Australian Galleries and Annette Larkin present a solo exhibition of works by the late Fred Cress, marking what would have been the artist’s 80th birthday. Staged with the assistance of Cress’ family, the show features key pieces from the artist’s archives – previously reserved for his private collection – tracing his oeuvre from 1965 – 2009. It visualises the stylistic shifts propelling his artistic evolution, including his move away from abstraction in the mid-1980s with the introduction of recognisable objects figurative forms.
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
—T.S. Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, Four Quartets
I am hardly the first to resort to Eliot’s sublime verse about t he nature of life and the meaning of all our striving. But I can’t resist it because it is, I think, a very appropriate insight into the career of Fred Cress.
He began as a figurative painter, but established his reputation in Australia as an abstract painter, only to astonish the art world by returning to figuration in 1988. One didn’t do that sort of thing. It was meant to be the other way round: a journey through figuration to discover the fabled and true land of abstraction. And not only that. After a brief period when his abstraction was a kind of degraded figuration, Fred emerged with a wholly new figurative oeuvre, a series of seemingly sardonic vignettes, his version of la comédie humaine.
In 1995, in a catalogue essay, I had occasion to refer to Fred’s vision. Noting that ‘vision’ can refer both to the fact of sight, but also to insight, I said that Fred’s insight was not just intellectual, but also emotional and psychological. His new figurative paintings were those of a moralistic satirist – not moralistic in the judgemental sense, but in the French sense of moralisme, having moral passion and a belief in the moral basis of life. In fact, it suggests an empathy with all humans, noting their fallibility, but retaining a capacity for charity and compassion.
So, we don’t look at these paintings depicting the venality of humans in various social settings without also having a chuckle, suspecting that Fred did not exempt himself and was equally a part of that human procession of lust, greed, gluttony, gross sensuality, envy and so on.
But in that essay I also noted that Fred’s version of Los Caprichos illustrated ‘the difference between the cartoon caricatures of Daumier and the moral transfiguration of Goya, between clever draftsmanship and pictorial vision’.
Temperamentally intense and with a confronting calligraphic power, these frozen moments of social drama draw us in. So much so, that we can easily miss the point that these are paintings and are meant to be appreciated as such.
Fred had said to me that he had always wanted to be a ‘complete painter’ and that abstraction had proven to be a necessary detour in order to learn how ‘to make paint work for itself’. This realisation was triggered by his 1974 visit to New York where he met all the luminaries of the ‘new abstraction’ such as Greenberg, Poons, Olitski, Noland, Frankenthaler etc. But rather than confirm his commitment to abstraction, the encounter de-stabilised it and sowed the seeds of doubt.
It was a damascene moment and reminded Fred that abstraction – the considered relationship of pictorial elements across a flat surface – was a necessary but not sufficient condition for good painting. It was a realisation which went back to Roger Fry and powerfully asserted by the likes of Matisse and Picasso who stopped short of pure abstraction, acknowledging that painting had to resonate with our concrete, everyday experience of the world if it were not to become…well, too abstract. From my Eliot quote it will be clear that I believe that Fred’s work was an exploration which ultimately led him back to where he had started, but knowing it for the first time. Having said t hat, though, one thing at least was always prominent – whether it be in the figurative, semi-figurative or abstract work – and that was his preoccupation with the nature and role of drawing. Fred had said that ‘all good painters are drawing painters’. In his abstract work Fred was always trying to reconcile drawing and abstraction, the linear and the painterly. Arguably, Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still had done so, but it really contradicted the orthodoxy (as espoused by Clement Greenberg) of the unity of the picture plane, no depth and no referential elements.
Fred’s best abstract work from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s across colour-modulated surfaces implied depth and, by extension, narrative. So, it was – in hindsight – not surprising that his two-month New York sojourn provoked a crisis.
It so happened that it coincided with a crisis in his personal life as his first marriage broke up. The reflections that this personal crisis invoked presumably triggered a need in Fred to deal with them through his art – and it was a need that demanded some form of pictorial story-telling. Goya-like as these new paintings proved to be, they have an irony to them. They depict a world of which we, too, are a part. We may be tempted to condemn the behavior depicted, but are forced to concede that we are just as guilty as the social actors captured in evidentiary moments by Fred’s camera-like eye.
Abstract as the abstract pictures are, they call attention to how they are made. The graphic gestures remind us of the hand that made them and draw attention to the colour-field behind them. Similarly, the later figurative work does far more than depict problematic human behaviour.
