Saturday, July 29, 2023

LAST DAYS: Pre-Raphaelites Drawings & Watercolours and In the Company of Morris

Recently Shane Jones and I met up with two friends from Melbourne who had come to Ballarat to see In the Company of Morris and Pre-Raphaelites Drawings & Watercolours at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. They were keen to get to the gallery dead on opening time and asked if we would walk around the exhibitions with them. We arrived slightly before they did. It was the only time I’ve seen the outside of the gallery completely devoid of parked cars and people. It didn’t last long. Even as the doors were opening, cars started pulling up and people began streaming into the building. But not before I got this shot. 

Our friends loved both exhibitions and are still talking about them. They finish their run on Sunday August 6. I’ll be sad to see them go - and I must admit it has been quite a thrill - and an enormous privilege - to have my work included on the marquee over the past few months. If you haven’t seen the exhibitions or are planning a return visit, don’t miss out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Foreign Flora

Today is the anniversary of the birth of another Pre-Raphaelite Sister, the artist and poet, Elizabeth Siddal (25 July 1829 -11 February 1862). 

Perhaps best known as the model for the painting Ophelia, 1852, by Sir John Everett Millais, or as one of the PRB “stunners”, or as wife and muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, or as the doomed heroine of her own tragically short life, Elizabeth Siddal was also a gifted artist in her own right. Her works were admired and acquired by John Ruskin in her lifetime and she was the only female artist whose work was included in the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at 4 Russell Place, Fitzroy Square, London, in 1857. We can only speculate on what she could have achieved had she lived longer. 

I’m very excited to see The Rossettis at Tate Britain in September. Focusing on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his sister, renowned poet Christina Rossetti, and Elizabeth Rossetti (née Siddal), the exhibition gathers together the most comprehensive collection of Elizabeth Siddal’s work in over 30 years, including rarely seen watercolours and key drawings. 

Meanwhile, much closer to home, a small selection of her exquisite drawings are currently on view at the Art Gallery of Ballarat in Pre-Raphaelites: Drawings & watercolours from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. The exhibition runs to 6 August.

I’ve long been captivated by Elizabeth Siddal’s work and to varying degrees her influence has infiltrated many of my own paintings and works on paper, including Foreign Flora, linocut, 15 x 11.5 cm. (Pictured top). The tattoo is is based on a floral motif in an embroidered table cover designed by May Morris

Limited numbers from this series are available in the Art Gallery of Ballarat shop throughout the exhibition’s run. 

Pictured above: Ophelia, 1852, by Sir John Everett Millais, oil on canvas. Collection: Tate Britain. (Public domain). 

Pictured above: Self-portrait by Elizabeth Siddal, 1854, oil on canvas, 9-inch circle.  Private collection. (Public domain). This intimate, introspective painting of the artist as she saw herself is a far cry from her portrayals as a PRB “stunner” or, as she has been described in more recent times, “the world’s first supermodel”.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

See me

A slightly belated tribute to Georgiana Burne-Jones, who was born on 21 July, 1840. 

Georgiana (née Macdonald), Lady Burne-Jones (1840-1920) was the wife and later, biographer, of eminent Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Movement painter, Sir Edward Burne-Jones.  

A promising artist herself, Georgiana Burne-Jones began art classes at the Government School of Design in South Kensington and later became a student of Ford Maddox Brown

For some time, she continued to draw, embroider and sew costumes to be utilised in artists' paintings. 

In 1861, she was employed as a tile painter for the decorative arts firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., but after the birth of her son, Philip, in October of the same year, became a full-time caregiver.

On the lot of women artists, Georgiana Burne-Jones wrote: 'It is pathetic to think how we women longed to keep pace with men, and how gladly they kept us by them until their pace quickened and we had to fall behind'. 

