Artist profile: John Whitney

Bridges may be the most invisible form of public architecture.

Each day we cross bridges as we commute to work or school, visit family and friends, going about our daily lives. We take their presence for granted, never stopping to think how life would be different without them.

Gallery 1855’s current exhibition No Bridge Too Far depicts the architectural and engineering aspects of South Australian bridges, with works by Adelaide artists James Parker and John Whitney.

Using pen and ink, encaustic painting, digital imaging printmaking and installation, they explore the bridge as a landmark and anchor for identity of self and place.

James says “When I was young I assumed that if someone didn’t grow up right next to a bridge, then they longed to. I still believe that.”


 

John Whitney is a well-known and highly regarded visual artist who has been working with South Australian schools and communities over many years.

He started his working life as a secondary visual arts educator. After a number of years teaching he has dedicated his talent and skill to continuing his work with school students but as a professional visual artist.

John won the Education and Arts Ministers’ Award for his work as an artist working in schools in 2003, and has also won a number of Art awards and prizes over the years.

He has been a core artist working for Carclew’s Arts & Education Program in Artists in Schools, Arts Blast, Cargo and Creative Education Partnership Artist in Residence projects (AiR). John was one of two lead artists for Carclew’s AiR project in Murray Bridge in 2010, which went on to win an international award from The Campaign for Drawing (U.K.).

John’s work is not limited to schools, as he is also in high demand for Adelaide’s annual WOMAdelaide, Adelaide Fringe and Festival. He also contributes his time and skills to working with communities and Councils both in metro Adelaide and regionally.

We caught up with John to ask more questions about No Bridge Too Far:

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James Parker and John Whitney at the opening of ‘No Bridge Too Far’

 

Your joint exhibition at Gallery 1855, ‘No Bridge Too Far’ depicts the architectural and engineering aspects of South Australian bridges. How did this idea come about?

Through Carclew I was teamed up with James and we have worked on several successful drawing projects, Come Out activities and other workshops in schools for the last nine years.

Following my stroke in 2014, as part of rehab James suggested working towards an exhibition together on the topic “Bridges of South Australia”…… why bridges you can ask James more on that part!

So for the past two years, armed with sketchbooks and cameras we’ve traveled the state in James’ van discovering and capturing bridges.

Why bridges?

For me I like the physical presence of a bridge; its structure, the material it’s made of, as well as the practical nature of safely crossing something.  It is also a time capsule ……. often the remains of previous bridges stand beside the current ones, and locals have tales to tell of their bridge. I lived in Murray Bridge for four years and those bridges were certainly the main landmark.

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John Whitney, The Children’s Bridge, Strathalbyn
2016
30 x 20cm

 

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John Whitney, The Old Bridge Mitcham
Colour pencil on Fabriano paper 300gsm
2015
30 x 40cm.

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John Whitney, The old footbridge, Oakbank
2016, 20x30cm.

 

You have worked in several South Australian schools, as a teacher and as an artist-in-residence. How did you come to find your preferred visual arts medium?

Drawing has always been my main area of interest in the Visual Arts as it’s important not only in the arts but right across our lives.  It designs, explains and records much of our activities. It’s transportable and can have so many presentations from a scribble to photo realism.…… I’ve always drawn.

I trained as an Art Teacher and taught in country and city schools for eleven years. I then resigned but got invited back into schools as an artist. That was thirty years ago. Since then I have worked constantly in schools doing murals, hebel carving, drawing workshops, painted poles – all over the state.

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John Whitney, The culvert near Burra,
2016
30 x 20cm

 

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James Parker, Port Wakefield River,
2016
Encaustic on board

 

 

 

 

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James Parker, Bruce,
2016
Digital image

Where do you take inspiration from?

 

I get inspiration from the world around me …….  physical objects, landscapes, buildings and structures more than the human figure. I enjoy recording the detail of the world around us; I always have a sketchbook or journal handy as well as a camera. Themes and topics develop over time which often evolve to be an exhibition or a series of drawings.

 

No Bridge Too Far is on display from 10 May – 10 June 2017 at Gallery 1855.

 

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Artist profile: Belinda Broughton & Ervin Janek

The Story Stones
29 March – 29 April 2017

The Story Stones explored the human desire for meaning and story by Adelaide artists Belinda Broughton and Ervin Janek.

meaning gathers —
around the hearth
eyes glitter

 

sparks rise
we doodle in sand

 

names
are mouthed
for the first time

‘fire, sand, meat, light
char, flame, shadow, word’

in chaos and randomness

we find image, we find story
and meaning gathers

as meaning
always gathers

 

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Ervin Janek and Belinda Broughton – partners in art & life

Through her career, Belinda Broughton has used materials that range from dirt to the finest art materials, producing work in a diversity of art forms: paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, collage, gallery installations, and installations in nature.

