Archive for the art Category

Napoleon conquers at NGV

Posted in art, things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2012 by jason nahrung

napoleon exhibit at ngv

It took two-and-a-half hours to go through the Napoleon exhibition at NGV yesterday. It wasn’t particularly crowded, but there was oodles to see and read. Simply oodles. Busts, furniture, books, uniforms, paintings. Music.

This line jumped out:

The attention paid to the decorative arts in particular was part of a wider plan to revive the country’s economy…

Whoa! Art as an important part of a nation’s economy as well as identity? Revolutionary stuff, at least Down Under.

Napoleon’s savvy might not have made it down here just yet, but the little dictator was fascinated by Terra Australis, in particular Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery.

A section of the exhibit is dedicated to giving the French their due in the mapping of the coastline and the cataloguing of its flora and fauna. Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, even had black swans, emus and kangaroos in the garden.

The Australian connection runs close to home, too. I also wasn’t aware of the Napoleonic memorabilia to be found at Briars Park on the Mornington Peninsula, thanks to a family connection running to Napoleon’s incarceration on St Helena.

napoleon on horsebackAnother section sets the scene for his rise to power, and then it’s a chronological introduction to his career and the way art changed with the times as classic imperial motifs rose to the fore.

You can trace his evolution from thin-faced general to round-cheeked emperor; a video of his death mask completes the passage. One watercolour portrait on a small box shows eyes of avarice; another display contrasts his simple soldierly tastes with the pomp of state; elsewhere there is mention of manipulation of the media of the day with exaggerated reportage and widespread iconography of his greatness.

As always in such a historical display, there’s the fascination at the thought of these items being used: the combs and travelling boxes, the chair with the lion-headed arms, the Psyche mirror …

A familiarity with the French ruler’s history is advisable to help fill in the gaps, but what a champion display this is.

Meals on wheels: Melbourne’s Colonial Tramcar Restaurant

melbourne's colonial tramcar restaurantOn Sunday night we dined out in style for a friend’s 50th, indulging in five courses on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant.

The 1947 tram has been decked out with lamps, tables for four and for two, a chef and bar service, and for three hours it trundles amongst a convoy of three around Melbourne — St Kilda, Albert Park and Docklands slid past the tinted windows, while a various artists playlist of the Eagles, Prince and Sinead O’Connor played quietly in the background.

The food was top notch: appetiser of dips, entree of grilled barramundi, main of eye fillet, cheese and then sticky date pudding for dessert, all washed down with sparkling and red wine, with port to finish. All included in the price. The staff were awesomely friendly, too.

Rather than rush home from the tram, we made a night of it, crashing at Citigate, right opposite Flinders St Station, which meant we could walk everywhere we needed to go: ideal springtime lunch at Southbank, then to the tram, then to the gallery in the morning before the train home. The room was spacious enough for two people with only one carry-on bag between them, there was an iPod dock, the staff were wonderfully friendly, and this was the view from the twelfth floor:

view from citigate hotel melbourneQuiet, too. All they need now are proper cave curtains to keep out the sunlight.

Secret Gardens: fantasy on page and in paint

Posted in art, books, fantasy with tags , , , , , , , on August 23, 2012 by jason nahrung

oracle of azura by gail collins

‘Oracle of Azura’ by Gail Collins

garden of the two moons by caz mcdougall

‘Garden of the Two Moons’ by Caz McDougall

the blood stones of poora singh by annie higgins

‘The Blood Stones of Poora Singh’ by Annie Higgins

Four years after conception, the Secret Gardens project is finally about to be unveiled in Brisbane.

Three artists from northern New South Wales – Gail Collins, Annie Higgins and Caz McDougall – have been inspired to translate Australian fantasy stories onto canvas.

Books by Kim Wilkins, Paul Brandon, Louise Cusack, Karen Brooks, Melaina Faranda, Alison Goodman, Cecilia Dart Thornton, Kim Falconer, Anita Bell, Caiseal Mor, Annie’s husband Simon Higgins and yours truly (The Darkness Within, Annie tells me, but no sneak peek!) have been given the treatment – some more than once.

The trio didn’t stop there, though. As well as contributing six paintings inspired by published works, each has painted their own fantasy landscape, pictured above. They are running a short story contest to coincide with the exhibition, in which they invite short stories to 500 words based on one of the three paintings. The prize is a limited edition print of the painting. The contest closes on August 30 and is free; you can enter by email.

