Monday, March 2, 2015

A Cabinet Painting: Red and Blue Leaf Insect Woman

Red and Blue Leaf Beetle Woman, 2015, acrylic on
canvas, 12 x 10 cm

For a great many years I've been drawn to portrait miniatures, particularly those produced in the sixteenth century by two of its finest and most celebrated exponents, Nicholas Hilliard and his pupil, Isaac Oliver.

Completed just a few days ago, Red and Blue Leaf Beetle Woman draws equally from my personal iconography and the tradition of cabinet painting, which came to prominence in the late 1580s. Diminutive, but larger in scale than portrait miniatures - the majority measure up to 24.5 centimetres (10 inches) in height - a cabinet painting typically presents a full-length, highly detailed view of its subject. 

Collectors stored these intimate works in a "cabinet", a small private room that sometimes served as a study. (The name "cabinet" originates from the Italian word for room). In later years cabinet paintings were housed in display cases that were also known as cabinets. 

Discover more about the fascinating subject of cabinet painting HERE.

Red and Blue Leaf Beetle Woman is not destined for such a closeted existence, however. Under the auspices of the project Looking Down Under: Australian Contemporary Art, she is one of 200 works heading for Italy, where they will become part of the Luciano Bennetton Imago Mundi Collection

Pictured below: developmental stages of the work:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Homo-insecta in Collingwood and New Zealand

Yesterday afternoon I popped in for another look at Editions 2015 at Tacit Contemporary Art. The opening on 11 February was so crowded there was scant time to look at the work, let alone absorb any of it; I didn't even have a chance to see my own. As it turns out, it's a terrific show. Printmaking is clearly alive, well and revelling in its seemingly infinite diversity. The work is beautifully presented too - Keith and Tim have done a fantastic job of the hang.

My Jewel Beetle Woman (second from left) in Tacit's window, alongside works by Lisa Sewards, Marion Manifold, Elizabeth Banfield and Kir Larwill

It was good to meet fellow exhibitor Soula Mantalvanos and her husband Theo at long last. When I arrived, Soula had just finished a talk to a group of years 11 and 12 students. I'm sorry I missed it. From their general demeanour, it looked as if it was an inspiring success. One of the students is pictured directly below, in front of my Homo-insecta linocuts.

A selection of Homo-insecta linocuts currently on view at Tacit Contemporary Art, Collingwood

Due to the magic of the multiple, four of the Homo-insecta are concurrently on show at Aratoi, Wairarapa Museum of Art and History in Masterton, New Zealand in a continuation of last year's Near Neighbours. The exhibition opened on 13 February and runs until 29 March. Thank you, Paulette Robinson for sending the photograph below via Near Neighbours co-curator, Rona Green.

Four Homo-insecta linocuts proudly share a wall with the superb work of New Zealand
printmaker John Callaghan. (Installation view, Aratoi, Wairarapa Museum of Art and History)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Indian Leaf Butterfly Woman #2

An unexpected bonus of having a studio in my back garden is the regular visits I receive from various members of the insect and arachnid kingdoms.

Meanwhile, a fully formed Indian Leaf Butterfly Woman rests on my drawing board.

Indian Leaf Beetle Woman, 2015, acrylic on wood, 20 x 20 cm

Unidentified beetle 

Unidentified beetle (side view)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Indian Leaf Butterfly Woman, Part 1

Currently on the drawing board in the Ballarat studio:

Work in progress pictured above:
Indian Leaf Butterfly Woman, 2015, acrylic on wood, 20 x 20 cm.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Queen Alexandra's Birdwinged Woman, Part 2

Queen Alexandra's Birdwinged Woman, 2015, acrylic on wood, 20 x 20 cm

Recently completed, this is the first of a series of paintings intended as companion pieces to the ongoing Homo-insecta watercolour series that I begun in 2014.

The luminous, linear clarity of Hans Holbein's portraits on wood were very much on my mind when I made this work. Currently he is the artist whose paintings are most strongly represented on my revamped studio notice board. The works of Lucas Cranach the Younger, the Clouet Brothers and William Larkin (which also feature on the board) are some other points of reference. (For links to all of these artists, scroll down to Postcards, Blog Post Saturday, January 24).

Thursday, February 5, 2015


The work that was featured on my very first post: The Enchanted Hair Ornaments, 2007, 
acrylic on canvas, 18 x 13 cm (each panel). Private Collection. Click on image to enlarge.

When I tentatively published my first blog post on August 12, 2008, there's no way I could have foreseen that blogging would develop into a significant extension of my art practice.

Unlike social media, where users are inundated with information on a minute-by-minute basis, and where there is a knee-jerk tendency to scroll right by, the website and blog sites are where people can, if they are so inclined, choose to find me. Once in a great while I've questioned why I bother to put so much energy into something so ephemeral, but never for long - I derive too much pleasure and satisfaction from blogging for it to become a serous concern. 

