A board, a bar of wax and a pair of shorts

Greg Noll (b.1937, active Hermosa Beach, near Los Angeles) | Surfboard (and detail) c.1960 | Polyurethane foam, fibreglass cloth, polyester resin, wood | LACMA, Gift of Matt Jacobson | Photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Within the culture and honour-roll of surfing, Greg Noll is one of its ‘legends’. Born in San Diego, Noll moved with his family to Manhattan Beach, California at the age of 3 years. He began to surf at around eleven, joining surf clubs and later, the Los Angeles County Lifeguards. He was introduced to surfboard shaping by another legend of the surfing world, Dale Velzy – credited with being the first commercial board shaper who opened a professional surf shop in Manhattan Beach in 1950. Noll was part of the United States Lifeguard team who competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games which had a considerable impact on the Australian surfing scene.

In 1954, Noll moved to Hawaii, finishing high school and continuing to surf. He gained notoriety in 1957 when he became one of a group of surfers who took on big waves at Waimea Bay, Hawaii. The seasonal wave breaks at Waimea can be anything between nine to fifteen metres and is still recognised as an important destination for big wave surfing. Watch the short film on this famous surf spot.

Greg Noll surfing in Waimea Bay, Hawaii 1957

The board-shaping skills that Noll learned in California evolved into his own very successful  business in the 1950s at Hermosa Beach, California. He also made a series of short surf films in the late 1950s before giving up surfing in 1969 after riding what is reputed to be the largest wave ever ridden at Makaha, Hawaii. Having secured his reputation as the most fearless surfer known, he turned to commercial fishing in Alaska. With resurgence in longboards in the 1990s, he resumed board shaping and organising longboard surf events. He continues to make a limited number of boards and replicas for collectors from his home in Crescent City, California.

The surf board included in ‘California Design: Living in a Modern Way’ is representative of this great ‘classic’ era of surfing when finding and catching waves and breaks was all that mattered to a generation of young men for whom jobs, marriage and mortgages meant little by comparison. As Greg Noll has said, ‘I’m not sorry for being a fun hog for all of my life’.

The longboard was the original form for surfboards when they were first manufactured in the United States in the 1920s. They evolved from the Polynesian and Hawaiian boards made of solid wood used in the ancient practice of Hoe he’e nalu,­ a kind of stand-up paddle boarding. Construction materials for longboards evolved from plywood and balsawood through to fibreglass and polyurethane foam. The longboard or ‘Malibu’, typically 4 to 6 metres in length, dominated the surf scene up to the late 1960s and 1970s when short ‘performance’ boards (made famous by renowned Australian surfer, Nat Young) introduced a revolution in style and board manufacture. Vintage longboards now attract high prices on the collectors market and have assumed iconic status in the history of surf culture.

California Design 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way‘ which opens at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) on 2 November 2013 with talks, tours, and special events will introduce Australian audiences to a broad spectrum of industrial, architectural, commercial, fashion and craft design from California. Organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) the exhibition presents over 250 objects. The publication California Design 1930-1965: Living In A Modern Way is the first comprehensive study of mid-century modern California design which offers new research and ideas about the furniture, ceramics, graphic and industrial design, architecture, metalwork, textiles and fashion produced in the Golden State.


Suffering, penance and martyrdom

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1618–82 Seville | The Immaculate Conception of Aranjuez (La Inmaculada Concepción de Aranjuez) (detail) c.1675–80 | Oil on canvas | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The recent, widely reported example of an attempt by an elderly amateur artist to restore a fresco painting in the church of the Santuario de la Misericordia in the Spanish city of Borja, is an example of the continuing significance of local traditions and religious imagery in Spain.

The ocean of imagery in which we are all immersed makes it difficult to appreciate the power that resided (and continues to) in the painted (and sculpted) image during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Catholic Spain. In churches, chapels, convents, monasteries and cathedrals throughout the country, numerous altarpieces, murals, sculptures, and individual paintings depicted — in addition to the Holy Mother and Christ — the lives of the saints and martyrs as told by the Gospels. These images had both a devotional and didactic purpose. For the largely illiterate congregation, images of the saints were often intercessors through which the lessons of the Gospel could be learnt and communion with the divine sought. They also offered solace in what was, for the majority of Spain’s rural population, a life of trials and hardships.

