I didn’t mean my last post be on just one painting. So here I am, giving you a Part 2 on my experience at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

I’ll start by saying that I was completely surprised when I saw the Olive Cotton’s 1935 gelatin silver print, Tea cup Ballet. To explain why, let’s go back a couple of years to when I was in Year 9. Semester 2, I was in a photography class. It was pretty cool; I got to use film photography, with the dark room and all. We had to do a research task, which ended up being a small presentation in front of the class. Obviously, the idea of doing research paled in comparison to practical work (going around the school, snapping photos and laughing with friends). The assignment required me to choose a famous photographer from a list and find out this and that about them (you know how it is). As you may have guessed by now, I chose Olive Cotton. The choice was entirely based off the fact her name sounded cool. When I looked at her work, I was intrigued by the soft atmospheres in each piece. Her subject matter is usually pretty simple, and a lot of it is of the natural world. But the one image that really stuck out was Tea cup Ballet. I fell in love with the composition, with the elongated shadows of the cups and the stark contrast created by the light source just out of view. To be honest, any time there’s high tonal contrast, you’ve got me hooked. It’s the way straight to my heart (for any artworks reading this). But there’s something fundamental about the photograph that really resonates with me. I can’t really put my finger on it. Maybe I just really like tea (English Breakfast – no milk). Fast forward back to the gallery. I was dawdling through the ‘Robyn Stacey: as still as life” exhibition. It wasn’t my favourite; I barely remember any of the artworks in those spaces. But then my eyes land on the work on the wall across from me. I think I audibly gasped. Or maybe I said “no way”. I don’t really recall which it was. I think I was too busy being caught up in a mild state of shock. There it was. It was like meeting a celebrity. I think it will be how I react when I one day get to see a Kathe Kollwitz woodcut print (another example of high contrast artworks that have stolen my heart).

Two of Max Dupain’s works were next to Cotton’s. I found this pleasing, considering they were leading Modernist photographers in Australia (and at one point were married to each other). My favourite of Dupain’s work on display was Arum Lilies (c. 1938, gelatin silver print). It confused me as I love the dark defined tones that bordered around the form of the lilies, and the high tonal contrast is overall very aesthetically pleasing. But I had no idea how he did it. I assume the dark lining was the shadow of the lilies, but my brain can’t work out how he took it, or what the set up was. Dupain’s an expert, I’ll give him that. I’m not the biggest fan of photography, but I have my exceptions.

…Cotton and Dupain are the exceptions.

Image left: Olive Cotton, Tea cup Ballet, 1935, Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash collection accessed 03.07.21.

In the Gallery’s collection, I found that some of the artworks, specifically those from the “Origins” space (which I mention in my last post, “Ballarat Gallery – Ajax and Cassandra”), were slightly outdone by the frames they sat in. While Aurelio Tiratelli’s painting Crossing the Campagna (oil on canvas, not dated), was lovely and quite skilful, I think I spent most of my time looking at the black and gold frame, which had corners that stuck out a bit. It was extravagant beyond rationality, and I loved it.

I also loved the idea of the Backspace exhibition room. It’s a space for young regional artists, giving them the opportunity to show off their work (it’s something I might like to keep in mind). At the time, the gallery was exhibiting Nyagak Yang’s work, the exhibition titled “My Kulture” (open till 1st August 2021). Nyagak’s work “[explores] concepts of cultural identity, displacement, racism, police brutality, gender equality and Eurocentric ideas of beauty”*. My favourite piece was “Massiah”, 2021, using synthetic polymer paint on board. I particularly love the experimental use of multiple boards, placed asymmetrically to create a wide, embracing piece that caught my eye pretty much immediately.

One exhibition I was keen on seeing was the Lindsay Family works. Recently in my literature class for school, I’ve been studying Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. Joan Lindsay of course married into the family, to Sir Daryl Lindsay. The works that stood out to me were Norman Lindsay’s watercolours, The Dressing Mirror (not dated) and Red Hot in Rebellion (again, not dated – the Lindsays seemed to have a thing about not dating their works). I absolutely fell in love with the amount of detail these watercolours had. Especially in Red Hot in Rebellion – first I noticed the exquisitely fine textures in the sleeves of the female figure’s dress. The lighting in this piece was also amazing. It had a kind of fluid nature as it wrapped around the male figure’s right shoulder, outlining his awkwardness as he stands in the doorway, unsure. The expression in his face is so amusing, creating the story: he’s said something to upset his beloved, as she slouches in an armchair, facing away from him. She’s the dominant figure within the work.  It appears she knows exactly how to get what she wants.

It’s another Norman Lindsay piece that took hold of my attention in this exhibition; The Pool (AGAIN not dated), a charcoal and watercolour piece. It’s the expressions and characterisation that drew my attention. There’s this Satyr (or Faun if you’d like to be Roman about it), leaning over the namesake pool. His face is comical, with a rather unpleasantly droopy nose with sharp eyebrow matching the pointed ears. He peers, I’d say a ruler’s length away from a nude female figure, who I assume is the nymph of the pool. For some reason, the Satyr reminds me of Tantalus, the Greek mythological man who’s known for his punishment down in Tartarus. He did a whole bunch of mean things when he was alive, which I won’t get into. Not only was he punished for it after he died, it resulted in getting his whole family bloodline cursed. This is the punishment: he’s stuck in a body of water, forever starving and thirsty. There’s a fruitful apple tree just tantalisingly out of reach. When he bends down to take a drink, the water levels lower just enough that he can’t reach it. Tantalising!! Get it? It’s … it’s where the word comes from… Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the Satyr’s face is what I imagine Tantalus’ to be, just without the ram horns and the pointy ears.

I could absolutely go on and on about some of the other artworks I saw in the Art Gallery of Ballarat, but I think I’ll leave it there for today.