The National Art School | Artist Insider series

Lucienne Rickard drawing a Chinese Paddlefish at the National Art School Gallery, opening week of NIRIN, Biennale of Sydney 2020. Photograph: Peter Morgan

The National Art School

The National Art School’s presents their Artist Insider series, talking to Biennale of Sydney artists showing at NAS, NAS lecturers and alumni; accessible from the NAS Connect page.

Lucienne Rickard talks about bringing her Extinction Studies project to Sydney

Randy Lee Cutler and Andrew Rewald talk about their collaboration for NIRIN

Bronte Leighton-Dore talks about her solo show at Martin Browne Contemporary

Les Rice gives a practical demonstration on how to mix oil paint medium

Tile Image: Lucienne Rickard at the National Art School Gallery, opening week of NIRIN, Biennale of Sydney 2020. Photograph: Peter Morgan

Art Without Borders

Touring exhibitions play a pivotal role in connecting the arts community. They provide access to collections, and permit collaboration between cultural bodies, ensure access to a broader audience and encourage artistic dialogue with our neighbours. So what happens when we batten down the hatches, not only at home but from state to territory? When enforced restrictions disconnect us from physically viewing art, how do we respond?

With touring programs currently on hold as galleries across the country are temporarily closed, we look to new modes of transport; the offline becomes online, and the physical shifts to virtual, proving that accessibility to the arts is boundless. Below is a selection of touring exhibitions, previously published in Art Almanac; to read, view, and explore from the comfort of your home, or to add to your arts calendar.

Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial

Reko Rennie, OA_RR 2017, 3-channel high-definition film, sound, duration 8 mins Photograph: Justin McManus. Courtesy the artist, Blackartprojects, Melbourne and National Gallery of Australia, Australian Capital Territory

‘We defy: By existing; By determining our identity; By asserting our histories; our culture; our language; By telling our stories, our way; By being one of the oldest continuous living cultures in the world,’ states Tina Baum, NGA Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art.

‘Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial’ brings the works of 30 contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from across the country into the national spotlight. “Defying Empire’’, writes Yolande Norris, ‘is fierce, uncompromising and impactful.’ It focuses on the ongoing strength of Australia’s Indigenous people, exploring issues of identity, racism, displacement, country, nuclear testing, sovereignty and the stolen generations, and the power of activism.

On show at the National Gallery of Australia in 2017; Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and UQ Art Museum in 2018, followed by Western Plains Cultural Centre and Mildura Arts Centre in 2019, and finally at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney in 2020 (view the museum’s website for exhibition dates).

Read more…

John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new

John Mawurndjul, Ancestral spirit beings collecting honey, 1985-1987, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Maningrida Arts & Culture with financial assistance from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of the Australia Council, 1994 © John Mawurndjul. Licensed by Viscopy, 2017

‘John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new’ reunites works of art from national and international collections, made across a 40-year period, to present an alchemy of ‘the old and new’; bark paintings and sculptures that tell the stories of Kuninjku culture and the significant locations surrounding the self-proclaimed ‘chemist man’s’ home in western Arnhem Land.

Co-curated by Clothilde Bullen (MCA), Natasha Bullock (MCA), Nici Cumpston (AGSA) and Lisa Slade (AGSA), ‘John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new’ was developed in close collaboration with the artist.

Since launching at the of Contemporary Art Australia mid-2018, this comprehensive survey of Mawurndjul’s work proceeded to Adelaide, shown at the Art Gallery of South Australia, before (with a reduced version of the 165-work exhibition) returning to New South Wales: Murray Art Museum Albury and Glasshouse; zigzagging across to Queensland and back again: Caboolture Regional Art Gallery, Blue Mountains Cultural Centre and Cairns Regional Gallery. Programmed for Charles Darwin University Art Collection & Art Gallery in the Northern Territory, from 17 April to 28 June 2020, the exhibition has been postponed until further notice. We wait patiently for the green light to visit or revisit these works in the flesh, with shows scheduled at Tweed Regional Gallery in New South Wales from 10 July to 13 September 2020 and Bunjil Place Gallery in Victoria from 26 September to 29 November 2020.