Thematically she has been engaged with the cycles of life/death/life and order/chaos/order, with a focus on natural and purposeful mark moving towards script and symbol, and, recently, moving towards image and story.

She has also spent the last decade focusing on poetry (with a decent publication record) and is interested in the interface between poetry and visual art.

We asked for more details about ‘The Story Stones’ and her work.

 

In the past you and Ervin ran a toy manufacturing company. Can you tell us more about this time in your life? Were you both practicing artists back then?

It was a good little business. It paid the mortgage; brought up the kids. We made educational jigsaw puzzles and games and, with valued employees, did everything in-house – from the ideas and artwork, through to screen printing the images and woodworking, to packaging and promotion. We were also bringing up three kids, so it was exceptionally busy. Even so, we managed a shared exhibition, and we were in a number of group shows. Ervin also held a number of solos during that time. It was great to have an income to support our art.

We downsized the business in 2001 and concentrated on art from then on. But we kept making a few of the more lucrative toy products until Ervin had a heart operation in 2006.

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Your exhibition at Gallery 1855, ‘The Story Stones’ features a range of work and mediums, including artist books, drawings, prints, photography, installation and sculpture. What draws you to so many art processes?

Easily Bored? I love learning new processes and playing with materials, but I was having a hate affair with painting for a few years prior to this show, and had been concentrating on illustration, partly looking for a new business opportunity to replace the toys.

I discovered I am eminently unsuitable for doing illustrations to briefs because I found it stressful and some little saboteur in my brain kept wanting to add inappropriate things, like gumboots to wedding attire, for example. So I allowed myself to go off on tangents and a lot of this work arises from that. It is completely different to the paintings I had been doing (non-representational, formalist field paintings), but I’m loving the figurative playfulness of them. And even feel that I’d like to move into painting again.

As for the books, I am a poet, and words play a huge part in my art and life. So between words and illustration, it is natural that I would get into books. I will explore books more, both published and artist books.

Ervin has always worked in photography, block printing, and sculpture. He is very inventive and playful, especially (in my opinion) in photography.

Free Bird

Belinda Broughton, Free Bird, 2016 
archival inkjet print, edition size 12
41 x 59cm

 

Vacant

Belinda Broughton, Vacant, 2016
archival inkjet print, edition size 12
42 x 52cm

 

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Ervin Janek
Stone Head, 2016
Stone and branch
54 x 25 x 12cm

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Ervin Janek
Untitled Figure, 2016
Archival inkjet print, 54 x 36cm

‘The Story Stones’ is about the exploration of the human desire for story and meaning. Can you expand on this?

Well, stories are just so important to human beings aren’t they? Historically they have been used in many ways, for example, the passing down of critical survivalist information, the delivery of news, as a type of subversion against political powers, as an aid to rites of passage, and they have been used, simply, to entertain. It has been posited that there are a very few types of stories, and yet these stories have been told in infinite ways across the world throughout human history.

Ervin tells a great story, a facility I plundered to write my book Sparrow, Poems of a Refugee, (his life stories in poems). As a writer I am fascinated by story, the concept, and by individual stories. Meet me and it won’t be long before I prise your life story from you.

Ervin’s work is very often about actual stories, but also can be a suggestion or a trace of story. My newer work is often allegorical also.

A few years ago Ervin produced an exhibition called Unfinished Allegories, photographs that suggest stories, but which he invited the viewer to ‘finish’. This began a dialogue between us about the nature of story and whether stories are ever really finished.

I have a rock sculpture on which I had inscribed the word ‘story’ over and over again. As I worked, the grease from my hand smudged some of the words, and I had to work over them again. It became a sort of palimpsest of itself. Called The Story Stone, it seemed a great metaphor for stories, how they fade and keep renewing themselves. Once Ervin and I appreciated the concept of story as a connection between our practices, we went with Story Stones as an exhibition title.

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Where do you take inspiration from?

Compost is quite fertile, isn’t it. Actually the cycle of life, death and renewal (or chaos-order-chaos) is one of my big themes, so compost is, in fact, quite inspirational. I love mark, accidental, natural and human. I love processes and seeing what a different process can offer. I am interested in myth and science, fibre and other crafts. I am appalled by politics. I am renewed and inspired by nature in general, and am appalled and frightened on it’s behalf too. I have very broad interests and do not separate my writing from my visual arts, so there are a lot of things at play that find themselves being expressed.

Ervin is interested in expressing his feelings, and is always exploring new ways of doing that. Also he keeps himself alert to what is happening around him, so he might, for instance, see a shape in a tree that he will photograph and team with other images in his composite photographs. Or, if he is working in wood or stone, he works with the materials to enhance what they have to offer. on occasion, from my position, Ervin’s connections seem arbitrary or unconsidered, and next thing he has expressed something so precisely with these very connections, that my jaw drops.

