by Leo

James Gleeson – Australian Surrealist – Dies Aged 92

November 21, 2008 in Artist by Leo

James Gleeson

James Gleeson

I sadly discovered last night that James Gleeson, Australia’s foremost surrealist painter passed away last month, aged 92. Gleeson was an early inspiration and influence on my own artwork. His visions in paint motivated me to render my own.

I would have liked to have met the man, but I’m told by another artist friend who did, that he wouldn’t talk paint, but if you talked psychology with him, he’d happily talk all day. So it was not so strange then, that before I new this crucial piece of information, and having obtained his phone number, that our phone conversation was very brief, but polite.

Gleeson’s fascination with the burgeoning

We Inhabit the Corrosive Littoral of Habit

We Inhabit the Corrosive Littoral of Habit

surrealist movement began in the ’30s and continued growing through the ’40s when the artist’s travels took him around Europe, offering opportunities to see first hand the work of Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico. At this time Gleeson became interested in the writings of psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. These would become major intellectual influences for his art.

Funeral Procession in a Wounded Landscape

Funeral Procession in a Wounded Landscape

Returning to Australia, Gleeson joined the experimental Contemporary Art Society and began on his own work. Characteristically, his pieces featured naked figures – quite often males – standing out amidst a turbulent background of psychedelic imagery, which often took on the appearance of swirling seas battling even greyer skies. Gleeson’s themes generally delved into the subconscious using literary, mythological or religious subject matter. He was particularly interested in Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious.

Siamese Moon

Siamese Moon

During the 1950s and ’60s he moved to a more symbolic perspective, exploring notions of human perfectibility. At this time he increasingly fashioned small psychedelic compositions made using the surrealist technique of decalcomania in the background, to suggest a landscape, and finished by adding a fastidiously painted male nude in the foreground. Many of his paintings had homoerotic undertones, something which reflected on Gleeson’s own sexuality. The ideas for these compositions also saw Gleeson move into collage with his Locus Solus series, where he produced a substantial body of work by placing dismembered photographs, magazine illustrations, diagrams and lines of visionary poetry against abstract pools of ink.

James Gleeson Perhapslestrois

James Gleeson Perhapslestrois

Since the 1970s Gleeson generally made large scale paintings in keeping with the surrealist Inscape genre. The works outwardly resemble rocky seascapes, although in detail the coastline’s geological features are found to be made of giant molluscs and threatening crustacae. In keeping with the Freudian principles of surrealism these grotesque, nightmarish compositions symbolise the inner workings of the human mind. Called ‘Psychoscapes’ by the artist, they show liquid, solid and air coming together and directly allude to the interface between the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind.

Gleeson’s later works incorporate the human form less and less in its entirety. The human form was then represented in his landscapes by suggestions, an arm, a hand or merely an eye.

In 2003 the Art Gallery of New South Wales exhibited Gleeson’s drawings for paintings. His retrospective in 2004-2005 Beyond the Screen of Sight included 120 paintings and was exhibited in Melbourne and Canberra.

In September 2007, the largest collection of Australian surrealism ever collected was donated to the National Gallery of Australia by Ray Wilson. The collection included various works by James Gleeson.

Gleeson was a member of the first board of the National Gallery and worked hard to develop their surrealist collection. Throughout his life he also worked as an art critic, culminating in definitive histories of fellow Australian artists William Dobell and Robert Klippel. He was also a poet, writer and curator.

Awarded the Order of Australia medal for his services to art in 1975, Gleeson’s talent was undeniable and his effect on the art world ongoing.

His works have been featured at the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Gallery of Victoria and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

I’ve never accepted the external appearance of things as the whole truth. The world is much more elaborate than the nerves of our eye can tell us.” James Gleeson.

by Leo

Madeline Von Foerster – Waldkammer – Strychnin Gallery Exhibition

November 8, 2008 in Artist, Artwork, Exhibition, Galleries Museums, Painting by Leo

Madeline Von Foerster

Madeline Von Foerster at her Strychnin Gallery Berlin exhibition with her painting “Amazon Cabinet” in the background.

