Vale Cowboy Loy Pwerl

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this post includes the name of a person who has died.

It is with great sadness that we pay our respects to senior elder Cowboy Loy Pwerl who died Wednesday 30 March in Alice Springs hospital. Cowboy was a leader within the painting movement at Utopia with his intricate designs often depicting the nesting place of the bush turkey. Cowboy was a senior custodian of a series of Dreaming sites in Utopia, on the western side of the Sandover River. He was an Eastern Anmatyerr speaker who lived his life on country, mostly at Iylenty, and acquired his nickname from his days as a stockman. In his paintings, Cowboy delighted in a strong use of harmonious colour, moving away from more subdued ochres of earlier works, whilst maintaining his signature optical illusional style. On a simple level, the geometric patterning laid out across the canvas in tiny coloured dots, represents the bush turkey as it searches for seeds to eat.

Our thoughts are with Cowboy’s family, particularly Carol, Elizabeth and Genevieve.

Cowboy is represented in the National Gallery of Victoria; the Art Gallery of South Australia; the Melbourne Museum; Benalla Art Gallery; and numerous private collections across Australia and internationally.

Cowboy Loy Pwerl

Celebrating International Women’s Day

It is fortuitous timing that our exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Constance Stokes coincides with International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8 March. Constance Stokes’ life represents the myriad issues facing female artists, particularly pursuing an active career as a professional artist whilst also supporting a family and fitting with societal expectations of the time. Constance Parkins was a talented and dedicated student who travelled overseas to further her artistic studies. Following classes at the Gallery School at the National Gallery of Victoria under Bernard Hall, she was awarded the Travelling Scholarship in 1929 which enabled her to continue her studies at the Royal Academy in London and in Paris in the summer of 1931 with Andre Lhote who was to have a profound influence on her. Her success as an artist was recognised with numerous exhibitions and her inclusion in the Twelve Australian Artists exhibition at Burlington Galleries, London in 1953 and at the 1953 Venice Biennale. Constance married Eric Stokes in 1933 and between 1937 and 1942 they had three children. Constance Stokes is on record as describing the difficulties of combining her career and motherhood, even with a supportive husband, admitting that each impacted the other.

Eric’s early death in 1962 forced a greater impetus to maintain her career and Stokes continued with successful exhibitions. Her paintings of women are particularly prized, their warmth and intimacy matched with bold use of colour. Her works on paper, mostly depicting women, highlight her drawing skill and lyrical line.

As Dr Juliette Peers noted in the catalogue essay for our exhibition:

“For Stokes, as recounted in interviews, the driving factors of her art were her imagination, her sense of design, and, increasingly at the end of her career, revisiting and reinterpreting her own previous works and studies. “Actually, most of my paintings are from imagination or memory.“[i] Women stand at the centre of her imagery, as she said “the woman takes first place”.[ii] Many of the works in this present collection reflect her preference for portraying women. Her female studies became particularly important during the later phase of her career, when she, in effect, rebuilt her practice and her confidence after the early death of her husband in 1962. At this date Stokes faced a very different and not always congenial artistic, social and political world to the one in which she first found fame. Her response to these changing times and practices was to heighten her colour and simplify her compositions. “ Juliette Peers, Constance Stokes 1906 – 1991, catalogue essay for Lauraine Diggins Fine Art exhibition, 2021

It is fitting on International Women’s Day that we recognise the talents of Constance Stokes, as a woman, as well as celebrate her depictions of women.

Constance Stokes Woman in Patterned Robe
Constance Stokes Woman in Patterned Robe

Learn more about Constance Stokes on our exhibition page where you can enjoy viewing the artworks, accessing the catalogue with essay by Dr Juliette Peers and listen to Dr Gerard Vaughan discussing the exhibition and Constance Stokes oeuvre. The exhibition is showing until 31 March 2022.