 

What’s the next thing you’re working on?

Oh, I don’t know. I think I need to have a post-exhibition crisis first! But seriously, it is too early to put rigorous demands on myself. One needs to find time to play. It invigorates whatever is coming next.

I don’t usually find out what I’m really doing until I am part way through. I have the desire to take some of my playful figurative images and see what gestural acrylic does to them. I have a collection of poetry coming out from Ginninderra Press towards the end of the year. I want to produce some artist books and I have a new blog to set up. Lots of plans, but I find that, since the exhibition, I have been drawn to writing poems, and have even written a couple that I like.

Ervin is working away on small stones. He calls them pain-killers, as the process keeps his immediate concerns at bay. We lost a son to brain cancer last year, so there is a fair amount of avoidance behaviour going on in our life. Craft helps.

He will continue to put two and two together in his photographs. at least that is how I know him; photography is a constant in his life. But his aim in the near future is to throw himself into woodblock printing again.

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Ervin and Belinda with Gallery 1855 director Niki Vouis, ARTAG members and local artists

References:

New website and blog: belindabroughton.com

old blog address (still active): belindabroughton.wordpress.com

Ervin’s website: ervinjanek.com

I heart paper & Ink works

Gallery 1855 is currently featuring two paper-based exhibitions by two Adelaide artists:

I heart paper by Ellen Schlobohm, is a ‘love letter’ from the artist to her chosen medium, reflecting on the true beauty of paper &  Ink works by Cathy Gray, a collection of intricate pen and ink patterns on paper.

Both exhibitions demonstrate an intuitive approach to design and to the materiality of paper, but in very different ways. Cathy has focused on abstract black and white pattern designs, while Ellen’s approach to her intricate paper cuts is more relaxed and conceptual.

Cathy Gray

Image: Cathy Gray, Balance (detail), 2013, pen & ink on paper, 75 x 75cm.

 

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Image: Ellen Schlobohm, Woven, 2016, hand-cut fabriano academia 200gsm, thread, approx. 23cm x 23cm.

More about the artists and their work:

Cathy Gray (in her own words)

My pen is my constant companion. It has enabled me to express myself freely over the various periods of my life.

So, with only pen and paper I begin with a dot. My work is rarely planned. I prefer to let each piece evolve and guide me. This approach gives me freedom from expectations. The majority of my work takes the form of a circle. For me the circle transcends time, cultural boundaries and evokes harmony and peace. It reflects wholeness and our interconnection to the world around us. In the beginning is the end and in the end is the beginning.

I draw exclusively in black and white. In all of the complexity of my art, restricting the colour palate to black and white brings with it certain stillness and simplicity. While a coloured palate enables you to glance at a picture and see the colours, black and white forces you to stop and look deeper into the piece; allowing you to see the story behind the art.

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Image: Cathy Gray, Unspoken Word, 2015, ink on paper, limited edition print, 700 x 700mm.

Ellen Schlobohm (in her own words)

‘I heart paper’ is a love letter from a paper artist to the medium in which I work. 
My skills have been tested as I’ve pushed the boundaries of practice to reveal the true beauty of paper. Several of my pieces include thread or other intricate 3D elements.

Other works acted as skill testers, challenging me to see just how small I can cut.
My work is created by meticulously cutting away paper by hand to leave behind delicate tableaus. I’m drawn to paper as a medium for its simplicity and strength. I also delight in watching this humble material come to life as I make each cut and the image is revealed.

I have expanded my arts practice to include other artistic avenues such as screen-printing, installation and mixed media works. This year I’ve taken part in several exhibitions and was a finalist in the Emma Hack Art Prize with my work The Eyes – a papercut photograph featuring my sister.

Ellen Schlobohm

Ellen Schlobohm, Flourish (detail), 2016, hand cut Fabiano academia 200gsm, screen-printed Fabiano academia 200 gsm, 50 x 50cm.

Cathy and Ellen’s work is on display at Gallery 1855 from now until Friday 24 December.

Artist profile: Margie Kenny

Adelaide designer Margie Kenny’s illustrations at Gallery 1855 are vibrant, charming and yet thought provoking.

Her latest exhibition Connected explores the idea that all creatures and nature are connected and that life is an incredible force.

A childhood spent in the Adelaide Hills impressed on Margie a love for nature and a passion for conserving native habitats and species. Her illustrations aim to capture nature in a way that brings joy to viewers and an awareness of the role we all play in preserving the environment.


Tell us about your artistic background.

I always loved art and design in school, and went on to university to study a Bachelor of Education specialising in Design. I then worked as a graphic designer and illustrator in the areas of health and education, and began teaching design at UniSA. I have exhibited in several group exhibitions, and this is my first solo exhibition.

