Unmasking the hidden history of colonial Western Australia

Christopher Pease, Reaper, 2015, 168x294cm - Copy
Christopher Pease b. 1969, Minang/Nyoongar Reaper 2015 (detail). Oil on muslin on board (42 panels), 168 x 294 cm. Courtesy the artist and Gallerysmith, Melbourne

From an early age Western Australian artist, Christopher Pease displayed a talent for the arts. His mother Sandra Hill and brother Ben Pushman are also well-known Noongar artists with works included in many significant collections including AGWA, Janet Holmes à Court Collection, Kerry Stokes Collection and the National Gallery of Australia.

Trained as a graphic designer, Pease dabbled in art throughout his studies and later while working in hospitality. It wasn’t until 1999 that he produced his first serious painting titled Noongar Dreaming. This painting depicts Australian Rules football great Graham “Polly” Farmer’s nephew Peter Farmer standing on the Perth freeway which bears Polly’s name.

Another significant piece of artwork by Christopher Pease titled Reaper is currently on display in AGWA’s WA Journey Gallery as part of the Foundation’s annual appeal. Made up of 42 panels, this impressive artwork relays an important message about colonial Western Australia and its darker history.

AGWA’s Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Carly Lane hosted a live Q+A with Christopher about his work.

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 Artist Christopher Pease with AGWA’s Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Carly Lane. 

Carly Lane: So, Reaper; what is it about? In twenty-five words or less.

 Christopher Pease: In twenty – I don’t know if I can do that. When you’re an artist you find yourself looking back a lot. When you’re a Noongar artist, you’re always looking back. The first references came from my family; my mum, my aunties who would tell stories. After that, you look at the artwork that maybe other people don’t. Like Revel Cooper, I love his work. Then I was going into the museum archives, looking at artefacts and for Noongar iconography specifically, to find a Noongar visual aesthetic. I was trying to build my own visual language and then I stumbled across the Louis de Sainson prints.

Carly Lane: Who is Louis de Sainson?

Christopher Pease: He was a French watercolourist and draughtsman on the ship Astrolabe which sailed down to Albany in 1827 for a couple of months, and he did some really interesting stuff. There was a lot of early colonial artists that did work that I kind of was interested in because there was no photography and there is this translation that occurs. So, the drawings are made here, and then they go back to London where they’re turned into an aquatint, an etching – a lithograph and so there are sometimes weird things that happen in the translation. You don’t know exactly what’s real, and what’s accurate and what’s not accurate, so I’ve seen a lot of kind of questionable things. Robert Dale’s piece was the big one.

Carly Lane: Who is Robert Dale?

Christopher Pease: Robert Dale was a British Lieutenant who in 1829 arrived at the Derbarl Yerrigan (the Swan River) on the HMS Sulphur, and he ended up being the assistant surveyor to John Septimus Roe. He did a lot of surveying and was involved in projects all throughout Perth.

Carly Lane: He was about 19,

Christopher Pease: Yes

Carly Lane: But had already built up this skillset

Christopher Pease: Yeah, his skills were amazing. In 1832 he was in Albany, from January to May and during this time he wrote the account of King George’s Sound and did a series of sketches on top of this hill looking south overlooking King George’s Sound, and that was a panorama. The original panorama is three metres long, it’s a really beautiful lithograph – coloured lithograph – and I wanted to tackle that for years, like really early on, but I just didn’t feel confident in doing it. Finally, a couple of years ago, maybe four years ago now, I thought “That’s it, I’m going to tackle this work.”

Carly Lane: I feel like there’s a bit of déjà vu, because I do want to tell the audiences that we recently had the panorama that Robert Dale drew, and Robert Havell printed up in the Botanical: Beauty and Peril exhibition, and there was another work by artist Sohan Ariel Hayes that was a response to that print that was in the show as well.

