Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Across the Border: Town Hall: Art and Culture: Michael Kelly's Nightworks, at Gaffa

 So welcome to my very first blog post without any pictures. It's a damn shame because my words don't really stand up to scrutiny when they're alone on the page and the thought of publishing such a piece is quite intimidating.
Unfortunately Blogger, which hosts my blog, hasn't allowed me to add pictures for about the past five or six days, which is why it has been all quiet on the My Darling Darlinghurst front.
And the real shame is that I wanted to tell you about an exhibition of paintings that you really must go and see if you are interested in artists' depiction of this area. 
I have photographs of the artist, Michael Kelly, and - most importantly - some images of his works, which I had hoped would lure you out of Darlinghurst to the Town Hall area where the gallery is located.
And the exhibition closes on Sunday, so there is not much time to waste, and without a fix to the Blogger problem, I will now have to do my best with words only.**

You may remember Michael Kelly. He was the artist that my dear friend Ruby Molteno photographed painting with oil paints en plein air at the end of Barnett Lane about a year ago
Well, Ruby and I were at King Street Gallery on William recently, checking out their current exhibition, The Animal, which features paintings, sculpture, taxidermy and installations all to do with animals, when I picked up a flier on my way out advertising Michael Kelly's new show, Nightworks
I showed Ruby the flier, which featured an image of a painting depicting Green Park in Darlinghurst, and said, "hey, he's that chap you photographed in your alley about a year ago. His new show is opening next week - do you want to go?"
Well, of course Ruby said yes, because she was hoping the exhibition would feature a painting of her apartment building that she had seen him doing, and if she happened to be feeling both rash and rich, she could buy it, mount it on her wall and always have a personal story to tell about its provenance when guests came calling and remarked on the marvellous picture.

So with that in mind, last Thursday evening Ruby, myself and a friend, Milly Fisher, met outside the Gaffa gallery at 281 Clarence Street, just around the corner from Town Hall train station.
During the day, Gaffa lures people in with a cafe and a range of "pop-up shops" that sell arts and crafts. I really hate that term, "pop-up shop" because it's such an overused buzz term - but whatever.
When we arrived at night, there were hip-looking young things loitering about on the footpath outside and when we walked in, we were drawn straight to a small desk at the back of the hallway, where there was a young man selling glasses of wine for a $2 "donation".
We all donated some money, grabbed a glass and precariously climbed up some flights of stairs to the gallery space on level two, where Michael Kelly's exhibition is hanging.

The show is comprised of 16 artworks - paintings mostly, but also illustrations - depicting street scenes from Darlinghurst, Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills. 
The works range in price from $1600 to $11,100 and most of them are quite large - with one up to 1.5m x 1.8m.
You will recognise many of the streets in the oil paintings, but with others you will have to scratch your head and think and guess.
One of my favourites, mainly because of the subject matter, was a small ink wash on paper, Stairway (35x45cm, $1400), which featured Beare's Stairs.

But I also loved the large oil paintings, which show the detail in the architecture of inner-city buildings, but focus mainly on the people in the foreground, and specifically, those who are experiencing homelessness.
There is no judgment of the people, or serious comment on society, just an honest depiction of the everyday: the beauty, the mundane and the rituals of daily life.
There is Footpath Library (oil on linen, 113.183cm, NFS), captured in Woolloomooloo, showing a group of people looking at the books that have been laid out on the footpath for free.

Green Park (oil on linen, 102.137cm, $7700, above) is painted from an insider's angle, from the grass, looking south to where the park meets the Sacred Heart Hospice. Three figures are gathered under a street light near the footpath on Darlinghurst Road. 
It is a lonely picture for me, because I used to live around the corner on Hardie Street and would often walk past the park at night. It was always so cold and quiet, with people huddled in the shadows and sleeping on benches.
Night is the key to these works and it soon becomes clear that Kelly has spent a lot of time loitering around these inner-city streets after dark, and in the process has formed relationships with some of the characters that inhabit these quiet night spaces.
There was no picture of Ruby's building, because that was painted during the day, Michael Kelly told us when we went to say hello.

He is an interesting character and thankfully not from the arrogant Woollahra or Paddington mould, but a down to earth, slightly eccentric person who appears to only live for the paint and brush.
Kelly quotes from poet-librarian Christopher Brennan's 1902 poem, The Wanderer:

"All night I have walked and my heart was deep awake . . ."

In his artist's statement, Kelly goes on to say:

"The wanderer, like the flaneur of Baudelaire and Benjamin, walks the city in order to experience it and like the Symbolist poets of the late 19th-century sees in it the reflection of his own soul.
"More recently, the writer Chris Jenks refers to the concept of "minatorial geography" being that which is experienced by the flaneur, as both fascination and a rebuff or intimidation, and "an acknowledgement of the ontology of the occupancy as an act of respect that honours the integrity of social sentiment that binds a community."

Don't let Chris Jenks' academic speak throw you, for Kelly goes on to write, more personally - and more truthfully:

"Like Christopher Brennan, the Sydney poet and scholar influenced by the French Symbolist poets, I too have spent many nights walking the streets of Sydney after having been away from the city for several years.
"The works from this exhibition have evolved from drawings and sketches I've made while walking the streets of Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills.
"The city, its parks and overlooked corners appear not as thoroughfares to and from the busy metropolis, but rather as the backdrop to the human dramas and everyday life lived out there.
"It is more the atmosphere of these places and these times that I'm attempting to evoke."

I urge you to go and see his show and to also walk the streets at night and perhaps see a reflection of your own soul.

Michael Kelly
19-29 April 2012
Gaffa gallery
281 Clarence Street
Sydney NSW 2000
02 9283 4273
My Darling Darlinghurst Facebook photo gallery of Nightworks

**Blogger is still buggered, but I am nothing if not industrious, and have found a way to post pix.


Ralf. said...

Please Blogger allow Violet to post pictures. She's a really good photographer and her blog needs pics. A picture's worth a thousand words or something like that. Pretty pricey paintings though! I could live in "Del Rio" for a week just for one.

Violet Tingle said...

Thanks, Ralf. I promise to buy you some more cat food tomorrow. Vx

Ralf. said...

Fancy Feast pls. It's my fav.

Arnold. said...

At this end of the internet the pics are coming out as big black squares. Is this some subtle play on the exhibition title "Nightworks"?
Seriously, I sympathise with your frustration at your blog letting you down. Anything us contributors/readers/fans can do to help you?

Violet Tingle said...

Thanks, Arnold! I've fixed it now. Vx