Read more…

Eugenia Lim: The Ambassador

Eugenia Lim, The People’s Currency, 2017, performance, dimensions variable. This project was commissioned by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, supported by the City of Melbourne and part of the inaugural Asia TOPA Triennial of Performing Arts. Photograph: Zan Wimberley. Courtesy the artist and Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, Melbourne

Eugenia Lim takes on new roles in uncovering the Australian-Asian narrative, drilling down into racial politics, the social costs of manufacturing and the role of architecture in shaping society. Her Mao-like character balances between truth and fantasy, traversing through time and cultures in ‘The Ambassador’, a 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and Museums & Galleries of NSW (M&GNSW) touring project. ‘In the end, to me, art is a way of imagining something different,’ says Lim.

In 2019, the exhibition toured South Australia before making its way to New South Wales; scheduled for Bega Valley Regional Gallery from 8 May to 19 June 2020; before moving across the state to Goulburn Regional Art Gallery from 10 July to 15 August 2020, Griffith Regional Art Gallery from 12 September to 18 October 2020, Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery from 20 November 2020 to 16 January 2021, and finally Orange Regional Gallery from 30 January 2020 to 28 March 2021.

Read more…

Craftivism. Dissident Objects and Subversive Forms

Kate Just, Feminist Fan #1 (PUSSY: Casey at the Melbourne Pussy Riot Protest, 2012), 2015, hand-knitted wool and acrylic yarns, canvas and timber, 38.1 x 50.8cm. Photograph: Simon Strong. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Shepparton Art Museum, Victoria

Curated by Anna Briers and Rebecca Coates, ‘Craftivism. Dissident Objects and Subversive Forms’ features the work of 18 contemporary Australian artists and artist collectives who utilise craft-based materialities with political intent. With each stitch our understanding of craft-making traditions is broadened; with every pull of the thread, artists subvert and extend these forms into the realm of activism and social change, reflecting on the world in which we live.

‘For much of the relative softness of the materials used in crafting techniques: yarn, fabrics, wool and felt, craft itself has a hard edge – it is uncompromising and political,’ writes Kathleen Linn.

‘This strong lineage of subversion and lasting entwinement with protest and social change has seen the emergence of craft’s own form of critique or means through which to explore the power dynamics operating in society. More recently, this has expanded and morphed with other contemporary practices and mediums as contemporary artists reach for craft-based materials and use them in new and more experimental ways,’ she continues.

While some respond directly to artistic or political movements, others encourage social connection between community members or require participatory activation through collective processes.

‘Craftivism’ also addresses issues with land, environmental politics and climate change, while others are concerned about contested borders, immigration and democracy; inviting viewers to rethink craft in a new light.

‘Craftivism’ is a Shepparton Art Museum curated exhibition, touring nationally through NETS Victoria at Shepparton Art Museum, Warnambool Art Gallery and Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery in Victoria in 2019, followed by Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra. The exhibition enters 2020 at Bega Valley Regional Gallery in New South Wales from 30 April to 21 June 2020, and Queensland’s Warwick Art Gallery from 3 July to 15 August 2020 and University of the Sunshine Coast Art Gallery, from 12 September to 31 October 2020.

Read more…

Mary Tonkin: Ramble

Mary Tonkin, Ramble, Kalorama (detail), 2017-19, oil on linen, 180 x 1890cm. Photograph: Matthew Stanton. Courtesy the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne & Sydney

While we’re all stuck indoors, Mary Tonkin offers an opportunity to escape into the wild with her work, Ramble, Kalorama (2017-19) composed of 21 panels and stretching almost 19 metres. ‘I’ve been playing with this idea of making a very long work for about ten years now; a piece that reflects time spent moving through a place, being with it,’ says Tonkin. For this body of work – which includes drawings, ceramics and smaller paintings – the artist returned to her family farm at Kalorama in the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne; ‘sowed with cultivated flowers, rare bulbs and perennials, and surrounded by national parkland,’ notes Pesa. ‘It enfolds me,’ says the artist of what she affectionately terms as ‘her gully’, where she has been working amidst the open landscape and in her studio.

‘Ramble’ was on show at Australian Galleries, Melbourne, in 2019 before travelling across the city to Whitehorse Artspace in 2020. While it is uncertain whether the exhibition will continue, works can be viewed on the gallery websites.

Read more…

Additional touring exhibitions include: ‘FEM-aFFINITY’, ‘Violent Salt’, ‘Anne Wallace: Strange Ways’, ‘Jess Johnson and Simon Ward: Terminus’, ‘Arlo Mountford: Deep Revolt’, and ‘Void’, to name a few. JamFactory Icon shows: ‘Catherine Truman: no surface holds’, ‘Angela Valamanesh: about being here’ and ‘Clare Belfrage: A Measure of Time’ will also continue the rounds when gallery doors reopen. More information is available via Art Almanac’s online platforms.