Pictured: See me, 2023, acrylic on canvas panel, 10 x 10 cm. The face decoration is based on a detail from the embroidered table cover Australia, c 1888, designed by May Morris, the younger daughter of Georgiana Burne-Jones’s close friend and confidante, William Morris.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Farewell to Louis

On Wednesday evening, 12 July, in an elegant Victorian house in East Melbourne, Shane Jones and I were privileged to be among the crowd of admirers invited to bid farewell to retiring CEO of The Johnston Collection, Louis Le Vaillant.

Unlike some of the artists who were in attendance, I only had the pleasure of working with Louis once, back in 2018, in the four-person exhibition, From the Bower/Patterns of Collecting at the Johnston Collection, but it is high on my list of most memorable exhibiting experiences. Sadly, fellow Bower artists Carole Wilson and Loris Button were unable to join us, but I was thrilled to reunite with Bower artist, Louise Saxton. 

Unfortunately the top image is all I have to show for what was a hugely enjoyable evening, but I’ve managed to unearth a handful of photos, snapped in 2018 when we were in the process of planning the installation of Patterns of Collecting at the Johnston Collection, with expert advice and assistance from Louis. 

Pictured below, L-R, are Loris Button, Carole Wilson, Louis Le Vaillant and Louise Saxton. 

Pictured below: Loris Button, Louis Le Vaillant and TJC museum guides.

As the incomparable Louis journeys onwards in search of new adventures, (full to overflowing, we sincerely trust, with donkeys and cats), he will be sorely missed by all of us who were lucky enough to work with him.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Return of Saint Joan

In contrast to the 10 x 10 cm studies I’ve been developing lately, here is a considerably larger scale painting I’d all but forgotten about: The Return of St Joan, 1994, oil on canvas, 137 x 51 cm. (Private collection).

At the time of making this work, I was living in St Kilda, my hometown; however, an Australia Council residency in Paris in 1993 had left its mark. During the residency, I’d become fascinated by female saints in Medieval and early Renaissance art. On an early morning walk to St Kilda Beach, I noticed the distant turrets of Luna Park shrouded in mist, looking for all the world like a castle in a Medieval landscape. By the time I got home, the seeds of this painting had been sown.

The Return of St Joan was one of three of my works that were included in the 1998 exhibition Luna Park and the Art of Mass Delirium at Heide Museum of Modern Art (the others were an oil pastel drawing, St. Kilda Warrior, 1996 and a linocut, Luna Park Face, 1996). The exhibition ran from 8 December, 1998 - 21 March, 1999. 

Monday, July 17, 2023

MORRIS AND ME forum at the Art Gallery of Ballarat

Here are a few snaps from Morris and Me, last Saturday’s forum in the Oddie Gallery at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. It was such a pleasure to share the stage with Glenn Barkley and Kate Rohde, along with AGB curator Kiri Smart, who stepped in as facilitator at very short notice. 

We couldn’t have wished for a warmer reception. Several people I know travelled long distances to join us (and there was I thinking no one would come). I can’t begin to tell you how much it meant to see you there. In the second last photo below, I’m pictured with Melbourne painter Alicia Cornwell, with whom I went to art school in the 1980s. We’ve seen each other since then, but not in decades. In the final view, Glenn is pictured with his earthenware pot Morris of the ferns with parrot, 2023. 

Thanks a million to all of you who came and to Peter Freund, AGB Marketing and Public Programs Officer, and everyone else at the Art Gallery of Ballarat who helped make it happen.  

Photo credit for images 1-7: Shane Jones.

The forum Morris and Me took place at the Art Gallery of Ballarat on Saturday, 15 July. The joint exhibitions In the Company of Morris and Pre-Raphaelites Drawings and Watercolours from the Ashmolean  Museum, Oxford continue to Sunday, 6 August. 

Thursday, July 13, 2023

May Morris and Me

On Saturday July 15 I’m joining forces with fellow In the Company of Morris artists Glenn Barkley and Kate Rohde at the Art Gallery of Ballarat for what we trust will a lively discussion about the influence of William Morris (and in my case, his brilliant daughter May Morris) on our works.

In the lead-up to the forum, titled Morris and Me, I’m taking occasion to revisit the individual panels in the triptych, Three Women, 2021 (pictured top) that features in In the Company of Morris and the three May Morris embroideries that are integral to the work.