It is also difficult to appreciate these images as powerful devotional icons outside of their original cultural and architectural context. When displayed in a museum, they often seem drained of their particular aura and local significance. In their original context, many images — particularly those portraying the saints and the Virgin — took on the status of holy relics, sometimes with a supernatural dimension. While much of Protestant Europe, and particularly the Netherlands and England, debunked and discouraged what was considered idolatry, the Counter-Reformation spirit seemed to actively promote the miracles of statues and images sweating droplets of blood or crying tears. Such phenomena were regularly reported in many towns and principalities and would attract believers to those centres in the hope of divine cures, or just to share in the witnessing of the mysterious activations. The majority of occurrences were usually revealed as bogus or an active deception on the part of Church authorities, but many superstitions continued to thrive in villages and townships where the constant search for guidance, help and solace in a difficult life nourished a spiritual climate receptive to the miraculous.

In the exhibition ‘Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado’, a number of paintings address the suffering and penance of saints and martyrs, such as Francisco de Zurbarán’s The martyrdom of Saint James c.1640 and Jusepe de Ribera’s Penitent Saint Jerome 1652. Others present images of the miraculous, such as El Greco’s The veil of St Veronica c.1586–95 and Bartolomé Murillo’s representation of the most profound mystery of Spanish Catholic faith, The immaculate conception of Aranjuez c.1675–80.

Perhaps a residue of such belief and attachment to images survives today in our treasuring of photographs of family, friends and loved ones. The domestic context for these images is often similar to a shrine or a small altar where photographs are framed and lovingly arranged in celebration of the living and memorial of those past.

Francisco de Zurbarán, 1598 Fuente de Cantos, Badajoz – 1664 Madrid | The martyrdom of Saint James (Martirio de Santiago) c.1640 | Oil on canvas | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Jusepe de Ribera, 1591 Játiva, Valencia – 1652 Naples | Penitent Saint Jerome (San Jeronimo penitente) 1652 | Oil on canvas | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
El Greco, 1541 Crete – 1614 Toledo | The Veil of Saint Veronica (La Santa Faz) c.1586–95 | Oil on canvas | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1618–82 Seville | The Immaculate Conception of Aranjuez (La Inmaculada Concepción de Aranjuez) c.1675–80 | Oil on canvas | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado‘ is at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) until 4 November. This extraordinary exhibition is supported by a richly illustrated catalogue and a kids book introducing the Prado’s collection through ten selected art works, information about the artists, fun facts about Spanish history and culture, as well as instructions for at-home activities such as Spanish recipes.

Visitors to ‘Portrait of Spain’ are also invited to experience the vibrancy of Spanish history and contemporary design, food and culture in La Sala del Prado — our large-scale lounge environment complementing the exhibition. La Sala del Prado features an integrated cafe and interactive spaces that reflect cutting edge contemporary Spanish design and includes fun multimedia interactives and drawing activities, as well as programs and events for all ages.

The Spanish are coming

Alonso Sánchez Coello and workshop | The infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia and Magdalena Ruiz (La infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia y Magdalena Ruiz), c.1585-88 | Benifairó de les Valls, Valencia c.1531 – 1588, Madrid | Oil on canvas | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Kings, gods, saints and sinners, dogs and very small people will feature among the cast of characters to be seen in a Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado.

The exhibition, an Australian first and exclusive to Brisbane, presents a portrait of Spain that starts with the perspectives of royal monarchs, their children, courtiers and jesters. The dark years of war are seen through the terrifying lens of Francisco Goya while exquisitely laid tables of fruit, flowers and lace will have you believing you can almost smell the quinces, pears and freshly baked bread.

This not-to-be-missed exhibition will take you on a journey into the heart of Spain and an empire that was unrivalled for 200 years. Masterworks by Velazquez, Goya, Melendez, El Greco and Ribera will be seen with the works of Flemish and Italian artists such as Rubens, Titian and Giordano, whose paintings the Spanish monarchs collected to form one of the great collections of European painting now in the Museo Nacional del Prado (the Prado), Madrid. This is a rare and unique opportunity to see the story of Spain through over 100 of its outstanding works.

