Sunday, 1 April 2007

Seeing the Howard Arkley exhibition would have been good enough for a sunny autumn afternoon, but I caught two other shows as well.

Entrance is free for the Arkley show. It is touring the major centres and goes to Brisbane next. It includes many works held in private collections. Seeing Arkley's works on the wall gives significantly greater pleasure than just flipping through a stack of postcards. Most of the works are too big to hold with arms outstretched.

They include, refreshingly, several from the 1970s, before he had settled into his well-known penchant for airbrushed suburban houses. These early paintings show him whittling back the number of marks to a bare minimum. They are highly conceptual abstracts. Whites and black predominate, with a touch of colour here and there.

In the early 1980s he starts to produce chromatically striking patterns. The entire canvas is given over to complex patterns. The colours are bright, and will get brighter still.

Then soon after this the suburban interiors appear. The mid- to late-80s show him using an airbrush to render large human heads. By 1990 it is possible to anticipate his Nick Cave (1999).

Downstairs in the gallery several other exhibitions are running. I avoid the Tezuka because I've seen it thousands of times before. Why should I pay $10 to view cartoons that have been imprinted in my brain from early childhood?

Anne Zahalka's photographs of beaches and festivals (she has "an interest in leisure activities as an intrinsic part of Australian culture") are lovely, with rich colours and perfect poise. These chromatically saturated photos are a delight. The one shot at night-time in a country town is especially good.

Then there's ARTEXPRESS 07, a collection of the best final-year high-school works. It is well-organised. They even have their own Web site.

Particularly good I thought was Mark Dennis from Lithgow (a town just to the west of the Blue Mountains). His drawing is very accomplished and is combined with a knowing sense of colour.

I also liked Richie Gray, a student of St Josephs College in Hunters Hill. His colours are beautiful and the execution is intriguing.

And Scott Lee from Chester Hill High School deserves a mention too. His stencils inspired by street art are compelling.

I thought Lauren Brender from Moriah College made a fine work that is very modern in concept and excellent in execution.

Finally, Amie Jones displays a terrific sense of design and composition. She is from Queenwood Art School. She explores the impact of plastic surgery in her work.

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