What is your current exhibition at Gallery 1855, Connected about?

Connected is about how nothing happens in isolation on our planet – all creatures and habitat have an effect on one another. Creatures are so closely connected to their habitat. It’s a celebration of the beauty of nature – from wildlife across the world to a ladybird in the backyard garden. The exhibition also highlights a connection we may not be so proud of – the rapid loss of habitat and wildlife through deforestation to feed our consumption of palm oil in processed food and household products.

In the organic garden (ladybird) by Margie Kenny

Image: Margie Kenny, In the organic garden (ladybird), 2016, hand drawn mixed media digital composite print on cotton rag paper, 52 x 52cm.

Why is the natural world so important to you?

My love of nature goes back to my early childhood growing up surrounded by scrub and native wildlife in the Adelaide Hills. The natural world supports the life of all creatures including humans, and without it we could not survive.

What concerns you about the world we live in?

There is an alarming rate of change in the natural world primarily at the hands of the human race, and I believe as individuals we can have a more positive influence on change. For example, there are critically endangered species losing their habitat and lives through rapid deforestation to make way for palm oil plantations – while we continue to consume palm oil which is hidden in a high percentage of supermarket products and processed food. It can go completely unnoticed to many of us, even to those who are nature lovers.

Gardener's companion, by Margie Kenny

Image: Margie Kenny, Gardener’s companion, 2016, hand drawn, digital composite print on cotton rag paper, 52 x 52cm.

Where and how do you make your works?

Several of my pieces are detailed and realistic in tone and form and are produced in my studio by hand, using graphite pencil or biro with my own photographs as reference when drawing (e.g. Turning tide, Nature’s fine line and Microclimate).

Some of my most recent pieces (e.g. Habitat and Uncertain future) begin with an idea that is drawn roughly on layout paper then progressed to a final accurate line drawing. These drawings are then scanned onto the computer, and hand drawn/painted colour textures are also scanned and cut to shape and combined with the line work in Photoshop software. The final illustrations are then printed at a high resolution onto cotton rag paper for a high quality finish.

Rhythm of life by Margie Kenny

Image: Margie Kenny, Rhythm of life, 2014, hand drawn, digital composite print on cotton rag paper, 51 x 51cm.

What you hope people take away from seeing these works?

I hope the work brings joy and inspiration to the audience, and perhaps a renewed awareness of the role we all play as consumers. Informative bookmarks are available to take home to enjoy and to help identify palm oil in products we buy.

Microclimate by Margie Kenny

Image: Margie Kenny, Microclimate, 2009, ball point pen on paper, 53 x 53cm.

What are you working on next?

I’d like to further explore the idea of habitat and endangered species, focusing on the concerns but also on the positive work being done in Australia and overseas on rescuing and reintroducing wildlife into habitats. In the process I will also be exploring illustrative styles for my own development as an illustrator.

Connected is a Gallery 1855 exhibition at 2 Haines Road in Tea Tree Gully, from 12 October until 12 November 2016. 

Artist Profile: Mona Khizam

This month local community artist, writer and filmmaker Mona Khizam is co-hosting (along with artist Catherine Buddle) the workshop, Identity, Memory and Place at Gallery 1855. We spoke to Mona about her pursuits and the experiences behind them.

Can you start by providing an introduction about yourself and your artistic background?

Well, my academic background is in social work, teaching and human rights. My family is from Lebanon so that means like other ‘ first generation Australians’, I was privy to both Australian culture and another culture growing up. You’re born here but you see things differently. You’re Australian but you also have another understanding of how family, business and community can work. This is cultural diversity in a nutshell and it is what makes pluralistic societies like Australia, Canada, Venezuela etc. the vibrant societies that they are.

Since coming back to Australia in 2014, I have had the opportunity to work with Indigenous filmmakers and I have learnt a lot about Indigenous knowledge, politics and cultures. What I think is that these Indigenous cultures, combined with Anglo-Australian and Australian immigrant cultures, make Australia an extraordinary country, which isn’t to say we don’t have fundamental problems in the areas of racism, equality and social inclusion but we are getting there…

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What or who has made a great impression on you?

My dad, Ramez Khizam ( Ronny ) was a self-made man, an immigrant success story if ever there was one, but he was also very humble and modest. He died in 1998 but I still think about him most days. I think his legacy was in his natural curiosity about things, in teaching us the importance of education and the importance of conducting yourself with integrity. He was a very decent man, quiet, self-educated and kind.

My mother Inaam Khizam ( Anna ) also taught me a lot of things, including that you have to take a chance in business and then work very hard to realise your dream. She is the greatest networker I know and she still influences me in her exceptional organisational skills and her tireless work with various community groups.

My son too, has taught me a lot about life and the importance of family.