Happy (virtual) travels!

Circular art reflects on Buddhism – Bangkok Post

Circular art reflects on Buddhism

Courtesy of La Lanta Fine Art

Up-and-coming Thai artist Pannaphan Yodmanee’s latest mixed solo media exhibition titled “Time Lapse” comes at a befitting moment as Thailand’s art scene slowly resurfaces from the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Pannaphan, whose work has been showcased in exhibitions in France, Japan, Australia and China, examines here the relevance of Buddhist philosophy in our present day lives in this exhibition, which will be held at the gallery La Lanta Fine Art from June 6 to July 29.

Pannaphan Yodmanee’s latest work is showcased in the exhibition ‘Time Lapse’. Photos Courtesy of La Lanta Fine Art

The 32-year-old goes all out in employing a combination of raw, natural materials and objects of contemporary origins in her work which imbue the painted designs and motifs endemic to traditional Thai art with the universal and persistent themes of loss, suffering, devastation and the karmic cycles of death and rebirth.

Consistent to the theme which she has probed through her artistic practice, “Time Lapse” presents eight circular artworks that combine elements of contemporary and traditional Thai art. She mixes natural raw materials such as rocks, precious stones, and gold leaf with modern science such as cements and paints to create a heavily textured artwork.

“The challenge in creating this series is in the technical aspect of working with natural material,” said Pannaphan. “I use clay and other types of earth materials to symbolise the idea behind the artwork. My previous series focused on using cement. For this series, I revive the technique that I explored while I was studying for a bachelor’s. It reflects the circumstances of the current state of the world with global warming and the pandemic.”

Pannaphan, who currently resides and works in Nakhon Pathom, was born in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Some of her most impressive accolades include winning the 11th Bernesse prize at Singapore’s Biennale (2016), in addition to top prizes in the Thai Traditional Painting Awards (2013), as well as the Young Thai Artist Awards (2006-2007).

In 2015, her work was showcased at the Thailand Eye exhibition presented at the Saatchi Gallery, London, and later at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. In 2016, her site specific installation Aftermath at the Singapore Biennale made her only the second Thai artist who captured first place at the Bernesse Art Prize.

In 2018, she was invited to participate in the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT9) at QAGOMA in Australia and later her In The Aftermath installation became part of permanent collection of the institution. In the same year, her installation Sediments Of Migration was exhibited in Wat Pho as part of Bangkok Art Biennale.

Courtesy of La Lanta Fine Art

Courtesy of La Lanta Fine Art

Courtesy of La Lanta Fine Art

In light of Covid-19 developments, the gallery will not host any opening reception. The exhibition can be viewed online at Appointments for private viewing can be made at or 02-050-7882.

Create Australia’s Future

Art asks important questions and in doing so reminds us of the world we want to create. Art is a model for policy innovation, and the time for advocacy is now.

As Australians, we are currently in a fortunate position with avenues of financial support at a national level, devised to reduce the burden COVID-19 is driving. In terms of targeted stimulus relief for the arts, the federal government announced on April 9 a $27 million package – made up of $10 million for regional artists and organisations, $7 million to support Indigenous artists and art centres, and $10 million for Support Act, a charity that delivers crisis relief to artists, crew and music workers. State, Territory and Local Governments around the country have also redirected or reinstated funding for arts-related activities of varying sums and qualifying factors.

Where does this place in line with international responses? Germany has elected to invest AUD$84 billion in culture, with a special focus on freelance workers, the UK have announced a AUD$320 million arts package, and in Canada AUD$550 million will be directed to its arts, culture and sports sectors. In terms of cultural funding, Australia ranks 26th out of 33 measured in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations.

Raquel Ormella, Wealth for Toil #1, 2014, nylon, acrylic and glitter on hessian, 250 x 250cm (irregular). Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Queensland

Conservative estimates from a report produced in April 2020 by The Australia Institute found that the creative arts contributed $14.7 billion to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017-18 (approximately 0.8% of the total GDP). More broadly, the Bureau of Communications and Art Research found that cultural and creative activity contributed $111.7 billion (6.4%) to GDP in 2016-17.

