Contemporary by Nature

An exhibition by members of the Contemporary Art Society of Victoria Inc.

As part of the Herring Island Summer Arts Festival 2014

22-23 February, 1-2 March, and 8-10 March

Held at the Gallery on Herring Island

Review by Ian Banksmith

See Contemporary by Nature (Herring Island) 2014 artworks gallery to look at all the artworks from this show

 The Herring Island Summer Arts Festival from January 11 to April 21, 2014 will stage five separate art & craft exhibitions during this time. The Contemporary Art Society of Victoria (CAS) held its ninth Contemporary by Nature exhibition as part of this festival.

The President of CAS, Robert Lee, welcomed the attendees at the Contemporary by Nature exhibition opening on February 22 and thanked the Committee members and artists for setting up the show the day before. Fortunately, Melbourne decided to produce a magnificent weather day with a comfortable temperature. This contrasted with Robert Lee‘s anecdote regarding the CAS opening in 2006. He talked the opening of our first show on Herring Island in 2006: there was a big storm and it rained so much that the courtyard flooded, water was lapping at the doorsteps, the punt engine kept clogging up with river debris, and we were suddenly told by the punt driver that we had to get off the island NOW, before the punt engine conked out completely. For this year's opening, fortunately the weather was much better!

Robert addressed the crowd on the title Contemporary by Nature and clarified that it’s a loose theme, allowing artists many variations on the interpretation of nature. This freedom fosters and promotes individual creative expression as was evident in the 55 artworks from the 31 fellow members of the Society. Robert also discussed the many permanent sculptures that are home on the island and made people aware of printed material available for further reference.

As a new member to CAS, this was my introductory experience to their exhibition format. Like all artists, you have to relearn how to go about certain things to become part of the exhibition. I joined CAS in the middle of the chaos of selling and moving house/purpose built studio because I wanted to be involved in this Herring Island exhibition.

Since I’m new to the Society I was perplexed when asked to write an account of Contemporary by Nature. I am well aware of leaving an artist unnamed, or worse still, writing something derogatory.

My experience of the opening exhibition happened to coincide with a visit to Melbourne of a newly married couple from Manhattan. Michelle a doctor and Jesse a lawyer, they decided to honeymoon in Australia but very excited to see this exhibition. I explained it is not my solo but a group show. They wanted to have the exhibition experience. They could not fathom an island in Melbourne with native flora and fauna and a gallery on it. I met Michelle’s mother, Laura Leon, a concert pianist, in 2001 at my solo show in NYC. So it was a twofold joyous occasion for me - showing this couple the punt, landing on Herring Island 10 seconds later, their freaking out at the snake logo and fear of anything that can bite, sting or devour. We meandered the paths and noted the burnt vegetation due to the recent heatwave and lack of rain. We arrived to the gallery and I left my NYC friends to discover the delights in the show. On reconnecting, Michele replicated the dance pose next to Laurie Collins' Spirited, a life size portrait of a running girl, made of steel and concrete. Mounted on a car wheel pedestal, the girl's dress was formed with steel mesh filled with small chunks of concrete. Here red shoes were eye catching. This stood well next to a sculptural relief/3-D painting by myself, Ian Banksmith, titled Fabulous 50! It is made from timber with motifs of NYC, the Guggenheim Museum and Ginkgo leaves used as a stencil for spray painting. A trip to NYC coincided with the museum and myself turning 50 in 2009. My NYC friends felt a little bit of home. My other sculptural relief Ebb and Flow showed a blend of sculpture and painting and a shift from the rectangular painting. The shaped cedar timber drew upon mountain forms while the timber grain replicated the sedimentary rock formations over time.

The exhibition space flowed well thanks to Robert's coordination of the hanging and the hard work of the hanging team. Each sculpture, painting, photograph or work on paper was given its due prominence.

The painting by Rosemary Mangiamele, Yellow Dreaming, was a gentle and sensitively executed work with an intense inner-power while Cressida Fox displayed small pencil and ink drawings. Still Life With Cat, showed a child-like naïve quality reminiscent of children’s book illustrations proving small artworks are powerful.

Another small but striking work, The Great Ocean Road by Manwel Cassar, used bright, intense colours in a style reminiscent of the Fauves. The human form in the work of Heather King, Flying Bike, shows a lone cyclist being absorbed into the orange and yellow surroundings. This backdrop conjures up many scenarios, perhaps fleeing an intense bushfire.

Contrastingly, the black and white photographs by Ray Farrugia, notably Moonlight Shadow, was sublime with a surrealistic landscape. Betty Collier’s work Ostrich, an intricate ink on paper work, drew a response from my NYC friends asking if it was an emu. I said no but similar, not as vicious.

Since my earliest childhood I have been involved in gardens and I still continue to create gardens for my work and home. So it is always with deep interest when I see botanical artworks whatever medium is used. The Datura or angels trumpets detailed by Nili Palti in White Flowers were incredibly delicate. The medium used was ink on rice paper. Bromeliad and Pod Cast by Karen Foley displayed an intense examination of plants and refraction of light from the horticultural specimens chosen to render. This was further displayed in the larger oil paintings of Sarah Friedman. Both artists work gave joy for me more importantly, for the exhibition guests.

The plinth-based sculptures of Sioma Wajchman were intricate and exquisitely colourful and used precious metals, stones and pearls. This was also evident in Cheryle Bannon’s works that have a pre-Raphelite quality and jewel-like landscape, especially Dreamscape.

On leaving the Gallery my friends and I walked around the island to view the collection of permanent sculptures. While keenly interested and photographing, an eye was always on the ground for that snake, ants and spiders. The many native birds made a scene on queue on the way back to the punt.

Victoria should be extremely proud to have this art gallery in the centre of Melbourne. Visitors are able to experience artistic endeavours surrounded by natural bush land on an island.

Review by Ian Banksmith

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