Living abroad for 30 years also had a huge impact on me. Perhaps the most important things I learnt are:

  • There are more ways to do things than the way you happened to be brought up doing them
  • You should take the opportunity to learn what you can from cultures that have mastered certain things i.e. the Swedish way of planning and organising and the Lebanese way of seizing the day and enjoying life, since you don’t know what tomorrow might bring…
  • At the end of the day, life is all about building community

Each of the places I lived in – Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Manila, Beijing, Hong Kong, Beirut, Dresden and Stockholm – gave me the opportunity to learn new things. Even before I went abroad though, I was a devotee of life-long learning. Living overseas provided me with a great education. Although there were a ton of challenges, I felt it was a privilege to be able to dip into other languages and experience so many different ways of life. I have thought and also written a lot about this, these cross-cultural issues that both bind and divide us as humans.

As for my artistic background, well, I have always written and been interested in images and cinematography. I trained to be a literacy teacher while first abroad and later, in Sweden, I re-trained as a documentary filmmaker. Filmmaking, whether my own documentary films or those made by community groups I teach, is a wonderful thing because it allows people to say what they want – and need – to say. Film is the great equaliser and one of the most effective ways to contribute to public debates. For example, I am just at the tail-end of a project called North Eastern Girrrls Film Bootcamp in which young women chose to make two films: one about domestic violence in Australia and the other about the importance of language and culture for Uyghur people in China. As with my other community film work, I do not set the theme. The participants choose the topics that are important to them, topics close to their hearts, you might say. And this is exactly what democracy is – being able to express your opinion without retribution. It’s something you are grateful for when you have lived in places where democracy isn’t that highly valued.

So, in a nutshell, my artistic work includes things like:

  • My own documentaries,
    • ADHD, anarchy, music, fatherhood, refugees, ‘the immigrant experience’ and stories of identity and belonging, or not
  • My own community art installations,
    • like Gardens don’t lie…
  • Collaborative arts and cultural projects,
    • the 2BEACHES, OneIslandNation democracy project with Open Space Contemporary Arts
  • Community film teaching,
    • North Eastern Girrrls Film Bootcamp
  • Community film events,
    • Tea Tree Gully Stories
    • Gallery Yampu Open Mic Film Cafe which I ran earlier this year at Port Adelaide
    • SAGA : Stockholm International Women’s Film Festival that I founded in Sweden in 2013
    • Writing ‘Sahara Libre !  Freedom, Human  Rights and Colonialism in The Western Sahara’
  •  Photographic exhibitions including moving images.
    • There but for the grace of God, go I…

In terms of artists that inspire me, there are many but I would name Shirin Neshat (Iranian), Lara Baladi (Lebanese) and Nan Golding (American) and Pipilotti Rist (Swiss).

Your current work at Gallery 1855, There but for the grace of God, go I  is a series of revealing photographs you shot while on a research trip to Algeria, to explore human rights in a Sahrawi refugee camp. Can you tell us more about why you went there and details regarding your trip?

I went to Algeria and The Western Sahara to do research for my human rights/ journalism/ filmmaking studies at Jakobsbergs Folkhögskola in Stockholm. I was there for 6 weeks in 2009. I was interested in finding out what it’s like to be a refugee, sitting forgotten in desert camps for decades. To my surprise, I learnt that the Sahrawis’ situation is actually quite well-known and their struggle for freedom is strongly supported in many European and South American countries. What I found was a thriving community actively building an effective, sophisticated government-in-waiting (Polisario), working with the UN to end the illegal occupation of their country, shoring up their language, culture and identity and educating their kids for the day they regain their independence.

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The Western Sahara, known as Africa’s last colony, was doled out to Spain in 1885 when unimaginably greedy European colonial powers carved up Africa between themselves at the Berlin Conference. Ninety years later when the Spanish were on their way out, the Moroccans decided to invade, so the Sahrawis know a lot about occupation.

Since that 1975 Moroccan invasion, some 200,000 Sahrawis have been stranded in refugee camps in the middle of the Hamada ( the desert called ‘The Devil’s Garden’ in English) where it can get up to 50 degrees in the middle of the day and down to zero at night.

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There but for the grace of God, go I…  is a photographic narrative of this fight for freedom. Each picture offers an insight into the lives of ordinary people struck in the middle of the politics of colonialism. The 19 images are supported by a film of the same name, shot in Semaphore and in The Western Sahara, which highlights the impact of colonialism on our lives.