This spectacular frock belongs to Princess Isabella Clara Eugenia, eldest daughter of Philip II of Spain. Philip II was monarch and ruler of one the most extensive empires on the planet in the sixteenth-century and this full-length portrait of his daughter by Alonso Sánchez Coello was commissioned to immortalise one of the most important women in the Habsburg dynasty.

Isabella Clara Eugenia was born in 1566 to Philip and his third wife, Elizabeth of Valois. She was one of two surviving daughters from the five children of Philip and Elizabeth, who died following a miscarriage in 1568. Isabella Clara Eugenia grew up with her younger sister, Catherine Michelle and her stepmother, Anna of Austria. In 1599 she married Archduke of Austria, Albert VII with whom she administered the Spanish Netherlands from 1601-21 during a period of prosperity and stability following the upheaval of the wars of Reformation. Their court at Brussels became a centre for artistic excellence in Europe and patronised the Flemish painters, Peter Paul Rubens and Pieter Breughel the Younger.

In this portrait the magnificent and richly adorned dress of silk and gilt embroidery with lace and a feather head-dress actually draws our attention to the cameo portrait of her father, Philip II that she holds at the very centre of the painting — it is all about the king after all. Isabella is accompanied by a family servant, Magdalena Ruiz, who kneels beside the ‘infanta’ — the Spanish term used to designate a child of the King who is not heir to the throne. The representation of Magdalena alongside the infanta, is part of a long tradition of portraits in which servants, pages, jesters and dwarfs appear with members of the royal family. The most complex and important painting within this tradition is Velázquez’s great masterpiece in the Museo Nacional del Prado collection, Las meninas c.1656.

Magdelena also holds two small monkeys in her hands which came from Portuguese territories in the Amazon, which then belonged to Philip following the union of Spain and Portugal in 1580. In 1581, Magdalena travelled with Philip and his daughter to Portugal, where he went to claim the Portuguese throne. It has been suggested that she received both the exotic animals and the necklace that she is wearing on that occasion as gifts for loyal service. An additional reference to Portugal may be observed in the white and gold of the infanta’s beautiful dress, a characteristically Portuguese style in ceremonial costume.

So, we see that royal portraits were not just any old portrait. They were coded with symbolism and relations of power and territorial conquest at a time when an absolutist belief in the rule and perpetuation of the monarchy was paramount.

Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado is at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) from 21 July to 4 November. This extraordinary and never-before-seen-in Australia exhibition will fascinate, surprise and reward those who make the effort to see it. The exhibition will be supported by a  richly illustrated 304 page catalogue of the same name and a kids hardcover book introducing the Prado’s collection through ten selected art works, information about the artists, fun facts about Spanish history and culture, as well as instructions for at-home activities such as Spanish recipes.

When Inspirations Hits

Imagine an exhibition that allows you to immerse yourself in an artist’s daily practice. An exhibition that encourages you to express yourself after being inspired by the art works you’ve just encountered. That’s what The Drawing Room installation at GOMA is all about – part of the ‘Matisse: Drawing Life’ exhibition.

Over the course of the ‘Matisse Drawing Life’ exhibition, The Drawing Room has been a space for observation, contemplation and interpretation. The three thematic displays of The Drawing Room have been informed by particular periods and places in Henri Matisse’s career and by his ‘palette of objects’ such as ceramic and glass vessels, textiles, Moroccan screens, tables and armchairs that regularly feature in his work.

Giacomo Ginotti | Italy 1837-1897 | Lucretia 19th century | Marble | Gift of Mr Justice Adrian Clark and Mrs Fitzmaurice Stacke 1933 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

The Academy section takes its cue from Matisse’s early classical training in drawing and painting, which he undertook in Paris in the 1890s and early 1900s. He perfected his technique in the studios of established painters such as Adolphe William Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau; attended life-drawing classes at the École des Beaux-Arts to master the depiction of the human figure; and studied the arts of antiquity during visits to the Musée du Louvre, where he copied paintings, plaster casts and marble sculptures.

The Studio is inspired by Matisse’s working environments in the South of France, where he occupied several studios in Nice and the surrounding areas. Photographs of Matisse at work during this period show windows shuttered or screened against the bright Mediterranean light, drawings pinned all over the walls, multiple surfaces covered with vases of flowers, cages filled with doves and songbirds, and a variety of still-life arrangements based on a familiar cast of objects – the striped armchair, the pewter jug, the ‘Tabac Royal’ jar, and the Moorish table.

