Monday, May 30, 2005


On Saturday morning I accompanied my mother to a couple of art galleries to view works prior to auction. The first gallery, Gregson's, had an Elizabeth Durack that she and my father liked, and on which they were thinking of bidding. They have developed an unnatural but very laudable appreciation for abstract art in later life, although their tastes and mine don't often intersect. The Durack was painted in black, sky blue and metallic gold, and featured her signature chubby little aboriginal kiddie faces. I didn't like it, but then I don't like Elizabeth Durack's oeuvre as a whole. Her portraits look to me like High Art renditions of old 2000AD comics characters. But to each their own.

There was an interesting watercolour, on the other hand, that did appeal to me, and I'm thinking of going back on Wednesday and making a bid if no one else wants it.

The second gallery was McKenzie's, and their collection was a little more pedestrian than Gregson's. There were a large number of serene landscapes, genteel nudes, and a $20,000 Guy Grey Smith still-life. I'm a Grey Smith fan, but $20,000 for an A3-sized picture of flowers in a vase demands something beyond fandom. 'Joining a cult' would seem to fit the bill.

There were also a few examples of those cityscapes that a certain low class of person buys, presumably so they can point to it when guests visit and say, "Look, that's here! That's where we live! Someone done a painting of it!" Why do they want such hideous things? They have the semiotic complexity of a telephone book and serve a decorative function that could be better achieved with a photograph or, in some cases, by LOOKING OUT OF THE FRICKIN' WINDOW!

I have a theory that it's a conspiracy to drive real artists, the ones who want to express their inner selves through their work, insane.

There were also a few sentimental portraits, best typified by a photo-realist oil of toddlers cavorting on a beach, which I entitled "Someone Else's Grandchildren".

But I was surprised to see a painting that I recognised. It was a self-portrait in oils, showing the artist with a 1940s haircut, wearing a white singlet, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees and staring out of the canvas with a larrikin little smirk playing on his lips. I checked the catalogue and noticed that it had belonged to the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Either I recognised it from their permanent collection, or they'd licensed the image to appear on some local book cover or advertising.

It's a shame it's expected to sell for around $8000, because I really liked it, and I don't have $8000. It's a wonderful painting, friendly yet striking, and beautifully composed with a rich red background.


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