Talent time: South Australian artists playing the long game

With About Time – Brief Retrospectives of Six Artists, curator and artist Annabelle Collett shines a light on a group of South Australian artists who, for a long time, have sustained a high level of practice.

David Hockney said, “Most artists work all the time… especially good artists… I mean, what else is there to do?” And work, sustained studio practice, is something all these talented artists, featured in About Time have in common. But, talent and hard work in the visual arts is rarely enough to receive a proper measure of recognition and reward – especially if living anywhere west of Parramatta or Ballarat.

Annabelle Collett’s intention in curating About Time was to shine a spotlight on the work of a number of fellow South Australian artists who have sustained a high level of practice over an extended period of time, and often against the odds. These odds include working and living out of the mainstream (Deb Sleeman lives and works on Kangaroo Island; Cheryl Anne Brown on the Fleurieu Peninsula), business or professional employment (David Kerr – a long association with the South Australian Museum as artist/designer, lecturing and a three-year stint as director of the Experimental Art Foundation; Ian de Gruchy lecturing and maintaining a national/international multimedia practice; and Anton Hart lecturing and maintaining experimental, cross-disciplinary and collaborative practices). Collett herself has worked for around 40 years as a professional artist, designer and craftsperson under the umbrella of her own business Ya Ya design studio (est. 1978). Most of this group began exhibiting in the late 1970s/early 1980s and have yet to find the ‘STOP’ button. As their respective and very busy CVs show, that they don’t appear to take many holidays.

The About Time exhibition notes include useful insights from each artist into their passions and priorities. It’s a very broad menu. De Gruchy for example is “interested in positioning art within the broader social fabric” – as his documentation of various projection projects attest. Hart summarises his complex, push-pull conversation with the act of painting as being “caught between my desire for order and my need for the oxygen that comes from the real snarl of stuff”. Brown is motivated to the “visceral pleasure” of working with materials while exploring relationships with landscapes. Collett enjoys accommodating the competing voices of “the historic significance of motif, the social/political meaning of pattern on textiles and the abstract overlay relationships between fashion, visual art and design”. Sleeman works with a diversity of materials (including her ‘trademark’ pressed metal sheets) to explore “notions of transience and permanence” and “reference our inheritance of the colonial landscape, the invisibility of women within this landscape and the attendant antagonism and imposition that have been necessary to create it”. Kerr comments that his areas of investigation have been “environmental, archaeological, musicological, political and speculative realities”.

About Time offers each artist the honorific of recognising the nature and achievements of the creative journey. By inviting each artist to effectively reflect on their journey through the agency of major works, memorabilia, studies and the like, the viewing audience is offered a rare, open studio experience. It is also an opportunity to reflect on why artists – and these artists in particular – keep going. What sustains them? In response to this question, Collett says that it’s “the constant bubbling up of ideas … always wanting to make the next thing. The flash in the mind’s eye, the quick sketch, the play, the making, the joy of the resolve … It is that flow that sustains – the energy, spark and frisson”.

Sleeman sees it as “living close to the elements; having time to watch and notice change … The light, the seasons’ growth, the wind, the piece of cliff that fell down, the swell, the beach in summer or winter mode, the silence and space. This is the lynchpin that enables me to create”.

For Brown, the studio is everything. “I have to make art, my studio is a safe place, I don’t get bored there … once I am in there, I have been making long enough that I intuitively trust that something is going to happen, and that genuinely excites me.”

Kerr’s imagination has always been caught by “the personal search for self and meaning in life. In turn this has involved exploring and testing the accepted narratives and looking for other possibilities”.

Hart says that his practice over time “has always danced around with the dual fancies of abstraction and realism,” he explains. “Art-schooled in the 1970s, I rightly swam in the exciting seas of conceptual art, process art and minimalism influences from that time. It has left me with an enduring affection for the everyday and ever-appreciation of minimalism and conceptualism for their clarity … This is what continues to sustain me creativity.”

De Gruchy’s ongoing practice is fuelled by a love affair with photography which began in the 1970s and led to ever-expanding modes of practice concerned with shaping visual experiences and social spaces. When he initially embarked on this journey, he considered he had “nothing better to do” and decided to just “have fun with it”.

The French artist Edgar Degas once said that “everyone has talent at 25. The difficulty is having it at 50”. About Time is proof that with hard work much is possible. It is also a reminder that recognition does not fall like manna from heaven but needs the likes of Annabelle Collett to make it happen.

About Time – Brief Retrospectives of Six Artists
Signal Point Gallery, Goolwa
Until Sunday, March 24
rgasa.org.au/signalpointgallery

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