Right now GoMA is hosting free and unmissable exhibitions by two great but very different Australian artists: Margaret Olley and Ben Quilty, the exhibitions are touring the country but are currently at GoMA until October 13, if you don’t get to see them at GoMA look out for dates in other states. These exhibitions are well worth seeing. I am currently telling everyone I know about this exhibition and urging them to go see it. I loved it, especially the Quilty.
Olley and Quilty seem such different artists in many respects and yet there is the obvious connection between them with Quilty’s Archibald winning portrait of Olley and Olley’s mentorship of Quilty. Olley seems so feminine and domestic in her themes and Quilty so masculine, public and political in his. And yet there is a cross over between the two artists, despite the very public and political nature of Quilty’s work there is the constant presence of family and children and that domestic aspect is emphasised by the addition of the children’s art space exhibition, with it’s emphasis on the inclusion of children in the artists practice. The children’s exhibition is worth the visit in it’s own right, with it’s interactive nature and emphasis on fun. The inclusion of Quilty’s usual work bench is worth a look, with the varied blankets of paint testimony to the passion of the artist.
The hanging of Olley is curious, with the emphasis on the domestic nature of Olley, in contrast to Quilty. Olley’s paintings are hung in a gallery made to evoke a traditional Queenslander home, bright colour, tongue and grove panelling, in contrast to high white walls given to Quilty, whose exhibition is to the left. The exhibition emphasises her trademark still life paintings of flowers and fruit in domestic settings, and yet Olley went through a period of painting striking portraits. In the 1960s, she did a s series of portraits featuring Aboriginal models. It is vaguely uncomfortable looking at these beautiful and compelling paintings, hard to know where the line between exploitation and empowerment of the subject falls, there is certainly empathy and warmth in these beautiful paintings. I had lengthy discussions with an art loving daughter about this exhibition and she felt it was guilty of inherent sexism with the two exhibitions being side by side with the prime position of halls on the left going to Quilty, placing Olley on the right. She also challenged the domestic emphasis on Olley, the female artist in the home, painting domestic scenes. The Olley exhibition also has an emphasis not just on Olley as subject but as object with portraits of Olley by other artists, not least of which was the famous Quilty painting. There is also a rather lovely Jeffrey Smart painting featuring Olley. Politics aside this is a very enjoyable exhibition, filled with colour and celebration of nature in these stunning still life pictures.
Quitly is so different and I found the exhibition quite startling. I really love visiting galleries but I know very little about art, my ignorance does not stop me from enjoying the experience and with each visit I seem to learn something more, thus ever deepening my enjoyment of art. I thought I new what to expect of Quilty and was in no great hurry to see the exhibition but I am so glad I did see it. I was aware of his masculine, impassioned, impasto style of portraiture but I was not prepared for the incredible Rorschach landscapes, which were simply breathtaking.
The kind of art that rewards quite contemplation; intense, deep, layered images that invite thought and introspection. An intelligent engagement with Australian history and identity that cannot but help to inspire viewers to engage with our own storytelling and to look beneath the surface of things. The use of the Rorschach technique, further made the art accessible and relatable, who hasn’t smudged paint as a child and folded the page to create their own Rorschach image, there is an element of playfulness in the technique which is a nice counter to the sometimes dark questions the image is actually raising. The images are immediate and accessible. The passion and the political nature of the art is compelling, these are paintings created from empathy and passion, and they really want us to care and question. The Rorschach landscapes are amazing but the portraits are no less compelling and the abstract last supper paintings are intriguing, can’t say I fully understand them but I loved the fact that they demanded my attention and demanded that I reflect on what they were saying. I was reminded of the tortured, masculine images of Francis Bacon, but these seemed ultimately more compassionate.
The final room with black walls, featured one last Rorschach landscape an Island and on the opposite black wall was hung a selection of the bright orange life jacket paintings, that Quilty painted in response to the refugee crisis in 2016, the effect of these paintings in juxtaposition on the black walls was powerful.
I loved the close observation and vibrant colour of Olley and the passion and empathy of Quilty. Both exhibitions gave me things to think about and left me feeling inspired, I went away thinking about the things I had seen but even better I went away wanting to play with paint and create my own art.