WA Art Review

Last Updated: 04 Dec 2015
Ted Snell

Ted Snell is the director of the University of Western Australia’s Cultural Precinct, and currently the WA art reviewer for The Australian.


Teelah George

For many young artists, leaving art school is disorienting. After majoring in textiles at Curtin University, Teelah George admits to 'running away' to Belfast for three years because she didn't know what it meant to be an artist, and she didn't have the confidence to do whatever needed to be done. However, the impulse to begin working with materials in a generative way eventually returned, and Perth was the appropriate place to be "because I could start searching," she explains. "I remember never wanting to be a painter and seeing the two as binary opposites. I had this juvenile idea of painting as a non-tactile, loaded and permanent object – something not of the real world. Painting as a symbol with rigid processes, rather than a gathering of ideas. Now I treat my paintings like a tactile object, they are responsive and malleable."

Since then, she has held five exhibitions, undertaken residencies in Ireland, Perth and Sydney, entered the collections of the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Cruthers Collection of Women's Art, undertaken commissions for the City of Perth and the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, been selected as a finalist in numerous art prizes around the country, and won the prestigious Joondalup Invitation Art Award and the Fremantle Print Award. Eight years since leaving
art school she has definitely established herself as a young artist to watch.
That interest in material culture, nurtured while studying textiles, has remained a key component in her work. "Found objects and objectness are very important, and taught me how to interact with paint," she says.

"I spend a lot of time walking and looking. This is such a fruitful process, it triggers and builds memory, and you find things that fire up connections between ideas." Not surprisingly then, collections and archives are another area of interest, both in content and ideology. "They are representative of our will to keep and tell stories regardless of the inevitable change of all things. So, for me, they are somewhat paradoxical – they are both permanent and always changing." In working with various collections in Perth, George has developed a sophisticated practice that explores storytelling through objects, enhancing their narrative through sympathetic manipulation in the process of making art. "This realisation took me a while and became quite seminal to me being an artist," she says. "Making seems like a by-product to my existence".

It is this sense of urgency and revelation that makes her work so compelling. In her first solo exhibition at OK Gallery, she explored a family narrative intertwined with the history of the Meatworks in Wyndham. For that show, she produced a series of extraordinary portraits of characters mined from her family photographic archive. This layering of stories and memories embodied in materials gives a particular charge to her recent prize-winning work in the Fremantle Print Award Effect of Dose on Taste (New Phase). "I am interested in this sensitivity and how materials can manifest a presence and stimulate memory," she explains. "It is both material and immaterial. I think that this way of thinking about perception is key to engaging with the world, not just my work."

Her palette is subtle – at first glance, there seems to be little happening in a field of whiteness, but the layering and removal, the process of hiding and revealing, is embodied in this cyclical journey of painting. "Throughout the process I go back and forth as a way to challenge the painting, and myself. My paintings are an exercise in this very process. There is something inherently personal in it that is potentially unfathomable and equally wonderful."

Currently preparing for an exhibition in Melbourne early next year, with other exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne, and possibly New Zealand to follow, Teelah
George is an artist whose work reveals significant potential, and speaks with a distinctive voice.

Artist Jon Tarry gives sound a visual aspect in the PIAF show Dark Mirror White Noise.


Each year, the Perth International Arts Festival offers a smorgasbord of local, national and international arts events that activate the city and bring summer days and evenings alive with the beautiful, the challenging and the downright amazing. The visual art component of the Festival program is curated by Margaret Moore, who orchestrates a heady mix of artists from here and elsewhere to present their work in venues around town.

For 2016, she has identified three major threads, which she has woven together to create a diverse and fascinating program. The first is an interest in the material properties of art, and the love of making that is manifest in a use of surface technique and texture to underpin the relevant content artists address. It includes solo exhibitions by Bharti Kher at the Lawrence Wilson Gallery, Dani Marti at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg at PICA, and Ryan Trecartin at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Her second thread is the way in which physical performance can be integral to the process of creating art, which is at the core of the practice of Shaun Gladwell, Carsten Höller, and Western Australian artist Jon Tarry. All three are showing at the John Curtin Gallery. Finally, Margaret has included works that showcase new local initiatives, such as Success (a gallery of contemporary art from around the world, set within the vast spaces of the old Myer building in Fremantle), and FORM's project in the Pilbara with Fiona Foley. Invariably the memory of these experiences lingers long after the exhibitions close and the performances end.

Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, John Curtin Gallery, Art Gallery of WA, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Fremantle Arts Centre, February-March.

Ira, 2013 by Graham Miller.


The title of the Art Gallery of Western Australia's new series of surveys of WA artists couldn't have been better chosen for Graham Miller.

As one of the state's most significant photographers, Miller has been focusing on Western Australia for years, and a selection culled from the past fifteen captures the human drama and the natural beauty of the state.

AGWA Curator of International Contemporary Art Robert Cook has worked with the artist to select a group of works that comes together around two distinct threads: a body of landscape works, and a group of portraits. "Presented in
two distinct sections, the show will demonstrate the ways that his portrait subjects exist as both characters from an un-made film and as, simply, themselves," Cook explains.

"And the landscapes, when considered as a group, will take on a metaphorical dimension, functioning as 'characters' also. Working together, these elements will open up the precise slither between fact and fiction, the found and the constructed, that Miller activates so successfully."

This narrative strain inflects each work with a particular resonance, and weaves a thread through the entire exhibition that illuminates both a familiar and, at times, unexpected Western Australia.

