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troublemag | August 20, 2019

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Melburnin by Inga Walton

The tenth anniversary installment of the National Gallery of Victoria’s immensely popular Melbourne Winter Masterpieces initiative, Monet’s Garden: The Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris (until 8 September, 2013), includes fifty-four paintings, photographs and selected artifacts from the Musée Marmottan, with an additional nine works loaned by international and local museums and private collections. This represents the largest group of works by (Oscar-) Claude Monet (1840-1926), the father of Impressionism, to ever travel to Australia.

Portraits of Monet and his first wife Camille Doncieux (1847-79) by their friend Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) in 1873, and of their two children by Monet in 1880, introduce a close-knit family whose lives revolved around the artist’s studio schedule, his exhibition and travel obligations, and managing their often strained financial situation. Upon his death, Claude Monet’s second son Michel (1878-1966), who had no children, bequeathed his property in Giverny to the French Academy of Fine Arts, and the collection of paintings and ephemera he inherited from his father to the Musée Marmottan. Michel’s immense generosity endowed the Musée with the largest Claude Monet collection in the world, which has since been supplemented by further private donations, the scope of which is amply demonstrated in this superb and coherent exhibition.

What is immediately apparent is how poorly Monet’s paintings reproduce in published books and catalogues; the subtlety of his brushstrokes and the tonal depth of his palette tend to get flattened out by  photography, and can look somewhat monotonous. In person, these enthralling works are stunning in their sheer vibrancy and potency. This exhibition will dispel many preconceptions audiences may have built up over years of exposure to ubiquitous reproductions of Monet’s work, but without much recourse to seeing the originals. The bulk of the paintings focus on Monet’s private world at Le Pressoir, an old farmhouse and former cider press at Giverny, which he set about transforming after renting it in 1883; he would purchase it in 1890, and acquire an adjacent plot in 1893. In contrast, there are also works which show Monet’s travels: around the Normandy coast and along the Seine valley, numerous trips to London between 1870 and 1901, and a brief trip to Norway in 1895 to visit his eldest stepson, Jacques Hoschedé.

In an inspired move, the exhibition concludes with a viewing suite screening The Last Day at Giverny (2012), six minutes of specially commissioned on-site footage from Monet’s garden and property, filmed from sunrise to sunset on the last day of the season in early November. This immersive panoramic experience was the concept of NGV Director Tony Ellwood, and was shot by the Seville-based event company General de Producciones y Diseño (GPD). Monet’s obsessive documentation of his garden and its many moods, the clos normand (flower garden), the Japanese footbridge over the waterlily pond, the weeping willows, and beds of irises, agapanthus, wisteria, and alleys of roses, all come sparkling to life. “This curved display will surround and embrace visitors leaving a powerful parting impression of Monet’s garden”, Ellwood believes. On the contrary, having spent some time in the filmic garden, captivated patrons are just as likely to retrace their steps back to the main gallery space to look upon the paintings afresh.

• National Gallery of Victoria (International), 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 3004 – www.ngv.vic.gov.au

• Musée Marmottan Monet, 2, Rue Louis Boilly, Paris XVIe – www.marmottan.fr/uk

Sculptor Robert Hague’s survey exhibition, Deca: 2003-2013, at Deakin University Art Gallery (until 13 July, 2013) brings together over thirty sculptural  works and lithographic prints selected in conjunction with gallery manager Leanne Willis. A four-time finalist in the Deakin University Contemporary Small Sculpture Award, Hague won the prize in 2010 with one of his now signature Trojan Hammer works, which led to preparations towards the present show. The diversity of his output in bronze, stainless and corten steel, aluminium, and even carrara marble shows an artist of great facility grappling with the rigors and challenges of studio practice, the progression and development of which can be traced through his maquettes. Of particular delight are the mid-size Kandinsky-inspired coloured works in painted steel, which Hague rarely produces these days, as he says they are too impractical and prone to damage; he has also moved away from ferrous metal.

Born in Rotorua, Hague arrived in Australia in 1985. A capable photographer, painter, and draughtsman, Hague’s interest in sculpture was one nurtured by childhood exposure to his father’s hobbyist endeavours. While honing his practise in Sydney, Hague shared the studio of Ron Robertson-Swann, OAM, from late 1999 until 2003, and also acted as his workshop assistant. As Hague’s work grew in ambition and scale, he started to accrue significant commissions, and was short-listed for numerous awards, winning the Director’s Prize at Sculpture by the Sea (1999), which led to a twenty piece patron commission, Ocean Series (2001). At the Lorne Sculpture Biennale (2011) Hague picked up the Indoor Sculpture Prize just as his four metre high sculpture trail work Monument (2011), with its full-scale excavator bucket, seemed poised to gouge a chunk out of the beachfront.

