Fine Art Friday – Recinder by Nigel Hewitt

Once again it is Fine Art Friday (although it is fine art pretty much every day of the week at Castledine and Castledine!) and I want to chat about Nigel Hewitt’s exhibition Recinder at Gallery Central in Aberdeen Street Northbridge.

Anyone who has followed Nigel Hewitt’s work over the decades will know he is drawn to a particularly muted palette and it seems, looking at this work almost inevitable that he would eventually fall into ash. Such a concentration of carbon it ranges from all colours white to no colour black and every grey shading in between and in Hewitt’s skilled hands seems to be all you would need to express yourself.

Hewitt has been working with ash since the ember of the idea came to him while viewing the bushfire landscapes of Tasmania He uses the ash in two ways, mixing it and applying it as you would any paint or colour medium and then finding mechanical ways to precisely pour tiny heaps to produce pixelated images that close up resemble the slag hills and waste dumps of some tiny but relentless industry. The pixelated works are astonishing in their preciseness and fragility but the resulting matrix of canvases felt to me a little soulless. From afar, and the gallery is well chosen to allow you to step far enough back from the work to make sense of the image, the mechanical nature of the process seems more apparent rather than less, they become somehow more textile than anything else, like a photograph rendered in wool. Not that this made them any less interesting and in an exhibition purely of these works, where you are not distracted by the other techniques you would give in to the idea and enthusiastically follow along on this exploration.

Most of the other works fall into two categories, the first being landscapes rendered entirely in ash and secondly those where Hewitt has given in to an impulse to add paint to the piece. Of these two I was completely seduced by the pure ash paintings, they are sombre and deep and captivating. Of the others I was only drawn to one where the colour was integrated subtly into the plants in the foreground. The others, which feature easels holding representations of famous Australian landscape paintings, I found less successful. The idea seemed too twee, too obvious and the coloured sections while not exactly dominating the composition were more like a smudge on your glasses, something that stopped you from really seeing the work clearly. I would have preferred the artist left the easel holding the Heysen or McCubbin in the text of a didactic panel and let the viewer imagine the relationship between the subject, the style and the medium while being wholly absorbed by the monochrome panels. That said, his painted works and sections in wax and oils are skillful and while still using his trademark muted colours manage to sing like a bright new leaf in a burnt forest.

This is an important exhibition, impressive in its scale, mastery of technique and its heart and I recommend you get in to see it before it concludes on the 19thof May.

Mikaela Castledine

 

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Come to Grief

I can’t bear to watch the footage of the beached whales in Augusta, it is so incredibly sad. I wrote this poem  in April 2016 after seeing the following photo on the internet but it is still appropriate.  I haven’t yet discovered the photo credit but will add it when I find it.

M

Come to Grief

 

Sorrowful the shape of whales

sidelying on the sand

bulkhead of their nosing drydocked

narrow toothful jaws agape

exhaled fishy as the deep can be

 

A little eye closed in resignation

at the insistence of gravity and the friction of sand

at the terrible weight of air

 

Lungs compressed heart outlasted

your tailtwisted unseemly

your lovely inconsolable grey

your relinquishing breath

 

You have come to grief

like we all come to grief

head on swimming hard and heaving

tears and ambergris and resonating songs

all washed  upon

the unreflecting earth

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A little sea bathing would set me up for ever…

It is about to be March and it is time to head down to the beach to marvel at the art at the fabulous petting zoo of sculpture that is Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2018. My work this year is an installation of 15 feral cats.

Cats around the world and across time have been deified, mummified, demonised, cosseted, commodified, eaten, encouraged, hunted, hated and loved. All these attributes are given to them by humans but the cats themselves don’t change, they just go about being cats. In reality there is very little difference between your beloved pet cat and a feral cat – beyond its address.  In this installation I tried to make cats that illustrated our idea of a feral cat – dark, dangerous, oversized and slightly misshapen like a sort of Frankenstein identikit of a bad animal. Despite this the viewers tend to liken them to their own cats and indeed, if you click your tongue and wriggle your fingers it is entirely possible that they may come to you for a scratch.

Also while you are visiting the outdoor sculptures don’t forget to go into the Sculpture Inside marquee where you will find a marvellous collection of small works. I will be showing my series of mummified cats called Hatab.

Hatab is an Arabic word meaning firewood. It references an apocryphal story about explorers digging up the ancient tombs in Egypt and on finding tens of thousands of mummified cats decided to burn them for firewood. That human beings would think it a good idea to breed cats to mummify them and sell them for funerals is bizarre, that other humans would find these objects 5000 years later and decide they might as well burn them is all too predictable.

Hatab

For more information on my work and art practice here is a nice article all ready for you to read. http://www.seesawmag.com.au/news/of-cats-and-crows/

 

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Biennale on film

My visit to the Venice Biennale 2017

So (or allora as they say here in Venice) there is barely a pavilion in the Giardini which isn’t showing a video of some description. Some are explanatory and accompany the art, which is fine, but so much of it is the art and that’s when I start getting twitchy. Sorry to all my artist friends who make video installations but they do not engage me in any way, clearly I am missing something and may indeed be a Philistine but you probably shouldn’t read any further. I have no problem watching television or going to the cinema so I am not sure why I find this medium so devoid of interest and I have been spending some time trying to puzzle it out.

