5 favourites from Geelong Gallery’s collection

I am thrilled to present this post by Geoffrey Edwards, Director of Geelong Gallery. Here he outlines five of his favourite works from the permanent collection which are currently on display. If you haven’t been to the Geelong Gallery for a while, why not pop in and check out the art – the online images simply cannot convey the indefinable, elusive quality that can only be felt when viewing an artwork face-to-face. Geelong Gallery is open daily from 10am to 5pm and entry is free. And special thanks to Geoffrey Edwards for sharing his favourite five!

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Arthur STREETON, Ocean blue, Lorne (1921)

Arthur Streeton_Ocean blue, LorneArthur Streeton, Ocean blue, Lorne 1921
oil on canvas
Collection: Geelong Gallery
Purchased with funds generously provided by Geelong Art Gallery Foundation, Robert Salzer Foundation Art Program, Geelong Community Foundation, Will and Dorothy Bailey Charitable Gift, and numerous individual donors, 2011

This is one of the Gallery’s recent acquisitions and it perfectly illustrates why Streeton is a household name even for those who profess no particular familiarity with the history of Australian art.

Just look at this shimmering summer sky, its intense blue hue, the way Streeton effortlessly paints the trunks and canopies of slender young gums, and suggests the scent of eucalyptus on a sea breeze, and how in this work we look down from a cliff top to the pristine beach below. We seem even to hear the lazy breaking of waves on the shore. Isn’t this everyone’s mental picture of an ideal beach holiday destination?

Lorne certainly provided the Streeton family with a memorable summer interlude in 1921 when this work was painted. The artist himself thought so highly of Ocean blue, Lorne that he retained it in the family’s possession for decades and later featured it in a deluxe publication of his own finest works.

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Lenton PARR, Untitled (c. 1965)

Lenton Parr_UntitledLenton Parr, Untitled c.1965
painted steel
Collection: Geelong Gallery
Purchased through donations, 2012
Photographer: Robert Colvin
Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

It seems years ago now, and indeed it was, when as a curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, l was privileged to be asked to prepare a whole-of-career exhibition of the work of prominent Melbourne modernist sculptor, Lenton Parr.

I came to know Len well during the course of the project and we remained good friends for the remainder of his life. Len died in 2003 and l often recall, driving along the Beach Road at Sandringham past his handsome old house that overlooks the bay, the lunches, afternoon teas and glasses of wine enjoyed in his company in a fearsomely tidy front room lined with books.

Quietly-spoken and modest in manner and with a James Thurber-like love of the absurd, Lenton was the essential self-made man. Born into relatively humble circumstances in East Coburg in 1924, his early training was as a boilermaker. With the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the RAAF and later studied art at RMIT. An avid reader, Len became a teacher and eventually rose in the profession to become Founding Director of the Victorian College of the Arts. As a sculptor he is best known for his abstract sculpture in welded steel. Some early works, such as this small black-painted angular form acquired earlier this year, show how Len was influenced by the great blades, ribs and other components of agricultural machinery. As a fabricated sculpture, it has a marvellous clarity or economy of means that actually seems to evoke the personality of its maker.

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Polixeni PAPAPETROU, In the Wimmera 1864 #1 (2006)

Polixeni Papapetrou_The WimmeraPolixeni Papapetrou, In the Wimmera 1864 #1 2006
pigment ink print
Collection: Geelong Gallery
Gift of Dr Robert Nelson through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2010
© Polixeni Papapetrou

Many artists today work in photography and the new screen-based media as opposed to the traditional forms of painting, printmaking or sculpture. One of the most successful Australian artist-photographers is Poli Papapetrou whose constant subjects have been her daughter Olympia, son Solomon and their young friends. Rather like Lewis Carroll, the celebrated creator of the Alice in Wonderland stories, Poli Papapetrou photographs her subjects in various imaginary scenes, wearing specially made costumes that complete the fiction of the image.

Poli has several memorable works in the Gallery’s current special exhibition A curious nature – the landscape as theatre in contemporary photography and new media, but the work that I will cite as a favourite here hangs in the nearby displays of the permanent collection and shows three children striding through long grass in an idyllic pastoral setting. It could be anywhere in country Victoria and is reminiscent, as the artist intends, of Frederick McCubbin’s late 19th century paintings of children lost or at least wandering absent-mindedly through the Australian bush.

With McCubbin’s paintings, there is the ever-present anxiety that the child depicted may never actually be found but with Poli’s image, while the children seem to be blissfully alone in the bush, managing confidently like modern-day equivalents of the commendably self-sufficient ‘Famous Five’ or ‘Secret Seven’ gangs of a generation or so ago, the mood here is wholly upbeat, festive even, celebrating as many of the artist’s works do the innocence, the promise and the joys of youth.