Now, it seems it never will be. Recently I received an email from the National Library of Australia requesting a license to include the website Deborah Klein Australian Artist (designed and maintained by Doug Willis) Deborah Klein's Art Blog and its sister blog, Moth Woman Press in PANDORA, Australia's Web Archive. Instigated by the library in 1996, the archive focuses on "identifying and archiving online publications that meet our collecting scope and priorities". PANDORA's intention is " build a comprehensive collection of Australian publications to ensure that Australians have access to their documentary heritage now and enable the archiving and provision of long-term access to online Australian publications."

Copyright has duly been granted to the Library, ensuring that they "will take the necessary preservation action to keep the website and blog sites "accessible as hardware and software changes over time. The Library will catalogue the websites and add the records to the National Bibliographic Database (a database of catalogue records shared by over 5,200 Australian libraries), as well as to their own online catalogue..."

Needless to add, I couldn't be more delighted.

To learn more about PANDORA and for access to archived titles, visit the website HERE.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Your invitation to Editions 2015

From next week a selection of the Homo-insecta linocuts will be on view at Tacit Contemporary Art, where they will modestly rub shoulders with works by some of the crème de la crème of Victorian printmakers. You are warmly invited to join us at:

Editions 2015

Annual print exhibition

Opening event: Wednesday 11 February 6.30 - 8pm

Artists include: Elizabeth Banfield, T J Bateson, Jazmina Cininas, Tom Civil, Louise Donovan, Kevin Foley, Peter Garnick, Zoe Geyer, Silvi Glattauer, Janet Goldman, Pete Gurrie, Carolyn Hawkins, Jodi Heffernan, Ying Huang, Kate Hudson, Anita Iacovella, Kyoko Imazu, Sheridan Jones, Hyun Ju Kim, Deborah Klein, Damon Kowarsky, Kir Larwill, Anita Laurence, Marion Manifold, Soula Mantalvanos, Scarlett Mellows, Rachael Ness, Sharron Okines, James Pasakos, Cat Poljski, Stephanie Jane Rampton, Trudy Rice, Lisa Sewards, Georgina Whish-Wilson and Joel Wolter.

The exhibition continues until 1 March.

Tacit Contemporary Art

312 Johnston St

Abbotsford VIC 3067

Wednesday - Friday 11 am - 6 pm

Saturday - Sunday 11 am - 5 pm

Image on invitation:
Jewel Beetle Woman, 2014, hand coloured linocut, 56 x 38 cm, edition size: 20. Printed by Simon White at the Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Queen Alexandra's Birdwinged Woman, Part 1

Pictured below are some early stages of my first work for 2015: Queen Alexandra’s Birdwinged WomanThe 20 x 20 cm wooden panel has been sized in order to protect it and prevent darkening - its subtly grained surface will provide the background to the image. The figure was outlined in pencil. It was then painted over with a couple of light coats of gesso, through which these guidelines remain visible. An area of detail has already been added: I concentrated on the subject’s skin and hair, mainly to get a feel for the medium. I've painted on wood before, but have never worked in quite this way. The remainder of the image will be built up via a series of thin layers, to which further details, notably the markings on the butterfly's wings, will be added.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


As the first month of 2015 nears its end, my principal focus remains on the Ballarat studio: further personalising the space and surrounding myself with as much essential reference material as possible before beginning the next phase of my work.

The final undertaking – at least, for now – has involved gathering together the majority of my enormous postcard collection and making a selection for the large noticeboard that hangs in the kitchen area of the studio. For many artists, postcards provide vital and affordable lifelines to the original artworks. My own postcards have been compiled over a period of over thirty years, mainly from museums in Europe, but also the US and Australia.

There are some cards that will always make the cut (for example, the postcard of Orson Welles) and even if the same reproductions aren’t included, there are numerous artists (among them, David Hockney, Rembrandt, Nicholas Hilliard, William Larkin, Hans Holbein, Rogier van der Weyden, Gwen John, Paula Rego, Max Beckmann, Lucas Cranach the Younger, Lucian Freud, Kate Bunce, Stanley Spencer, Piero della Francesca, Käthe Kollwitz, Rene Magritte, Jean and Francois Clouet) whose work will always have a place in my Personal Pantheon.

Aside from Orson Welles, the performing arts are currently represented by a select number of individuals including Noel Coward, Charles Laughton, Lotte Lenya, Coral Browne, Fritz LangJean Cocteau, Georges Melies and Sergei Einstein.

Like many of us, I’ve long been fascinated by the spaces of creative people. Two of my personal favourites feature in the collection: Monks House, the home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and Vita-Sackville West’s writing room and garden at Sissinghurst.

A handful of postcards were acquired from Parisian museums in 1993, when I undertook a three-month Australia Council residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts. These cards first graced the wall of the Paris studio. After so many years, they are finally reunited. Although they are no longer grouped together, I've singled them out below:

Pictured above, clockwise, they are:

Rene Magritte
The Double Secret, 1927
114 x 162 cm
Muses national d'art moderne
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Jeune femme a la violette
Oil on canvas
61 x 51 cm

Portrait of Dora Marr, 1936
Private collection

The black hair or Seated dark-haired girl c 1918
Oil on canvas
92 x 59.5 cm
Collection muse national Picasso, Paris

Resting Nude c 1977

School of Fontainebleau, 16th century
Gabrielle d'Estrees et une de ses soeurs
96 x 125 cm
Louvre, Paris

(Details of each as provided on verso of postcards).