Wait long enough, and the world will come to you. So it seems now living in Berlin. When I had been here years ago, it seemed that Berlin was a hostile ground for Fantastic art, being dominated by all that was contemporary and conceptual in art. Then slowly over the years Berlin has surprised me with a number of exhibitions and artists.

So it was with much anticipation that I awaited Madeline Von Foerster’s exhibition at Strychnin Gallery. Writing about Madeline’s artwork “Amazon Cabinet” was some of the first contact I had with her before her arrival in Berlin. Like many of those in our growing and increasingly intertwined network of Fantastic Visionary artists and supporters, our contact is virtual via electronic communications. Increasingly, this is facilitating real world convergences, from exhibitions in Japan, to painting workshops in Italy and books, such as Metamorphosis 2 in which Madeline will appear.

Madeline’s exhibition was already bustling with people when I arrived just after it opened on Friday evening. So I had to be patient and await an opportunity to say hello to the effervescent Madeline who was of course the center of attention with her artwork.

Having worked a good part of a year on her exhibition, a number were already sold before the opening. Madeline’s artwork exhibits fine painterly skill and technique much like that of the Old Masters. So much so, the German customs officials thought that antique paintings were being smuggled into the country.

After having studied art at the Californian College of Arts in San Francisco, she later expanded her knowledge to more classical techniques when she studied with the Misch Technique with Philip Rubinov-Jacobson at his painting workshops in Austria. The technique is very labour intensive and requires a certain amount of obsessiveness. I joked about this with Madeline as she was often that evening inspecting her paintings for dust and duly wiping them down. Upon asking her if she was the cleaning lady or the artist, and commenting on her obsessiveness, she gestured towards one of the paintings, indicating that this inclination was impart neccessary to create such artwork.

The painting “Amazon Cabinet”, which the focus of her fastidiousness in that moment, had sold at the Art Fair 21. The new owner however had been gracious enough to loan the painting back again for the exhibition as formed the center piece. Madeline is obviously very proud of the piece as it features in many of the recent photos of herself.

Invasive Species II

Madeline Von Foerster’s painting “Invasive Species II”.

Her painting is one of a new series titled “Waldkammer” (Forest Cabinet). The idea came to Madeline one day while in her studio while contemplating her antique cuckoo clock.  She was thinking of the living tree was that cut down to make this curiosity that now hung on her wall. This led her to explore the phenomenon of the Cabinets of Curiosities, or Wunderkammern.

The concept of such cabinets was originally an invention of the age of Enlightenment and the Baroque, where wealthy lords and patricians created collections of a wide variety of objects displaying the multi-faceted “wonders” of God’s creations, especially from exotic colonial territories. Coral, minerals, taxidermy, and the like – were lovingly and often fetishistically contained and displayed. These went on to form the basis for many natural history museums, and the approach of science to categorize things and place them neatly in their boxes.

The “Waldkammer” series consists of nine paintings that explore humanity’s often destructive relationship with nature and the crisis of deforestation in particular. These painted wooden cabinets allude to the once-living trees that were their source: Some are carved into the shape of women personifying the trees as living things. Meanwhile, the “curiosities” displayed are actual species, dependant on the trees for survival.

Madeline’s exhibition catalogue goes into much more detail about each individual piece and the animals and plants represented therein. The catalogue was printed though print on demand (POD) with I have noted a growing number of artists taking advantage of this cost effective option to bring their artwork to print. I of course purchased a catalogue and had it signed. Her signature is almost as much a work of art as her paintings.

One can be drawn into Madeline Von Foerster’s detailed and finely executed curiosities of her “Waldkammer” series at Strychnin Gallery Berlin from November 7th until December 7th.

by Leo

Berliner Kunstsalon and Contemporary Art

November 2, 2008 in Art Establishment, Contemporary Art, Events, Exhibition by Leo

Art fairs, I’ve seen a few of them. The Berliner Kunstsalon I have attended a number of times, it’s first two years and now this year. In the beginning there was much fresh and interesting work from many of the local artists who were marginalized in the Berlin art market. However since then it has transformed into the same banal copycat pap seen at all of the other art fairs.

It’s one saving grace this year was a generous soul who gave me his entrance card as he was leaving. He obviously took pity on anyone paying the eight euro entrance fee for an art fair that was totally underwhelming.

