Exhibition walkthrough with Calleen Art Award 2020 Judge Steven Alderton, Director & CEO, National Art School.

Featured artists include Hiromi Tango, Dan Kyle, Jane Tonks, Geoff Harvey, Suzanne Archer, Mark Dober, Melitta Perry, Craig Handley, Glen Preece, Catherine Abel, Sally Ryan and Calleen Art Award 2020 winner Zoe Young.

Full transcript:

Hello everyone. My name is Steven Alderton and I’m the Director and CEO of the National Art School. I just wanted to welcome you to the Calleen Art Prize 2020, quick walkthrough of a couple of works. I judged this show and I’m really pleased to see all the amazing quality of work so we’re just going to look at a few.

First of all in this body of work in 2020 I was really impressed with the nostalgia, the looking back at history, the circumspect nature of what we’ve been through in the last 12 to 18 months. Particularly here in regional New South Wales we’ve seen a lot of bushfires, floods, and of course we’re right in the middle of the pandemic COVID-19.

This is Hiromi Tango’s work (Earthsong: Beyond Borders, Sunrise Sunset (diptych) 2020). Hiromi meditates every morning and every evening at dawn and dusk and she looks out across the ocean where her parents and her brother live in Japan and she wants to make sure she responds to this part of history and the disrupted nature of her family relationship, but also takes it in good measure, meditating through it.

This is Dan Kyle’s painting (Hear it coming (last sun) 2020) and Dan Kyle paints in the Blue Mountains and he particularly has experienced a lot of bushfires around his studio. What you’re seeing with this work is the dark ferocity of the bushfire but also you’re seeing this amazing light and energy and revitalisation coming out of that bushfire. It’s the tragedy and the trauma of the bushfire, next to the amazing nature of the Australian bush, how is quickly revitalises itself.

Just after we’ve had a conversation around Dan Kyle’s work, I thought we would have a look at these two works by Jane Tonks (It is written but they do not read 2020) and Geoff Harvey (Summer Inferno 2020). This is Geoff’s painting of the devastating bushfires of the South Coast of New South Wales and this beautiful duality he creates in this work with two canvasses and the lake and this reflection. It’s this kind of beauty in destruction. It’s an incredible visual thing, particularly at night, to see the fires burning across the landscape but then the other side of that is the great destruction and devastation it has caused.

Same over here with Jane Tonks’ work. You can see this amazing Australian eucalypt landscapes just devastated. What’s really interesting about this painting is what you feel in the landscape when you’re there. You’re just a small little part with towering tall trees all around you. She’s created that really well.

There’s a lot of amazing landscape paintings in this show. Here’s one of Australia’s greats, Suzanne Archer (Glyph 2020), painting out of Wedderburn for 30 years now. She responds to the landscape and shapes in the landscape. She collects a lot of objects and things and bark and parts of the landscape and responds to that great energy of the landscape.

What is also really interesting about this show is that even though we’ve been through such difficult times, it is how the artist responds to that. This work here by Mark Dober (Nymphaea (Winter, overhanging branch) 2020) is from the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. He looks for the tranquillity in the landscape and it’s a great time to be doing that. You see one level over here, the destruction in the landscape, and then the tranquillity in the landscape. It’s an incredible, beautiful, sensibility and use of gouache as a material.

I also enjoy Melitta Perry’s work (Tall Tales (Mirror Pool) 2020) as she looks for bush myths, the stories that are there in this massive, vast landscape of Australia. There are so many stories and narratives, not just in a town, but in landscapes. Across thylacines and different animals you’ll find different stories and she conveys that very well.

What’s also enjoyable about this show is the narrative we’re seeing in a lot of the artist’s work. This is Craig Handley (We are particularly fond of the outdoor space 2019). You can see in this kind of stories, memories of his past.

Glen Preece (The Valley – Portrait of my father as a young man 2019) is referring to a family story. His father’s brothers went off to the war and his father was too young. He rode his bike out to Kangaroo Valley to go and shoot and hunt rabbits for pelt, the skins and the meat. It’s a wonderful, lyrical work. You feel that emotive response: a young father, the bike, the gun, in the bush.

There’s a lot of portraiture and people in this show. An extraordinary work by Deborah Marks (Her Story 2020) and here, this is Catherine Abel’s work (Maebh as a Peasant Girl (After Bouguereau) 2020). I don’t think my eyes are actually good enough to see the amount of detail on the face. She responds to art history and significant masters in art history. You can see her technical skill is quite incredible as she creates this image of a friend’s daughter and she is trying to capture that emotion of the person.

Over here, this is Sally Ryan’s work (No Turning Back 2019). Sally says of herself that she’s a people watcher. This painting gives us an opportunity to watch her. It’s quite incredible that even though these two paintings are so technically competent, the real skill is to be able to capture the emotion of the person, the longing in Catherine’s painting and in Sally’s. We’re looking at what she’s thinking. She’s given us a few visual clues on the table. It’s quite incredible how she’s been able to do that.

This is our winner of the 2020 Calleen Art Prize. This is a painting by Zoe Young (On the Farm 2020), quite an accomplished developing, beyond emerging artist, very strong practice. And Zoe has travelled here to Cowra a lot in her youth, when she was young, she had cousins living here and this is the typical kind of feel of a painting of when she was here and when she was young. It’s that kind of open landscape, fun, enjoyment, lots of kids, compared to today and how we’re struggling through Covid and beyond that we’re finding ourselves at home more. When you’re bringing up a young family, like Zoe is at the moment, you look longingly back at the memory of your time as a young person. There was no digital, there was no phone, there was no iPad, there was no laptop, there was none of those kinds of things, and we were still able to enjoy those great outdoors.

So how do you bring that forward to today? How do you enable this for your new family when you had it, when you’ve got all these digital devices around, and digital is great, we’re doing digital now, but it has its challenges for young families. What’s interesting is this shows it’s about memory, but it’s also about looking back longingly at you, at your time when you were young, and how can you translate that as a parent. How can you translate that forward for your young family when it’s a totally different environment?

I see in this painting great optimism, and I see in this show so much optimism and as much as there’s a pandemic and we’ve had bushfires and we’ve had floods, this is a great example of how artists can translate the future, how we can talk about optimism for the future and bring that forward. We can examine the landscape, we can enjoy the landscape, we can look back on memory and narratives and time gone past.

I do hope you’ll be able to come in to Cowra Regional Art Gallery and see the show in the flesh. I can only commend it to you greatly. Thank you.