Pictured below:
Image 1: First panel of Three Women;
Images 2-3: Australia, c 1888 (detail and full view), the embroidered table cover by May Morris that was the basis for my protagonist’s tattoo;

Pictured below:
Image 4: Second panel of the triptych Three Women;
Images 5-6: A fragment from Autumn and Winter, c 1895-1900, May Morris’s magnificent embroidered panel (in my opinion, one of her finest works) inspired the central figure’s tattoo;

Pictured below:
Image 7: Third  panel of Three Women;
Images 8-9: Vine Leaf, c 1890 (detail and full view), an embroidered table cover by May Morris, was the basis for the anonymous figure’s body art.

The panel discussion Morris and Me is on Saturday at 2 pm and will be facilitated by curator Christopher Menz. Tickets include entry to the exhibitions Pre-Raphaelites Drawings and Watercolours and In the Company of Morris

Bookings are at

Monday, July 10, 2023

On small work

More thoughts on small work, as that’s what I’ve been making of late. 

There is a quote from poet/playwright/librettist/author/artist/filmmaker, the late, great Jean Cocteau, that I’ve never forgotten. In this instance, he was speaking of the ever-increasing size of cinema screens, but his words apply just as aptly here: “The next poem I write, I am going to get a big sheet of paper”. 

Pictured top: Tender Grapes, 2023, acrylic on canvas panel, 10 x 10 cm. 

The tattoo is based on a tiny detail from the embroidered panel Autumn and Winter, c 1895-1900, designed by May MorrisElizabethan portrait miniatures, a particular passion of mine, were also a significant influence on this work, as they have been on several others in the series. 

Friday, July 7, 2023

Garden Pieces

Pictured on the workable with the paint barely dry: A Garden Piece (study), 2023, acrylic on canvas adhered to board, 10 x 10 cm.

Despite its diminutive size, it was a considerable challenge to resolve this work; I could have completed a substantially larger scale work in considerably less time. Just as I was about to consign the painting to the scrapheap of heroic failures, it began to come together, almost as if the damn thing had a will of its own and finally decided to cut me a break.

Yet in spite of the hours spent on A Garden Piece, whilst questioning if my time would be better spent elsewhere, and in the face of the painting’s many imperfections, the technical lessons I learned along the way were well worth it. 

As previously mentioned, the point of departure for the tattooed face is the embroidery panel A Garden Piece, designed and worked by May Morris in the months leading up to her death in 1938. Her exquisite work is pictured directly above, and below, most poignantly, is the label that is affixed to the reverse.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Upcoming event: MORRIS AND ME

On Saturday 15 July at 2 pm, I’m taking part in a forum at the Art Gallery of Ballarat in which sculptor Kate Rohde, ceramicist Glenn Barkley and I will discuss the influence of William Morris on our works in the exhibition, In the Company of Morris. (See also Blog Post Tuesday, June 27).  

I’m a longtime admirer of William Morris, but am very possibly the only artist in the exhibition whose current work has been inspired by the work of his younger daughter, May Morris (although I’d dearly love to be proved wrong).

This morning the gallery shared details of the event on their social media pages:

The first of our featured In the Company of Morris artists is Ballarat-based painter and printmaker Deborah Klein who will be participating in our forum on Saturday 15 July titled – Morris and Me. Tickets are now available at….

To read the rest of the post, visit the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s Instagram Page HERE.

Image top: Deborah Klein in In the Company of Morris with Three Women, 2021, synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Purchased with funds from the Art Gallery of Ballarat Foundation, 2023. Photo by Tara Moore.

Monday, July 3, 2023

A garden taking flower

Currently on the work table: A Garden Piece, (study), 2023, acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 10 x 10 cm, followed by three earlier progress views. 

The study draws loosely - at this stage, very loosely indeed - from selected elements in A Garden Piece, 1938, an embroidery panel designed and worked by May Morris in the last months of her life, as the basis for the tattooed face.