Australia Now: Contemporary Art

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With the sheer size, scale and volume of activities, events, parties and performances that go on in London you need the equivalent of a year of your life to get round as much as goes on in the capital in one week. More than that, it’s just as much of a minefield finding what’s worth seeing/watching/experiencing so recommendations are key and, with luck, that’s where The Arbuturian comes in. Thank heaven for the internet. And thank heaven higher for sites that can pluck out the gems in the city’s teeming social calendar. Well, we try to at any rate. So, being the cultured creatures that we purport to be, we feel duty-bound to tell you that there comes to Blighty’s fair shores a real treat in the coming weeks.

'Cosmotron', Sam Leach (oil on board)

'Cosmotron', Sam Leach (oil on board)

An Englishman by the name of Jonathan White, living in Sydney and having immersed himself in the Australian art world – yes, they have one – is embarking on a mission to broaden our minds and introduce us to a range of artists who might just alter our perception of what Australian art is. Ask a Brit about Australian art and the first thing that springs to mind is Aboriginal work. Or Rolf Harris. Well, we’d be wrong. Having been privy to some of the pieces White is bringing over, we’re in for a pleasant surprise.

It’s precisely this dubiousness over what Australian art is that prompted White to undertake such a venture. After working locally with Australian artists for the past seven years, White is keen to broaden the European market’s perception and understanding of what contemporary Australian art is. “For many years now Australian artists have been sporadically shown in the European market”, White says, “yet I am constantly amazed at how, other than Aboriginal artwork, very little Australian art is being shown overseas.”

It was this gap in the market that gave White the idea behind COMODAA, his company. Simply, COMODAA is a compression (if not an acronym) of Contemporary Modern Australian Art. And that’s exactly what it is. Launching the company last year and armed with his knowledge of artists working down under today, White has hand-picked some of the brightest talents Australia has to offer and, in a spirit that conjures up something of Jerry Maguire, he’s bringing them over to the UK to open them up to a wider audience and show us what we’ve been missing.

COMODAA’s inaugural exhibition, Australia Now, launched in London’s Covent Garden on 17th September and was opened by the Deputy High Commissioner for Australia, Adam McCarthy.

(L-R) Kieran Antill, Giles Alexander, Sam Leach and COMODAA curator Jonathan White

(L-R) Kieran Antill, Giles Alexander, Sam Leach and COMODAA curator Jonathan White

The nine artists selected for Australia Now were chosen based on their credibility as collectable contemporary artists who White felt were ready and able to break into the competitive UK market. The line-up includes Kieran Antill’s abstract figurative paintings that incorporate techniques such as water erosion, heat exposure, acrylic peels and hand sanding. Meanwhile, Stefan Dunlop’s vivacious figurative paintings are characterised by a striking use of composition and colour as well as his latest interest in graffiti art, whereas the oil and resin paintings by Giles Alexander showcase the hyper-real paintings of old world religious architectural interiors from Europe and the USA.

Looking at these works; the detail in Sam Leach’s haunting animal images, for example, conjuring up references to 17th century Dutch masters, or Jackson Slattery’s extraordinary watercolours – most less than an A4 size of paper – you realise that it’s not just our perception of Australian art that’s being challenged here, it’s our stereo-typing of Australians. These are artists of subtlety, wit, sophistication. Not adjectives we Poms would normally associate with our coarse cousins from Down Under.

And contemporary art doesn’t exclude Aboriginal work. Far from it, the three Aboriginal artists represented by COMODAA are all stand out talents whose paintings will likely strike a chord with UK collectors keen on Indigenous painting. Ninety-two year-old Jimmy Baker’s acrylic on linen works centre upon the important Malaya Tjukurpa (Emu Dreaming), of which Baker is a custodian, as well as a number of other Dreamings. Helen McCarthy Tyalmuty’s paintings delves into stories of her people and their culture. And emerging contemporary Indigenous artist Mary Anne Nampijinpa Michaels’ paintings focus upon her traditional country, telling the story of Lappi Lappi, a rock hole near Lake Hazlett, about 90km northwest of Lake Mackay in Western Australia.

Australia Now is the first of many COMODAA exhibitions White has planned for the UK in the next two years that so far includes three shows in 2010 and six in 2011 and his hope is that these regular UK exhibitions are able to open up new opportunities for hand-picked Australian artists, many of whom have already enjoyed considerable exhibiting and award success at home. “Through supporting and promoting Australian art outside of Australia, I hope COMODAA is the missing link between European collectors and Australia’s contemporary art talent,” explains White. “My vision is that COMODAA can take the best Australian artists to new global audiences, as there is so much ripe talent ready to be appreciated,” says White.

For more information on the artists and to see some of their work, visit www.comodaa.com.

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