To begin with, Fred’s characters behave as though they were in private, not public, and oblivious to us the observers – or voyeurs as are some of Fred’s characters themselves. This makes us aware of the fact that we are looking at a painting, not real life. This defamiliarising device is often amplified by the use of an interrupting element – a repoussoir device – which interrupts our view of the main event, prompting us to look more critically at it. At the same time, Fred frequently has a kind of vortical perspective which pulls us down into the picture making us feel as though we were a part of the scene depicted, only to be pulled back to the surface again by Fred’s painterly treatment of the surface. He is constantly drawing attention to painterly contrivance. Powerful perspectival composition is balanced by the strong rhythms across the surface driven by the deeply modelled figures. Just like any good abstractionist, colour areas are coordinated across the surface of the painting to create a unity of the picture plane, often with light coming from several sources rather than just the one as in traditional figurative painting.
Colour is not used descriptively, but as a device to unify the surface. Another comment from Fred which I reproduced in that essay is this: ‘I use colour to create mood which reinforces the subject. I use colour to help create surface rhythms, but also to heighten emotion and develop a certain psychological state – one which sometimes runs counter to the action of the figures. It makes the pictures less obvious, which is something I like them to be.’
So, while it is easy to be sucked into Fred’s demi-monde, he nevertheless has an array of devices which drag us back and remind us that we are, after all, looking at a painting. Despite the illusions, it is a painting we are looking at, not real life. The real issue is the tension between what is depicted and how it is being depicted, and resolving that tension demands the active participation of the viewer. And that, in a word, is what the Western tradition of painting has always been about.
That makes Fred Cress a traditionalist – and an abstractionist at the same time. As Fry argued, all those formal decisions by the artist are actually what the painting is about; the figurative elements work in harmony with the formal character to animate the painting and provide the frame for generating aesthetic meaning.
So, Fred Cress came full circle, back where he started, having explored and charted the liminal edges of his artistic world. Even his final Guide paintings with the central skull – Fred’s reconciliation with his imminent death, which happened in October 2009 – deliver their message while never abdicating their identity as paintings.
Full Circle | Paintings and works on paper 1965 – 2009
Australian Galleries in collaboration with Annette Larkin Fine Art
10 – 29 July 2018
Image: (top) Fred Cress, A pool party, 1996, acrylic on canvas, 198 x 244 cm (above left) Fred Cress, Guide 2, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 55 x 45 cm (above right) Fred Cress, Embrace, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 55 x 45 cm.
‘From Velvety Depths’
Queenscliff Gallery & Workshop
21 June – 12 August
‘From Velvety Depths’ presents recent works alongside a selection of important earlier pieces, which traverse themes that have long pervaded Peebles’ practice. Namely, notions that relate to time, nature, human existence, and the development of art. These ideas are expressed through a distinctive symbolic language that the artist has developed over his career, with certain subject matter repeatedly represented in various arrangements via mezzotint printmaking – a technique that is mastered by only a handful of Australian artists.’ – Excerpt from catalogue essay by Marguerite Brown (MAArtCur)
To view a short film on ‘From Velvety Depths’ click here.
To view more images from the exhibition and opening night click here.
Mezzotint printmaker Graeme Peebles studied printmaking at RMIT between 1973 and 1975, where he later lectured from 1981 to 1986. Peebles has held solo exhibitions in Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and internationally in Italy, Thailand, Singapore and at the British Print Biennale. In 2005 a survey exhibition of his work was held at the Geelong Gallery, VIC. Peebles was awarded a Churchill fellowship in 1977, the Henri Worland Prize in 1983, the Queen Victoria Print Prize in 1981 and the Gold Coast and Aberdare Prizes in 1989. His work is held by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Parliament House, Canberra; Artbank, Sydney; most state galleries, several regional and university galleries and internationally in collections in Italy and the United States.
Congratulations to Graeme Drendel, Barbie Kjar & Terry Matassoni, finalists in the 2018 Paul Guest Prize at Bendigo Art Gallery
The Paul Guest Prize is a non-acquisitive cash prize of $15,000 which is held biennially, highlighting contemporary drawing practice in Australia. The Prize was initiated by former Family Court Judge and Olympic rower, the Honourable Paul Guest QC and encourages artists from across Australia to engage with the important medium of drawing in contemporary art practice. This year the prize will be judged by Rodger Butler, Senior Curator, Australian Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Australia.
‘My abiding and passionate interest in art commenced several decades ago and from those early beginnings I was introduced to contemporary art in a holistic way which ran parallel to my professional career. I appreciate that the journey for artists is, at times, a demanding and tortuous one and I trust that in some small way I have and will continue to assist them to achieve their full potential.’ The Honourable Paul M Guest, QC
The exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery features the artworks of all finalists and runs from 30 June – 9 September 2018.
To view the Paul Guest Prize website click here.