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Eugène VON GUÉRARD, View of Geelong (1856)

Eugene von Guerard_View of Geelong
Eugène von Guérard, View of Geelong 1856
oil on canvas
Collection: Geelong Gallery
Purchased through the Geelong Art Gallery Foundation with the generous support of the Victorian Government, the Australian Government, the City of Greater Geelong and numerous community and other donors, 2006

This is an easy choice! View of Geelong is without question one of the Gallery’s greatest works of art. Its fame is further enhanced on the strength of the knife’s edge campaign to acquire it from its previous owner, the composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber as the acknowledged masterpiece by the foremost artist of Australia’s colonial era.

View of Geelong is the ultimate golden panorama of peace, prosperity and plenty in a so-called New World setting. It is a detailed and immensely significant document of Geelong, its port, the fledgling city, surrounding allotments and of course of the great landmark of the You Yangs rising from a vast and sparsely treed plain. We see evidence of agricultural as well as mercantile enterprise and we see small human figures concluding their working day, dwarfed by the grandeur of the scene, Port Phillip Bay and the huge sky so typical of this artist, and for that matter of this particular landscape.

There is something impressively cinematic about View of Geelong – it transports us back in time to stand notionally at the artist’s side as he sketches this sweeping vista from a vantage point in the Barrabool Hills, possibly near the small village of Ceres. In the distance we see the steamship Aphrasia on the bay. It is such an optimistic spectacle, this panorama, it never ceases to inspire and delight!

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Melinda HARPER, Untitled (2004)

Melinda Harper_Untitled
Melinda Harper, Untitled 2004
oil on canvas
Collection: Geelong Gallery
Purchased with funds generously provided by the Geelong Art Gallery Foundation, 2004
© Melinda Harper

Arriving in New York in 1940, the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian was at the forefront of the modernist movement in abstract painting, creating simple geometric compositions based on a grid of black vertical and horizontal lines.

Mondrian left some of the intervening squares in the grid entirely white, while others he painted in flat primary colours. He strove to purge his art of any reference to the world of appearances in which we live. He dispensed with rich and romantic texture in his painted surfaces, and used no perspective to suggest depth, nor modelling of light and shade to suggest three-dimensional form – just the few strong colours and the geometric pattern.

Nevertheless, Mondrian’s painting is still capable, as with the vibrant present-day geometric abstractions of Melinda Harper, of creating a mood of either calm or jubilation or agitation. A famous Mondrian painting of 1943 is titled Broadway Boogie–Woogie and it has a distinct dance-like rhythm and a clear sense of elation.

Reminiscent of Mondrian’s paintings, Melinda Harper’s large geometric abstract painting impresses me on account of its elaborate and dynamic pattern and its radiant candy-coloured palette. It is a joyous image and additional to its appearance on the Gallery’s walls, presents its message on a large scale reproduction as a Gallery billboard facing the Civic Car Park in Gheringhap Street.

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About Geoffrey Edwards

Geoffrey Edwards is Director of the Geelong Gallery, one of Australia’s oldest and largest regional galleries. Prior to this appointment, he held Senior Curatorial positions at the National Gallery of Victoria where he was in charge of the collections of international and Australian sculpture as well as Melbourne’s celebrated holdings of ancient, antique and modern glass.
His professional affiliations, here and abroad, have included, amongst others, the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, ICOM (International Council of Museums), the Winston Churchill Trust (he is a former Churchill Fellow), the George Baldessin Trust and advisory committees of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).
The author of books on sculpture and glass, he has written essays for numerous exhibition catalogues published by, amongst others, the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria), NGA (National Gallery of Australia), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art, Geelong Gallery and various other regional galleries in Victoria and NSW. He contributes articles to art journals in Australia, Japan, Britain and the US and is a regular guest lecturer and speaker.

About Geelong Gallery

Geelong Gallery is one of Australia’s leading and oldest regional galleries. The Gallery’s significant collection spans the art of Australia from the colonial period to the present day and includes Australian and international paintings, works on paper, sculpture and decorative arts. Home to a number of iconic works such as Eugène von Guérard’s View of Geelong (1856), Frederick McCubbin’s A bush burial (1890) and Arthur Streeton’s Ocean blue, Lorne (1921), the Geelong Gallery also presents a vibrant program of temporary exhibitions and public programs.
Geelong Gallery, Little Malop St, Geelong 3220. T: 03 5229 3645  www.geelonggallery.org.au
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