Redland Art Awards 2010

Reports of the death of painting have always been greatly exaggerated. For well over a century pundits have described this splendid art form as obsolete, but it remains alive and well. The biennial Redland Art Awards celebrate the vitality of painting, which has thrived despite the rise of photography, video, performance art, conceptualism and every other addition to the rich diversity of visual expression. It used to be fashionable to consider painting an anachronism, and it's been farewelled more times than Nellie Melba. The reason painting is still going strong is because we like it, and more importantly, artists like doing it. 

The Redlands Art Awards 2010 exhibition offered an impressively broad survey of the many qualities paint can assume. The 52 finalists were short listed by
Redland Art Gallery Director Emma Bain in conjunction with artists Anne Wallace and Simon Mee. Anne Wallace then selected the overall prize winners from
the 52 finalists.

Paint is a very versatile substance and the alchemy of transforming it into an infinite number of different things is parts of its fascination. Some artists just openly love
the stuff, and emphasise its physicality as matter. Mellissa Read-Devine's glowing landscape Across the river (2009) never lets the viewer lose sight of the fact that the surface isn't only a picture of a sunny location, it's also a mosaic of intensely coloured brush strokes of paint. The sheer seductiveness of paint is instantly apparent in the suavely rendered flesh in Sue Rosalind Vesely's The sluts of Bella Vista (2009). In Steve Tyerman's Paper mountain (2010)the thick paint looks
almost edible.

The expressive power of paint is strong in this year's winner of the Third Prize,
Toy painting (Christmas Island action figure)
(2009) by Victorian artist Fergus Binns. The anger conveyed by the artist's vigorous technique reveals that paint can also be a political medium. It can also be calmly contemplative. Matthew Cheyne's cool grey portrait Unbekannte burger 4 (unknown citizen 4) (2009) reflects thoughtfully on tradition. Likewise, there is a sense of deep absorption in tradition in Gladdy Kemarre's Anwekety (Bush plum) (2010), a mesmerising field of tiny points of
subtle colour.

The viewer is made highly conscious of the surface qualities of some of the abstract works in the exhibition. Elizabeth Newman and Pat Hoffie both treat paint virtually as a found object, heightening the sense of it having its own independent existence. Both artists attached things other than paint to the surface, and Hoffie actually re-uses sections of painted advertising banners as her canvas.

The winner of the Second Prize, Break on through (2010) by New South Wales artist Michael Muir, is a finely balanced combination of abstraction and representation. Big fat slabs of white and solid colour loosely describe architecture and a landscape, creating the impression of brilliant sunlight, but the building blocks of paint can also be enjoyed as a compositional structure without reference to any subject matter. Working in a totally different technique, Nameer Davis achieves the same ambiguity between an abstract structure and a figurative painting with his In flight (2010), a grid that on closer inspection can be seen to contain people.

Some of the photorealist works in the exhibition delivered that gratifying shock of recognition viewers experience when they observe that a meticulously precise representational image has in fact been rendered by hand. The state of permanent suspension between illusion and reality is tantalising in Deidre But-Husaim's portrait Wenceslas (2009) and John Honeywill's Safe (2010) (a closed paper bag the shape of which is by chance reminiscent of a house). Apparently anonymous paint surfaces that betray almost no trace of the brush can nevertheless articulate an artist's thoughts. John Brigden's Plastic dollz (2010), a group of blandly smiling Barbies, sharply lampoons the idea of mindless packaged glamour.

Julie Reeves again won The Meredith Foxton People's Choice Award this year with a portrait of a young girl. It may seem just to be a sensitive character study, but
Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water…
(2009) embodies the artist's ongoing exploration of the strange way in which the physical properties of paint can evoke an emotional, even visceral response.

Several of the portraits in this year's awards are memorable. Perhaps the strangest is Ben Smith's This could go either way (2010), a painting of a woman stroking a Siamese cat that has a head at both ends (a bizarre case of Siamese twins, but also an emblematic creature that illustrates the title). In the self-portrait The nine lives of Nic Plowman (2010), concentric strokes of paint radiate like electromagnetic waves from the artist's eye as he stares piercingly over his shoulder at the viewer.

Some of the paintings have mysterious stories to tell. VR Morrison's All dressed up and nowhere to go (2010) is a horse's skull being delicately bedecked with a ribbon by hovering birds. Matthew Quick's Pure loneliness (2010) is a painting without a single living thing in it, and symbolically represents a state of mind, with impossibly tall empty chairs towering up into the sky.

First Prize was won by Queensland artist Karla Marchesi's I suppose it had to come to this (2010), which also tells a story without depicting people. It appears to show the contents of a house, thrown out in a heap. Prominent in the foreground is an artist's stretched canvas, face down. A grey wintry sky and leafless trees contribute to the pervasively bleak mood. So does the painting technique, which is thin and uses pitilessly sharp edges to describe the forms of the dumped objects. Inevitably the picture reads as a comfortless image of eviction, but for those inclined to speculate further, the down-turned painting abandoned in the trash may have something specific or universal to say about an artist's life.

Timothy Morrell
November 2010

Across the river
Mellissa Read-Devine NSW
Across the river 2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Courtesy of the artist
The sluts of Bella Vista
Sue Rosalind Vesely NSW
The sluts of Bella Vista 2009
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist
Paper mountain
Steve Tyerman QLD
Paper mountain 2010
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist
Toy painting (Christmas Island action figure)
Fergus Binns VIC
Toy painting (Christmas Island action figure) 2009
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist
Unbekannte burger 4 (unknown citizen 4)
Matthew Cheyne QLD
Unbekannte burger 4 (unknown citizen 4) 2009
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist
Anwekety (Bush plum)
Gladdy Kemarre NT
Anwekety (Bush plum) 2010
Synthetic polymer paint on linen
Courtesy of the artist
Break on through
Michael Muir NSW
Break on through 2010
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist
In flight
Nameer Davis QLD
In flight 2010
Synthetic polymer paint and wax on linen
Courtesy of the artist
Wenceslas
Deidre But-Husaim SA
Wenceslas 2009
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist
Safe
John Honeywill QLD
Safe 2010
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist
Plastic dollz
John Brigden QLD
Plastic dollz 2010
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist
Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water…
Julie Reeves QLD
Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water… 2009
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist
This could go either way
Ben Smith NSW
This could go either way 2010
Oil on board
Courtesy of the artist
The nine lives of Nic Plowman
Nic Plowman QLD
The nine lives of Nic Plowman 2010
Mixed media on polycotton
Courtesy of the artist
All dressed up and nowhere to go
VR Morrison (Resides Montpellier, France)
All dressed up and nowhere to go 2010
Oil on Belgian linen
Courtesy of the artist
Pure loneliness
Matthew Quick VIC
Pure loneliness 2010
Oil on Italian linen
Courtesy of the artist
I suppose it had to come to this
Karla Marchesi QLD
I suppose it had to come to this 2010
Oil on board
Courtesy of the artist