29 June 2018 – June 2019
While the spectacular hinterland of South East Queensland has provided unparalleled inspiration for William Robinson’s work, the artist draws equally upon his imagination and his capacity to summon memories and visual impressions of places he has experienced. Nature imagined offers a new understanding of Robinson’s sophisticated vision of his lived environment, and how, while providing source material, the landscape is never a mere representation but an emblem of Robinson’s world view.
The exhibition will have a special education focus at The Cube, one of the world’s largest digital interactive learning and display spaces, located adjacent to the William Robinson Gallery. This unique interaction of art and science will provide an inspiring, explorative and participatory digital experience to discover insights into Robinson’s painting techniques, as well as information on the unique environment of South East Queensland.
To visit the QUT website click here.
Image: William Robinson, Springbrook merging towards night (2004), colour etching. QUT Art Collection, Gift of the artist under the Cultural Gifts Program, 2002.
Building 16, Storey Hall
344 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Friday 6 July
12.30pm – 1.30pm
Rona Green will be giving an Artist Talk as part of the current group exhibition ‘My Monster: The Human Animal Hybrid’ at RMIT Gallery, curated by Evelyn Tsitas and current until 18 August 2018. ‘My Monster’ features the work of more than thirty dynamic and diverse contemporary artists and celebrates the 200th anniversary year of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and the enduring fascination with the human animal hybrid.
All are welcome to come and hear this unique and highly proficient artist speak about her hand coloured linocuts. Rona will discuss ideas and creative process as well as showing some of her lino blocks and proof prints. All attendees will also receive a goody bag to take home!
This is a free event and an inspiring opportunity not to be missed!
View the event on the RMIT website here.
Image: Rona Green, Wayno and Bazza (2018), hand-coloured linocut, edition of 17, 32 x 50 cm.
Image: Jennifer Keeler-Milne, A New Heaven and a New Earth (2018), charcoal on paper, 135 x 160 cm.
Congratulations to Jennifer Keeler-Milne who has been selected as a Finalist in the 19th Mandorla Art Award with her deeply powerful charcoal drawing ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth’
‘My practice is concerned with depicting the natural world, including the sky as a subject for contemplation. Working purely in black and white stands in for the opposition of numerous elements; darkness & light, void & physical matter, mystery & beauty. A new heaven and a new earth’ is a direct response to the Revelation quote and its cosmic re-imagining of our universe. I have sought to capture this by depicting the heavens and earth in a state of dynamic flux. Onto this (in the right hand corner) a new city is projected. A range of architectural styles are drawn to symbolise how a new Jerusalem may look: a place of diversity for all people to live peacefully side by side.’
-Jennifer Keeler-Milne, 2018
The Mandorla Art Award employs a thematic Christian inspiration that changes with each exhibition. These inspirations are defined by quotations from the Bible and all participating artists are requested to interpret these in their own way. This year’s theme quote is from the Book of Revelations, ‘And then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’ (Rev 21:1-2).
This year the art prize will be judged by; Dr Stefano Carboni, Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia; Jarrod McKenna, Teaching Pastor at Cornerstone Church and co-founder of #LoveMakesAWay; and Anne Ryan, Curator at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The Mandorla Art Award exhibition will be held at Turner Galleries, Perth from 1 – 30 June.
Born in Melbourne, lives and works in Sydney as a practicing artist, she holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Fine Arts from the Victorian College of the Arts and a Master of Art Administration. A former museum educator with the Art Gallery of New South Wales and lecturer at Sydney University, UTS and the National Art School, Jennifer also runs her own drawing school, Dare to Draw, teaching the principles and techniques of drawing.
Jennifer has had several solo exhibitions in Sydney, as well as group shows in Hong Kong and Paris, were she completed a residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts. Jennifer was a finalist several times in the Dobell Prize for Drawing, as well as the Kedumba Drawing Award, Fleurieu Peninsula Art Prize, Adelaide Perry Drawing Prize, and was also awarded the Fred Williams Family Prize in 1991.
She has exhibited in many public and regional institutions including the Art Gallery of NSW (Sydney), Hazelhurst Regional Gallery (NSW), The Museum of Economic Botany (Adelaide), The Glasshouse Regional Gallery (Port Macquarie), Grafton Regional Gallery (NSW), Orange Regional Art Gallery (NSW), Tweed River Art Gallery (NSW), Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery (NSW), New England Regional Art Gallery (NSW), Casula Powerhouse (NSW), as well as several universities such as the University of Sydney, University of Technology and University of Western Sydney (Sydney), Australian National University (Canberra) and the Victorian College of the Arts (Melbourne).
Her work is held in the collection of the AGNSW, Artbank and the Victorian College of the Arts, as well as private collections in London, New York, Boston, Miami, San Francisco, Paris, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne. Jennifer is represented by Australian Galleries in Sydney and Melbourne.