Through images, text and video footage, the exhibition examines the randomness of dislocation, be it through politics, war, climate change or in the case of the Sahrawis, occupation by an expansionist neighbour. I wanted to investigate if this was important and if so, why? After all, what has it got to do with us? Why should it matter? What I found was that it does matter, not just morally but also because refugees remain refugees because their resources are being plundered. Their country being occupied means that they do not have control over their own assets. In The Western Sahara, these assets are considerable and valuable. They include huge quantities of high quality sand (taken for the beaches of the Canary Islands, for instance), solar and wind power diverted to power Moroccan cities, the best fishing stock off the coast of Africa being exported all over the world (while the Sahrawis eat cheap, imported tinned sardines), phosphate (critical in agriculture as fertiliser) and finally, oil and gold being dug up and spirited away without a cent going to the economy of The Western Sahara.

Many companies, including Australian ones, are involved in this (needless to say, illegal) plundering of resources. In short, what we do over here, matters. The standard we walk past is the standard we accept. The politics of war, occupation and colonialism are random and harsh. Anybody could, through circumstances beyond their control, become a refugee and it’s a soul destroying situation to find yourself in. It could happen to anyone, it could happen to you and it could happen to me but for the grace of God…

In fact, if the Dutch had thought their reception more along the lines of what they were expecting when they landed in Shark Bay in 1616, they might have stayed and colonised Australia. Then we would be having this conversation in Dutch ! That’s how random colonialism is. We should know this, being a colony, but we forget. There but for the grace of God, go I… is a reminder that had things gone differently for us as a nation, we too might have been fighting for our language, culture, identity and freedom as many refugees do, not to mention our own Indigenous communities…

What do you hope people take away from seeing your work?

I hope people see that refugees are just people like you or me, people just trying to raise their kids and live their lives in peace. They do not choose to be refugees and all they want is what everyone wants: freedom.

 Your work reflects extreme conditions of humanity and existence… Is it hard for you to keep the momentum up in your work, as you bear witness to terrible emotional suffering, as well as environmental suffering?

In a word, no. Looking away is harder. Mind you, there were times in the camp when I wondered what the hell I was doing there… The work is important, I think because it is too easy to see the refugee as ‘the other’, to diminish them by lumping them all together, instead of seeing they too are people like you and me. These days there is a lot of fear and cruelty in the ‘treatment’ of refugees. As a nation, our track record has gone from the woeful White Australia policy to positive post-war immigration, to something where we now focus almost entirely on the cost of taking in refugees and the ways it can all go wrong instead of seeing the benefits of immigration. We have become very frightened and as a result, very careless in our terminology, whereby ‘refugee’ by default is only a hair’s breadth from ‘terrorist’. If this were the case in 1948 when my father applied to migrate to Australia, he wouldn’t have stood a chance and I wouldn’t be here now. Of course, taking in people is complex and takes resources but it also makes us a stronger, more diverse, more resilient and more international player on the world stage.

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Here are some lines from the Introduction of ‘Sahara Libre!’ to answer your question about bearing witness to terrible emotional suffering.

‘Some days I wanted to stay in the camp my whole life. Nothing else existed, it was a world to its own. Life was good. I had what I needed – company, work that made me happy, time to laugh. I was who I wanted to be. Other days, especially at the beginning, I wondered what on earth I was doing there. And what the Sahrawis were doing there. What the hell was wrong with these people, sitting in some God-forsaken refugee camp in the middle of nowhere? Was this it? Was this as good as life was going to get for them? Didn’t they want a better life, if only for their kids? Was it enough to sit suspended in time and space, miserably waiting out their days, hoping against hope that the world might one day sit up and notice their plight?’

Polisario, The Western Saharan government’s mass release of Moroccan prisoners of war in the 1980s and since then, more than 80 United Nations resolutions supporting The Western Sahara and condemning Morocco’s illegal occupation of it and yet still nothing changes… There they sit, freezing by night, sweltering by day and always battered by that cursed wind – wind strong enough to pick up your spit, coat it with a shell of flying sand and send it smashing to the ground 3 or 4 metres from source. Bone-jarringly cold nights, daytime temperatures of over 50° and nothing but desert as far as the eye can see, day in, day out, year in, year out. No wonder they call it the Devil’s Garden, God himself could not get anything to grow in this most savage of environments.

Add to that, no institutions of higher learning, no jobs, no economy to speak of, ‘no nothing’. The Sahrawis, colonised by the Spanish, invaded by the Moroccans, have been to war, laid down their arms, talked nicely with the United Nations and still they are living in refugee camps. They have done everything conceivable to wrench their lands back from an aggressively expansionist Morocco but to no avail. They remain an occupied country.

Imagine it, some 200,000 people huddled together in a handful of camps, cut off from those parts of their family living under Moroccan occupation, a 3rd generation of children being born into these camps, 41 years and counting… What do people do ? How do they cope ? The answer is that they do as anyone else does – they live their lives, as best they can. They grow up, get married, raise their kids. They do their utmost to hold the community together, to survive but what, I wonder, do they dream of in the quiet moments in the day, these people that don’t officially exist, these people supposedly without a future?