Secret Gardens shows at Jugglers Art Space, 103 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane from September 26 to October 2, with a grand opening night on Friday September 28 from 6pm. I can’t wait to see what these three have cooked up.

Aurealis Awards: catching up with the tribe

Posted in art, awards, books, fantasy, horror, science fiction with tags , on May 13, 2012 by jason nahrung

We are home from Sydney, having feted our peers in the speculative fiction community at last night’s Aurealis Awards. Once again, organisers SpecFaction NSW put on a smooth show with plenty of time to mingle at Rydges North Sydney before and after, with a gettogether at the nearby gorgeous awards venue The Independent theatre as well.

I recognised writers and publishers from all states and the ACT in the crowd that pretty much filled the theatre with a veritable who’s who, which once again demonstrated the generosity and openness of the community.

The audience saw a virtual passing of the torch from HarperVoyager stalwart editor Stephanie Smith to the new top ed in the hot seat, the much respected Deonie Fiford.

The late Sara Douglass and Paul Haines were in our thoughts, and it was wonderful to see Haines’s rivetting story ‘The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt’ score a win. His widows, Jules, sent a lovely acceptance message read by Cat Sparks which addressed the importance of writing to Paul and the value he placed on the spec fic community.

Sean the Bookonaut provides a storified rundown of the awards

Scott Westerfeld, Kim Westwood and — by iPhone, via Alan Baxter — Robert N Stephenson provided some of the other memorable speeches, and Kate Forsyth was the most delightful host one could ask for.

I think it was a tie between Sean Williams and Marty Young for having the shirt most people wanted to own… but that might just have been at our breakfast table. Robert Hood should be in the running for a Ditmar next year for ‘best use of a cow in a science fiction slideshow’.

I believe the awards will be held in Sydney for a third year next year — bring it on!

Pictures of the night by Cat Sparks

AUREALIS AWARD WINNERS FOR WORKS PUBLISHED IN 2011

Children’s fiction told primarily through words: City of Lies by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)
Children’s fiction told primarily through pictures: Sounds Spooky by Christopher Cheng (author) and Sarah Davis (illustrator) (Random House Australia)
Young Adult Short Story: ‘Nation of the Night’ by Sue Isle (Nightsiders, Twelfth Planet Press)
Young Adult Novel: Only Ever Always by Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)
Illustrated Book/Graphic Novel: TIE Hidden by Mirranda Burton (author and illustrator) (Black Pepper)
The Deep: Here be Dragons by Tom Taylor (author) and James Brouwer (illustrator) (Gestalt Publishing)
Collection: Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L Hannett (Ticonderoga Publications)
Anthology: Ghosts by Gaslight edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers (HarperVoyager)
Horror Short Story: TIE ‘The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt’ by Paul Haines (The Last Days of Kali Yuga, Brimstone Press)
‘The Short Go: a Future in Eight Seconds’ by Lisa L Hannett (Bluegrass Symphony, Ticonderoga Publications)
Horror Novel: No winner or shortlist.
Fantasy Short Story: ‘Fruit of the Pipal Tree’ by Thoraiya Dyer (After the Rain, FableCroft Publishing)
Fantasy Novel: Ember and Ash by Pamela Freeman (Hachette)
Science Fiction Short Story: ‘Rains of la Strange’ by Robert N Stephenson (Anywhere but Earth, Coeur de Lion)
Science Fiction Novel: The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood (HarperCollins)
Peter McNamara Convenors’ Award: Galactic Suburbia podcast –- Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Andrew Finch (producer)
Kris Hembury Encouragement Award: Emily Craven of Adelaide

Spot the Christmas gift idea…

Posted in art, fantasy, gothic, musings with tags , , , , , , , on November 20, 2011 by jason nahrung

macbeth tea towel

Cute Macbeth tea towel, for the writer, reader or theatre lover who has everything? From Readers’ Niche. They have the same pattern on erasers, too — *chortle*.

And while I’m throwing shopping suggestions around for the festive crowd, one of my happiest hunting grounds for pressies for my Significant Other is Poppet Planet. We fell in love with Lisa Snellings’ work at World Fantasy in San Jose a couple of years back: writer poppets, Halloween poppets, Dr Who poppets, cute and melancholy and downright adorable poppets… oooh. Awesome service, too.

lisa snellings poppet

Melbourne in one day: food, writers, art, music

Posted in art, things to do in melbourne, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2011 by jason nahrung

Yesterday’s touch of summer, and spring, and winter, and oh, yes, well, autumn, fine, it IS Melbourne, but at least it didn’t rain, was just dandy for a day in the city.

