For our latest survey of creative talents around the world, we go down under to find the most celebrated Australian contemporary artists that stand out in a very versatile and rich art scene of the continent. Australia’s more serious engagement with the contemporary arts movements worldwide had only started in the late 1970s, with their first ever participation at the Venice Biennale, and a series of initiatives which resulted in many international projects during that decade and beyond. Among the most common, and most recent topics in their art, Australian contemporary artists mostly deal with the concepts of identity and the human body, as well as the relationship with their land and culture, much like their neighbours from New Zealand.
Recently Widewalls spoke to 19 Karen's Terri Law who helped us to better understand the latest trends of contemporary Australian artists and allowed us a glimpse into her world. This world is just one of many which decorate the eclectic nature of Australian art. Most recently a boom of interest towards off-centers of the art world, turned the eye towards Australia whose artists are attempting to reconcile with issues at home, and to place themselves with the global art world. Witnessed is a larger number of art centers and off-space which result in a more competitive feeling within the community. And as we know, once the battle starts, all gloves are off. This time, such a battle works for us, as the art produced is more vibrant, and more challenging, yet at the same time continues to be respectful towards the heritage of the continent. This time, we are bringing to you some of the most important and internationally celebrated names of Australian artists, so please continue reading.
Editors’ Tip: On Dialogue: Contemporary Australian Art
Sydney Biennale is an event of interest and most expected place one will look for reflection and information about Australian art. Yet, this time, the authors of the book decided to turn their eyes towards important art cities and events that are not the mentioned international happening. The contents of the book are arranged as comprehensive and educative essays about the local and regional art since 1960’s. Written by some of the leading Australian theorists whose focus was placed on the research into creative events within Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney, the book features important Australian artists and explores what else the continent has to offer.
The winner of Australia’s most lucrative portrait prize, the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, Ben Quilty is a painter whose canvases often carry thick layers of paint and depict dark subjects made of blocks of color. His own past filled with alcohol and drugs sometimes serves him as an inspiration to create the distinctive portraits wrapped in a veil of anguish that dig deep into the despair of the human soul and psyche. Ben Quilty is also known as the official war artist in Afghanistan during 2011, an experience which resulted in a series of haunting portraits of soldiers, and for the Rorschach paintings he made by pressing a painted canvas onto a blank one.
One of the icons of popular culture in art, Ben Frost is known for using famous images from advertising, politics and entertainment for his controversial and often criticizing art. The Sydney-based artist seems to have no usual compassion for the cartoons as the rest of us, and his merciless use of the characters often causes scandal. In fact, all of this may be the effect caused by his childhood fear of Ronald McDonald, for example - a fact the artist revealed in his interview for Widewalls earlier this year. Ben Frost likes to hit the society where it hurts the most, with its own guns, to reveal the hypocrisy and the fake reality we’re so getting used to.
Working in a wide range of media covering painting, video, sound, installation and digital prints, Patricia Piccinini is perhaps best known for her peculiar sculptures. They’re not for everybody, but if you’re interested in weird looking, perfectly executed human-animal hybrids or warped vehicles that make you feel like you’re in a sci-fi movie, then this lady is gonna be your favourite artist, if she isn’t already. The winner of 2014 Melbourne Art Foundation’s Award for the Visual Arts, Patricia Piccinini explores the evolution of nature and the inevitable changing of all living organism in most wonderful ways. Many of her sculptures and installations are public artworks commissioned by the official authorities.
Inspired by the digital culture and the immense influence that the internet era is having on us, artist Michael Staniak creates paintings and sculptures that are both thought-provoking and the carriers of a clear message. At first sight, his two-dimensional works seem flat, printed out, but in fact they have physical depth, created with acrylic paint and digital processes like the UV pigmentation or 3D scanning. He names his files in an anonymous way, evoking the habits of photoshop masters, in forms like IMG_687 or PSD_692. Abstract and stunning at first sight, the artworks of Michael Staniak get an incredible and unique added value when they’re explained.
Having been part of the 2015 Venice Biennale as the representative of Australia, Fiona Hall is certainly one of her country’s leading contemporary artists. Working with mediums like photography, sculpture and installations, she explores the notions of topics like history, globalisation and ecology - perhaps best incorporated in her trophy-like, military-camouflaged sculptures of endangered species. Much of her latest work involves military uniforms and guns. Fiona Hall’s exhibition in Venice, entitled Wrong Way Time, features 1000 works in a sort of a “cabinet of curiosities”, a project which addresses the political and environmental issues of today.
