Two years after opening with an exhibition of works by legendary Australian artist Arthur Boyd, Collie Art Gallery has achieved another cultural coup with its latest exhibition, Removing the Traces: Aspects of Abstraction from the Janet Holmes à Court Collection which opens on December 23.
The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see works by some of WA’s most renowned artists including Howard Taylor, Monique Tippett, Guy Grey-Smith, Ben Pushman, George Pitt Morison, Hildegarde Bassett, Rod Garlett , Revel Cooper and others.
Collection and Exhibitions Manager, Sharon Tassicker has worked closely with Collie Art Gallery’s Payam Parishanzadeh to curate the 38 works which make up the exhibition.
“This exhibition presents intriguing aspects of south-west landscape from the Janet Holmes à Court Collection. The works included individually demonstrate varying degrees and methods of abstraction; ultra-simplification, gestural and expressive brushwork, flattening of the picture surface and saturated colour, whilst maintaining the formal principles of line, form, shape, value, movement and composition. The real subjects recede and the aesthetics become the dominant factors,” says Ms Tassicker.
“Within this abstract landscape of the exhibition there are interjections of reality – ‘real’ trees and wildflowers. Important that these remain in the space as reminders because it seems to me that we are busy still doing our best to remove forests and flora as fast as industry and developers can manage it. Prudent to slow down and think about the reality we’ll be left with.”
Explaining how the exhibition came together, Ms Tassicker says. “It was quite interesting. Originally Payam made contact to see if we’d be prepared to loan works for an exhibition. When we first talked it was along the lines of, ‘Let’s have some south west works and things that people can relate to, things close to Collie that would resonate with people around the Collie region.’ So I went to the map of the south west, looked at all the names and places and then went into the collection database and found well there’s something from there and there’s something else from somewhere close by. So I made a big list as well as those towns and areas a list of works that I chose south west along the lines of forest and water, light and those things. Then I travelled down to see Payam at the gallery and we sat down for an hour or two and talked about them. Then I asked him if you really had your choice what would you have?”
When we started off I think he wanted to have big names, the so called ‘hero works’ by hero artists, but that’s not really the way we work, though we certainly have included some ‘hero’ west Australian artists in the mix. The other thing he said was the one thing he really misses was the abstract work that is so prevalent in Europe.” Prior to his arrival in Australia two years ago Parishanzadeh had spent 12 years working at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
“At that point a lot of the works that I’d put forward were quite representational so I thought, well we could do abstract easily and we could do south west abstract easily. So that made another shift.
So when I came back to Perth I revised the list. And when I started looking into abstraction and made sure that I had some kind of accurate description of abstract art that these works were taking the reality of the south west landscape and reducing that reality, removing the traces of the reality to end up with that abstraction in some way or other. And then I started thinking over the last few years one of our areas of interest has been Noongar artists’ art and paying attention to the history of the south west and it just sort of stuck out so very clearly to me that in fact what we have done with our history here was ‘abstract’ it. We removed traces of the reality, and right from the very beginning denying the existence of people who were here already, which is ridiculous when you think about it. So I thought that was a really interesting thing to consider.
Ms Tassicker acknowledges that some of the works will be challenging to some people but says, “I think people are thinking more deeply these days about our place here. I’ve tried not to make it too much in peoples’ faces.”
“And I think the indigenous works that are in there, even though they make very clear statements about the reality of this place, they are all abstract works themselves in their own way so that sort of fed into the whole overall concept.
The work of indigenous artists in the exhibition include, Ben Pushman who lives in nearby Greenbushes. Rod Garlet, a Swan River indigenous man currently living in Darwin. “Revel Cooper is one of the Carrolup School child painters who are noted for their magic realism style. We have five of his works in the collection and we have two in the exhibition. Desmond Woodley, his paintings of Nannup, when we purchased them he reminded me so much of Guy Grey-Smith with that fauvist use of colour. So Desmond’s work will be situated near or next to Guy’s.”
Ms Tassicker recalls showing Parishanzadeh the abstract works, “He said, ‘It might be nice to have a tree. Like a recognisable tree.’ So I said we can easily do that, so I have included part of those interjections of reality are the reality of the indigenous presence, but it’s also the actual real tree, the real wildflower, so we have the reality of the George Pitt Morrison trees and we’ve got the Hildegard Basset wildflowers. I thought that would be nice because I can make use of (the gallery’s) flexible moveable walls, to have little sections, so I’m quite excited about that.”
Currently the only place where selected works from the 4,000 registered artworks in the collection can be seen by the public is at the Holmes à Court Gallery at Vasse Felix Winery in Cowaramup.
Ms Tassicker admits that the exhibition represents a unique chance for the public to see these works. “To have the Howard Taylors, in particular, to come for this exhibition is pretty special because they are very fragile works and we guard them with our lives. Howard is very much of the deep, south west.
“I’ve had a couple of people already say, ‘I might just pop down to Collie to see the ‘Howards’.’ They are not often out. They’re not often displayed.” A rare chance indeed.
Removing the Traces: Aspects of Abstraction from the Janet Holmes à Court Collection open 23, 24 December (closed 25 Dec to 3 Jan), then open 4 January to 4 February, 10am-4pm, Thursday-Monday.(Closed Tuesday, Wednesday.)