australia, The Phantom is the longest-running comic in publication. It is the only country where the 1996 movie adaptation was not a commercial flop.

Forty years after the original exhibition one of the artists from that show, Peter Kingston, has joined once more with local popular culture guru and fellow Phantom devotee Dietmar Lederwasch to bring together the work of over 50 artists for the ever-evolving The Phantom Show at the Newcastle Art Gallery. It is testimony to The Phantom’s ongoing appeal to artists and public alike that there are now more than 200 pieces in this exhibition.

Local artists are major contributors to the project, including Michael Bell, Dallas Bray, Chris Capper, Dino Consalvo, James Drinkwater, Ron Hartree, Aleta Lederwasch, Dietmar Lederwasch, Claire Martin, John Morris, Lezlie Tilley, Peter Tilley, John Turier and Graham Wilson. They have applied their individual styles and approaches to create a complex, largely light-hearted and joyful exhibition of super-heroic adventure interlaced with snippets of domestic life, contemporary politics, erotica and re-assessment of the central character’s position in a post-colonial world.


Hamilton’s Gallery 139 and Acrux Gallery have combined to present Little, two wide-reaching exhibitions of small paintings, prints, ceramics, drawings, photographs and sculptural pieces from a large group of local artists at differing stages of their careers. Many young and emerging artists are represented, with their work hanging comfortably beside those of well-known artists such Vera Zulumovski, Edward Milan, Malcolm Sands, John Earle and Catherine Di Gravio. Despite the diminutive nature of the individual pieces these are two successful exhibitions where imaginative hanging gives every piece the space required to engage with the audience.


In Bennett Street, Hamilton, is Newcastle’s newest commercial gallery, Studio 21. It is owned by artist and designer Maryanne Walmsley, who also has work in the Little show. Her latest group exhibition Light/Weight introduces new artists to the local exhibition scene along with works from Gallery 139’s owner Ahn Wells and Acrux director Nadia Aurisch. Such mutually supportive collaboration between independent galleries helps to energise the sector for the benefit of artists, collectors and the public by developing expanding networks and encouraging increased interaction with the broader community. 


If you are visiting Sydney, head to Paddington and take in the exhibitions from two of Newcastle’s most prolific and progressive painters.

In Sydney A-Bridged at Janet Clayton Gallery, Dino Consalvo breathes new life into familiar images, exploring the bridges that span the city’s harbour and rivers from new perspectives, reducing the engineered landscape into boldly constructed, energetic paintings balanced by a calm and harmonious tonal palette.

Just around the corner, the window of the Olsen Gallery is ablaze with a massive forest fire from Peter Gardiner’s exhibition Apotheosis.

But, inside, the heat becomes an inferno of Dante proportions as the whole world burns. From observing lightning strikes and solitary, giant burning trees set against undefined old-world backgrounds and modernist houses exploding in a fire-ball, the viewer is engulfed by the awe-inspiring conflagration which seems to roar and fill the space with smoke.

Apotheosis is undoubtedly Gardiner’s highpoint, so far.

Peter Gardiner

Peter Gardiner

Catherine Di Gravio (detail).

Catherine Di Gravio (detail).