Sunday, 6 November 2011

A trip to Perth Art Gallery

It was wet and dreary yesterday, so I went for a trip to Perth Art Gallery.  This is a lovely gallery and I spent time in the Centenary Galleries downstairs, and in the 1920-1960 gallery on the ground floor. 

This gallery is not extensive (compared to the huge galleries I am used to in London) but has several good examples of work from a very wide range of art periods.  There were several artworks that represented periods I have just covered in Historical Issues in Art & Design, which captured my interest.  I very much like the layout inside the gallery, which is built in the structure of hexagons, and which gives an amazingly spacious feel.  A fellow student from the UK, Karen, is doing her dissertation on the feeling that is encountered in corners (yes, something quite obscure!) and until I had been to this gallery, I had no idea what this concept was.  But once I had been in a hexagonal gallery, I realised non-standard shapes give a totally different feel to a room.

In the Centenary Gallery I was struck by a large Doulton vase, decorated by Hannah Barlow, one of Doulton's top decorators.  It was a combination of art nouveau trailing lines, and scrafitto kangaroos, beautifully covered in slip.  Absolutely amazing.  Apparently Doulton played to the market in "the great south land" (Australia) by making work that appealed to affluent Australians around the time of the First World War. 

I continued the female artist theme by looking at the work of Margaret Preston and Marina Shaw. Margaret Preston was an artist who promoted the concept of Australian inspiration for truly Australian art, commencing at a time when modernism was becoming an international leader.  She wanted the Australian design language to become independent of Europe.  This was taken up by various artists in Australia who promoted regional expression in art and design through motifs from the artist's locale.  Marina Shaw, an artist and ceramic decorator, used WA and Australian flora and fauna - as demonstrated on a vase with WA kangaroo paw plant. 

However Marina Shaw also used symbols and motifs (spots, stripes and boomerangs) from indigeneous culture on a tea set that was on display at the gallery.  The card beside the teaset sagely observes that the teaset shows lack of awareness of cultural sensitivities regarding use of indigeneous symbols and queries the appropriateness of use of indigeneous imagery by a non-indigeneous artist.  While I agree with the sentiments of this, it opens a can of worms about who is entitled to use which imagery/symbols as an artist.  Where does one draw the line here? In the western world, one would copyright one's designs to prevent them (in theory) being ripped off.  But how do you preserve the integrity of local/indigeneous designs while crediting the skills of the artist and the intellectual property of the creator/community?  And with the problems of globalisation, where everything becomes a homogenous mass, available everywhere to everyone, how do you keep the integrity of a local style that truly represents a place?  How many of us have been on holiday, and been disappointed by the "international" hotel, the "international" food and cosmopolitan culture, when we wanted an authentic or different experience.  Or in our search for travel, glamour and difference, do we really want an adventure that we know will be safe, predictable and won't push our boundaries too far?

However, I had a lovely time looking at a lot of stunning applied art, much of which was by Perth women of the inter-war period, and I think I may follow up this theme by some background reading over this holiday.  Jim is out at running club at present (Sunday morning run) but if he has no other plans for the day, we might have a trip back to the Art Gallery, to see if they have a book on WA women artists.

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