Posts Tagged ‘Ricky Swallow


National Gallery of Victoria – Australian Collections (Part VII)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

… continued from the previous entry (final) …

National Gallery of Victoria – Australian Collections (Part VII)

… This exultation, however, was short-lived, as displays of permanent collections of contemporary art were dismantled, and the space was increasingly given over to temporary exhibitions. The whole-sale acquisition and permanent installation of the Joseph Brown Collection further encroached into the amount of exhibition spaces that could be dedicated to displays of contemporary collections.

The current situation is such that the North-Western gallery on the top level serves as an intermittent display space for Australian art post 1960s. The current selection of works is certainly worth visiting – for it is quite unknown how soon it will be pulled down and replaced by yet another temporary exhibition; or for how long living Australian artists would be denied the pleasure and satisfaction of seeing their works on the walls of this premier institution. There is also a danger that international visitors, who might come to the NGV when these galleries are dismantled, would walk away with an erroneous and undeserved impression that pretty much nothing of value has happened in this country after the Antipodean revolution of the 1960s – for that’s when the chronological displays of Australian art conclude in the (thus far sacrosanct) spaces on the second level galleries.

The solution, of course, is that the NGV in Federation Square desperately needs another floor – or another space – dedicated to the display of their extensive, exhaustive, and incomparable collections of post-1960s Australian art and artists. That such a space has not been envisaged or considered necessary when the new building was being designed is baffling and incongruous to say the least, as if the architects were not briefed that the collection would continue to grow and that more worthy art would be produced – and acquired – as time progresses. 

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012. Where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Julia deVille & William Llewellyn Griffiths @ Sophie Gannon Gallery

Julia Deville 02Thursday, 5 August 2010

Dear Diary,

The images of animals and skulls have occupied an important place in the annals of international art history since the times immemorial. Their popularity in the avant-garde waxed and waned with the dictates of aesthetic, theoretic, as well as fashionable concerns. If we were to cast our eyes on Australian art scene around the mid- to late 1990s, we would probably find only two protagonists championing mammals and bones in their art. Louise Weaver crafted her wonderful creations based on Australian fauna, and Ricky Swallow famously reshaped brand-new, neon-coloured Apple Computers into death skulls in 2000-2001.

Fast-forward to the present, and one can hardly turn around without encountering yet another artist featuring either animals or skulls in their work; or seeing yet another gallery mounting a full-scale exhibition on this genre.

Julia Deville 03This brings me to the current display of works by Julia deVille and William Llewellyn Griffiths at the Sophie Gannon Gallery in Albert Street, Richmond.

In the exhibition, the macabre meets high camp. It is the Disney version of The Interview with the Vampire on crack; it is Prince Louis-Albert de Broglie gone mad with a Bedazzler at his famous Deyrolle taxidermy emporium in Paris [… not to mention a close homophonic connection between one of the artist’s surnames and a famous character from 101 Dalmatians].

Julia deVille’s exhibition features a veritable zoological menagerie of staffed animals – beautifully preserved fawns, kittens, piglets, pigeons – all encrusted with jewels and rhinestones, some sporting feathered accessories, jewelled saddles, and even a scale model of a most sumptuously decorated Victorian hearse. [Price range, according to size: $1,900-$39,000]

William Llewellyn GriffithsWilliam Llewellyn Griffiths continues this macabre theatre with his skulls likewise decorated with jewels, feathered headdresses and extravagant spectacles worthy of Dame Edna. There is even an exquisite carving of a miniature human skull in cubic zirconium [price range: $4,500-$8,500]. However, among some of the most remarkable creations by this jeweller-cum-artist-cum-sculptor are theatrical dioramas of mice circuses, where the mice dance, juggle, balance on trapeze, and even act as ring masters, complete in black domino and with a whip, to the skeleton of a kitten riding around on a miniature tricycle [price range: $12,000-$35,000].

I shall not venture to intellectualise this spectacle, but enjoy it as a pure visual phenomenon of the macabre and high camp!

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgement.]


Ricky Swallow @ the National Gallery of Victoria

Ricky Swallow Killing TimeFriday, 16 January 2010

Dear Diary,

Ricky Swallow’s The Bricoleur exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria – – (which is on view until the end of February), features sculptures and works on paper by this young favourite of fortune. By the ‘tender’ age of 35, he has won the $100,000 Contempora award, represented Australia at the Venice Biennale, and has the curatorial and collectors’ following many artists twice his age and experience would be proud of.

