Scott Redford’s ‘Proposals’ series of sculptures, such as Proposal for a Surfers Paradise Public Sculpture/GC Cinemas 2006 (illustrated) examine and celebrate the Gold Coast as a remarkable phenomenon in late modern architecture and design in Queensland. What others stigmatise as kitsch, Redford sees as embodying a complex history and identity — perhaps the Gold Coast is the most postmodern of all Australian cities? For Redford, Gold Coast‑type signage certainly signifies a particular time and, much like music, evokes memories of a particular era.
This appeal to the past is heightened by texts that announce films like the modern classics L’avventura 1960 by Michelangelo Antonioni and Vertigo 1958 by Alfred Hitchcock — both explore love and loss in contexts of wealth and luxury. The second movie bill tellingly pairs Disney’s 1951 version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) with Elephant, most likely Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film addressing unacknowledged social issues — the colloquial ‘elephant in the room’ — and ending in homicide committed by youths. Two single screenings are also listed: My Own Private Idaho 1991, Van Sant’s drama about two gay hustlers, and the Australian CoolangattaGold 1984, recalling difficult passages of adolescence and introducing a sobering note into the prevailing tone of slick confident assertion.
The maquette’s reverse lists the qualities of place that the Gold Coast embodies, in an equally ambiguous catalogue of delights: ‘A utopia of souvenir shops, bamboo bridges spanning murky rock pools, night clubs, ‘fabulous floor shows’, ‘bikini bars’ selling floral wisps of bathers and Hawaiian shirts through windows open to the footpath, ill-lit cabarets, over lighted cafes, indoor planting, outdoor denuding, beer gardens in no apparent hurry to close at 10, shops open as long as there are customers awake, Sunday movies, signs, hoardings, posters, neons, primary colours . . .’
Scott Redford The High/ Perpetual Xmas, No Abstractions
In 2006, QAGOMA acquired Redford’s Proposal for a Surfers Paradise public sculpture/Paradise now 2006 (illustrated). Subsequently, a second work fromthe series, titled The High/ Perpetual Xmas, No Abstractions 2008 (illustrated), was fabricated as a 10-metre high sculpture and erected at the entry to the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) where it flashes neon into the night, to date, the only of these maquettes developed to full size.
Julie Ewington is former Head of Australian Art, QAGOMA
Scott Redford ‘Proposal for a Surfers Paradise public sculpture/Paradise now’
‘Fred Williams:Painter, Printmaker‘explores the Gallery’s significant holdings of works by Fred Williams (1927–82): dating from the 1940s and 50s to the portfolio ‘Fred Williams lithographs 1976–1978’, his last great print series. Comprising more than 90 works, many never before shown at the Gallery, this is a reassessment of a kind — a way for audiences to revisit Williams’s extraordinary achievements, as both painter and printmaker.
Join Angela Goddard, Curator, Australian Art to 1975 on Thursday 13 March for insights into the artist’s work before the exhibition closes on Sunday 16 March at 5pm.
Seeing the Australian land in a completely fresh way was Williams’s great life’s work. Living in Melbourne from 1956 until the end of his life, he roamed the near-city locations he could reach by train, since he did not drive a car. He devoted a day each week to painting directly from the landscape, and his work clearly evolved from this ongoing personal experience of the bush. His painting sites included Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, the You Yangs Regional Park, Yellingbo, Lysterfield, the Mornington Peninsula and Upwey, where he lived from 1963; much later, he travelled further afield, to Queensland in the early 1970s and to the Pilbara between 1979 and 1981.
This sustained looking at the land, and thinking about how to depict it, led Williams to adopt pictorial forms as various as the country he saw. Seven fine paintings, from the early spare Echuca landscape 1961 to the important, very reduced and almost abstract Australian landscape III 1969, are in the open double-height Gallery 5 at QAG, allowing their distinctive visual languages to sing out across the space. This is a rare opportunity to see one artist working through the painterly problems set by Australian landscapes, with their wide planes and deceptive distances. Burnt ferns 1969, with its glorious splotches of thick paint on a pristine ground, has a more personal resonance: in 1968 and 1969, he and his family survived two deadly bushfire seasons. The only slightly later Yan yean 1970 is luscious, almost edible — Williams could be very sensual in his approach to paint.
