“The city soaks into you,” according to the artist Christopher Heathcote.
This suite of paintings arose from the twenty years Heathcote spent working in three successive studios in Melbourne’s central business district. The insistent geometry of the locale affected, in a positive way, how he composed the works. He began to appreciate how measure and proportion can calm people not only in passages of music but in our visual environment. And he found himself savouring those often unnoticed elements of our urban geography—things such as the configuration of windows, signs, verandas and doors, the canyon-like buildings rising above, the plan of streets, lanes and arcades, the colours, textures and surface sheen of the urban fabric.
It is partly due to the artist’s lengthy residency in the inner-city that there is such variety within the suite. His paintings did not come in a short contained burst, he explains: ‘Over time you gradually become aware of another aspect of the city, another visual mood, and a composition arrives.’ Visually these are local Melbourne stories, hence the titles of several pieces.
Heathcote readily lists as sources the iconic images of the city from art history: Léger’s
La Ville, Wyndham Lewis’s The Crowd and Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie; as well as two classic works of modern architecture: Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building and Gio Ponti’s Pirelli Tower. He also cites an ‘intimate link’ between his studio concerns and his scholarly work as an author of a number of highly-regarded publications on Australian art, as well as being strongly influenced by several jazz musicians, in particular Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, especially in setting the blues-like mood of his evocative abstractions.
The works also include deliberate allusions to the Melbourne gallery district in which his current studio is located, as well as several clubs and bars nearby and the jazz played in some of them, as well as the inner-city cafes and restaurants he frequents: these are among the artist’s favourite things, and favourite places.
Dr Christopher Heathcote is a widely published cultural critic and historian. Originally trained as an artist, for many years he has combined studio work with an academic career, holding solo exhibitions and participating in group shows. An authority on Australian art since 1930, Dr Heathcote is the author is several books including A Quiet Revolution: the Rise of Australian Art 1946-68 as well as critically acclaimed monographs on Roger Kemp and Yvonne Audette. He has also been senior art critic for The Age, Melbourne (1990-94), associate editor of Art Monthly and a consultant historian to exhibitions of Australian art organised by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. He has lectured in art history and criticism at Melbourne and
La Trobe Universities and the Victorian College of the Arts, and he is currently the co-ordinator of the visual arts degree at the Gordon Institute, Geelong.
When Lights Are Low is on until 5 June at Geelong Gallery, Little Malop St, Geelong.