Castlemaine Art Gallery
-till December 31st
This triennial award is for a painting ‘in sympathy’ with the work of Emanuel Phillips-Fox. The $50,000 prize money was put up by his generous nephew Lenny, who was apparently a card caring member of The Communist Party, but he obviously came across a large stash of cash that he failed to squander on the great unwashed.
Emanuel, or Manny to his many friends, was born and bred here in Australia, but he far preferred to spend his time in gay Paris, documenting every nuance of the bourgeoisie as they indulged in their endless pursuit of leisure and pleasure, oblivious to the Marxist revolution unfolding all around them: Boating on the river, tea in the arbor, croquet on the lawn. Mr. Fox was especially fascinated with the young ladies in all their finery, frolicking in the fields, or reclining in a hammock in the dappled sunlight with a book in hand, a flower in their hair and vacant look on their pale faces.
When he did happen to pop back to Oz from time to time he was at pains to highlight the immense civility of this nascent society, despite the tyranny of distance and the proximity of tyranny.
Of course it would be nigh on impossible to find any self-respecting artist turning out that sort of sickly sweet romantic schmaltz these days, so the judges were required to seek sympathy for other qualities in Mr. Fox’s work:
Vibrant colours, impressionist landscapes, scenes of everyday life, women standing around without their clothes on.
Here at the gallery, l note that every picture in the room has ticked one of those boxes, but it seems none of them has ticked two.
Let’s circumnavigate the room in a clockwise direction, clinically dissecting each work as we go. (At this point it is germane to confess that l myself entered this very prize. Having failed to make the cut, l have been dining on sour grapes ever since.)
A quick look around reveals an overwhelming preponderance of landscapes, either realist or expressionist, though none could be described as impressionist. (As l said impressionism is no longer de riguer – or ‘cool’) There is a little cluster of vibrantly coloured works, some might say garishly coloured works, that l fear Mr. Fox would have no sympathy for at all. Then we come to the work of the renowned John Nixon. Harking back to his glory days in kinda, John has used all the bottle tops and bits of wood in the craft box to make a picture. (Well done John, keep up the good work.)
Bill Sampson, a local lad, has done a conceptual take, reducing one of Mr. Foxes vibrant landscapes (‘On the Mediterranean Coast.’ It is in the gallery so you can compare it if you like) to a few enormous pixels, each one the size of a lamington. Very post-modern Bill, but l don’t think Mr.Fox would approve of your conceptualism, or your post-modernism for that matter, he was having enough trouble getting his head around impressionism.
Jason Jones, another local to make the cut, has faithfully produced a simulacrum of a genuine Fox landscape, in fact it is so simulacrimous (sick) that l took it for a direct copy of ‘Gumtrees at Cremourne’, but Mr. Jones swears black and blue that he has never set eyes on the work in question. l will let you be the judge.
Next up we have a cluster of moons. I imagine Mr. Fox would like all these. He does appreciate a good moon.
David Falzon has entered the only work that seems to evoke anything like the saccharine romantic tones that saturates Foxe’s oeuvre, but it is crying out for a young damsel in a bustle picking daisies with a vacant look on her angelic face.
There is a smattering of eerie dark works, one or two even bordering on the sinister. Mr. Fox would not approve. He didn’t do spooky.
Lynne Boyd, (one of the lesser Boyds, no doubt overlooked due to her gender) has done perhaps the only work that could vaguely be described as impressionist.(If you squint a bit and look out of the corner of one eye) Excuse me for bragging but l went to art school with Lynne and l would have to say she is by far the most consistent artist l have ever come across, except for Prudence Flint. Her work has not changed a jot (or is that a dot) since those heady days back in the early 1980s.
Well done Lynne. Do not be tempted to stray from the chosen path of enlightenment..
One Kevin Chin has produced one of the most life-like impressions of a drug induced psychosis outside of the psyche ward, but l fear once again, that our Mr. Fox would not approve. Drugs were rather frowned upon in those days, even though they were perfectly legal. Go figure?
Abdul Abdullah has a foreign sounding name and has done quite a disturbing piece referencing those poor unfortunates incarcerated in remote islands in the vast Pacific Ocean. Now l don’t know where Mr. Abdulla comes from but here in this country we don’t bring up such nasty topics in a nice place like an art gallery.
Last but not least we come to the winner.
‘Wash’ by Prudence Flint. Prudence is by far the most consistent artist l have ever come across, except for Lyn Boyd, of course. She has been painting the same painting all her life, using exactly the same model every time, (I kid you not) stuck in the very same room, with the very same tiles and the very same slightly nauseating colour scheme. You would have to agree, she has got it down pat.
The subject, who has shared all the most mundane moments of her prosaic existence with us, over all these years, without leaving her room/cell, without growing older, or younger, or even changing her expressionless expression. Not even her newborn babe can raise the hint of a smile.
I feel like l am looking at stills from CCTV footage shot inside a lunatic asylum, featuring a patient under heavy sedation since the 1950s who is only allowed out once a year to feed the pidgeons.
When will this woman tear off her straight jacket and go running down the road stark nakid, squeeling with joy?
As you are no doubt aware, Len Fox amassed his not inconsiderable wealth driving trucks. His next award will be for a painting of a truck. Hopefully this will bring a few more locals into the art gallery.
To see a lot of Manny’s work just go to google images and type in his name.
To see a lot of Prudence’s work go to google images and type in her name
Ben Laycock 2016
Gumtrees at Cremorne – Manny Fox