 Welcome to The Western Sahara

There were a number of projects that our group from Jakobsbergs Folkhögskola, Stockholm chose to work with – making a documentary comparing Sahrawi teenagers with their Swedish counterparts, compiling a picture reportage of life in the desert, investigating methods of food/ water/ aid distribution but beyond this, what captivated me was the question of identity; Who are these people, these Sahrawis?



And who do you become when your country is occupied, when you have lost a sizeable chunk of your land and have sat in refugee camps for four decades ? When I first saw pictures of Sahrawis, I was a bit daunted. They are a tough looking people. They stand somewhere between Europe (being Spanish-speaking, thanks to Spanish colonialism), the Middle East (their culture sharing much with Arab cultures) and Africa (their lands being situated in the north of that continent). How then, have they managed to maintain their identity, against all odds ? That is what I wanted to find out and this book is my attempt to do just that.

What have been some of your career highlights?

It is always the latest thing. I am very pleased with the North Eastern Girrrls’ work because filmmaking is not easy. It is by far easier to give up than to finish a film. They didn’t give up. They have made two interesting films that speak passionately of identity, community and the right to live safely, without violence.
I am also very pleased to show the images in There but for the grace of God, go I… Niki Vouis and the staff at Gallery 1855 are extraordinary in the way they support emerging and established artists. As a local artist, I really appreciate this. I think that Gallery 1855 is a very fine visual arts facility with a fantastic range of exhibitions, talks and workshops and reflects the Tea Tree Gully Council’s progressive and positive approach to culture and the arts. They do a lot to bring culture and the arts to the community and I am glad to live in a council area that does that.

This month you will co-host an visual art and writing workshop, where participants will explore their own stories and then interpret them using visual art. Are you a writer yourself, who has a serious interest in the visual arts?

I am both a writer and an artist. The workshop, Identity, Memory and Place, is an opportunity for participants to explore their own identity in writing and then transform the written word into an artwork of their choosing. I am co-running this workshop with Catherine Buddle and we are both really looking forward to it.

 

What would you love to work on in the future, or who would you like to collaborate with?

Well, I should begin by telling you what my other current projects are ;

  • Tea Tree Gully Stories which is an oral history documentary film. The Red Carpet Screening is on Friday the 14th of October at 6pm at Tea Tree Players on Yatala Road, Surrey Downs. The event is free and everybody is welcome. RSVP Tea Tree Players.
  • Gardens don’t lie… is a photographic and video installation that will also include a 6 x 3 metre garden of South Australian natives. It will initially be held at Adelaide Airport and then hopefully in Tea Tree Gully as well. This project explores the stories our gardens tell about us. Regardless of the way we present ourselves to the world, regardless of the income bracket we fall into, our gardens tell the truth about our values and about how we spend our time and our money.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about art, culture and There but for the grace of God, go I…

Artist profile: Talia Dawson

Talia Dawson’s paintings are being shown at Gallery 1855 as part of the 2016 SALA Festival.

Colourful, cheery yet delicate, Talia’s works celebrate the native flora of South Australia. Flowers and plants are her endless inspiration. She regularly travels around her home state to see native species up close and record their features for new works. Talia is in her final year at the University of South Australia, as she works towards becoming an art teacher.

Talia’s paintings will be on display at Gallery 1855  until Saturday 24 September 2016.



What’s your artistic background? What or who has made a great impression on you?

My love of art; of painting, drawing and creating stems from my childhood, a passion inspired by my mother at a very young age. Over the years my mum has watched my artistic talents grow, constantly teaching and encouraging, allowing my abilities to bloom.

I am now pursuing an artistic career in teaching – a pathway that’s been seeding in my mind for years – currently completing my final year in a Bachelor of Visual Arts at UniSA.

Talia Dawson

‘Equally Beautiful’, Talia Dawson, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 91cm x 60.5cm.

Your current exhibition at Gallery 1855 features several of your contemporary floral paintings. How did you begin this collection? Was there something in particular that triggered its development?

I’ve always been inspired by nature, influenced particularly by our beautiful South Australian landscape. So naturally, I was drawn to the flora our state has to offer, amazed and intrigued by the patterns, colours, workings and general organic abstractions of nature. There are so many hidden gems, the individual details of the landscape often more intriguing than the land as a whole. Exploring this beautiful state that I call home, I have gathered a compilation of fascinating photographs; photos that greatly influence my final creations.

What do you hope people take away when they see your work?

Through my work I aim to encourage others to observe the often overlooked, to be puzzled and captivated by nature’s abstractions, and to discover for themselves the beauty hidden within the South Australian landscape. I wish for people to look through my eyes, to see the ordinary in an unusual way, and to appreciate these obscurities like never before.

