Last night I went to the Collingwood Arts Precinct Open Night, when most galleries within Smith / Peel / Wellington / Derby streets’ perimeter remained open till 9pm. I was rather disappointed with the modest attendance, perhaps due to Melbourne’s unpredictable weather, or perhaps to the fact that most galleries (with the exception of Catherine Asquith) had existing shows on view, the official openings for which had already taken place a few days or weeks prior.
Six venues participated in the event, and I was most interested to see an exhibition or recent works by Stewart MacFarlane at the Australian Galleries. I assume this heralds Stewart’s parting of the ways with his former dealer, Charles Nodrum, with whom he has been for a better part of two decades.
The exhibition contains finished works as well as smaller studies, wherein the artist’s modus operandi is revealed. MacFarlane produces a large body of preparatory studies of nude models, reclining in a variety of poses, their erogenous zones exaggerated and emphasized. His studies also include interior scenes and landscapes, drawn from his immediate environment. Judging from these studies, this peripatetic artist is presently domiciled in Adelaide.
Like a skilful movie director, MacFarlane collates his preparatory sketches into complex psycho-enigmatic mise-en-scenes: nudes by open windows; menacing strangers on rooftops; peaceful-looking suburban street scenes with a violent action taking place almost as an afterthought in the background of the picture.
The whole is executed in bright, lurid colours, a palette which requires a lot of mastery, and in which MacFarlane excels. Luscious reds, succulent greens, sparkling yellows, deep blues and velvety purples are boldly placed side by side, contrasting and bringing out each other’s brilliance. Their vibrant energy is contained, stained-glass like, within thick outlines of black pigment.
MacFarlane belongs to that set of Australian painters who rarely change their subject matter, dominant palette, or style of painting. At the same time, one can hardly decry this ‘sameness’ when the production is consistently good. And if in the past one could detect a certain rush to finish the paintings, which often resulted in poor drawing and slapdash execution of background details, few of such shortcomings (if any) can be detected in this exhibition.
[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. Where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]