In 2019, 193,600 Australians were employed in creative arts – more than finance (190,600), accommodation (97,500), electricity supply (65,000) or coal mining (49,600). We promote ourselves as a creative nation, in recent reports the Australian Trade Commission spruiks arts and entertainment industries to foreign investors and importers with artists such as Ben Quilty and Tracey Moffatt.

Despite this, in the ten-year period from 2007/8 to 2017/18 government arts funding fell 18.9% in real terms (considering inflation and population grown) found a study conducted by
A New Approach. The news that the Australia Council of the Arts four-year funding pool for the 2021-2024 period would be increasing from $28 million to $31.7 million (after a $105 million cut in 2016) was a small victory quickly deflated by the announcement that the funding would be thinly dispersed between its recipients – with 41% of the grant applications finalists unsuccessful in their bid for funding, and the successful 95 applicants will see a 70% reduction of the amount requested in the first year.

Some of the country’s largest art institutions will not receive support from the operational funding program and a handful of arts publications are also among those defunded. In a press statement, Adrian Collette, CEO of the Australia Council rationalised their motive was to ‘provide support for the greatest number of small to medium arts organisations’. The recognition of this sector of the arts community is undoubtedly important; yet at a pivotal moment, when the long-term sustainability for the industry as a whole requires urgent attention and funding, this justification is questionable.

As Michael Fox, Arts Accountant and Valuer, shared ‘the issue that has crystallised with COVID-19 for the arts is that, for majority of arts organisations, their funding is short term, being seasonal and tied to outcomes… A common feature of the stimulus schemes, such as cash flow boost, JobKeeper and the state and council compensation programs, is that they reward businesses that employ people.’

The creative industries by its inherent nature is underpinned by a ‘gig economy’ and ‘portfolio careers’ of freelance and casual workers – as the NAVA lead #CreateAustraliasFuture campaign advocated, should the industry collapse because it does not adhere to a uniform employment structure?

Equally, by accounting procedures that fit the federal funding models, how do you show a downturn for cancelled events and rescinded contracts that are months away and not yet on the books – an issue facing a great number of Australians? I Lost My Gig Australia, an initiative of the Australian Festivals Association and the Australian Music Industry Network recorded as at 27 April the tally of lost jobs and contracts was in the sum of $340 million and in March 470,000 workers had been affected with a total of 240,000 job opportunities lost.

Raquel Ormella, Wealth for Toil #2, 2014, cotton, acrylic and Australian currency, 250 x 250cm (irregular). Darebin Art Collection. Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Queensland

NAVA’s Executive Director, Esther Anatolitis, discussed the Federal Government’s stimulus packages during a symposium with Dr Holly Arden, Associate Director of UQ Art Museum, stressing the need for advocacy in addressing the gaps in funding for large portions of the arts sector; ‘who are expected to suddenly magically get everything online for free’. Anatolitis canvassed that institutional bodies such as universities and government-owned regional galleries will largely miss out on the federal wage subsidiary measures. For the universities, in addition to concern for current students and staff members, this move raises issues as to how we support employment prospects for the next generation.

As recorded by The Australia Institute not only are regional galleries significant contributors to visual arts in Australia, but they rely largely on the efforts from volunteers. In the 2015-16 year, the value of volunteer hours from the activities of regional galleries equated to $7,824,216 – making the value of volunteer time over 20% of total funding received, second only to local government funding as a source of support for regional galleries. Both volunteer capacity and local government funding will be impacted by the pandemic, emphasising the need for increased federal and state government funding. Brett Adlington, Director of Lismore Regional Gallery, reiterates that ‘the intrinsic value of a rich cultural life needs to be continually fought for.’

The benefit of the arts is not solely emotive, but also fiscal. The interconnectedness of the industry and as a factor of economic importance is the ambit of ‘cultural and creative’ activities forming part of manufacturing, sales, education, design and professional services. The importance the arts has on well being, identity, personal development and fostering connections with others, is widely accepted and acknowledged, especially now. Rhana Devenport ONZM, Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), points out ‘isolation has poignantly highlighted how people turn to artists to navigate and seek meaning in our world.’

The indispensable role of art is not up for dispute, and political apathy is not an option.
This is the time to create Australia’s future.

For more information on funding programs, visit our Artist Opportunities page and

Prudence Flint: The Wish

In The Wish (2020), a woman lies prone on the bed; head to one side, with her arms tucked beneath her chest. She is still; resting. An unplayed guitar beside her sustains the quiet in the room. We watch, patiently, in silence for her next move.