First, there was lunch at Time Out in Federation Square — the staff there are amazingly efficient and efficiently friendly and the food is tasty and well-priced, though a wine will set you back the best part of $10 a glass — with a Brisbane contingent (including two of us expats and one wannabe). The sun was warm, the wind chill, the quesadillas suitably chilli, the friendship warm. This is what weekend afternoons are all about, hey?

vienna art and design at ngvFrom there, I wandered off to the Vienna: Art & Design exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. The exhibit showcases the Secessionist movement. Here, I again learnt that I do like Klimt (I never knew he drew erotica, so those drawings were educational), that I want to know more about Schiele and Kokoschka (awesome portraiture!), and have sadly little interest in tea pot design.

The exhibit kicked off with architecture (loved the Die Zeit facade re-creation in aluminium and glass, all very Metropolis*) and ran through visual art, including wicked posters and a couple of exquisitely processed photographs, furniture and cutlery n stuff. In those heady days, the architect was not just designing the building, but the entire fit-out. This was perhaps most strikingly presented by having two sets of furniture on either side of the same room, both products of the era but showcasing the two directions that design took: decorative and pragmatic (in my layman’s terms).

I also ducked upstairs to check out the Deep Water exhibition: a small collection of photographs ranging from creeks and waterfalls to icebergs and people swimming. Makes you appreciate the power of a black and white landscape, and indeed of nature itself (fingers crossed for those in the path of Hurricane Irene, who would, I’m sure, be happy just with photographs).

melbourne writers festival 2011

There followed a long coffee — there may also have been a beer, the day being turned to summer again — and scribbled notes (ink slashing akin to wrist slitting; infernal story, I hate you as much as you hate me) — and then, as the dial turned to a shady phase of winter, my first Melbourne Writers Festival event: Kim Scott, Marie Munkara, Arnold Zable (chair) and John Bradley talking about indigenous language and politics.

My summary: language is an important if not essential plank of cultural identity. So this move to herd folks from their country and teach them exclusively English: don’t. (What year is this again? Have we learnt nothing?)

Bradley made one of the most striking comments of the panel, when he described the Aboriginal language he’d learnt as ‘rising up from the country’, or words to that effect.

Powerful stuff, language; dangerous, too.

PEN International sponsored this panel, and an empty chair on the stage represented writers who have been killed or jailed for daring to not only have an opinion, but to air it.

To balance out this heavy topic, a short walk up Swanson St, the Toff in Town was hosting Stories Unbound. At the Toff, I’ve learnt, it pays to order two drinks at a time, especially when the house is packed. And it was, with punters turning up to hear Tishani Doshi, Brissie’s Nick Earls, Leslie Cannold, Anna Krien, Michael Robotham and MC David Astle share, without notes, an unpublished anecdote from their lives.

Doshi: her love for the woman who introduced her to dance and so freed her to pursue an artistic life; Earls: how the Pope helped him pass medicine — funny stuff, involving testicles and Gaviscon; Cannold: a Jewish mother having to decide whether to get her sons circumcised; Krien: a tonguey from a 90-year-old man in the name of journalism; Robotham: separate misadventures involving pornographers and a redneck. All with sign interpretation. So a good mix of serious and humorous in a convivial atmosphere.

Oh, the music: on the train, there was a guy strumming his guitar, but it was kind of dull so I plugged in my mp3 player. And then got home to the awesome announcement of friend Sarah’s solo album deal with ABC Classics. As Night Falls is the name of the album: can’t wait!

* speaking of Metropolis, it’s as good a throw as I could come up with with to preview the upcoming exhibition of Modernity in German Art 1910-37: it’s hip to be square!

Things to do in Melbourne #6: get in the Brunswick Street groove

Posted in art, books, things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , , , on July 2, 2011 by jason nahrung

polly cocktail barMelbourne’s Brunswick Street is one of happening precincts where sub-cultures come together and drink coffee — possibly with soy milk. We had a taste test last night, hitting a couple of hot spots: Brunswick Street Gallery, Polly, Polyster records and books, and Grub Street Bookshop. Ah, kulcha!