Jessie Scarvell

The S.H. Ervin Gallery in Sydney recently posted this video with Director Jane Watters highlighting their holdings of artworks by Jessie Scarvell, which were gifted by her daughter. Scarvell (1862 – 1950) was an exponent of Australian Impressionism who exhibited over 60 of her plein air landscapes at the Art Society of NSW throughout the 1890s. Following her marriage in 1901, she moved to a cattle station in Queensland and focussed on her gardening rather than pursuing an artistic career. Scarvell was included in the Exhibition of Australian Art in London in 1898. Her paintings are characterised by a harmonious use of colour and painterly marks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjXgGPgC8ig

Jessie Scarvell Glenalvon Murrurundi 1895
Jessie Scarvell Glenalvon Murrurundi 1895

Read further about Jessie Scarvell

A Closer Look At… John Dent large-scale paintings

This is the final week to view our current exhibition John Dent: Between Two Countries and we invite you to take A Closer Look At… John Dent’s larger paintings in the exhibition.

The subject matter of the larger paintings crosses a broad range: landscapes; interiors; figures; still lifes – all themes with a long tradition in the history of art. Dent takes inspiration from his own experiences, from the mundane of a Hills Hoist in the backyard of an inner city Melbourne suburb; to the more exotic, a studio in Mallorca; to the macabre, the soft colour palette of the seminal triptych, Natura Morta- Marta belies the rather uncompromising subject. Dent is able to raise elements from their everyday existence to the distinction of art, particularly highlighted in these paintings where familiar objects are lifted through their presentation on a grand scale. However the real subject matter is often the very act of painting itself, the placement of elements, of form and colour on the canvas. 

To tak A Closer Look At… John Dent’s larger-scale paintings, please click here.

Exhibition showing until Friday 25 June. Visit our website to view images, watch a video of the opening, download the catalogue and read the Closer Look At… essay.

A Closer Look At… John Dent in Paris

In our next A Closer Look At… we examine the paintings of Paris by John Dent which are redolent with atmosphere, indicative of his ability to absorb the sense of place he discovered there. Mostly, these are quiet introspective moments, a captured snapshot in time. The street scenes take the viewer on a promenade with the artist around Paris, as he explores the city. If the imagery is sometimes romantic, it is because this reflects the everyday reality of the city and these are scenes actually encountered – an arched bridge over the river; a flag hanging from a terraced building; lovers entwined in a park. Equally, Paris is a city of unexpected surprises and strange contrasts, casual witness to nuns in full habit kicking a soccer ball. At other times the subject is almost mundane, a woman with a striped apron in her window; or tinged with humour, the upright nanny on duty with her sensible umbrella shading her from the sun contrasted with the lounging figure enjoying a drink on the deckchair.


John Dent Les Bénédictines du Sacré-Coeur oil on canvas 71 x 56 cm

The significance of Paris and its art scene has been a major influence for many artists throughout history and has certainly shaped Dent’s oeuvre, evident in many aspects but essentially in the very real French atmosphere captured in these paintings. To take A Closer Look At… John Dent in Paris click here


John Dent The Nanny oil on canvas 40.5 x 35.5 cm

To view images in the exhibition; watch the video of the opening and read our Closer Look At… essays please visit our website.

Zhou Xiaoping on The Art Show, Radio National

Listen to Zhou Xiaoping talking about his unique artistic practice on The Art Show as aired this morning on Radio National, explaining how he draws on his experience of Chinese inks and rice paper, combined with with western art concepts, including the use of oils and canvas, as well as drawing on the influence of his travels in the north of Australia, particularly Arnhem Land and his connection with Aboriginal people and culture, including the use of ochres. As Xiaoping states, his career demonstrates “cross-cultural artistic practice and brought together the influence of Chinese, Western and Aboriginal culture and art concepts. In this practical process, I realised how important cultural reconciliation and civilisational exchange are. … Looking back at my artistic creation process in Australia, I feel that I followed the path of “learning from nature” from the traditional Chinese culture that I accepted when I was young, then followed that path from China to the world of the Australian Aborigines.” The discussion starts about 1/2 hour into the program (30:36).