Christopher Pease: Yeah. So, Robert Dale, at the same time that he was down in Albany, so was Yagan. Yagan was a cultural warrior here in Whadjuk territory and at the same time, the grants were being opened up in Perth. You’ve got private land ownership happening on the Derbarl Yerrigan, on the Swan River. There was an odd series of events that led to Yagan killing William Gaze. Yagan was caught and sentenced to death, but an outspoken settler named Robert Lyon convinced the judge to send him to Carnac Island instead. He ended up going to Carnac Island and then he escaped by boat back to the mainland. He later appeared at Lake Monger, doing Gidjee (spear) demonstrations, throwing, dancing, and also, in the Perth Botanical Gardens he was involved in events as well, so he was kind of given this kind of unspoken pardon, I guess.

Carly Lane: Julie Dowling, her painting titled Yagan 2016, talks about that event or, you know, it depicts the event at Lake Monger where he was throwing spears.

Christopher Pease: Yeah, yeah, they – they were, you know, throwing targets. You know and there’s a big article in the Perth Gazette where they remarked how amazing he was – Yagan was – his prowess in throwing, you know, weapons.

Carly Lane: From what I understand about your most recent exhibition Minang Boodjar, it was a series of six paintings that all looked at King George Sound, and the Dale and Havell Panorama.

Christopher Pease: Reaper recreates the first part of the panorama and there’s a lot of interesting things happening in it. And there’s a lot of the things Robert Dale depicts in the panorama that is quite accurate. In the background, so you can see in the top right prescribed burning that was happening, so yeah there was a lot of prescribed burning. We can see in other parts – in the painting – there was possum hunting. So, some of the things that he was depicting were quite accurate. What happened was in 1833, Yagan was caught trespassing up where I used to live up in Swan Valley near Ellenbrook. He was caught trespassing and he was shot by two brothers, beheaded, and his head was put in a tree and smoked. Robert Dale ended up acquiring the head and in 1834 he went back to London where he looked to make a deal for Yagan’s head. It was during this time he met Thomas Pettigrew, who was a surgeon working in London. He was an antiquarian and he made a deal with Robert Dale for Yagan’s head. Pettigrew would host dinner parties in his home and after dinner, he would display his curiosities to his guests and Yagan’s head was part of that. As a souvenir, each guest was also given a print of Robert Dale’s panorama.

Apart from the back story, there’s obviously the lines in the painting that’s actually the real map of the exact area where the drawings took place and that relates back to Robert’s Dales work as a cartographer and surveyor.  I decided to divide it up to represent the cutting up the land and putting up boundaries. The reaper is the reference to death and if you look at tarot cards it also means change which is quite significant for that period as well. It was a fitting image that works well with what was happening at the time.

Reaper is currently on loan and we are asking for your help to give it a permanent home in the State Collection. Find out here

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Donate by contacting our Foundation office on 08 9492 6761 or email foundation@artgallery.wa.gov.au

A lecture about a rebel or two

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“I would not shoot them as I could not blame them, they had to do their duty I said I did
not blame them for doing honest duty but I could not suffer them blowing me to pieces
in my own native land…But I am a Widow’s Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.” – Ned Kelly (1879).

We all know the story of Ned Kelly; the young Irish larrikin who became an outlaw and was the target of one of the most legendary police chases in Australian history, before finally being captured, tried and hung on a number of charges, including the murder of three policemen.

The Kelly myth has been retold and reinterpreted by many artists and writers, but none as enduring and iconic as Sidney Nolan’s masterful series, which chronicles the life and death of the bushranger with both emotion and eccentricity.

On loan from the National Gallery of Australia, 26 of the 27 paintings are currently on display for a limited time until 12 November at AGWA.

NGA’s Head of Australian Art, Deborah Hart, recently delivered an insightful lecture on the series and Ned Kelly to a sellout crowd.

With humour and insightful anecdotes, Hart’s presentation into Nolan’s life and the facts of the Kelly story provided the audience with a fresh look at the series particularly those who had viewed this exhibition previously in Canberra.

Beginning her talk with the iconic image of Nolan’s Ned Kelly riding horseback through the Australian landscape, the lecture discussed Nolan’s time as a young man serving in World War Two and how this event influenced his decision to explore the meaning behind Australian identity.