The gallery is established in a three-storey house and boasts narrow stairs and two floors of exhibition rooms of varying colour, lighting and space. Last night’s selection of opening exhibits was reasonably eclectic: a photographic display of the zodiac using friends of the photographer and another showcasing the female form in a largely empty room; pop art protests; still lifes perhaps aimed at the cafe set; a projected installation; big photos of kids in cages with A Message; an ode to Kodachrome using a Chinese scene. My favourite showing, though, displayed in a delightfully red room with defunct fireplace where its black and white drawings really popped, was Transform by Hannah Mueller: her pictures had narrative, dimension due the overlaying of cutouts, and lots of skeletons and other repeating motifs, including birds, vivisection and masks. Mueller’s bio, if I remember it accurately, said she was a Sydneysider still at art college or uni, in which case, whoa! Sadly, no web presence that I could find to point you to (I don’t think this Hannah is the one in Assassin’s Creed, though it might explain some stuff!), and the BSG website is kind of obtuse and annoying.

Anyway, within staggering distance of the gallery and on opposite sides of the street are the two Polyster stores, one dealing in alternative books — lots of tattoos and art, social commentary and Interesting Stuff, and the other in alternative cds and vinyl. Nearby is Grub, complete with secondhand bookstore smell and narrow aisles, a minuscule genre fiction section but a truly drool-worthy non-fiction section heavy on the arts and the humanities.

The jewel in the crown of last night’s stroll was Polly. Oh, Polly! With its concrete floor and red velvet couches, its classy nekkid ladies upon the stressed red walls, its funky brass handles on the door of the loos, and its separate smoking antechamber at the front. It offers a fine array of absinthe and cocktails, and the tastiest little $6 pizzas, and pretty darn good service, too. Its decadent lavishness would suggest it to be the natural environment of a goth/burlesque crowd, but I think the hipsters might’ve outpriced them. I haven’t been in town long enough to know the tides of the sub-culture drift. Regardless, it’s a comfy space and one of my favourite Melburnian drinking holes so far.

Patricia Piccinni’s fantastic body of work

Posted in art, review, science fiction, travel with tags , , , on June 22, 2011 by jason nahrung

patricia piccinini vespa sculpturepatricia piccinini sculpture

And I thought Ron Mueck’s sculptures were amazing…

And fair enough, they are. But Patricia Piccinni’s work, on show at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, blew my socks off. Not only are her sculptures incredibly life-like, right down to the dimples, the hairs in the moles, the subtle blue veins under the skin, but they take us into the future. Strange critters imbued with incredible personality inhabit this vision, a vision largely made in a human laboratory. Cloning and gene splicing are among the issues that Piccinni’s sculptures examine, and most carry more than a hint of melancholy. A purposely spliced pig-like creature carries a litter destined to be spare parts; another creature is made as a breeding ground for hairy-nosed wombats. A young girl plays with over-sized stem cells as though they were blobs of plasticene. Two boys play with a hand-held game machine, but they wear the faces of old men.

Also in the exhibit are some cool trucks and even cooler mopeds given animalistic life, photography and audio-visual displays.

But it was the incredible emotion that Piccinni fostered in her fabulous future creatures that elevated this exhibition into the truly remarkable.

Will we — can we — still love our creations tomorrow?

  • Lisa Hannett also saw the exhibit and describes it with far more eloquence here.
  • Things to do in Melbourne #2 — Moreau at NGV International

    Posted in art, review, things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , , , on February 16, 2011 by jason nahrung

    Gustave Moreau has turned out to be something of a surprise package. I rolled up to NGV International for its Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine exhibition expecting a bunch of, well, second-tier oil-rendered classical views of some cool myths, and was pleasantly enlightened.

    Mr Moreau, painting in the 19th century and not someone whose works I was acquainted with, might have started in such terrain, but his use of wide-ranging cultures, abstract elements, patterns and different media, proved there was a lot more going on.

    Lady Macbeth by Moreau

    Lady Macbeth by Moreau


    I loved his Salome series — sadly, this exhibit of more than 100 of his works did not include a couple of key pieces referenced with working sketches — and two exquisite pieces, one showing three sirens as the vaguest of shapes lurking on the shadowed shore, the other a featureless Lady Macbeth roaming the gloomy castle with a taper. There were others, of course, ghostly renderings, emotive splashes of bright oil amidst the dark, textures of oil and inlaid pieces of coloured stones. This article from The Australian gives a much more informed overview.

