Helpmann’s Anniversary Class

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Helpmann Academy.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Helpmann Academy. Set up to help artists make the transition from university to professional life, the Academy now plays an integral role in nurturing and developing the arts in South Australia. It’s a unique model and CEO Amanda Pepe says: “It’s absolutely unheard of in any other state or country, as far as I know, that competing tertiary institutions come to a collaborative table in an organisation such as the Helpmann Academy to work together for the greater good of arts training in the state.” While initially the plan was that the Academy would offer further training, it’s now the attitude that the Academy picks up where universities finish. The Academy has been running its graduate exhibition for 19 years to showcase the visual artists of the future. It’s become a much anticipated event on the visual arts calendar and provides an opportunity for artists to kickstart their career and for audiences to discover the next big thing. “This exhibition is a launching pad. It gives the artists exposure, it’s professionally presented and provides an opportunity to have their work seen by key players both here and interstate,” explains Pepe. An independent panel of selectors (Lisa Slade (Project Curator, Art Gallery of South Australia), Brian Parkes (CEO, Jam Factory) and Hugo Michell (Director, Hugo Michell Gallery)) chose 33 artists showcasing the breadth of emerging local talent. “Generally we see this as our gift to the artists, to have people as qualified as the panel really critically consider their work and give them some feedback,” says Pepe. The exhibition often indicates trends emerging within the visual arts. For instance this year not a lot of photography was selected but the installation component was strong. Pepe says, “It’s partly to do with trends but you can also see the personality of the panel in the selected works. I think that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Standing out in an exhibition of this size can be difficult but it’s something that Zoe Kirkwood has no problem with. She picked up two prizes (the Hill Smith Gallery/Helpmann Academy Friends Award and the City of Adelaide Award) for her large detailed installation work, The Neo-Baroque Spectacle. The work reflects Bernini’s artistic theory bel composto, which involved unifying the arts of painting, sculpture and architecture. Using bright, bold colours the work also shows immense attention to detail – Kirkwood hand-turns the wood herself. While the sheer size of Kirkwood’s work immediately draws you in, other works like Sophia Nuske’s have a more subtle charm. Nuske (who received the Adelaide City Council’s acquisitive award) uses ceramics to recreate everyday objects – in this case pencils. She wants the audience to look at these objects more closely and reconsider their role. Called soft penCiLs, Nuske creates the illusion that the pencils are soft, they look as if they are made of rubber, but on closer inspection you realise the works are anything but soft. Another artist whose work stood out was Cassie Broad, particularly her works on aluminium. Broad, who received the Peter Walker Fine Art Encouragement Award, reconstructs her childhood home through memories evoked from old photographs. She explores notions of home and presents images that the audience can easily identify with and which evoke our own feelings of home. Tom Borgas is another artist to watch. He has featured in the last two Helpmann Graduate exhibitions and is currently showing in the project space at CACSA alongside the Adelaide International, which is running in the main space. Borgas creates minimalist sculptural works, which are made of various materials like concrete, wood, plaster, stone and plastic exploring concepts around analogue and digital systems. Roger Myles took out the San Remo best new talent award. An architect-cum-artist, Myles presented two series, works on paper and a large painting. Carrying as subtext the architecture of a book, the works on paper were particularly interesting. “I was looking for something that was different to painting in just about every respect you could think of, but at the same time address all the underpinning rationales behind geometric abstraction,” says Myles. In the works the book becomes the medium in a sense, with Myles allowing it to determine the proportion and scale, an outcome of the work of art. “I’m interested in these sort of slight, what I call ‘chance stimuli’. It’s these little slippages that occur. There is nothing pre determined about it, no preliminary sketch. Here is a book, I deconstructed it,” explains Myles. As the Helpmann Academy celebrates 20 years helping artists fulfill their potential Pepe says: “We would love more artists to engage with us. That’s probably the biggest challenge we have – getting people to avail themselves of all the stuff we have on offer. We have more than 20 different programs across all the different art forms.” Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition Drill Hall, Torrens Parade Ground Continues until Sunday, March 9

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