An often guest of our Street Updates, Australian street artist Fintan Magee is well-known on an international level, having painted the walls and participated in urban art events and exhibitions around the world. Branded Australia’s Banksy, the artist creates murals and paintings inspired by pretty much everything around him: nature, architecture, advertising, and very often he makes these topics interact with each other by mixing their physical elements. In his work, Fintan Magee often depicts human characters in different situations, without a particular message in mind, almost always covering large surfaces of buildings or walls in urban areas everywhere.
Australia’s master of photography and film, Tracey Moffatt has had as much success at home as abroad, with more than 50 solo exhibitions worldwide. Her groundbreaking 1989 series Something More brought her national fame, and her experimental films have been screened at festivals like Cannes. In her work, Tracey Moffatt often recalls her childhood and references history of art and photography, drawing attention to the issues of race, gender, sexuality and identity. Her images, both still and moving, are characterized by an extraordinary ability to narrate, accompanied by an impeccable artistic style.
For almost fifty years, Julie Rrap has been involved in performance art and the experiments with the body and its representation. Deeply rooted in feminism, her work questions the portrayal of women and the female body, through the means of painting, photography, sculpture and video as well. Often depicting bodily mutations and visual transformations, the imagery of Julie Rrap is direct and disturbing, addressing the impossible standards of beauty imposed specifically to the females. Her most famous work, the 2002 photograph Overstepping, represents a critical answer to the aesthetic requirements and poses ethical questions of pressure on individuals.
Smug, or Smug One, is one of the few street artists out there who creates photorealistic artworks. Highly stylised and large in size, the works of this Australian-born, Glasgow-based creative cover an array of topics - from playful, chubby children to famous movie characters and masterfully executed portraits of gangsters, badass ladies, shiny skulls, old-school lowriders, angry animals and much more. While we don’t know much more about this mysterious artist, we can get to know him through his majestic street works, so incredible that sometimes it’s really hard to believe that what we’re looking at isn’t a photograph, but an artwork created from a spray can.
Born in Singapore, Simryn Gill is a multi-media artist, but also an art collector. Her systematic way of doing art reflects most in her encyclopaedic series which document modern society and culture. Through photography, objects, texts and unusual materials such as banana skins or termite mound soil, the artist examines certain events and customs in Australia, Malaysia and India, among others, revealing ”slippages in culturally-defined identities.” Simryn Gill too represented Australia at the Venice Biennale, in 2013, with a site-specific project which dealt with the problems of inhabitation, a recurring topic in her art.
Recipient of the Gallery Barry Keldoulis Grant for Emerging Artists and the Dinosaur Designs Prize just upon her graduation from the UNSW COFA in 2010, Rosie Deacon has dedicated her practice to the research of the realism of the absurd and the spectacle of the obsession. Her sculptures and installation pieces resemble fictional geography spaces which the artist fills up with hand-made animal objects. Through the symbolic nature of animals, and high elements of kitsch, craft, and folk art practices, the artist explores deeper issues and comments on the exaggerated obsessions and the duality of control and freedom. Her attempt is to represent the wild side of unleashed and uncontrollable creativity by referencing the relationship between humans and animals. In the time where the relationship between humans and nature is highly controlled, Deacon tells her own tales of domesticated and free animals.
Known for his work with architecture, modernism, and the emotional and social impact of built spaces, Callum Morton is more often than not, considered as one of the most important Australian artists. Aided by the use of technology, most of Morton’s works explore the questions about identity, expanding the focus from the personal to the global identity of the world and the spaces which dictate and govern our own lives. One of his latest projects The Other Side, created for the occasion of the 19th Sydney Biennale, explores the notions of virtual reality and the nature of the classical ghost train rides of amusement parks. Taking the audience, literally on the ride, Morton continues to push boundaries of what is art and as a Head of Fine Art at the MADA, is influential in the shaping of the new and rising stars of Australian creatives.
