TOP ARTS 2013

Words – Jessica Knight

Photos – J Forsyth

Top Arts- The Valley Of Unfinished Heavens.  The Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia at Federation Square

It is the current exhibition of Top Arts recipients that threw me into such a time warp.  A trip that was incredibly cringe-worthy and touching.

‘’If I do not make it into top arts I am giving up art.’’ I spoke these words of youthful determination one Tuesday afternoon after school in The Visual arts building of Bendigo Senior Secondary College. My friend Mira and I were 16 and working on our Studio Art folios.

The year was 1999. I did not get into Top Arts though my series of three portraits of Winona Ryder completed in tiny dots make by sharpie markers did win second prize in a lunch time art show that was judged by the curator of The Bendigo Art Gallery.

These days  Mira has yet to respond to the facebook friend request, I sent eight months ago. I hear she has recently completed a PHD. No bad feeling there just the force of life pushing us in opposite directions.

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I arrived at The Ian Potter Centre to check out the young art talent and to hear the first of a new intiative called ‘’Free Thursdays’’ in which artists talk about their own professional practice and impart some wisdom to those less experienced. This particular Thursday the artists Miso and Ghost Patrol would be leading a discussion about how they become professional artists.

It is said that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side Of Paradise, was a novel written by a young man trying to find his writer’s voice. It is because of this that his first novel is considered his weakest not yet possessed of the poise and pitch perfection of his following works that include The Great Gatsby.  This could be said for the works in the top arts exhibition.  A multitude of half -finished heavens and yet- to- be -fully realized ideals and expressions. It is what you would expect from art created by individuals with yet- to- be- fully- formed frontal lobes.

One particular photography piece I stood in front of for a while in engrossed delight, showed over twenty tiny items carefully photographed with meticulous attention to detail was pretty and sweet in celebrating the beauty of seemingly insignificant objects including a wristwatch, a ring, a rubber duck. All photographed in front of a bright white back round making the colours of the objects pop out at you.

A series of four A4 colour ink jet print photographs by Tess Saunders show four separate explorations in appropriation with a delicious sense of irreverence and mischief that I hope the young artist retains and further developes as she progresses as an artist. The photos are entitled as follows: American Gothic, Girl With Pearl Earring, Mona Lisa and The Anolfini Marriage. Each photo shows the young artist recreating well known art works in modern surroundings and using herself as art and artist.   The setting of the wedding photo was a teenage bedroom void of the white dress and tux; instead the young couple tied the knot in skinny jeans and Converse All Stars, looking non-plussed as a small white stuffed dog sits at their feet.

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A painting that seemed like it would beat me if I tried to pick a fight with it was entitled  Inside Of A Heart by Lucy Simpson.  The incredible close up of the heart’s inner works covered a vast spectrum of pinks and reds. It was almost too difficult to look at directly so disarming was the intensity of the size. It was as if had I stood close enough I would have been sucked right into the fluffy and tender tissue of the painting and been trapped inside the heart forever.  It made me wonder exactly how she had completed the work.

Was inspiration taken from human anatomy books or had she actually gone to a butcher and sourced a pig or cow heart as a visual study?  It is a first assumption that the ‘’heart’’ depicted in the painting is that of a human, particularly a young teenage girl type human, but perhaps we are not giving Misss Simpson enough credit.  Perhaps this is a work that explores the concept of equalizing animal heart and human heart it is all the same and as such should we not perhaps eat less of things we can be sure once had a beating heart within its body?  Perhaps this seemingly emo type painting, emo because it deals so openly with the muscle associated with deep feelings of love and angst ridden adolescence.  Perhaps this painting is actually a rally cry to eat more greens and assorted vegetables.  With these contemplations still dancing inside my grey matter, I move on to the next work that has caught my attention.

A story board of nine post card sized works in black felt tip was more illustration than anything else and could be imagined put together as a picture book in the vein of Graeme Base. It follows the search for an ‘’idea.’’  The work is entitled ‘’Quest’’ and shows high standards of drawing ability within the young artist but the idea that gets found resembles a large round ball that could be mistaken for a representation of the young artist’s ego or the inflated ego of  Damien Hirst one of the brattiest Young British Artists ever, in my opinion.

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The Top Arts exhibition grabbed me by the heart strings of a 17-year old version of myself long buried and forgotten.  I noticed small groups of young intrepid art lovers start to enter the gallery and walk around sipping from glass bottles of organic soft drink.   Quotes from students shown in the exhibition were presented on the vast white walls, advising on the merits of art for art’s sake and not confining your creative output to what you think will result in a ‘’top mark.’’ I spoke to one young man who was now in first year visual arts at RMIT. His contribution to the exhibition was a repetitive series of the same cartoonish face painted onto various pieces of cardboard. I saw evidence of inspiration by street art. This inspiration in my opinion, had not been executed in a way that made you feel like you had just been shown a deeper view inside the workings of humanity.  He had no quotes on the walls and when I asked him about this he candidly replied, ‘I did not say anything wanky enough.’

