Reg. No. A0018899R WEBSITE mswps.com.au SUMMER JAN/FEB 2020
MSWPS 110th Annual Exhibition Opening -Transcript by Lesley Harding Artistic Director Heide MoMA
Thank you Carmel and I’d like to thank the MSWPS committee for inviting me to open the society’s 110th annual exhibition, and to judge the Annie Davison Oliver Award.
I came to view the exhibition on Thursday with my colleague Kendrah Morgan, and we had an excellent conversation about what we had just seen on the return trip to Heide, from the diversity of subjects and ideas on display to the difficulty of comparing apples and oranges when selecting a winner. This difficulty aside, for me the real value of this kind of exhibition is that the artists themselves choose what to include. At a minimum it is an excellent forum for artists to have their work seen and considered without
prejudice or curatorial imposition. Notwithstanding the importance and pleasure of the process, it seems that artworks in many ways begin their real life when taken from the solitude of the studio and into the public realm, as on a very basic level they are a means of communication. According to the painter David Hockney, ‘art is about correspondence – making connections with the world and to each other’.
Speaking more broadly, exhibitions like this one also provide a still point where we can pause to reflect on what concerns and preoccupies us socially and culturally, and about where we are in our own lives. Art has the capacity to reveal things about us individually and collectively and about our times. I don’t want to sound evangelistic, but I think art is essential to our understanding about ourselves, where we came from and where we are going. As the curator Justin Paton says, successful artists don’t talk at you, they let you listen in. Good art makes the familiar world astonishing and new.
I have chosen Sue Jarvis’s Boardwalk, Penguin Parade as the winner of this year’s Annie Davison Oliver award, a painting that is testament to this capacity to see things with fresh eyes. I have judged a few art prizes over the years and more often than not the standout artwork is apparent early in the viewing. It was certainly the case this time, and I would like to congratulate and commend Sue on her award. This painting, to my mind, reveals a great facility on the part of the artist for close observation, for restraint inhandling paint and palette, and for finding beauty in the everyday. It is not a grand subject, but it is agrand painting, which reveals a desire and capacity to really explore the image and at the same time
relieve the viewer of the distractions of figures and colours that would otherwise populate the scene. This is work that asks us to sink into to its peaceful colour and rolling perspective and enter another zone.
There are many other works on display that I very much enjoyed, all for very different reasons, and I’ll talk briefly about the five selected as highly commended.
Jocelyn Bell’s Thursday Sketch speaks to me of many hours in front of the model, with its honed observation and expressive line work. This is a moment preserved, yet the picture retains a sense of imminent movement, as if the figure is about to shift slightly, or lift her head from her hand and pass comment to the viewer. I admire artists who can commit a line or a brushstroke to paper knowing there is no return from the mark made.
Denise Keele-bedford’s beautiful Paper Stain reminds me of Henry Thoreau’s observation that ‘Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eyes level with the smallest leaf, and take an insect’s view of its plain’. The image is at once microcosmic and universal, delicate and bold.
Susan O’Brien’s Incoming Tide I enjoyed for its lovely coloration, confident brushwork and sharp composition – this is a balanced and beautifully executed painting, alert to the wild and dynamic nature of
the subject which is articulated boldly and with gusto.
Jo Reitze’s Front Garden in Winter reminds me of the work of a favourite artist, Grace Cossington Smith – who also managed to always keep her eyes fresh and revel in the messy busy activity of plant life which is always in flux. This is the quiet narrative of the garden, a clipped slice of its marvellous patterns and shapes and colours.
Lastly, Annemarie Szeleczky’s Floating 1 seems to me a particularly thoughtful and technically accomplished work, creating a careful tension between the strata of textured abstract elements contained within the tondo, yet never losing sight of the overall image. It is not decorative, but rather emphasises rhythm and design, and the primacy of line and shape over content.
The Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors has a long and illustrious history and its members have made an extraordinary contribution to the cultural life of this city over more than a century. I remain both admiring and humbled by the commitment of generations of MSWPS artists to supporting each other and championing the work of their colleagues. The need to do this, regrettably, is as relevant now as it was when the society was established in 1902. It is a commitment that I too share, and I am proud to say that at Heide our all-female curatorial team has undertaken to prioritise exhibition opportunities for Australian women artists at all stages of their careers, as we attempt to address the imbalance that persists in our major public galleries even in these supposedly more enlightened times.
It is my great pleasure to open this exhibition, and I wish all of the artists every success as they develop their gifts and gather momentum, and look forward to them all sharing their insights with us long into the