Revelations of a decade

Tangerine Dreams: a matter of Western Australian Style 1970 - 1980 Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery University of Western Australia

Pluralism and late modernist, international styles were endemic in the 1970s. The survey exhibition, Tangerine Dreams, at the University of Western Australia's Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, is a good introduction to that decade. It is an invitation to step back visually into the regional experience of that time and review the work of some forty Western Australian painters, sculptors and printmakers. From a critical perspective the first tension in the show is immediately apparent. It is stated that it is a strictly regional show while the artefacts say that it is not.
A sense of place, for example, is absent. Despite some modernist interpretations of regional landscape by Mac Betts, Arthur Russell and Robert Juniper, 'place' concerns are peripheral and the overriding impulse of Tangerine Dreams, is not about social comment either. Yet the show works well as a seismograph of the values and interests of the period.
Paradoxically, one sees the heightened individualism of the period and, at the same time, the contagious nature of international imagery. These are the perimeters within which these regional artists have attempted to forge their vision.
Styles represented are late variations on abstract expressionism: colour-field painting (hard-edged, post-painterly abstraction and optical art), pop art and experimental mixtures of op art and pop, American photo-realism with overtones of social comment, surrealism and traditional figurative painting, and printmaking. Subjects and genres include variously informed abstract work, traditional portraiture, symbolic figuration, still-life and landscape. Eleven women are represented. Young artists (barely twenty to twenty-five years old in the mid-seventies) include Chris Capper, Mandy Browne, Mary Moore, David Francis and Tony Hart. The thirties to middle age groups are well represented. The upper age limits are represented by Elizabeth Durack, Guy and Helen Grey-Smith, Howard Taylor and Carol Rudyard: a tough selection perhaps, as some first-wave Perth modernists were still painting in the 1970s.
Carol Rudyard's hard-edged Linear Variation 1973 (green: one of a series), is saturated with an even, brilliant green with linear interruptions derived from a style that was geographically remote from Rudyard.
A similar working from outside to in (before evolving a deeply personal style) is evident in Brian McKay's Moroccan Fort, a meticulously crafted, formalist work which makes a compelling statement. Hard-edged techniques in David Francis' Portrait of 1978 are disrupted by a pair of gaily striped curtains, a humorous allusion to aspects of self. Howard Taylor's Untitled is exquisite in the classical balance achieved by the arrangement of divided geometric spheres and squares. David Gregson's Untitled, is a rhythmic blending of blacks, blues and aqua that creates voluminous, atmospheric colour densities. George Haynes, on the other hand, cannot resist subverting the formalist intention of American colour-field painters to introduce natural references that parody both the abstract and the natural. His Every Cloud has a Silver Lining mimics the medium of colour-field painting with its technical propensity to result in cloud-like densities of colour.
In Black Tulips 1972, Miriam Stannage has painted three plastic tulips black, before collaging them onto a dark-grey ground. The imitation tulips are repeated in painterly trompe-l'oeil fashion. The parody on the real and counterfeit, the commercial and the symbolic, the light and the dark is executed with a classical stillness that contrasts with the intellectual agility of the work.
Robert Juniper's Untitled Landscape and Mac Betts' Greenhead use abstract expressionist idioms to forge a deeply personal vision of desert, rather than green-belt, landscape. This is appropriate given the national emphasis on, and wealth of, dry-belt regions from the 1960s. Both artists resist aggressive mark-making, a reticence which works well aesthetically. Arthur Russell's Past and Present (1970) uses vast blocks of colour to give monumentality to his abstract landscape. Guy Grey-Smith's Breakaway Country, Mt. Magnet 11 (1978) demonstrates how settled the de Staelian influence was in his late work. Brian Blanchflower's minimalist abstract, Events Out There (1972-3) explores the relationship between terrestrial and universal space.
Simplicity and joie-de-vivre characterise the non-voguish still-life paintings Apples, (1976) and Chrysanthemums and Bantams. (1977-78) by Helen Grey-Smith and Marie Hobbs respectively. Grey-Smith's image combines precision, understatement and perspectival play. Hobbs' vivacious colour and energetic brush-work resonate in this small, charming work. Elizabeth Ford grapples with every imaginable shape and variety of colour in her audacious abstract Sing a Celebration (1974).
The superb sculptural selections include Theo Koning's Horse, Eight Hands (1977), an assemblage of wood, skin, bones, bicycle wheels and other found objects, disarming in its naivety and crude grace. Hans Arkeveld's life-size, semi-abstract Fertility Bird, (1975) in the regional wood, jarrah, recreates the archaic, emblematic power of myth; Lou Lambert's Untitled ceramic sculpture a modernist transposition of the 'Tree of Life' harks back to ancient, trans-cultural iconographies.
Tangerine Dreams is sytematically hung to reveal successive styles. Considerable credit goes to Professor Alan Edwards for his perspicacious formation of the collection and to Rie Heymans who later made her mark as its curator. It is a representative show that is visually exhilarating, intellectually provocative, and revealing of the broad concerns and trends of the decade.

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