I was thinking that when a film is made of a book it always becomes one (or maybe several) person’s vision of that book. You as the viewer are saved the trouble of taking in the words and imagining the world that is being conjured up. In this way is video art an easy option? Is it art for the masses, the bored, the lazy? Is it doing all the work for you? I’m not sure it is because they are so often difficult, repetitious and confounding.

One pavilion, I have not bothered to remember which, has changing faces of people reciting the word apologise, apologise in different pitches – I don’t find this clever or even interesting and if it is significant and meaningful then it passed me by. Is it that I am too clever and resent having the work of thinking done for me or am I not clever enough to get it? I know that films can be moving and inspirational but perhaps that is because of the story and art videos are maybe not about story in that explicit way.

This afternoon over an alarmingly orange and slightly bitter Aperol spritz I conjectured that it might be about place. I have flown thousands of miles to walk into a space to experience an artist’s creative vision and a video immediately takes me elsewhere. A film, unless it is filming me interacting with the work in the space is absolutely not present – it is aggressively elsewhere and maybe the point of art should be to be present, to have the viewer experience it in a very real way. I could watch any of these videos at home in my lounge room with my Aperol spritz made just how I like it to pretty much the same effect.

France’s pavilion has been transformed into a music studio, all wood and sound deadening panels with instruments strewn about (and, while I was there, no performers) The walls were not the only thing baffling. Denmark has a performance work about darkness which has you sit in complete blackness (and then some not very illuminating light displays) while three women’s voices narrate or recite some very trite nonsense about darkness and light for 30 minutes and I think there was a talking seed. Poetry! I can sit in the dark and listen to poetry for hours but not at an art fair and not if it is not good poetry. Germany has a performance piece below a clear floor with the audience above which I have yet to brave the queue for so I am not sure if it is dance or theatre or a little from column A and a little from column B. It is supposed to be really good but that is not my actual point. Egypt has built a mud brick facade inside which they are showing a film on five screens. Poland is showing an impenetrable slo-mo film in a blacked out room so dark that everyone entering falls over the foot high platform on which the seating is arranged – now if they were filming that and replaying it on the screen that would have been something. Art people! I want art! I don’t want your solemn, performative, experiential, interpretive dance with your constantly depressing falling cadences and atonal music.

I would be more than happy to watch any of these works at, lets say, The Venice Film Festival, The Venice international Contemporary Music Festival, The Venice International Theatre Festival, or the Venice International Festival of Contemporary Dance (except I don’t think many of them would make the cut) but until it is ok for me to show sculptures or paintings at any of these other affairs I think they should be restricted severely at the ART Biennale and visual artists should be able to show up and make art and have the audience interpret it in their own heads without a fucking screen!

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Sculpture at Bather’s Beach Fremantle 2017

Thanks to the brilliant photographer Richard Gale for these lovely shots of my turtle at Sculptures at Bathers

This exhibition is on until Sunday 12th March.

https://sculptureatbathers.com/artist/mikaela-castledine/

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If the weather is bedding

If weather is bedding

and it so often is

cloud pillows

blanketing heat

sheets of lightning

then the continental

coverlet of February

has slipped sideways

as if after a kicking night

in which all came untucked

and we wake in the dark

coldly exposed to a damp chill wind

groping for even the ruffled edge

to get our fingers gripped

and haul back the warm

while on the other side

they toss feverish

in the unaccustomed heat

of the doubled over weight

of summer’s quilt

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‘Damage’ Bankwest Art Prize 2016

The 2016 Bankwest Art Prize opened last night. This is Western Australia’s most prestigious award for WA artists. I am extremely happy to be a finalist amongst some very august company.

damage-image-2

My piece for this exhibition is called Damage.

This work is my attempt to understand child suicide. Having been distressed by news reports of children as young as ten committing suicide and hearing talk of tiny triggers distracting from extensive accumulated damage, the idea for this piece came to me as a way to make sense of the senseless and to honour every day in a life. Each circle represents a year with 365 stitches in the outer edge and the stack of ten circles echoes a life of a child. The damage is represented by a diminishing series of circles cut and melted through each disc forming an asymmetrical cone. This will take on a cumulative shape, which is both a presence and an absence, symbolising abuse and neglect.

Early in 2016 I completed a residency at PMH hospital where the cords and ropes I use for my crochet sculptures and teaching had to be carefully managed. Many of the children I was working with had mental health issues and it was important to recognise that the materials I see as creative and useful are often used to commit suicide. Making this piece using cord with a high breaking strain, one which you could trust to hold you seems appropriate.

The piece has a significantly human density, a dead weight. It weighs about 70 kilograms, making it difficult for one person to carry.

Most importantly the piece is beautiful. The colours, starting from a bright, clear neon green, grading through to a deep blue like a darkening aura, can be read in the most manifest way as green innocence moving to blue depression, but the darkening spectrum can also simply indicate growth and change and the gathering of knowledge that every child displays.

Due to our profound abhorrence of crimes against children and our understanding of the long term effects on many people, we have tendency to believe that a child who has been abused is permanently and irredeemably damaged. This must lead to an overwhelming hopelessness for which suicide may seem the only solution. I wanted to make a piece which was intensely beautiful and  damaged, not beautiful because of the damage or beautiful despite the damage, simply beautiful in and of itself.

Deliberately cutting into the discs with their hundreds of hours of careful work is an act of brutality designed to evoke similar feelings in the viewer. Making a work that is both beautiful and damaged shows the possibility of redemption and allows contemplation of this terrible subject in a way that is bearable.

Damage detail

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