Prudence Flint’s ‘psychologically charged environments’ draw the viewer into acts of inadvertent voyeurism, seduced by semi-undressed figures and a glimpse into intimate everyday domestic activities – from nourishing a child, bathing and sleeping, to coition. Their averted stares rupture the tranquillity of the scene and encourage the viewer to explore the true complexity of their narratives. I spoke with Flint ahead of her first show with Fine Arts, Sydney.

In paused moments of contemplation, what lies beyond the frame, or within the emotional framework of the characters?

I’m trying to create a scene of familiar tension where the surface of the paint, the shapes, the colours, the figures, form a whole. I want a feeling of intimacy and intensity. I think about early renaissance paintings where the viewer enters into a world, and a clear story is being told, but not without ambiguity and complexity. I like it when my unconscious distorts and gives unexpected qualities to the images. As in a dream, I don’t always know exactly what is going on in the narratives, but I am attracted to certain arrangements of shadows, furniture, angles, poses and objects and the atmosphere this creates.

You often focus on the single figure, yet occasionally you insert a second. Does this complicate the narrative or relationship of the composition?

It has taken me a long time to tackle the complexity of arranging multiple figures. There are certain curious blind spots in the social world regarding figurations of women-with-women unless it is clearly spelt out, but I am most attracted to mysterious gatherings. Couplings of men and women are tricky to paint because the symbolic law creates such primal fixed power relations. I find myself needing to play with angles and size relations for months before I can start painting because of all-the-trouble it brings. I have to subjugate the male figure in relation to the female figure; otherwise, the male figure colonises the narrative. Women need space for anything desirous or impossible to happen.

So, what role does the male figure, or male audience, play in works such as The Cup (2020); laying on the bed, asleep and exposed while his female counterpart stands semi-clothed and drinking?

He’s definitely the sacrifice in this work.

There are recurring objects in this series – for example, the seashell and the apple – what relevance do they hold?

I want the objects in my paintings to sit well within the narrative. I will often change them, paint them in, remove them several times until they feel right. Both the apple and the shell are meaning-laden in relation to the female subject. Shells are womb-like and have receptive oceanic listening associations with the Roman Goddess Venus (born of seafoam). The biting of the apple as symbolic of womanpower in biblical stories and fairy tales. These objects sit well in this series of paintings because of the themes of desire and loss.

Do your distortions of the female form and restricted palette of flat pastel pinks and muted pared-back greens tones attribute to the emotive psyche of the works?

I want the distortions to give emotional weight to the figures. I like it when the distortions become almost uncomfortable – but not quite. Colour has to have a temperature and work spatially within the picture plane, and its associations need to work within the narrative. I want the colour and surface of the paint to be pleasurable and palpable.

In this time of crisis and isolation, do you think your paintings can be redefined or given new relevance in regards to enforced solitude and self-reflection?

Context will always temper how an artwork is received. Being home for me is real sanctuary, where all my epiphanies, realisations and emotional shifts happen, and it is also where I paint. Solitude is highly desirable (necessary). It gives everything else meaning. My paintings are concerned with a self-relation that has developed over a long period of time.

Fine Arts, Sydney
13 May to 20 June 2020

Melbourne Art Fair: Online Viewing Rooms

Following the postponement of the 2020 Melbourne Art Fair, one of Australasia’s most progressive forums for contemporary art and ideas, the Melbourne Art Foundation in partnership with Ocula presents a new digital viewing platform, showcasing artworks intended for this year’s fair.

Participating galleries such as Anna Schwartz Gallery, Despard Gallery, GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Jan Murphy Gallery and Sullivan+Strumpf will host a series of digital experiences including studio visits, collector interviews and exhibition viewings.

Kate Tucker, Combiner, 2020, linen, calico, watercolour, acrylic, acrylic medium, paper, cardboard, earthware base, 44 x 33 x 10cm. Photograph: Matthew Stanton. Courtesy the artist and Daine Singer, Melbourne

Michael Zavros, Satyr with Pink and Green, 2019, oil on board, 41 x 60.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

Melbourne Art Fair
1 to 7 June 2020
Online Viewing Rooms

recess presents

From digital to physical space, and back again; ‘recess presents’ was to be shown in the ACE Open gallery, forming a dedicated investigation of experimental video in a physical space. Now, in what curator Olivia Koh calls a circular turn, the exhibition can be seen online. Each week, a new video screen will appear, streaming for two weeks only; ‘As one work is phased out another appears, so that the sequenced works inform each other like a string of sentences, or a body spinning in the landscape.’