The exhibition concentrates on the last few years of his artistic career, from Killing Time, Swallow’s Australia Council-funded contribution to the Venice Biennale, to more recent works. Killing Time (2005) is indisputably the grandest, yet perhaps one of the weakest sculptures in the exhibition. It is a giant still-life in carved wood, a three-dimensional version of a Dutch painting, teaming with fish and fruit de mer. The didactic panel (one of the many in the present exhibition, which are for once intelligently and insightfully written without the usual condescending attempt to dumb down the arts for the ‘everyday people’) describes it as a complex reflection upon the artist’s childhood and memories of his father. Swallow has succeeded well in interpreting and illustrating this sweet narrative. However, conceptually, and on a deeper level, the work is quote weak. The carving of still-life objects is not as detailed as in Salad Days or Longeron of 2009, on display in the same room. Likewise, drapes and napkins do not have the same perception of tactility as his carvings of material-based objects in other, smaller sculptures. As so often happens, the artist worked on a grand statement, but fell short of the mark. The sheer magnitude of the project seems to have defeated Swallow’s spirit, imagination, and superior carving abilities, which are so abundantly and evidently present in his smaller-scaled works.

The theme of marine still-life is continued in Longeron of 2009, which to me is a more successful work in terms of execution and overall composition than the much-applauded Killing Time. First of all, it has a beautiful picturesque quality to it, like a small three-dimensional vignette out of an Adrian Feint painting. Secondly (and despite the heavy autobiographical programme of the larger work), it has a more intimate, personal quality to it. Once again it feature marine life, illustrative of his childhood; but it also features a hoodie, which at once serves as a table cloth and protectively covers the objects in this delicate arrangement. The quality of its carving makes it look by far softer and more tactile than the table cloth from the large piece, and regains the mind-defying ‘malleable’ qualities of Swallow’s earlier carved pieces.

Ricky Swallow Salad DaysThe Salad Days of 2005 is an arresting piece, featuring dead game suspended over a round tondo. Though the artist’s indebtedness and obvious references to Dutch or Flemish still-life painting are clearly visible in this piece, it is still a magnificent work of art. The sheer quality of carving and execution is overwhelming. The work is “enriched” with the artist’s trademark symbols: the only “living” element among the dead game is a little swallow perched on the side, and the omnipresent skull also makes its macabre appearance. But perhaps the most disturbing element is the presence of dead younglings – a baby bird and a baby mouse – suspended or laid out alongside their dead ‘parents’. Swallow turns this traditional celebration of bounty into a meditation, an evocation of mortality and transience of existence. The work acquires a strong emotional dimension, which is not frequently present in the artist’s works.

The entire room containing these pieces, grey and darkened, has a feeling of an interrupted feast, suddenly abandoned but frozen in time by a cataclysmic event on the magnitude of the Pompeii.

Ricky Swallow Rehearsal for RetirementThe exhibition casts no doubts as to Swallow’s superior carving (or casting) abilities – witness the little bronze swallow (one of the artist’s obvious trademark symbols), or an abandoned sneaker complete with exquisitely carved suspended laces in the title piece of the show, The Bricoleur, of 2006, or his casting of the bones in Tusk, of 2007. It also shows his knowledge and awareness of the Old Masters, which has been mentioned above, and is also evident in the Rehearsal for Retirement (2008) – a study of two severed feet clearly influenced by Théodore Géricault.

Less successful in my opinion are Fig. 2 (2009), which is a carving of a lumpy backpack (with its obvious allusions to youth culture). While Caravan of 2008 (incongruous casts of balloons covered with barnacles) is interesting as a concept, the artist did not succeed in attaining the sense of weightlessness of these balloon, neither is this idea totally fresh in Swallow’s art: it is a repetition of his earlier, more conceptually sound and successful carvings of abandoned, barnacle-covered Gameboys.

Ricky Swallow Bowman's RecordBowman’s Record (2008) and The Days Aren’t Different Enough (2009) are perhaps the most simple yet exquisite casts of cardboard arching targets. They represent a departure from his earlier works in the sense that they are mouldings of actual objects rather than carved or sculpted pieces. Despite their simplicity, they have a magnetically aesthetic, attractive quality about them.

Perhaps the weakest elements of the exhibition are Swallow’s watercolours. He does not excel in that genre. One Nation Underground is hardly a new word in the art practice, as copies from celebrity photographs and album covers have been seen in this country alone since the days of Ivan Durrant in the 1970s or Sadie Chandler in the 1990s. A Sad but Very Discreet Recollection of Beloved Things and Beloved Beings do not add anything to the exhibition, provide further insights into the works on display, or into the artist’s creative processes in general. One can almost argue that watercolours were included for the exhibition designers’ sake to provide a colourful relief to an otherwise white or grey exhibition space – but the nature of a sculpture exhibition demands such simplicity.

Ricky Swallow One Nation UndergroundOverall, the exhibition is quite winsome. Ricky Swallow’s carving and casting skills are undeniable. In fact, they are quite outstanding in the context of Australian contemporary sculpture, even though they do fail him somewhat when the artist is faced with the daunting task of producing a piece on the scale and magnitude of Killing Time. The curatorial choice of concentrating only on the artist’s recent oeuvre is regrettable, as Swallow’s earlier pieces, which had a stronger grasp of the zeitgeist of his generation, would have provided a greater insight into his current artistic practice. Otherwise, the predominantly superior quality of the workmanship in the present exhibition overshadows the deeper intellectual or conceptual concern over death and transience, which is peculiar to the self-obsessive and self-referential generation of the youth today.

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

April 2019
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