Saturday, 27 April 2019



Final Curtain (2019)

May 2019

Katy Bowman, Everything must go, (2019)

When an artist reaches for text you know there is more on their mind than simply an interesting arrangement of the alphabet. There is a ‘plan’ – a desire to make you think.
Katy Bowman writes that she enjoys ‘interpreting signs’. Her method is to take the ready-made expression, situate and wonder at it, to the point of its becoming a philosophical question in the context she creates.

WAR IS OVER – if you want it (1971) – a giant multi-panel billboard, on Times Square by John Lennon and Yoko Ono – seems to have opened the floodgates on signage, art and provocation.

Lennon and Ono, WAR IS OVER, (1971)

American Barbara Kruger has been curious about text for decades. Her work is more didactive, than Lennon/Ono, and she renown for her conjunctions of found photographs and captions. Her (Untitled) I shop therefore I am, (1987), ironically became a self-fulfilling merchandizing ‘aid’, somewhat defeating her critical intent, but nonetheless drawing attention to how modern consumers represent themselves – via their purchases.

Barbara Kruger, Your body is a battleground, (1989)

Your body is a battleground, (1989), amplified women’s issues in the 1980s, and sadly remains starkly relevant today. Perhaps in an effort to reach the nascent source of cultural forces, Kruger’s recent work reaches out to youth in skate parks, Extended Play, (2018), reminding skaters and incidental viewers ‘how culture constructs and contains us’

Back in Australia in the 1990s, the work of Constanze Zikos indicates a similar desire to instruct, his prescient Fake Flag (1994) signals problems with cultural identity – eschewing words/text, he employs symbols, old and new – visual elements that defeat language barriers/borders at least. His use of the word ‘fake’ in the title heralds a wave that was to come.

In the 2000s Chinese ‘artist’ Ai Wei Wei seized upon ‘fake’ to the extent of naming his studio/business accordingly: in 2012 ‘Ai (Wei Wei), subject of apparently trumped up tax charges, is unable to leave China - his passport has been seized; he has had one workshop in Shanghai razed and is presently about to have the business licence of his company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. revoked. In an October 2012 video interview* he appears quietly bemused: dryly observing that all the Chinese government's effort is directed at trying to limit people's access to information; the government faces great challenges in the areas of trust, ideals and moral standards.’

It seems tax departments prefer to chase artists rather than the multinational companies that draw artists’ ire and comment.

By cogently repurposing 'signage' Bowman’s work is a part of this urgent urge to have us ‘wake up’ or at least think about the graphic commands that surround us.

Text is crucial to contemporary life in a way it was not previously – the oldest living culture in the world, Australia’s indigenous First People, did not feel the need to resort to text in the sixty thousand odd years of their development. 

Reading and writing are relatively new and privileged activities; now across the world the hegemony of ‘English’, driven by the digital revolution, is creating cultural angst, colonizing thought and lexicon. 

The issues around text are raw. It is soothing therefore to muse upon Bowman’s banners. 

Bowman writes: ‘In ‘Final Curtain’ I use a phrase normally emblazoned on a shop window to promote a clearance sale; ‘Everything Must Go’ as a Memento Mori (Latin for ‘remember that you will die’) to reflect on mortality and the brevity of life.  … 
I have chosen to use a range of materials that I had at hand … the material and the method each point to the impermanent nature of things.’ 

Katy Bowman, gallery view mobiles, (c 2017)

The mesmeric influence of Bowman's work was evidenced in her earlier installation, (Shifting Contingencies, WINDOWSPACE, 2016), which included elements of the installation above.


* (


Thursday, 4 April 2019




WINDOWSPACE - April 2019

Spiritual Softdrive, Grey Blue Sky (1998), on Wenzhou mulberry paper, (detail)

In the wider West the spiritual polarities of dark and light pulsate in the luminosities and chasms of Mark Rothko’s “spiritual almost tragic timeless emptiness”[i]. Closer to home the later work of Lloyd Rees initially appears evanescent but hints at a dark underside, a yearning for release from the yoke of conscious proficiencies and knowledge.  The bloom on the surface of Tim Maguire’s luscious fruits and flowers is a moment away from decay. In the world of the shiny fast gleaming expendable, and the infinitely duplicable digital, the quiet thunder of handmade polarities at work recalls an underside, the cost of neglecting the 'heart of silence' (T S Eliot).

Barnaby Smith's sense of art practice as a “spiritual discipline” perhaps influenced his intuitive decision to make print images.  In 1996 Smith went to Kyoto and was introduced to the Japanese woodblock technique by Akira Kurosaki.  In Japan he had the opportunity to appreciate the wooden temples of Nara and Kyoto and exhibited with the Second Annual Kyoto International Woodprint Association.