James Nguyen, The Magic Pudding/Bánh Thần (still), 2019. Courtesy the artists: James Nguyen, Nguyễn Thị Kim Dung and Nguyễn Thị Kim Nhung, and ACE Open, South Australia

ACE Open
Until 24 July 2020
South Australia

‘Reopening windows to other worlds through art’

This week has marked our first cautious steps out of lockdown and into a ‘COVIDSafe‘ Australia as slowing rates of infection have prompted an easing of restrictions on gathering and movement across the country. Businesses and workplaces are gradually starting to reopen, offering hope of a return to some semblance of normality – although social distancing and other precautions will remain in place for the foreseeable future. While many in the hospitality and retail sectors anxiously adapt to new limits on the volume and density of their clientele, all eyes in the arts are turned toward the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) in Darwin, the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) in Adelaide and the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Sydney, the first state and territory galleries to announce their reopening, with more likely on the way soon.

MAGNT Darwin, the Museum of Central Australia, Megafauna Central and Lyons Cottage opened their doors on 18 May as part of the second stage in the Northern Territory Government’s ‘Roadmap to the New Normal. Discovery Centres in Darwin and Alice Springs, the Defence of Darwin Experience and Fannie Bay Gaol remain closed, and all reopened venues must enforce strict physical distancing and hygiene measures, but many in the territory will undoubtedly find great cause for celebration and reassurance in this sign of change, perfectly timed to coincide with International Museum Day. Another sign of change is the continued commitment to online initiatives reaffirmed by MAGNT Director Marcus Schutenko, indicating that a dual approach to exhibitions and public programs will likely remain a defining feature of our arts landscape for some time yet.

In Adelaide, AGSA Director Rhana Devenport ONZM has announced that the gallery will reopen from 8 June, again with strict physical distancing, capacity limits and increased hygiene measures in place. ‘While attendances will be diligently monitored and the safety guidelines outlined by Government adhered to,’ Devenport assures, ‘we are so pleased to welcome a limited capacity of visitors … reopening windows to other worlds through art.’ Like MAGNT, AGSA will also maintain a commitment to the provision of online resources and an active social media presence. Most recently, AGNSW Director Michael Brand announced the reopening of that gallery on 1 June.

Ironically, despite the closure of galleries and museums across Australia and the possibility that visitor numbers will be down for some time, the pandemic has likely inspired an expansion rather than contraction in other areas of engagement, with podcasts, video tours and interactive encounters opening collections and exhibitions to a broad diversity of regional, interstate and overseas audiences.

For the arts, as for other sectors, our first tentative steps out of lockdown and into an uncertain future have revealed the extent to which the medical and economic devastation brought about by COVID-19 compel a reassessment of our priorities. It cannot be denied that many people and institutions have suffered greatly and continue to suffer as the crisis intensifies elsewhere in the world – a reminder that we cannot become complacent and must remain cautious in our efforts to recover. Yet for those who have the good fortune to weather the storm, this has also been a lesson in the need to adapt and innovate, to make use of new technologies, and to share our advantages and resources with the widest possible audience. It is this commitment to diversity, transparency and accessibility that offers our best hope for a better future.

Dr Alex Burchmore, Publication Manager

Painted Silos Are Turning the Outback Into an Alfresco Art Gallery – Atlas Obscura

Australia was bled dry. From 2017 to 2019 the sunburned country endured one of its worst droughts on record—a prolonged natural disaster that forced farmers to walk away from their land and left rural towns reeling. With no tourist dollars to depend on, such towns were in danger of being erased from the landscape.

Until the painted grain silos began to appear, that is.

In the past few years, an unlikely public-art movement has burst to life in the outback, giving visitors a reason to travel long hours on dusty roads to the middle of nowhere—and giving at least some of those remote towns a reason for hope.

The first painted silo actually preceded the drought when it appeared in 2015, in the Wheatbelt town of Northam. There, in the arid outback of Western Australia, a cultural nonprofit called FORM recruited two well-known street artists, Phlegm and HENSE, to paint eight 124-foot-tall silos owned by Australia’s largest grain exporter, a growers’ cooperative called the CBH Group. What they hoped would be Australia’s largest outdoor murals—part of an unnamed project aimed at bringing art to the country’s dusty interior—soon became much more than that.