Two fine gouaches from Williams’s trips to Queensland — Glasshouse Mountains III of 1971, made on his first visit, and Mangrove rootlings, fromhis second in 1973 — are important inclusions in the display. They showWilliams’s eagerness to explore the challenges of new types of country:at the time, he noted that his journey north had ‘changed my colourconsiderably — it should stand me in well for the future!’
However, while he is celebrated as a painter, Williams also excelled as a printmaker. What he saw in the open air provided him with endlessly fascinating material for experimentation in a variety of printmaking forms. Etching was, however, the key technique, and the majority of his works in the Collection are etchings, many of which have been generously gifted to the Gallery by James Mollison, AO. This was a crucial medium for the artist: working in etching often allowed Williams to resolve compositional issues that would then flow onto his paintings.
While he has become celebrated for his remarkable contribution to the picturing of the Australian landscape, Williams started as a figurative artist, studying at the National Gallery School in Melbourne from 1943 and later with George Bell, whose influence can be seen in the large drawing of a nude made around 1947.1 Between 1952 and 1956, while he was living and studying in London, Williams took refuge from the cold and austerity of the postwar city in the warm embrace of its surviving music halls, making the many prints and paintings of his ‘Music Hall’ series. As Barry Humphries noted in 1998, ‘Fred Williams’s music hall prints . . . perfectly capture the cavernous density of these old, condemned theatres and the poignant vulnerability of the actors’. Equally tender is his painting of an unnamed cellist who probably worked in the halls, which has recently entered the Collection through the generosity of Geoffrey and Lawrence Hirst. The first of Williams’s many series on a theme, his ‘Music Hall’ works marked the emergence of a distinctive working method, which he brought back with him to Australia and used for his later major landscape series.
Fred Williams died in 1982 at the early age of 55, having achieved in 25 years an enduring body of work. Few Australian artists in any period or medium have made a comparable contribution to the national imaginary. In his eulogy at Williams’s funeral, artist and long-time friend John Brack noted that: Fred brought us a new vision of Australia’s landscape at least as valid and impressive as any of the two or three major illuminations which went before it. He changed the way we see our country: an achievement which will live long after all of us are gone.2
1 This work has recently been correctly dated with the kind assistance of Mrs Lyn Williams.
2 John Brack, quoted in Judith White, ‘Fred Williams: A life in landscape’, Australian Art Collector, no.8, April–June 1999, p.76,<http://www.artcollector.net.au/Assets/447/1/8_williams.pdf>, viewed 11 October 2013.
Gwyn Hanssen Pigott passed away suddenly in London on 5 July 2013, two days after suffering a stroke. She had stayed on there after showing recent work in an exhibition at Erskine, Hall & Coe, the distinguished West End gallery. According to all accounts, she was full of vigour and plans for the future, intending to return to the United Kingdom to see her work installed in Chatsworth House and to travel to Hong Kong and Shigaraki in Japan later in the year.
The rich traditions of functional ceramics informed Gwyn Hanssen Pigott’s work throughout her long, distinguished and productive career. With an astonishingly consistent vision and with precise standards of execution developed through a long study of both Asian and European pottery, she was exceptionally well practised in wood-firing. Her work was always impeccable, poised, thoughtful.
After 1988, however, the work took a new and innovative turn: inspired by the Italian twentieth-century painter Giorgio Morandi, Hanssen Pigott began to form groups of her pots into still-life arrangements. The profiles, volumes and materials of these vessels are endowed with special significance, even a metaphysical dimension, and they open up the possibility of expressing time: groups of pots may be interpreted in terms of duration, interval, repetition and variation. However, the titles often indicate Hanssen Pigott’s strong interest in social relations, movement and travel, with the pots sometimes seeming like groups of people, a possibility that the artist herself acknowledged.
Very rarely can one say that a person died as they had lived. Yet this was true of Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, who lived life to the full, right until the end. We last saw her at the Queensland Art Gallery in March this year — she came in to place her work ‘Dark still life with silver beaker’ 1994 in Michael Zavros’s ‘Artist Choice’ exhibition, loving the exuberance and irreverence of the show. A wonderful artist, and an energetic, engaging and intelligent contributor to Australian life, she will be sorely missed.
Gwyn Hanssen Pigott ‘s Travellers no. 3 2001 will be on display at the Melbourne Street entrance to the Queensland Art Gallery from Friday 26 July.