With influences in pop culture, cartoons and illustrations, James Reka aka Reka One’s style is known for its fusion of high and low art cultures. Bringing together the precision of graphic design works, echoes of his background as a logo designer, and his love for graffiti art, create a certain paradox evident in his creations. For the production of his large-scale mural paintings, Reka One pays much attention to details and choice of color. His created images are dream-like creators and motifs which bring together the styles of Surrealism art and abstract fantasy, along with experimentation and exploration of geometrical art and its basic shapes. Recently Reka One’s work became part of the permanent collection of National Gallery of Australia cementing his place as one of Australia’s most respected contemporary street artists.
As one of the important representatives of the Aboriginal art of Australia, Jorna Newberry is considered a rising star. The abstraction of her work, along with the traditional dotting style of color application, corresponds with her Aboriginal heritage and the need to perceive the most indigenous cultural stories as hidden. The layering of her abstract paintings need to be seen as hidden messages available to only a few, yet without knowing what they represent we are glued to her work. Absorbing inspiration from her land, especially the country Irrunytjy in the Western desert, Newberry explores the most spiritually important places. The production of Aboriginal art for the identity of Australia’s continent is viewed by many as one of the most important art productions that continent offers to a wider audience.
Another of the contemporary Australian artists working in the field of urban and street art is Anthony Lister considered by many as one of the best. Over a decade ago Mr. Lister created his own expression mark which he implements both outside and inside some of the most prestigious galleries around the world. His use of various different techniques, and the application of different layers of spraypaint, ink, and brushwork allow his paintings to have that celebrated row look and also help to create a feeling of a delicate undercurrent in his images. His comic-like images of bad tempered masters and villains continue to amaze not just in Australia but across the globe as well.
Most famous for her rhythmical depictions of the rushing movement of the falling leaves, Gloria Petyarre is considered as the most significant and most famous living female Aboriginal artist. Her trademark style of production, which incorporates colors of close tonal value, flat background, and rhythmical brushstroke, most evident in her celebrated series Bush Medicine, adopted by various other Aboriginal artists, is considered to be the most significant stylistic development of Aboriginal production. Her connection to nature and the idea of Dreamtime is deeply rooted in her heritage, which this artist continues to celebrate with her paintings.
The artwork painted on the rooftop of one of Paris’ museums is only seen from the sky, Eifel Tower, or Google Earth. The author of this magnificent piece is none other than the Australian Indigenous artist Lena Nyadbi. The world of dreams and of animals where Aboriginal people see all knowledge springing from, Nyadbi transforms into simplified marks and dots. Upon seeing her work from the top of the Eifel Tower, and witnessing the existence of her barramundi scales, the artist stated that it ‘almost made me cry’. Her production, much celebrated in the world is quite possibly the best Australia offers.
Bianca Hester’s often ephemeral public sculptural interventions research the spatial relationship, social contexts, and architectural spaces and attempt to comment on how one occupies and engages with different places. Through her multidisciplinary approach, which incorporates site-specific interventions, video art, open-ended situations and events, Hester was one of the participants at the 19th Sydney Biennale. Her most recent projects are moving deeper into the research of the relationship between the subject and object, and often with minimal tools, attempts to understand the inner workings of a specific place or a specific city.
Recognized as one of Australia’s pre-eminent artists, Mike Parr’s production spans across various art disciplines such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, film, and performance. Emerging from the background of conceptual art of 1970’s his word works and interrogatory poems, escalated into provocative performance art for which Parr received international acknowledgment. The personally demanding process of his creation produces a sense of catharsis in his work, most evident in his painting production while his performances challenge the boundaries of his own body and deeply influence the audience. Deeply rooted into the investigation of the identity and of the self, Parr has created over thousand works of his self –imposed Self Portrait series in a range of different mediums that include film, photography, drypoint, performance, painting, and installation.
If you ever wondered what it would be like if some of the creators of fairy tales came to life, then the craft of Heather B Swann is what you need to acknowledge. Famous for her large wearable sculptures which come to life during performances, Swann’s creativity exists at a crossroad of dreams and reality, beasts and the human body, surreal and subconscious, bending the edges of this world and unknown realm. Her multidisciplinary approach to art has gained her some of the most prestigious awards such as Paul Guest Drawing Prize at the Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo in 2014 and participation in some of the Australia’s most important art events, such as Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art in 2016.
All images used for illustrative purposes only.