Purple and pink features strongly in your paintings, why is that?
The colour theme just seemed to happen naturally. I guess I want to bring happiness and joy to people’s lives, and the bright pinks and purples allowed me to do this, while also tying my body of work together as a whole.

What have been some of your career highlights?
I’ve exhibited in a couple of exhibitions prior to the current Gallery 1855 exhibition, however I consider my career to be only just starting! At the conclusion of Year 12 I was involved in the SACE Art Show. That was probably when the addiction first started, the hunger to continue painting and creating, to further exhibit my artworks for others to see and appreciate.

What would you love to work on in the future?
The future daunts me. I think it’s something I will just have to wait for and see what happens. I believe I will however always centre my practice around nature, immersing myself in the ‘art world’ of SA and beyond and bringing beauty to all that appreciate my work.


 

Artist profile: Jason Cordero

Gallery 1855 is celebrating the work of six South Australian artists with five distinct and dynamic exhibitions.

Two of these exhibitions feature paintings by Jason Cordero and Talia Dawson.

Among all these works, there seems to be a common theme, or curiosity in nature, and exploring that curiosity, whether real or imagined.

Jason has kindly agreed to be profiled. His gigantic sky landscape paintings are bold and spectacular – including his 3m-long painting, Bridge of Shadows.  Self-taught and painting from his imagination, they invite the viewer to imagine the story behind the image.

We hope you can see Jason’s spectacular paintings at Gallery 1855, on display from now until Saturday 24 September.


 

 Jason Cordero 

Can you start by providing an introduction about yourself and your professional background? What or who has made a great impression on you?

I am an Australian painter who lives and works in Adelaide and studied at the South Australian School of Art. I don’t really consider any one person a particular influence, but have just looked to my innate love of the natural world. I essentially taught myself how to paint; I haven’t ever had any “this is how you paint” lessons. University was about thought; technique was not considered. I do, though, have a love of 19th century history painting – I have an interest in people like Waterhouse, Alma-Tadema, Leighton. I also have particular interest in ancient history and architecture. These influences are more obvious in my most recent work.

Currently on exhibition at Gallery 1855 are several of your landscapes. Can you tell us more about these paintings? Are you referencing a particular place?

These works have been developing over a few years and were first shown together at BMG Art in an exhibition titled The Mountain. I was interested in the idea of wilderness and the sublime; not place as such but the narratives and sensations places can generate.

The sky is a major feature in your landscapes. A lot of your focus is on the expanse of sky, the light, the shadows and its dominance over all other elements. Is this intentional?

The sky is indeed the major feature. I’ve always been fascinated by the atmosphere and its emotive power. Just from a physical point of view it fascinates as it provides such an amazing display simply from the diffraction and diffusion of light through colourless gasses and liquid. I do intentionally draw attention to the sky and its dominance (certainly as far as scale goes) over the other features of the landscape; after all a mountain top can be an inviting place one moment and deadly the next depending on the movement of the air. Of course, all is intertwined as mountains often create the conditions for dramatic atmospheric phenomena. For example, just this past week has seen here in Adelaide some beautiful orogenic clouds along the hill face – at Tea Tree Gully we had a prolonged heavy down pour with the sun streaming in from the cloudless west. Very beautiful.

Everyone is talking about your colossal painting, The Bridge of Shadows. It looks like a glacial dreamscape. Does it all come from your head? Or is it a combination of places you’ve seen and then reimagined?

The Bridge of Shadows is in form entirely imaginary. It started as gestures in a little sketch with the sweep of the clouds and the impossible peak. Though not a real place, it is none the less playing with memories and experiences of my travels in Australia; just expanded and developed to create something else. Like most of the work from this series, it suggests a narrative, that something is about to happen – what, I can’t say.

Jason Cordero

Jason Cordero, The Bridge of Shadows (detail), oil on linen, 122 x 305cm.

What have been some of your career highlights?

My highlights, I suppose, were the winning of some prizes – the John Leslie Art Prize being the most significant. I also enjoyed the opportunity of having a solo exhibition at the Gippsland Art Gallery – indeed, Bridge of Shadows had its first outing there. It’s been reworked in the meantime though. Of course, I mustn’t forget this year’s three-month Redgate Residency in Beijing; that was an extraordinary experience and I do intend to go back.

What would you love to work on in the future, or is there anyone you would like to collaborate with?

As for the future, I’ve started to incorporate figures and the built environment in my work. My most recent exhibition presented work very different to any I’ve done before. I also want to start producing some sculpture. On a different tack, I’d love to collaborate with the State Opera of South Australia in stage design and there has been some movement in that direction. In the same vein, I’m also exploring the possibility of stage design with the State Theatre – I think it would be a fascinating collaboration.

Gallery 1855 is open from Wednesday to Saturday, from 12-5pm and is located at 2 Haines Road, Tea Tree Gully.