The silos were a hit, and became the catalyst for the Public Silo Trail—a joint project of the CBH Group and FORM that brought international artists to towns in Western Australia hankering for their own enhanced silos. The towering artworks that have resulted, visible for miles around, have been a boon, with visitors spending their time and money at local pubs and lodgings.

The silo trail has since extended to other states in the country, including New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland. Towns have formed silo art committees to apply for government grants, raise funds, and join the Australian Silo Art Trail, which connects remote communities through art and tourism.

Today there are 35 painted silos dotting rural Australia, many of which are owned by GrainCorp. They’re accessible via six driving trails that span 4,700 miles—a public open-air gallery improbably blooming in the outback. And there may be more soon: 25 towns around Australia are currently planning new commissions.

Each painted silo tells a story about the region, its people, and its history. These are a few of them.

Barraba, New South Wales Annette Green

In March 2019, Sydney artist Fintan Magee was selected to paint the privately owned Barraba Silos. After speaking to local residents to get a sense of the town, Magee conceived this 131-foot-tall mural. Completed in 24 days, it depicts a man searching for groundwater using a Y-shaped divining rod—a technique still widely used in Australia.

Yelarbon, Queensland Tex Acola

Yelarbon is a small town on the edge of a spinifex desert. Artist Joel Fergie (aka The Zookeeper), envisioned painting an oasis on the silos here, but due to health reasons was unable to complete his work. Jordache Castillejos and Jordon Bruce—members, along with Fergie, of the Brisbane group Brightsiders—took over and created a hopeful mural of a boy cooling off in the Yelarbon Lagoon with a paper boat in his hand. The artists used more than 264 gallons of paint across 19,375 square feet.

Nullawil, Victoria Robin Dunk

Sam Bates (aka Smug) used a cherry-picker to paint this mural of an Australian kelpie named Jimmy sitting beside a human companion—a concept the artist settled on after seeing photographs of daily life in the town. It took Bates 14 days to paint this 80-year old silo, which cost $115,480 AUD—a sum raised by the Pick My Project community grants initiative in Victoria.

Sea Lake, Victoria Ron Bonham

This mural by Fergie and Vinson tells the story of the Boorong people. The indigenous group is known for its astrological knowledge and ability to understand the changing seasons using constellations. With a vivid, vibrant backdrop, the mural depicts a young girl swinging from a mallee eucalyptus tree, gazing out over a lake and surrounded by native animals. The project took 11 months from conception to execution, with 20 days of painting.

Devenish, Victoria Annette Green

Melbourne street artist Cam Scale painted the 19th silo on the trail. The first stage was unveiled on Anzac Day 2018 and included two tall silos—one depicting a World War I nurse, the other a modern female military medic—painted to celebrate the centenary of the war’s end. The second stage, unveiled a year later, is a tribute to the mounted troops known as the Australian Light Horse. Painted on two shorter silos, it honors the 50 young men and women from Devenish who enlisted in the military a century ago. At the time, that meant that one in six of the town’s residents went to war.

Behind Closed Doors

Social distancing measures put the onus on galleries and artists to rapidly re-think how to share their work with audiences. For most, the answer was to close and thrive online. However, artists whose work was either scheduled to open, or already on display, felt the sting of this swift, yet necessary response. Meanwhile, with a second wave of upcoming exhibitions due to be installed also postponed, they were gifted some extra time to digitise their shows. I spoke with several artists who work with drawing, painting and sculpture to comment on the extraordinary situation that they found themselves in.

At Australian Galleries, Sydney, all the preliminary work had finished and the show had been hung. It was opening night for Camie Lyons who was uncertain of what to expect. Her fears allayed when many people did attend to share in the celebrations of the artist’s first exhibition with the gallery. Delighted with the audience response who ventured out on that night, she commented ‘it was still a beautiful evening and I felt way more supported than expected, people must have decided to come out for one last hurrah before shutdown. I was grateful so many felt that way.’

Camie Lyons, Honeyeater, 2018, bronze on concrete, 70 x 60 x 27cm. Courtesy the artist and Australian Galleries, Sydney

In Brisbane, Edwina Corlette Gallery closed the doors indefinitely as restrictions were ordered. It was the one, and only, day that Jane Guthleben’s exhibition was open to the public. With all the pre-show activity and marketing already done, including installation photographs, meant a different online pathway lay ahead. While Corlette adhered to health guidelines she was able to take individuals in the gallery, but Guthleben was in Sydney when the borders closed, making it impossible to attend her exhibition and the scheduled talk was cancelled.