Montien Boonma (1953-2000) is undoubtedly the most important Thai artist of his generation and one of the great innovators in contemporary Asian art. Revered in Thailand and recognised internationally, he was honoured by the 2003 retrospective exhibition Montien Boonma; Temple of the Mind at the Asia Society, New York, which toured to the National Gallery of Australia in 2004.
Montien Boonma ‘Lotus sound’
Montien first showed his work in Australia in the 1990 Biennale of Sydney, where it made a great impression, and he made firm friends with Australian artists who had begun working and teaching in Thailand. Soon Montien became a key link between the Thai and Australian art worlds: late in 1990 I visited him in Chiang Mai, where he taught sculpture in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and he hosted many Australian artists and curators in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, always seeking to explore our common interests. These connections soon blossomed: Montien showed with Vichoke Mukdamanee and Kamol Phaosavasdi, and Australians Joan Grounds and Noelene Lucas, in the collaborative exhibition Thai-Australian Cultural Space in Thailand in 1993, at the National Art Gallery, Bangkok and Chiang Inn Plaza in Chiang Mai, and in 1994 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. This was only the first of many Thai-Australian exchanges over the years.
Montien Boonma ‘Salas for the mind’
Montien Boonma ‘Trio’
Montien had a long and fruitful relationship with the Queensland Art Gallery. When ‘The 1st Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT1) was staged in 1993, Montien came to install his exquisite Lotus sound 1992, which you can see above; it entered the Gallery’s Collection that year. Like so much of Montien’s work, Lotus sound was inspired by Thai life and culture: its customs, rhythms, materials, textures and, especially, its staunch Buddhist belief. Here the lotus signifies purity and recalls the Buddha; the Salas for the mind shown in ‘The 4th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT4) 2002, two years after Montien’s death, are spaces for personal meditation; as for the vessels, look at this Buddhist proverb: ‘The lives of sentient beings are like clay pots destined to break sooner or later.’
Montien was a lovely man: warm, generous, perennially amused, a devout Buddhist, supportive teacher and devoted husband and father. Montien Boonma’s many friends included his fellow-countryman, the late Peera Ditbunjong, whose family gave many of Montien’s works to the Gallery in 2005.
Julie Ewington is former Curatorial Manager, Australian Art, QAGOMA
In recent years, Brisbane benefactor James C Sourris, AM, has been gathering an extensive collection of contemporary Australian art, focusing on the first decade of the twenty-first century and paying particular attention to Queensland artists.
The exhibition ‘Ten Years of Contemporary Art: The James C Sourris AM Collection’ (12 November 2011 – 19 February 2012) celebrated James C Sourris’ involvement with the Gallery and highlights the vital role benefaction has played in the development of the Gallery’s contemporary art Collection. The exhibition honours his sustained and generous support of the Gallery’s Collection with the exhibition comprising both Indigenous and non-Indigenous works, and a wide range of media including paintings, videos, installations and works on paper.
Julie Ewington is former Head of Australian Art, QAGOMA
‘The exhibition has really been a rewarding experience. There is no doubt the actual exhibition has been one of the crowning moments of my career.
My association with QAGOMA goes back over many, many years so I have an idea as to how much work and effort goes into the preparation of an exhibition. In preparing for ‘Ten Years of Contemporary Art’, I was introduced to many of the ‘back room’ team who worked on the exhibition. On reflection two words come to mind, ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘dedication’. Each time I left the Gallery after visiting I had the distinct impression that the collective feeling was ‘this collection is important and is something special.’ I am indeed indebted to all concerned who worked on the project.
Friends and colleagues as well as peers have been overwhelming in their praise for the exhibition, and in turn their friends have also relayed favourable impressions. In fact many of my friends and extended family had no idea of the extent of my interest and involvement in the arts.
I think one of the joys of this exhibition has been the exemplary selection of some of the finest pieces representing many of the best artists in Australia, and that today these are being seen together by the general public.
Even though the exhibition is now closed, more contemporary works will be acquired. This means that more major works by senior career artists, mid-career artists, emerging artists, community Indigenous and urban Indigenous Australian artists, and video artists will become part of the Collection over time.’
James C Sourris AM February 2012
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art stands and recognise the creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.