This is a review and a report on Tasmania's latest entry in the gallery stakes, and a brief recount of its biggest event, the Inaugural Tasmania Day Art Exhibition, which was held towards the end of last year.
The Swing Bridge Gallery is situated in the little township of Dunally on the Tasman Peninsula, about 40 minutes by car towards the historic settlement and former convict penitentiary of Port Arthur.
The gallery opened its doors in March of last year with suitable fanfare in the presence of the Premier of Tasmania, and has duly shown the work of Tasmania's major artists since.
The gallery's biggest drawcard to date has been the presence of Polish artist Jerry Mich, former Associate Professor at the Art Academy of Posnan, Poland. Jerry Mich is a close friend of the gallery's owner and director Christopher von Schroeder, and has like Christopher also settled in Dunally.
In many ways the presence of Jerry Mich has been a boon to contemporary art in Tasmania, as besides talent, Mich has been, and still is, a pipeline into the European art scene. Not only has he brought the experiences, observations and practices with him in the first instance, but he continues to do so by exhibiting over there on a regular basis.
He completed a successful showing in Brussels in December 1993, and exhibited in Paris in February.
It has been interesting to observe the effect the new location has had on the art of Jerry Mich. Primarily a studio artist, Jerry's present work follows two distinct paths which are both parallel and complementary.
Both expressions are intensely inward-looking, one created in a highly disciplined, constructivist manner, searching among this rigour for harmony in colour and form amidst the symmetry of man-made artefacts; the other, titled "Private Movies", offers a glimpse into tales of poetic nature, and created in a much freer spirit.
In the last few months the influence of his surroundings has been visible by the inclusion of landscape elements within his constructivist work. The production of several rainforest scenes just prior to this exhibition one may deem as a response to local market forces, but then the environment evokes curious responses in all of us.
As to the recent Tasmania Day exhibition, the participation of Jerry Mich, Ineke Severijn, Irene Stevenson-Slyp, David Harrex, Elizabeth Robe, Norbert Michalek, Gerard Ebeli, Deny Benson and Gaye Spencer made this annual event quite a show.
In keeping with the auspiciousness of the occasion, a couple of surprises were on hand, the biggest being Ineke Severijn's marked change of style. Ineke, though by no means new to the exhibition circuit, came to greater prominence several months ago.
At a recent exhibition of her work in Sandy Bay at the Freeman Gallery, just prior to the running of the Hobart Cup, Ineke featured a superb series of racecourse-related subject matter. Her work was big, bold and beautiful, in a gestural sort of way, pastel being the medium, and a most suitable one to her expression.
In this exhibition Ineke had surprised the viewer with a rather large triptych, using oil instead of the familiar pastels, and the whole work an indulgence in lush colours and rich textures.
Jerry Mich, amid his near-architectural paintings, aired his new works dealing with the Tasmanian rainforest. Though different from the usual watercolour renditions Tasmania is so used to, the forest paled into obscurity next to the beautifully constructed interior paintings.
Gerard Ebeli and Norbert Michalek, the latter having had a solo showing at the gallery a few months earlier, both offered interesting new work. Norbert Michalek is also well-known as a sculptor, and his work graces the entrance to this particular gallery. Gerard Ebeli is an oldtimer in the art game, having seen in contemporary art in Sydney during the mid-1950s. Displaced to Tasmania, a part of Australia with its own sense of time, he lost the lifeline to contemporary thought and practice. By the time the island state caught up with the tempo, Gerard was trapped underfoot by the rush of younger painters.
Gaye Spencer's paintings are indeed unusual. Concentrating on some unusual life forms, Gaye created a fantasy forest alive with humanoid matter in botanical disguise. Though not all that obvious initially, the undercurrent of sensuousness and sensuality is truly astounding.
David Harrex's contribution encompassed drawings and watercolours. David has been active on the exhibition circuit since the 60s, and has received numerous prizes and awards. His work has a very international face, excellent draftsmanship being his hallmark, and this in combination with lucid washes makes him something of a timeless asset for any gallery or collector.
In a subsequent exhibition the above artists were joined by mainland sculptor Maria Kuczynska, printmaker Piotr Szurek, and painter Andrew Bartosz. Maria Kuczynska's ceramic sculptures are superb pieces of work, certainly figurative in the immediate sense, but with a lovely abstract quality that belies the distinct human source.
Andre Zalecki works overseas, and is represented here by some powerful portrait work, etchings which echo what is commonly described as being in the Nordic tradition. Andrew Bartosz creates extremely large and brilliant watercolour paintings. He recently won a substantial award in the Tasmanian Art Prize competition and has been a regular exhibitor with the Swing Bridge Art Gallery since the middle of last year. Like Jerry Mich he has induced a timely reappraisal of what is being offered by many a resident artist.
And it is here where the value of the new gallery makes itself felt. With its arrival has come a certain amount of repositioning among exhibitors, which may or may not be a bad thing for other galleries. But what it also has achieved is an influx of outside ideas and expressions to stimulate a quiet backwater.
In the end, doesn't everyone benefit?