I’ve just returned from the Monets now visiting Adelaide to find a plenitude of recently opened exhibitions in this area. I’ll leave Hunter Red, the exciting group project in the public galleries, until I’ve had a chance to view all four. For now, I’ll concentrate on two extraordinarily vivid outpourings of a specifically female creative urge at Maitland Regional Art Gallery, showing for at least the next two months.
It is no surprise to find Wendy Sharpe effortlessly occupying the entire central space, with suites of small works on the walls of the gallery and every facet of the void utilised for immense confident drawings inscribed directly on the walls.
Wendy Sharpe is widely known for her exuberant images of humanity in acclaimed paintings in the grand manner. At Maitland we get to see how inexhaustibly she draws in gouache, in images on large and small sheets of paper arranged here in immersive grids. The immediacy of the brush gives no possibility of second thoughts. The sketchbook sheets are undated; a continuum of potential anecdotes of robust physicality: dream lives, sex lives, daily living, of women observed and invented, possibly in some sense autobiographical. Some may be worked up into paintings while others exist as notations, signs of life by an artist who draws with a brush as fluently and compulsively as she draws breath.
Wide-ranging travels are a catalyst for new drawings. New places inspire further exercises in observation. We may recognise Venice and its almost mythical buildings, but Sharpe’s real subjects are always emotional interactions.
Also at Maitland is another outpouring of creative imagination by two women who build an alternative world from the leftovers of this one, with the aid of cans of spray paint, glitter and a few tassels.
Mandy Robinson and Jen Denzin have cooperated before and filled smaller spaces with exotic installations. But in Maitland they have two large rooms for installing dozens of brilliantly-hued totems, constructed from packaging materials, plastic flowers and pre-loved Christmas decorations, liberally coated in gold. It is a mark of a sophisticated sense of design that it is hard to identify the raw materials or think of the results as recycling. The works are gaudy, but not kitsch. They are histrionic but not polemic, amusing but never arch. The sheer variety of forms and decorations lets us see them as sculpture, a sort of mad Dada, but imbued with an infectious sense of joy.
Bulbous forms created from coiled masking tape permit infinite variation. Baskets of flowers contain surprises. Paper collages on the walls reveal meticulous scissor work and the organisational genius behind all this over-the-top invention. Go and see.
BEN KENNING, COOKS HILL GALLERIES
Equally full of creative élan are the black and white paintings and sculptural forms by Ben Kenning at Cooks Hill Galleries. Here is a serious artist who has continued in many exhibitions to evolve and develop a deeply felt affinity with overall patterning, full of tensile strength and spontaneous vitality.