    The Apparition by Moreau, showing Salome encountering the ghost of John the Baptist

    Also showing, and free, is Unnerved, a survey of modern art from New Zealand on loan from the Queensland Art Gallery. There are a lot of photographs, a striking sculpture of a seal balancing a piano, and some audio-visual presentations, as well as paintings and installations. Post-colonial themes abound. I particularly liked Lisa Reihana’s large digital images reflecting Maori heritage.

    It’s impressive that a collection such as this is free.

    I can also recommend lunch at Persimmon, a restaurant tucked away at the rear of the gallery flanked by water features and offering a view of the gardens. For $55 a head, we enjoyed two courses — we had a prawn salad each for starters and lamb backstrap and pork belly for mains, with a glass of chianti and coffee, and tickets to Moreau. The food was delicious — note that the kitchen shuts at 2.30pm, though the restaurant hours are till 4pm, and the gallery’s till 5pm.

    Note that you’ve got till the end of February to catch the Rock Chicks exhibition at the nearby Arts Centre: free, and a wonderful introduction to the history of women in Australian rock and pop.

    Awards and more book covers

    Posted in art, awards, books, news regurgitation, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2010 by jason nahrung

    Ticonderoga has released the book cover of its limited edition reprint of The Infernal by Kim Wilkins, her first novel and still one of my favourites.

    Ticon has also recently made available two anthologies: Scary Kisses, involving paranormal romance, and Belong, speculative tales with a migration hook.

    And in awards news, Jonathan Strahan, Justine Larbalestier (Liar) and Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan) are Aussies all in the running for Locus Awards. This follows the excellent news that Margo Lanagan is up for a Shirley Jackson award for her novella Sea-Hearts, published in X6.

    Here’s a cool trailer for Scott’s Leviathan, a very fun take on the outbreak of World War I:

    And one for Liar, a compelling if infuriating read!

    And not to be overlooked is this new offering from Rowena Cory Daniells, a fancy trailer for her new (and much awaited) trilogy. Rowena has been a stalwart of the spec fic community in Queensland for many a year, helping to found both the Vision writing group (going strong) and the EnVision writers workshop (now defunct, but in a way living on in the Queensland Writers Centre’s year of the novel program): two things that have been of massive benefit to me as a budding author.

    KRKhd from Daryl Lindquist on Vimeo.

    Ron Mueck and being human

    Posted in art with tags , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2010 by jason nahrung

    wild man sculpture by ron mueck

    What is it about the human body that we find so fascinating? I mean, we’ve all got one, haven’t we? But yet we are drawn to write about it and paint it and sculpt it, exploring it in all the ways we can find. Is there anything new, other than the continued unlocking of why it works, and why some times it doesn’t?

    I was pondering this fascination when I caught the Ron Mueck exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria — managed to get in there on the final weekend — and there were all these people, across all ages, milling around both massive and miniature likenesses of other people. These are the ones I remember:

    On the small side, there was a dead man laid out in repose; a lad (the only black character in the exhibition) examining a cut to his torso; two old ladies side-eyeing something unseen — maybe us!; a naked man peering curiously ahead from his seat at the front of a full-size rowboat; a man on an inflatable bed in a body of water (he was hanging on a blue wall); and a naked woman carrying a huge bundle of sticks; an old woman curled foetally in bed.

    On the large size, there was a naked, hirsute man sitting on a wooden table; a woman lying in bed with the covers drawn up; and a truly spooky baby, blood-smeared and umbilical still attached, one eye a half-slit. Brrrr.

    And then there was the ginormous plucked chicken, hanging by its feet, neck opened but as yet ungutted.

    The details in all these figures was amazing, from eyes and toes and nails, right down to the texture of skin and veins, pimples and blemishes and wrinkles. And hair. I can’t imagine the time required to implant all that hair, one strand at a time.

    Each of these, some more than others, had tales to tell. What were the old women looking at? Does the old woman want to crawl out from under the covers or is she happy to meet the Reaper? Why is the woman still in bed? Why is the wild man naked on the table and why does he look a bit nervous (as if being naked on a table in a room full of strangers isn’t enough)?

    Is it these unspoken and unknowable stories that attracts us to these figures? Or is it the simple cleverness of this Australian artist in reproducing our form so accurately? Or is there a lingering suspicion that, that guy there, he could be me…?

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