At Tamworth Regional Gallery in New South Wales, closure was about to take place on the very day that Rowan Matthews was delivering his body of work. He arrived at the gallery in time to hear the news that the Director, Bridget Guthrie, had been instructed to close the doors to the public; opening night did not go ahead. However, Guthrie decided to hang the show determined to push on with creating the exhibition under the new conditions.

Back in Sydney, Kate Dorrough was in her studio with an upcoming exhibition at Arthouse Gallery due to open 5 May. As time passed from late March through April, the ground kept shifting; Dorrough said she had to ‘put uncertainty aside and focus on the works themselves’. Apprehension about the unknown eventually turned into reassurance that the exhibition would go ahead, albeit differently, and an early deadline for photography helped.

Kate Dorrough, River Language installation view, Arthouse Gallery. Courtesy the artist and Arthouse Gallery, Sydney

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, galleries have expanded the range of viewing portals for audiences – virtual spaces featuring videos and gallery installation photographs, and recruiting support from platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo and other social media. The artists that I spoke to had either worked with galleries or independently to increase their ‘views’.

Guthleben decided to do an Instagram talk from her home in Sydney at the time when her Brisbane gallery talk would have taken place and was thrilled with how many people joined the live feed. Later she was interviewed by Richard Morecroft for his new podcast series, ‘Exhibition’.

Jane Guthleben, Dutch still life with black cockatoos, 2019, oil on canvas, 100 x 136cm. Courtesy the artist and Edwina Corlette Gallery, Queensland

Lyons had been interviewed by Maria Stoljar for the podcast series ‘Talking with Painters’ about the works for her upcoming exhibition, which meant extra support was already in place. A virtual tour was quickly produced and uploaded, which helped to see the sculptures in the current gallery installation. Implications for Lyons didn’t stop there, with the cancellation of the Scenic World exhibition in the Blue Mountains, where she was to show sculpture, along with a residency at BigCi in Bilpin, New South Wales, which started then closed a week later.

During the past month, Arthouse Gallery has produced a series of videos for Dorrough in conversation with director Ali Yeldam, discussing each work. Dorrough says ‘the video will function as opening, introduction and artist talk’ with small bite-size introductions, or longer more detailed versions ‘this is critical to convey the scale and depth of expression in the works.’

At Tamworth, the gallery staff worked quickly with Matthews to upload online hi-res close-up and textural images of each painting and a virtual tour where viewers can click on each work for an audio artist’s statement. A new component will be an interactive ‘en plein air’ painting workshop in real-time, where participants will be engaging with Matthews and access the exhibition while working independently from their own studios.

Rowen Mathews, Rain is Emotional, 2020, oil on canvas, 152 x 198cm. Courtesy the artist and Tamworth Regional Gallery, New South Wales

Galleries and artists have worked exponentially over past weeks to meet the demands of this unprecedented situation. Still, the idea of not being able to offer a physical space has limitations.

The artists all spoke about the inadequacies of online, the sensory experience of immersion, the materiality and tactile presence, the sustained meditative approach to being in the same space as the artwork. These are the things that online simulation continues to develop. Matthews comments about his exhibition, ‘The paintings are large, moody and textural. They talk back’, and Dorrough remarks ‘scale and the surface qualities of works are difficult to convey; there is always a level of compromise that only visiting a gallery space can provide.’

It is hoped that the doors of galleries will be open again soon and we come out the other side of this pandemic equipped with a greater cognisance of flat screen technologies, that for now is the best tool available. Gone for the moment is the social aspect of community which so many are missing. Jane comments ‘I definitely miss openings. There is nothing like seeing the work together in one place, and honouring the effort of colleagues, and the power of the work.’

Kate Dorrough: River Language
Arthouse Gallery, Sydney
May 5 to 23, 2020

Jane Guthleben: Grandiflora
Edwina Corlette Gallery, Queensland
March 17 to April 9, 2020

Camie Lyons: A Physical Response
Australian Galleries, Sydney
March 17 to April 5, 2020

Rowan Matthews: Land is Emotional
Tamworth Regional Gallery, New South Wales
March 28 to May 24, 2020