The Young Guns


Following the success of Sam Leach’s sell-out Platonia exhibition in Mayfair last September and Kieran Antill’s Falling Horses in Chelsea last month, one of our galleries to watch, COMODAA, is back in London with a group show opening on 20th June in London’s Notting Hill. Continuing its mission to bring artists popular in their native Australia to other shores, this new show, however, sees emerging artists take centre stage. And Young Guns is exactly that.


“We’ve had great success to date, bringing established Australian artists to the UK and Europe,” says Jonathan White, Director of COMODAA, “but there’s a heap of undiscovered talent on the other side of the world that I think will excite and intrigue a British audience”. It was during a routine trip back to Sydney, to discuss plans with those artists he already represents, that White began planning an exhibition for a new crop of talent. “Every time I go back I see more opportunities, more potential, more creativity, and this show is all about that.

“Each one of these artists is unique and exciting and is pushing boundaries. Each one has a story to tell and each one is already on the cusp of great acclaim in their native Australia. Here is a chance for them to get ahead of the game in the UK, to get out there and, hopefully, get people talking.”

The seven artists in the Young Guns line-up include the 27 year old, Jane Fontane, whose crop of screen-print superheroes is inspired from a childhood surrounded by her older brothers’ Transformers toys. Jane is already the recipient of a clutch of prizes, her talent noted when her debut solo show was sponsored by none other than Saatchi-and-Saatchi’s galleries in Sydney. Fontane’s comments on her work suggests an ethos that sets the template for the Young Guns exhibition, “As a ‘young contemporary’ artist I hope the work is viewed as original and as a measure of where young Australian art is at.”

Reading the press release for Young Guns, what strikes me about this exhibition is something that I’ve never normally paid much attention to in galleries previously, the artists’ medium. If you thought all materials and media had been used in the name of art to date (diamonds, human skulls, toasted sandwiches, excrement), artists are still finding new and innovative ways of creating things to hang on walls. Linton Meagher’s striking creations, for example, literally put the guns into Young Guns. His ‘Death from a Dove’ is compiled of bullet casings. Another, more figurative, emotive work, ‘Coco’, features a melancholic portrait made from scalpel blades. This is expressive, passionate stuff.

Similarly, the enigmatically-named street artist Vexta – Australia’s answer to Banksy, perhaps – has an edgy energy to her work. I thought ‘street art’ was a sophisticated pseudonym for ‘graffiti’ – and, admittedly, she’s done her fair share of daubing walls in Paris, Berlin and Bogota, by all accounts – but, like the best street artists, there’s an inherent beauty and lyricism in Vexta’s work that shows that spray cans really can be put to some use. Vexta, I read, “likes to make things with paintbrushes, spraycans, acrylics and pens and can be found biking through the city late at night listening to beautiful songs about the end of the world.” Ah, the spiritedness of tortured youth. These, then, are the punchy artists in this line-up, the ones who – I’d like to believe anyway – are expressing their misunderstood, misspent yoof and showing real talent in the process. And it shows. There’s a vibrancy in this exhibition that could give any enfant terrible in the UK a run for their money.

Young Guns doesn’t necessarily suggest attitude, however. If I push this ‘medium’ motif further, take Zoe MacDonell, for example. Her work is described as “Antarctic ice, oil on linen”. I misread that, though. It’s not literally Antarctic ice, that would be a challenge, but they are works inspired by a trip there where she saw firsthand the dissolution of the ice shelf and what was revealed of once living matter previously held in suspension for thousands of years. Here is art with conscience. And these mystifying, abstract pieces are made all the more alluring in that what oddities are painted actually exist.

I shall labour this ‘medium’ thread with one last mention. What Juz Kitson has done with porcelain would make the master craftsmen of the Ming Dynasty puce with underachievement. Google her name now, I urge you. This is porcelain as you’ve never seen it. In much of her work, often taking the form of human organs, there is a juxtaposition of beauty and disgust and it suggests Kitson’s work can be considered, well, naughty. You certainly wouldn’t show it to your grandmother. And yet they are objects as beautiful and innocent as a collection of seashells. Fortunately – or not, depending on how you look at it – her pieces for Young Guns are not suggestive or risqué. They are, simply, beautiful. And Kitson is already collectible. After graduating from the National Art School, her first solo show in Sydney sold out. Which reminds me, I should show some of this stuff to Steven Moore, the porcelain expert from the Antiques Roadshow; I think it might make his jaw drop.

What’s notable about this exhibition is this range of what’s on offer. “I could easily have just put seven painters in a room,” says White, “and told you that this was all emerging talent from Australia. But I’d like to think we’ve seen that in previous exhibitions. This show is more about trying to show people the breadth of that emerging talent…”

Establishing COMODAA (Contemporary Modern Australian Art) seems to have pooled the best of both White’s ability to spot the talent at the outset and then bring that talent to a broader audience. If you needed convincing of his abilities in both fields, it’s worth noting that he was asked to consult on the set design for Oprah Winfrey’s roadshow to Australia in December last year and, more recently, Art Collector magazine cited four of the artists on COMODAA’s books in their Top 50 Most Collectible artists.

Clearly, Jonathan White knows a thing or two about art. And, evidently, there’s a new posse riding into town. From Australia.

Young Guns Summer Show runs from 20th – 26th June at Gallery Maya, 28 Chepstow Place, Notting Hill. For more information on the artists, visit COMODAA’s website.


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