Soft gay porn seemed to make a popular showing along with the ubiquitous hastily assembled installations. While many of these mundane artworks show no hint of any thought, you of course would be derided by the art intelligentsia as ignorant and uneducated.

My friend Garth Gregory attended the opening and confirmed that the Berlin art circle spent their time discussing concepts. This is being apparent by the lack of time devoted artworks, hastily shot photos, out of focus and poorly photoshopped; offering the most inane of scene or topics, lacking any sense of composition. If you want a real challenge, try and look at the leatherman who has his todger out, and try to keep a straight face.

Technique is handwork, and therefore out, out of fashion, out of the circle of whit and intelligence of the postmodern contemporary art world. This is painfully evident in the paintings on show. No one dared raise their standards above anything mediocre lest they be labeled a craft worker. If you work with your hands too much you obviously don’t spend enough time thinking, and therefore too much time wanking.

Anja Brinkmann who attended the Berliner Salon with me made and astute observation, as we took a restive pause from trekking from floor to floor of the old power substation, warming our bones and hands on the few heating radiators to be found in that cold building. She reflected that if art reflects the zeitgeist, then what we had just viewed was indeed a mirror to our current world situation. Currently we face a crisis, (one of many) in an international finance system that is built on nothing tangible, only concepts and possibilities; the unmanifest, in short, nothing.

The populace is so anesthetised from the media assault we live in, where anything is viewable and entertainment now, shock and outrage garners little more than a whimper. Any fetish may be now labeled as art. Thus we are left with soulless banality as the pinicle of contemporary art that needs the constant assistance of concept, a blizzard of words, which like the natural phenomenon, obscures any sight and direction.

Should you be brash enough to state the obvious and name it as the emperor’s new clothes, then obviously your intellectual rigeur and wit is below par. There is a joke that is being had and snickered behind the hands of the arts intelligentsia. The joke is that clueless people looking to invest in the next big thing will buy anything, and the quest is who can exceed the others with the biggest price tag for the most pointless things sold. Banalities and whimsical curiosities are now equated with the Old Masters, because were they not also interested in profiting from their patrons who were also following fashion dictates?

All jokes repeated conceitedly, bore the audience. And this was evident as the Berliner Salon audience filed through each room barely pausing to view or engage any of the artworks. The party was over on the opening night as was evident from the dull looks in the eyes of gallerists and artists who stood listlessly by their artworks. We’d missed the party and missed the joke, by expecting so see “serious” artwork and anything of note.

by Leo

Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School

November 1, 2008 in Artwork, Drawing, Events by Leo

Dr Sketchy

Lethal Lilly and Hedoluxe pose at Dr. Sketchy Berlin

Tired of life drawing? Tired of drawing the same potatoes that recline on a couch? On Saturday Anja and I sought out different schooling for our figure drawing needs. We enrolled in Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, closeted away in a small club, hidden from street view, in the Graefekiez of Kreuzberg, Berlin.

Dr. Sketchy is both a burlesque cabaret and life drawing event originating in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at the Lucky Cat. It was founded in New York City in 2005, by illustrator and former artist’s model Molly Crabapple and illustrator A.V. Phibes.

Our headmaster for the evening was the very dazzelling Hedoluxe and his assistant Laura. Hedoluxe’s stated mission is to save you from boredom, ugly clothes, and to make your life beautiful. Our models for the evening were Clea Cutthroat, Lethal Lily, Mad Kate.

Thrown in to the mix was Tin Tin. He wasn’t there as one of the performers, but rather like the rest of us, to sketch the evenings proceedings. Yes, you did read correctly, Tin Tin. It was the living breathing Tin Tin, the only thing he was missing was the little white dog.

While the evening took on something approximating normal life drawing sessions, starting with shorter poses, and then progressing to longer ones, it was intersperced with burlesque acts by our models. There were also a number of small prizes given away in drawing competitions.

All in all it was a fun relaxing evening and a refreshing change from the normal run of the mill life drawing sessions. If you google Dr. Sketchy, you will find him in various cities through out the world.
There could be one around the corner from you.

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