“I think she gave such a good framework to understanding the series and pointing out the idiosyncrasies Nolan used and re-interpreted versus the factual basis of the story,” said AGWA Voluntary Guru Guide Rosemary Miller.

What I particularly enjoyed about the lecture was the connections Hart made between the two men. She stated, “There’s actually a very strange connection between Nolan and Ned Kelly because for a short time Nolan had been on the run like Kelly. Kelly had also come from a long line of impoverished Irish settlers and I think Nolan could relate to that sense of injustice.”

Hart also placed emphasis on viewing Nolan’s series as a masterfully completed work of art.

Sue Sauer, AGWA Member and Voluntary Guru Guide said, “We were encouraged to look at both Ned Kelly and the landscape which is an important part of the story.”

Hart’s lecture sparked fierce debate and conversation amongst those who attended. While Hart provided the public with detailed knowledge on the background of Nolan’s series and its relation to the history of the Kelly myth, she instilled in her audience the importance of this series to Australian culture.

These lectures are organised by the Gallery’s AGWA Members program and once a month for 3 months, we host a lecture series to celebrate the Rebels, Radical and Pathfinders season. Attend individual lectures or buy a Members season pass for $15 to attend the remaining two. If you have already purchased a ticket to one of the lectures, contact the AGWA Members Office at any point during the season to have that event ticket credited towards a season pass purchase.

Learn more about AGWA Membership and other upcoming events by visiting http://www.artgallery.wa.gov.au/join_us/AGWA-Members.asp

Re-Imagining History: Launch of AGWA’s Historical Collection

AGWA Historical Install LR

August 11th marked an important day in AGWA history, as the gallery celebrated the reopening of its Historical collection; part of the permanent AGWA Collection displays which spans across many time periods in Australian and international art.

Moving from the Centenary Galleries, the historical collection is now located upstairs alongside AGWA Six Seasons, Screen Space and the contemporary craft and design in AGWA Design.

The reopening of AGWA Historical offers an exciting opportunity to revisit the Gallery’s permanent collection and experience the works in a new and refreshing way.

“There is a lot of architecture in the Centenary Galleries which impacted on the display,” said Melissa Harpley, Curator of Historical and Modern Art.

“Moving the historical works into the main gallery space has taken that visual interference out so that you can see the works differently.  As a curator, it enabled me to make some interesting groupings and provided more flexibility in the placement of works than was possible in the Centenary Galleries.”

Unlike the Centenary Galleries, which is mostly comprised of long-established square rooms, the central gallery space is designed in a triangular shape, which enhances the viewing of the collection.

“What is so fantastic about this building is the fact that it doesn’t have right angles,” she said.

“It allows those visual connections which are important for art. You can stand in some spaces of the gallery and see a 1860s landscape, but you might also see a Heidelberg landscape and a Hans Heysen from 1914. You couldn’t do that in the Centenary Galleries.”

The AGWA Historical will undergo two separate iterations. The first hang coincided with another important historical exhibition, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series which opened the same day.

“There’s one point where Ned Kelly and Historical share a wall, and we’ve managed to design the show, so the Ned Kelly work sits next to the Hans Heysen. I think there’s a nice connection between not only the approach to the Australian landscape but even down to the two men on horses echoed in both paintings.”

The second iteration of AGWA Historical is scheduled for November and Melissa said she is excited about the upcoming curatorial possibilities and encourages the public to attend both reprises of the collection.

“Looking at the works in the historical collection, particularly the ones with figures, humans haven’t changed. The works from the past are still very much a meditation or commentary on what it means to be human and what it means to be in the world,” says Melissa.

“I think people will connect with that because it’s as relevant now as it was then.”

Glimpse into the collection

Find out more about the AGWA Historical Collection visit our website artgallery.wa.gov.au

Free Guided Tours

Join a free guided tour of AGWA Historical or one of our other fantastic collections.