Oceania is based on what was perhaps the greatest influence on Matisse’s art – his curiosity about different conditions of light. This curiosity drove him southwards, moving away from the muted grey light of northern France to the silvery Mediterranean light of Nice, travelling from there to Morocco and, eventually, to the United States and Tahiti.

Every day Matisse drew from life, and what he drew from his art was life itself.

The book as art

Henri Matisse | France 1869 — 1954 | Fée au chapeau de clarté. Souvenir du Mallarmé 1933 | Drypoint on Velin Arches paper | Collection: Bibliothèque nationale de France | Réf Duthuit : 234 | © Succession H Matisse/Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2011

In an age when an increasing number of people are consuming books and texts electronically via screens, the book as object has come to occupy a unique role.

The particularly twentieth—century phenomenon of high—end book production by publishers such as Ambroise Vollard, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Albert Skira and Tériade (Stratis Eleftheriades) is broadly known as the livre d’artiste (Artist’s book). Picasso, Matisse, André Derain, Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and other major artists of the first half of the twentieth century produced exquisitely illustrated books on fine papers in limited editions. Today they are considered as important components of their life’s work and often as much sought after by collectors as their paintings, prints and sculpture. Such artists not only produced illustrations to existing poetic or literary works but often introduced an additional level of interpretation and appreciation of familiar texts.

Matisse was 60 years old when Albert Skira commissioned him to illustrate the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. It was Matisse’s first publishing project and he prepared by familiarising himself completely with Mallarmés poetry. The publication is featured as one of 10 illustrated books in the ‘Matisse: Drawing Life‘ exhibition, and stands as a testament to how sensitively Matisse responded to the spare, evocative poetry of Mallarmé. The purity of Matisse’s line drawing in the 29 etchings comprising the book are in perfect harmony and balance with the font, the white space of the japanese paper and the layout of words on the pages.

Proposed gift of a Degas sculpture by the late artist Margaret Olley

Edgar Degar | France 1834–1917 | Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit(Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot) | Cast 1919-1936 | Bronze | Signed on the base: ‘Degas’. Stamped on the base: ‘CIRE/ PERDUE/ A A HEBRARD’ | Numbered on the base: ‘40/ T’

Margaret Olley was an important benefactor and tremendous supporter of the Queensland Art Gallery and this proposed gift – a bronze sculpture of a dancer by Edgar Degas, called Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot is a lasting legacy to the people of Queensland.

Edgar Degas’s sculptural practice was essentially an experimental and private studio activity. He exhibited only one sculpture during his lifetime. Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit (Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot) is one of an edition of bronzes cast after the artist’s death in 1917. It typically captures a candid moment in the life of a dancer — a subject that Degas explored exhaustively through paintings, drawings and prints. It is widely agreed that for Degas, the making of sculpture was more akin to sketching and drawing — a means to realise or study in detail particular poses, masses, forms and volumes.

Following Degas’s death in 1917, his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel – also an executor of his estate – and the art dealer Ambroise Vollard, discovered more than 150 of the artist’s wax and terracotta sculptures. Only 73 of these were rescued intact, plus a handful of terracotta figurines and plasters. In consultation with Adrien-Aurélin Hébrard, owner of a respected Parisian foundry, Degas’s heirs granted Hébrard the rights to cast a limited edition of the 74 waxes in bronze. Work began in 1919 and continued until 1936 when the Hébrard Foundry ceased operations.

The bronze bears the foundry stamp of A A HEBRARD with the assignation of 40/T. Each of the sculptures was assigned a number and a letter denoting the series of casts. Each series was originally intended to be cast in editions of 20, although this number seems to vary in some cases. The first-generation casts made by the Hébrard foundry were made from wax models of Degas’s original mixed media sculptures. It is widely agreed that Degas never had any of his sculptures cast in bronze during his lifetime and therefore it must be acknowledged that the posthumously produced editions with stamped signatures are reproduction casts. However, the stamp on this sculpture suggests it was one of the original lost wax editions, and therefore is likely to be dated pre-1936.

The sculpture is on display in ‘The Drawing Room’ that forms part of our current exhibition ‘Matisse: Drawing Life’.