Highlights from a rich and varied Canberra art scene in 2018

Derek O'Connor, <i>Paris '68</i>, 2017 (detail) in <i>At home he's a tourist</i> at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman Arts Centre. Photo: supplied

Derek O'Connor, Paris '68, 2017 (detail) in At home he's a tourist at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman Arts Centre. Photo: supplied

The Canberra visual arts scene in 2018 was as rich and varied as one could ask; a richness and variety that one comes to expect as normal in our culturally fertile and diverse national capital.

It is very difficult (impossible?) to select just five exhibitions that I regarded as my highlights and indeed I am unable not to include at least a mention of exhibitions/artists outside that group.
The Canberra Contemporary Art Space (CCAS) exhibition program began with the continuation from November 2017 of Derek O’Connor’s At home he’s a tourist.

I have followed this artist’s work for many years and he never fails to reinforce a well-deserved reputation. I said of this special exhibition that it was a “visual tour de force” full of power and aesthetic seduction. Its memory remains strongly with me.

A very different exhibition but equally enthralling was Brenda Croft’s heart-in-hand.

Brenda L Croft <i>Dot 21 and Joe 33 Cooma 1959</i>, 2018 in  heart-in-hand at CCAS Gorman Arts Centre. Photo: Supplied

Brenda L Croft Dot 21 and Joe 33 Cooma 1959, 2018 in  heart-in-hand at CCAS Gorman Arts Centre. Photo: Supplied

The exhibition was a tribute to the artist’s mother and a continuation of her investigations into her family and its mixed heritage. The almost encyclopedic collection of objects and images associated with her mother’s life demanded close investigation and observation. It was the opening of a private life through the objects that constituted that life’s experience and value that struck a chord and impacted on each viewer (in equally private and personal ways). The evocation of the meaning of an individual life was given universal significance in this elegiac exhibition.

Another exhibition at CCAS that stayed with me was Shoeb Ahmad’s broken-binary-brown, a moving and challenging installation dealing with profound and cathartic personal change.

Hayley Lander, <i>The Great Forgetting</i> (detail) in <i>Softly calling</i> at Form Studio and Gallery. Photo: Supplied

Hayley Lander, The Great Forgetting (detail) in Softly calling at Form Studio and Gallery. Photo: Supplied

At Form in Queanbeyan the two stand-out exhibitions among a number of terrific others were Hayley Lander’s Softly Calling and Sally Simpson’s Breathing the bones. Lander’s beautiful gentle paintings were concerned with the fragile balance between man and the natural environment. Through beautifully modulated images, simple compositions and a finely nuanced palette she imparts her message as well as celebrating the power of the painterly medium.

Sally Simpson, <i>Roadside Memories</i> in <i>Breathing the Bones</i> at Form. Photo: Supplied

Sally Simpson, Roadside Memories in Breathing the Bones at Form. Photo: Supplied

Sally Simpson’s Breathing the bones also carried a message – the complexity of each individual’s relationship with her environment. Her drawings, gently delineated onto the paper, are insistently eloquent and imbued with a seductive intimacy that underscores an underlying sense of immanence that permeates the entire exhibition. Simpson’s sculptures speak of unnamed liturgies and this is reinforced by her commanding understanding of scale and of the expressive power of her chosen materials. A special exhibition indeed.

Also at Form were two exhibitions that celebrated the ongoing relevance of the painted still-life. Alison McKay’s GLASS works and Kim Shannon’s The Gift were joyous painterly expressions in which the activity of putting paint onto the canvas was as much celebrated as the subject-matter being painted. The joy of painting was also seen in Kerry McInnis’s

Whisker’s Creek, a paean to a place much loved.

I know I am pushing my selection but it would be remiss of me not to mention the really beautiful printed works by Heather Burness that were part of Water Drawn.

Diego Ramirez, <i>Postcard eXotica</i>, 2016/18, video still in <i>Postcard eXotica</i> at PhotoAccess. Photo: Supplied

Diego Ramirez, Postcard eXotica, 2016/18, video still in Postcard eXotica at PhotoAccess. Photo: Supplied

At PhotoAccess there were a number of (as usual) really exciting takes on the photographic medium in a number of formats. For me the absolute high point was Diego Ramirez’s Postcard eXotica, a 30-minute “cinematic re-enactment of a collection of found photographs” Presented as a moving collage of postcards, vintage film extracts, contemporary video and documentary films, its elision of form and content was visually and thematically enthralling; the potency of its message clever, pointed and current.

Marzena Wasikowska’s powerfully disturbing images of the impact of climate change on our world must also be cited as one of the highpoints of the PhotoAccess year.

2018 was an impressive showcase for the gallery scene in the ACT and pointed to the ongoing energy, diversity and depth that characterises the visual arts in Canberra and the region. I congratulate the artists and gallerists of our region and look forward to what 2019 brings.