 

 

 

Tom Moore and that Pyrotechnic puffer fish

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It was Tom Moore’s meticulous attention to detail and execution of a unique concept that captured the attention and votes of the Tom Malone Prize judges this year. We talk to Tom Moore about his award-winning piece the Pyrotechnic puffer fish and the challenges facing glass artistry.

Tell us how you came to the idea of the Pyrotechnic puffer fish?

puffer cup

I have been researching how the wider cultural context of Renaissance Italy influenced the kinds of glass objects that were produced and the social functions and meanings of these objects.

During the 16th-century, objects displaying the fine network of white glass lines such as in these goblet-bowls were thought to be imbued with miraculous properties and were collected in cabinets of curiosity alongside specimens of unicorn horn and pufferfish. I saw one of these pufferfish in a Museum in Florence and could not get it out of my head. It seemed weirdly aware of its placement in the collection. This species has an extremely satisfying form to translate and inflate as hot glass.

Renaissance glassmakers were closely aligned with alchemists. The transformation of sand and plant-ash into glass through the intense heat of the furnace was regarded as a marvellous demonstration of human ingenuity and virtuous artifice. The burning match is intended as a reminder of the pyrotechnic nature of this material.  The absurd drinking vessel in the form of a bent funnel refers to laboratory apparatus and to a rich tradition of trick-glasses that were surprising to look at and intentionally difficult to use. The position of the pufferfish as oversized stems adds to the joke.

It’s a very detailed and beautiful piece of work. How long from conception to completion did this project take and were there any challenges along the way?

It is difficult to calculate the amount of time taken to complete complex objects such as these because there are several processes involved over several weeks. Designing the work and preparing all the parts takes many hours. I complete a full-scale drawing that is meticulously planned.  Coloured and clear glass is combined and stretched to make patterned rods. These are used to create the fine patterned lines within the blown forms, and all the small parts: eyes, fins, teeth, match and flame. The final forming of the parts requires an assistant. All in all these works took approximately 30 hours including the assistant.

There is a certain amount of risk involved in working on forms for such prolonged periods. The glass must be re-heated every couple of minutes or it will crack, but it must not be over-heated or it will melt. It is attached to metal rods while it is being worked and these must be kept turning.

Bending the funnel is a risky moment. After focussing heat on the long skinny neck it becomes difficult to control and after bending it is off-centred which makes the constant turning awkward. Putting the dentures into the fishes mouths is a fussy step and I only get one shot to stick them in the right place.

You’ve taken on the challenge of achieving a carbon neutral art practise. Tell us a bit more about this and is it something that glass artists should be using?

As a contemporary artist who has the privilege of continuing to practice a traditional pyrotechnic craft, I feel compelled to address the issues of climate change and environmental degradation.

 

Tom Moore blowing glassI know that there is an inherent contradiction in making objects that overtly display their complicity in continuing to create these problems. I also believe that this contradiction adds to the communicative potential of glass artworks.  I decided that I could not justify continuing to make objects that seek to navigate my concerns without offsetting 150% of the own carbon impact of making. This is a tricky issue to speak about, I don’t feel I can say my colleagues should be minimising and offsetting their carbon impact, however, my own experience has shown that calculating and offsetting an art practice is surprisingly achievable.

This is not the first time you’ve been awarded the Tom Malone Prize. What do you enjoy about the exhibition and will we see another project from you in the next one!

It is very gratifying to have work shortlisted for this prize so that it can sit amongst its peers. It is a great honour to have my work selected twice for inclusion in the permanent collection at AGWA, this helps the audience to appreciate the breadth of an individual art practice and how it evolves over time. I am pleased that some traditional Venetian decorative techniques and references to the historical forms of the goblet and scientific labware are now part of the growing collection.

The wider collection of winners is a unique record of the Australian glassmaking community. I am very grateful to the sponsors of the Tom Malone Prize for giving this group of specialised makers the impetus to strive toward ambitious works.  I am certain that I will continue to participate in this important national survey exhibition.

View the Tom Malone Prize exhibition before it closes 28 May.

To view more of Tom Moore’s work visit his official page.

Images courtesy of the artist Tom Moore.