Now based in Newport, Victoria, Hague remains a dedicated practitioner of abstract sculpture, but has returned to drawing in recent years with a particular interest in the power of pattern as a subtle indicator of meaning and ethic. The project currently gestating in hisstudio will encompass sculpture, print and drawing, and consider installation strategies such as sound. “I see this body of work as a critical innovation at this time of a developer-driven economy that privileges growth without substance”, Hague remarks. “These economies of construction force a kind of pandering that reveals and widens a social fracture founded on exploitation that I believe re-opens the potential to broaden artistic dialogue with the wider community, from within the very framework of these developments”

• Deakin University Art Gallery, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, 3125 – www.deakin.edu.au/art-collection

• Artist site: www.roberthague.com

In 2008, Deborah Klein turned her attention to the visual and narrative appeal of fairy tales, bringing together thirteen stories she had written into a small illustrated book. “The first stories in that book evolved from my pictures, but then they took on a life of their own”, she says. “For several years I had been researching fairy tales and folk tales. Although my fascination with the tradition of woodland myth and allegory dates from childhood, it became the primary focus of my visual work at that time, beginning with the Moth Women, a suite of small-scale paintings of women whose faces are partly concealed by elaborate moth-like masks”.

Klein founded a boutique imprint, Moth Woman Press, producing limited edition books and zines, “Although it was suggested I approach a publisher with my stories, I had the opportunity to publish them myself. The experience was not without its trials, but I learned a lot and was able to retain creative control. As an artist with metamorphosis at the core of my work, its unforeseen evolution from image to text to book now seems uncannily appropriate”. Since then, she has completed eleven of these delightful volumes, all of which have been acquired for the State Library of Victoria’s permanent collection; they also hold Klein’s earlier artist book Tattooed Faces (1996).

The new exhibition Tall Tales at Hand Held Gallery (until 6 July, 2013) represents something of a milestone, as it is the first to focus primarily on Klein’s ‘bookworks’. Enormously labour-intensive, the bound concertina titles open vertically, and are produced on handmade Khadi paper. These are complemented by a selection of over twenty miniature paintings. The primary inspiration for the imagery was the exquisite stop-motion silhouettes created by animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981). “Her fairy tale films, which I first saw as a child in the days of black-and-white television, were my introduction to silhouettes. At the time, I thought I had never seen anything quite so magical. I still do”, Klein admits. Sadly, this will be the final exhibition at this unique gallery space, which opened in 2008.

• Hand Held Gallery, Suite 18, Level 1, Paramount Arcade,
108 Bourke St,
Melbourne VIC 3000 –www.handheldgallery.blogspot.com.au

• Artist sites: www.deborahklein.net & www.mothwomanpress.blogspot.com

Painter Andrew Browne is the latest recipient of the Collie Print Trust Printmaking Fellowship at the Australian Print Workshop, which is granted to an established artist, generally from outside of the printmaking community, to allow them to extend their practise by developing a body of work in the print medium. The resulting Six Intaglios (until 22 June, 2013), reflect Browne’s ambitious work schedule across February and March – both for the scale of the series and the timeline for completion – in collaboration with APW’s senior printer Martin King and printer Simon White.

“I have made prints sporadically over thirty years, but more recently they have been photographically based, rather than the hand-worked techniques that the APW specialises in”, Browne notes. “It was an interesting and demanding challenge to re-engage with the copper plate and the etching/intaglio process, building the images with laborious and specific techniques such as aquatint, dry-point, sugar-lift and hard and soft grounds. The bare copper plate is both beautiful and initially intimidating, but once you are involved in the incising of the plate, and the image slowly emerges, it is a wonderful process…”

Browne and King would sometimes be working on several plates at once, and developed a couple of innovations for the series, specifically the application of hard and sugar-lift grounds with airbrush techniques. “It was a bit of a seat-of-your-pants affair, but one that worked really well, particularly in the largest aquatint intaglio, A Hollow (2013). This depicts an abyss opening up between twigs and branches, yet it is strangely tranquil, the effect almost of a nest with a velvety blackness at its centre, evocative perhaps of a surrender to the inevitable”, he explains. “The plate spent a significant time in the acid, totalling around two and a half hours, and when we pulled the first proof we were amazed at the success of the image and how the airbrush had created great tonal variations”.

The physicality of the etching process suits the subject matter of the sometimes bleak urban environment and sinister landscapes from which the images were derived. “I was determined to work across the range of my recent visual history, incorporating nocturnal anthropomorphic imagery, the friction of the detritus laden landscape, and some somewhat spooky facial characters too”, Browne asserts. “Although they are all sourced initially from photography and direct observation, as they develop the plates move further away from reality, toward a type of collaged surrealism”.

• Australian Print Workshop Gallery, 210 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Victoria, 3065 –www.australianprintworkshop.com

• Artist site – www.andrewbrowne.com.au

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