As we talked, gallery attendents had been setting up the main foyer with floor cushions arranged in front of three arm chairs.

I joined the teens and was clever enough to get a cushion at the back so I could lean against a white wall for optimum comfort.  My eyes roved the room observing the shiny young boys and girls sitting in clusters of three or two.  A line from a song by The Hold Steady came to mind, ‘’And they all looked like little lambs looking up at me.’’   These kids were so full of the future promised them that it was truly lovely simply to be amongst that hopefulness. It tip toed throughout the room and enshrouded everything.

Miso and Ghost Patrol shared their experiences and at first the conversation was rather stilted and they both needed to be prompted by the discussion facilitator, a program officer of the National Gallery Of Victoria by the name of Ace.  It only took a few moments for the two artists to warm up to the idea that they were there to impart their wisdom to young and very enthusiastic pro- art hopefuls.

’I never felt being an artist was a very real thing. Where I grew up there were no galleries. I actually considered being a fashion designer because that was a job I knew existed, ’’ Miso explains in a soft and rather lilting voice. She tells of starting to make stencil designs at the age of 14 and being heavily inspired by the punk ethos of DIY.  ‘’Not going to art school was a very conscious decision for me. I studied philosophy and loved it.’’ Miso explained that a vast majority of her paid art work came from networking.  ‘If you have an artist you admire ask them if you can help them out for free. They are not going to say no. Talk to people at art openings. I used to think that as long as you were a brilliant artist you could afford to be difficult. I no longer feel this way.  You are much more likely to get work if you’re good to talk to and reliable. People will remember they had a good time talking to you and will tell other artists. I have gotten so much work just from talking to people in pubs after art shows.’

At this a young man raises his hand and asks with sincere eagerness, ’Which pubs exactly?’

Ghost Patrol’s advice contrasts quite beautifully with Miso’s. Hearing them speak brings to mind human ying and yang and it is this diversity of character that probably fuels their collaborative art wonderfully. I suppose you would not want to work with someone who was your creative twin, as nothing new would emerge.

‘’I would rather not network,‘’ he says. ‘’I would rather stay in my room drawing and painting and then stay in my room some more drawing and painting. I am heavily indebted to having a website where I can just photograph everything I create and place it on the website. It is how I get 98 percent of my work.‘’ When asked when he discovered he could make a living as an artist he replied with a  smile. ‘I simply kept calling in sick to work to get art work finished and eventually lost my job. ‘’   Art and the social media world have been bed fellows in increasing popularity as it makes it very easy for people of all skill sets to  share their creations. This is not always a good thing as it results in a lot of art becoming formalized , another form of branding and dumbing down for easy digestion.  Ghost patrol elaborates on this point by saying, ‘A lot of social media art is selling you as a brand.  A lot of people are making very contrived versions of their art.‘

‘’Are independent artists such as yourself hindering financial gain within the commercial gallery enterprise?’’ A young woman asked. Ghost Patrol became incredibly passionate. ‘‘Commercial galleries are a business like any other business like major record companies who churn out music like its pre -packaged no -name brand cereal.  There is no love for the individuality of creation. They care about what sells and what sells to a wider market. If you do your art and sell it yourself you are cutting out the middle man and that can only be a good thing.’’

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As I sat there listening to these two artists, an unfamiliar feeling was creeping over me and taking hold of my hands. I felt my brain and fingers get a long- forgotten itch, the itch to draw again.  As the discussion had been progressing the daylight had slowly faded into evening. The gallery was now illuminated with artificial lights and Federation Square was now lit up by the fairy lights that resembled low hanging stars.  The teens now held empty bottles of soft drink. They were starting to look at their phones. It was time to wind it up.  Which the facilitator of the conversation did brilliantly by using the analogy of a well known video game. ‘’When creating your art you could be inspired by the story of two young people in their basement creating a video game that they wanted to play where you ran around shooting stuff. The video game these young people created was called Doom and it turned out that it was a video game that millions of people around the world also enjoyed. Chances are if you feel strongly enough about something that you want to make it or paint it, other people will appreciate it.’’   Ghost Patrol had the last word: ‘‘It is an absolute privilidge to make art.’’

After disposing of their glass bottles, the bearers of personal unfinished heavens, scattered home, with inspired confidence.

I go home to check if  ‘’Mira’’ has accepted my friend request, but decide instead to draw in a long ago purchased sketchbook.

For more information check out NGV website

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