Art Gallery of Western Australia, until February 28.

Robin Goodfellow, 2015 by David Collins.


"All the world's a stage," explains Jaques in Shakespeare's As You Like It, "And all the men and women merely players." For four hundred years, we have accepted our role as participants in the theatre of life Shakespeare described, and many of our experiences have been interpreted within that theatrical frame, so much so that we often forget how much of our language and ability to interpret the world is reliant on his insights. Indeed, as an American woman once famously expounded after viewing a performance of Hamlet, "That play was full of clichés".

Shakespeare's influence remains a valuable lens through which to view our experience of being human. Of course, interpretations change, and Shakespeare's prose is robust and flexible enough to accommodate any number of them. Laurence Olivier's performance as Henry V was designed to spur on the threatened citizens of the United Kingdom with the zeal of Agincourt, when "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" was used to inspire the people against the advancing Nazi war machine (it was used with less success recently to jolly along the English team in the Rugby World Cup). But when Kenneth Branagh played Henry in the aftermath of the Falklands War, the famous 'No fear' speech was played down and recast as an elegy to fallen heroes who did indeed go "Once more unto the breach, dear friends". However, whether we are contemplating the joy and perils of young love, the inevitable outcome of jealousy, distrust and manipulation, or our musings on the meaning of life, we inevitably return to Shakespeare's 37 plays and 154 sonnets.

On the cusp of the four hundredth anniversary of his death, there are many plans for celebrating his work and memorialising his contribution. The British Council plans mark this event with performances, conferences, debate and discussion that will span more than 140 countries around the world. In Perth, Shakespeare400 will involve all our major performing arts companies in many venues throughout the City of Perth, to showcase Shakespeare's work and highlight its continuing relevance.

One of the most compelling of many commemorations of Shakespeare's legacy is the public artwork that caps the new City of Perth Library on Hay Street. Andrew Nicholls has transformed the dome of the circular building (designed by Kerry Hill) into a vast mural interpretation of the closing scene of The Tempest, translated into a Western Australian setting. Featuring local artists and friends portrayed as the central characters of the play, including Abdul Abdullah as Caliban, it is a revisioning in which Prospero hands his magical book to Caliban, rather than throwing the book into the ocean as he sails away from the island. This optimism recasts the play as a post-colonial allegory. Some of the ideas for the mural were previewed in a recent exhibition fair is foul & foul is fair at Turner Galleries in Northbridge, where Nicholls, Abdul Abdullah and David Collins re-examined Shakespeare from their experience as artists working in the twenty-first century.

Shakespeare has been an ongoing source of inspiration for these three artists and many others, and this exhibition is the first of many reinterpretations and reimaginings of the plays and sonnets over the coming year, which will include a program of commissioned videos by Jacobus Capone, Andrew Verano, Thea Constantino and Yirra Yaakin at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. As Ben Jonson proclaimed back in 1623, "he was not of an age, but for all time".


Leigh Robb, curator, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art

The job description for a curator has changed completely in the past twenty years. No longer specialists in a very narrowly defined field, contemporary curators are required to care for collections and also to prepare and present exhibitions from those collections while scouring through artist's studios and other repositories of objects and artworks to find new and intriguing threads and interconnections. This expanded role requires the capacity to understand the communities they serve, and through
that depth of insight to identify needs or gaps in knowledge or exposure that should be filled.

Contemporary curators need to foster partnerships with a wide range
of stakeholders, to be open to new ideas and innovative practices, to develop
a habit of curiosity, collaborate extensively, and have the capacity to communicate their enthusiasm to others. It's a big ask, but Leigh Robb at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art does that and more. Not only is she very active on the local scene, she also works nationally and internationally on projects that she always seems to filter back to Western Australia through a variety of well-honed strategies.

Since she arrived in Perth in 2009 to take up the position at PICA, Robb has
been a magnet for young artists, and a catalyst for the generation of wonderful new work. After undertaking the role of intern supervisor at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, and working as a curatorial assistant at the Kroitnijz Cultural Association in Milan, she gradually meandered her way to Perth via the Asia Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery, return trips to
the Guggenheim in Venice, and a three-year stint working in London. As
a result, she was well prepared from those experiences to generate a shared sense of energy and enthusiasm among local experimental and innovative artists.
Most evident in the long list of exhibitions and events undertaken at PICA under her leadership have been major presentations of work that showcase locally based artists. Robb is determined that the same level of care, respect and attention we focus on artists from outside the state should be made available
to the extraordinary artists who live and work here. On that list is the impressive survey exhibition of Pilar Mata Dupont and Tarryn Gill's collaborative projects; the solo exhibitions of Consuelo Cavaniglia, Alex Spremberg, Sarah Elson, Bevan Honey, George Egerton-Warburton, Erin Coates and Michele Theunissen; and important thematic shows such as Epic Narratives, What I See When I Look at Sound, and the regular Hatched National Graduate Art Shows and the PICA Salons.

Robb has also been an important facilitator for young artists based in Perth, who wish to work and exhibit internationally and nationally. Through
her networks, she has generously negotiated opportunities, taken on numerous mentorships, and carried through on her drive to showcase their work to a wider audience, concurrently bringing the spotlight back to shine on Western Australia.
As the role of the curator continues to morph and change, it's clear Robb will be at the forefront of that metamorphosis. Her commitment to artists is evident in all her projects, and it is matched by an equal commitment to providing audiences with new insights and fresh revelations that reorient their worldview. She is the epitome of the art insider whose contribution is integral to the success of so many projects.


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