Zhou Xiaoping Red Country 2017
Zhou Xiaoping Red Country 2017

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/the-art-show/13115660

View available artworks by Zhou Xiaoping

Read more about Zhou Xiaoping

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Jessie Scarvell

Glenalvon, Murrurundi depicts an area Jessie Scarvell painted on several occasions, the rural landscape around the picturesque mountains of the Liverpool Ranges in the Upper Hunter region of NSW. Scarvell painted en plein air and her harmonious use of colour is clear, with the muted soft purples, grey and green of the background contrasted against the brighter green, blue and touches of pink in the foreground.

The viewer’s eye is attracted by the detailed thistle foliage, echoed in the grasses across the stream, with the white sheep in-between. Textured brush marks and soft light colours give way to a stronger band of green which draws our eye back to the purple mountain range, birds wheeling in the sky amid an aura of calm in this celebration of pastoral beauty.

The painterly marks, particularly evident in the depiction of the stream and grassy bank, and the focus point of yellow flowered pasture weed are reminiscent of archetypical Australian Impressionist paintings such as Charles Conder’s Herrick’s Blossom c.1888 and Arthur Streeton’s Golden Summer, Eaglemont 1889.

Scarvell’s painting Glenalvon, Murrurundi was included in the Art Society of New South Wales annual exhibition in 1895 and illustrated in the catalogue. It appears to be in its original frame.

Scarvell exhibited regularly with the Art Society of New South Wales in the 1890s and was included in the Exhibition of Australian Art in London at the Grafton Galleries in 1898. Her career spans over a short period of perhaps six years in the 1890s, prior to her marriage.

Jessie Scarvell is represented in the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the S. H. Ervin Gallery, where an exhibition of work in 2012 brought new awareness to this female artist of the Australian Impressionist School.

Read more about this artwork.

In the Spotlight: Iso Rae

Isobel Rae was known as “Iso”, her nickname a somewhat relevant and familiar word to us today, as was her likely experience of isolation. At the outbreak of World War I, Iso Rae remained in Etaples, France with her mother and sister, whilst most foreigners moved away from the former peaceful fishing village, which had been home to a thriving expatriate artistic community.  

Iso and her sister Alison worked for the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) with the British Red Cross from 1915 – 1919. As an artist, Rae depicted the scenes around her, producing around 200 drawings, mostly pastels and gouache, depicting the daily life of the military camp at Etaples.

Her lively and sensitive drawings are now recognised as important historical and social documents, beyond their artistic merit. Although not officially appointed as a war artist, Iso Rae was one of two Australian women who documented the war for many years (the other being Jessie Traill who worked in a military hospital during World War I).
 
The camp at Etaples was a place where allied troops – French, British, Canadian, Scottish, New Zealand and Australian forces, gathered before being called up to fight; a training facility; supplies depot; a detention centre and home to thousands in tent cities and ordered hospitals. Iso Rae captured camp life in her drawings of soldiers; the barracks; the hospitals; the prisoners, both German and allied; their accommodation; the horses; their training and recreation (football, cinema, theatre).

Iso Rae was a skilled draughtsperson, her marks lively and capturing a spontaneity, yet balanced with thought-out and balanced compositions. This is a particularly fine drawing depicting a group of  soldiers huddled around a brazier at night, embers blowing in the breeze and their individual uniforms bathed in an eerie glow. We have identified the figures as Scottish; the blue coat of the Hospital Blues worn by convalescents; Australian with the slouch hat and New Zelander with the ‘lemon squeezer’ hat. The peaked tents in the background provide an anchored backdrop giving a further intimacy to the group of figures.

There is an aura of quiet and calm, the relaxed poses and dangling cigarettes, but one laced with tension or perhaps boredom; the holding pattern of an unknown future the nature for many at Etaples. This is not a depiction of heroes of war, rather the gritty reality and the daily grind of behind the scenes. Rae’s use of coloured paper highlights the contrast between the army brown and the bright red and orange balanced against the blues and touch of green found in a hat band.

The drawing is accompanied by a letter of dedication from the matron at Etaples on behalf of the nurses and VAD to a Captain MacIlwaine.

Read more about this artwork.