Grey Blue Grain, (1998), woodblock print on Wenzhou mulberry paper, (detail)

In his woodblock prints Smith brings together significant knowledge and experience of the cultural poles of East and West.  Through his study and appreciation of Germanic culture  and its graphic traditions locating image and text in printed form, (Smith has a BA in History and German from University of Melbourne), he was influenced by the idea of printmaking as a vehicle for radical millenarian notions, a counter to alienating materialism.  

By the very nature of its practice, printmaking offers an exemplar of the inextricable link between the positive and the negative, the light and the dark. Over time this 'play' may be described as a ‘genetic’ resonance.  Smith sees the woodblock as the archaic precursor of modern technologies for reproduction and dissemination of images and expresses a fascination with how images ‘leave traces through successive stages’. 

Red Johanna VII, (2015), woodblock print on Gozen paper, 44.5 cm x 67.5 cm, Unique state

In the Artist’s Statement for his Leichardt Street Gallery exhibition (1999) Smith observed that in Chinese writing the characters are perceived as emanating from the same essence as the ideas or things they represent.  “All the forces and elements of nature and consciousness (are) seen to issue forth from the same prime ground of being, to which all would return in a continuum of emergence and dissolution, order and chaos, growth and decay.”[ii]  Woodblocks bearing these characters are revered as repositories of spiritual knowledge.  This continuum informs Smith’s woodblock prints which he describes as appearing like ancient documents “speaking a distant language on the verge of recognition”.[iii]

The popular notion of the woodblock is of line and shape, clear forces of image and colour.  Barnaby Smith’s work turns this notion on its head – his delicate mulberry kozo paper ‘banners’ are fusions rather than forces.  Unique rather than editioned images arriving from what he describes as ‘ a dialogue with the process’.  His approach is one of an “emptying out of the ego-bound self and attuning to the spiritual energies inherent in the materials and processes.”

The living energy brought to life in the act of making and viewing has its precursor in what Japanese woodblock master Munakata Shiko defined as hirogari, the ‘cosmic energy produced when the soul of the artist meets the soul of the block’.[iv]  The undertaking of the printmaker is to work from the finitude of a fixed surface to transfer that vision to another surface, to create from definition an illusion.  The artist calls on an empathy - einfuehlung – to effect this transition, to convey a sensation, which is in the end a private, lone, ineffable awareness, a trembling in the face of life’s fragility.  

The spirit of wabi-sabi is here in the delicate stained traces, of hand, of block, of the faint fusing of the two meeting at the border of nothingness.  From these sensuous banners visions evolve and devolve, suggest mortality, loneliness, hints of the human hand and the force of nature.

Smith's 'banners' are deliberately near life-size, enabling an envelopment of artist, and viewer, an absorption into sensuous and perplexing existence, the restless natural process and the alchemy of the light and the dark.

Despite the names one might reach for to contextualize Smith’s work, to posit it as part of a linear development or graphic ‘continuum’, the subtlety of the work defies categorisation.  His series, from which this WINDOWSPACE-BEEAC show is derived, are at once truly contemporary in their visual acknowledgements and resonant with thousands of years of graphic history, timeless.

 From Bridgewater I (2018), woodblock print on Kurotani kozo paper, 27 cm x 39 cm, Unique state

Barnaby Smith lives and works in Hobart and shows at the Colville Gallery, Hobart.


[i] From the artist’s notes
[ii] From the artist’s notes
[iii] From the artist’s notes
[iv] From the artist’s notes – Ref also Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi, Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, California, 1994

Wednesday, 6 March 2019



… your one wild and precious life …

SUE TATE  'wave of power'

Look, rejoice, celebrate, shout – among us is inspiration!

Local women offer up their creations – work of beauty, skill, patience, observation, wit – acknowledgement to the ‘one wild and precious life’ each lives in her unique and valuable way, each throwing up profound and tender perceptions, making palpable what is felt and observed, in honour of showing and sharing that moment, that realization. Foregoing to focus.

As with all things multiple and human these women’s taunts and talents lead in no single direction, nor are they guided by a specifically gendered sensitivity.

Their amazement springs from many sources: placid observation, gathering, turning of pages, gazing into frames, the eye trailing the littered dirt, the treetops, the waves, the seashore, an array of marks, telling intonations around them … This anyway is how I understand it – I read and hear of delight in Wolseley and Hokusai, I think of Anne Morrow Lindburgh’s Gift from the Sea.

IRENE PAGRAM  Making the time and space to be an artist, (2019)

I see inspiration from Miro, Leonardo, Michelangelo and think of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s Pied Beauty… I know these women live in their worlds and read them, eagerly – what a bounty to share, how pleased and proud I am to be in their orbit, however peripherally, to experience  their delight in observing and making and sharing.

Look, rejoice, celebrate, shout – among us is inspiration!

VIVIENNE WHEELER 'Content to be me'

Frustrated child
Failed to be wild
Relief now I’m older
Learning to be bolder
Children and power
Maturing by the hour
Artwork I see

Content to be me 
(V Wheeler, 2019)

Women thank you, profoundly thank you!