Most of these paintings have a similar aesthetic to the work I was making at the time; some, if not all, are still resonant. The derogatory term “chocolate box” has often been levelled at Renoir, but he’s been responsible for some splendid works, including the unassuming little masterpiece pictured above. Of these six works, the Modigliani is the one of which I remain fondest. Residents of the Cité are given a free pass to the museums of Paris. I visited the superb Picasso Museum many times, on some occasions just to see that portrait.

When I was sorting through the two boxes in which most of my postcard collection is stored, I also found some old photographs. One was of an oil pastel drawing, a kind of stylized self-portrait (present whereabouts unknown) that was made during the Paris residency. It’s reproduced below. Unfortunately it’s a reproduction of a reproduction that isn’t very good to begin with. It’s included here because the postcards in question can be seen in the background.

Like my Ballarat studio, the noticeboard display is expected to constantly evolve. Meanwhile, at this point in time, they are both pretty well where I need them to be.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hair Ornaments

A project that consumed a substantial chunk of time over the Christmas break was the rearrangement of my collection of hair ornaments. Some are Spanish peinetas; others are of Asian origin. The majority are western, dating from the early twentieth century onwards. Many were sourced in antique markets; several contemporary hairpins were discovered at Camden Lock Market in London. I'm also fortunate to have received some exquisite ornamental combs as gifts.

A sizeable number of combs and pins were the basis for particular works in the Hair Ornaments series, exhibited at Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne in the exhibitions Tease (2004) and Forget Me Knots (2007). A handful also served as models for individual works in the installation Iron Butterflies, which featured in the group exhibition The Body at RMIT Project Space, Melbourne (2007) curated by Dr. Richard Harding.

The hair ornaments were originally displayed en masse in a studio I briefly occupied in our place at Abbotsford; it's since become my partner Shane’s workspace. After I bought the house at Ballarat, selected jewels from my modest collection were pinned to a notice board intended to cover a singularly ugly 1970s air conditioning unit in the living room. During the past week I painted the pin board a vibrant white; the hair ornaments are now shown to far greater advantage.

This prompted me to acquire and paint a second notice board for the studio, to which the remainder of the collection is now attached. By and large, the end of my comb collecting days coincided with a change of direction in the work. In recent years, however, I’ve acquired several additional examples, including the hand painted wooden birds from China (see studio notice board below, bottom right) which I am now able to display for the first time. If combs ever make a return appearance in my imagery, it will most likely be prompted by these distinctive specimens, which also draw their inspiration directly from the natural world.

Red Comb #3, 2004, oil pastel on paper, 75x56.5cm. Private Collection. 

Red Comb #5, 2004, oil pastel on paper, 75.5x56.5cm. Private Collection.  

Eight Women, 2005, acrylic on canvas (8 panels) 60x120cm (overall). Collection: the artist. 

Iron Butterflies, 2007, RMIT Project Space (installation view), cut-out linocuts, dimensions variable.
Collection: the artist.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The story so far

The quiet that follows directly after Christmas and New Year is a time I particularly relish. Many people are away and numerous institutions are closed, so with fewer frustrating interruptions on their part and only a modicum of guilt on mine, I give myself permission to take time out to read, recreate, reflect, recollect, reconnect, rest, refresh and recharge.

I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to the studio at Ballarat, the first stage of which was completed less than a year ago. Once the rudimentary furniture and equipment were in place, I was able to start work right away, something I’ve never before experienced with a new workspace, where it can take considerable time to settle in and establish something resembling a working routine.

Although a handful of my works hung in the space, the walls remained relatively unadorned. Lately, however, specific projects spanning the next couple of years are very much on my mind. Before I set off in new directions, I must first get my bearings. Principally this involves reconnecting with selected key works, and the best way to do this is to have them around me. Consequently, we have just done a major hang. Particular works may be familiar, but collectively the work has never been configured in this way, enabling me to see it in a fresh light. Moreover, the space feels far more my own than it did before, surely a solid basis for starting a New Year and new work.

Next week everything will be pretty well back to normal. The hiatus was all too brief, but it feels like the groundwork for my journey has been firmly laid.

In the meantime, in between time, here is the story so far.

The studio was originally a substantial garage. Its conversion was drawn-out because we were constantly juggling it with other areas of our lives, most notably work commitments. Aside from plumbing and wiring, Shane did most of the work, thus saving me thousands of dollars. The following three photographs were taken when the process of insulating the walls and ceiling was well under way.

On the afternoon the transformation was finally achieved, we celebrated with a glass of bubbly. Belying the photos directly above, the "finished" studio was a tranquil, light-filled space. It had such a good feel, we didn’t want to leave, and ended up having our evening meal there.

The remaining photographs (including the one that heads this post) were taken last week. They aim to give an idea of the studio as it is now.