Iso Rae biography.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Ethel Carrick Fox

Ethel Carrick Fox Au Marche
Ethel Carrick Fox 1872 – 1952 Au Marche c.1908 oil on wood panel 27 x 35 cm

“The energy and liveliness of outdoor crowds occupied Ethel Carrick Fox throughout her career, and she was particularly fascinated by markets, parks and beaches. Perfect subjects for her swiftly wrought impressions, these turn-of-the-century public spaces were being transformed by modernity.” Angela Goddard, ‘Modernity in Motion: Ethel Carrick’s crowds’ in Art, Love & Life: Ethel Carrick & E. Phillips Fox, Queensland Art Gallery, 2011, p.79
 
 
Ethel Carrick Fox has been described as ‘colourful’ and ‘daring’, both in her art and her life. An inevitable comparison with her husband Emanuel Phillips Fox certainly bears this out, as she moved beyond an impressionist sensibility to the more colourful and linear style of post-impressionism, as would have been the flavour in Paris. Her paintings of daily life; flower studies and works inspired by travels, are imbued with vibrant colour, strong composition and a concern to explore light. Her inclusion in the Salon d’Automne (created in 1903 as a move away from the academic and bringing movements such as fauvism and cubism to greater notice) from 1906, further highlights her lifelong trend of not conforming to social expectations of the time; particularly focussing on her career. 

Ethel Carrick Fox is best known for her vibrant paintings created en plein air, capturing the leisure class of Paris – the markets; parks; gardens and beaches of France. The rich dabs of pure bright colour and a focus on decorative rather than narrative elements, allow the strength of her understanding of colour and her considered compositions to shine through.
 
Carrick Fox established her successful career in Paris and London and in her regular visits to Australia, where she held exhibitions of her work and undertook painting excursions. A painting of a French flower market by Carrick Fox sold at auction in 1996 becoming the highest price achieved by an Australian woman artist; with more recent sales over one million dollars (in 2008 and 2019) overtaking this earlier precedent.
 

Read more about this artwork

Ethel Carrick Fox biography

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Charles Blackman

Charles Blackman OBE 1928 – 2018 Portrait of a Young Girl with a Bow in her Hair
charcoal on paper on composition board. 50.8 x 38.4 cm
Copyright the Estate of Charles Blackman

Charles Blackman is one of Australia’s most celebrated and significant figurative artists and was an exceptional draughtsperson. His use of pen and ink, charcoal and pencil – from quick sketches to large sized works on paper – was a constant throughout his life. His drawings bear evidence of the personal nature of his art, used to record ideas, capture daily life, and explore composition in an expressive manner. There is, of course, an immediacy to drawings, particularly black and white images with no distractions other than the dark line across a page. 

The 1960s saw Blackman complete a number of strong graphic works, many depicting his family, particularly with the arrival of his son Auguste in 1957 and daughter, Christabel, in 1959. In 1960 Blackman was awarded the Helena Rubenstein prize and selected to exhibit in the Whitechapel Gallery in London, where the Blackman family moved before returning to Australia in 1967, when this drawing was completed.

Portrait of a Young Girl with a Bow in her Hair is a direct and sweet work, full of love and the innocence of childhood, with the child directly engaging the viewer. There is a calm and gentleness to the drawing, perhaps emphasized through the use of charcoal with its richness of texture and softer edge than pen or pencil. As McCulloch noted when the work was exhibited in 1994, “Interesting to contrast is 1967’s Young Girl with a Bow with 1984’s Beatrice Drawing on Herself – both drawings of his two daughters at the same age. The latter has a saccharine sweetness absent in the earlier, more direct but equally delicious work.” (Susan McCulloch, ‘The bush characters’, Herald Sun, Melbourne, 20 April 1994, p. 7)

Blackman is represented in the National Gallery of Australia and in all state galleries, as well as numerous regional and university galleries, in addition to private and corporate collections throughout Australia and internationally. He was awarded an OBE in 1997 and honoured with a survey exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Schoolgirls and Angels, in 1993.

Further information:

Read more about this artwork
Charles Blackman Biography
Charles Blackman artworks in the stockroom