Around the galleries – November 2009

November 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, A2, November 28, 2009.

Around the galleries Dan Rule

WHAT Sam Shmith: Synthetics
WHERE Arc One Gallery, 45 Flinders Lane, city, 9650 0589,

At a glance, the title of Sam Shmith’s new show at Arc One seems a misnomer. The rich, dramatic photographic landscapes and washed out desert vistas that comprise Synthetics veer so close to reality that they’re easily mistaken. But this is the precise terrain in which these striking works find their potency. Shmith frames his Synthetics in terms of “painting”; the fact that he renders his “paintings” using hundreds of cropped and digitally collaged photographs from his own collection barely seems to matter. It is he who is essentially creating and manipulating the image from scratch. But these highly constructed, meticulously finished works aren’t about the illusion perse. There are enough cues amid the glittering city lights of Synthetics #8, brooding mountainsides of Synthetics #4 and #5, and the flat shadows and opaque desert skies of Synthetics #1 and #2 to point you in the right direction. Shmith seems interested in contextual slippage; his works drift somewhere between referent, reality and complete orchestration, and whether intentional or not, Synthetics leads us to question not just the aesthetics, but the ethics of photography. In a time where digital images proliferate, these hyper-real panoramas sweep us up, only to cast us down with a thud. Photography’s privilege as a “truth teller” has never been so shaky. Tues to Sat 11am–5pm, until December 5.

WHAT Arlene TextaQueen: Naked Landscapes of Victoria
WHERE Gallerysmith, 170–174 Abbotsford Street, North Melbourne, 9329 1860,

Melbourne’s resident texta-wielding superhero, Arlene TextaQueen, has been building on her TextaNudes series for the best part of a decade now. While the premise might have grown a little tired by now, the fact that the Melbourne-based artist has managed to continually develop and refine her subject matter and technique has kept her happily wonky portraits of friends and fellow artists vital and fresh. Her new Naked Landscapes of Victoria series, which sees her naked female models pose as “nude re-interpretations of Australian cultural and historical identities”, features some of her largest and most intricately detailed works yet. While there’s an underlying spectre of activism to most of these works – The True History of the Kelly Gang, featuring fellow Melbourne artist Salote Tawale dressed in a skimpy version of Kelly’s armour, is offered as a an ode to Australian women forgotten by formal historical accounts – its TextaQueen’s intimate familiarity with her subjects, their humour and cheek(s) that gives this show life. Thurs to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat 11am–4pm, until December 12.

WHAT Oslo Davis: This Annoying Life
WHERE Lamington Drive, 86 George Street, Fitzroy, 8060 9745,

The magic of Oslo Davis’s wonderfully economical ink-on-paper works is not just his ability summon the bizarre form the banal, but the inverse. The cult Melbourne cartoonist and illustrator’s debut solo exhibition, aptly titled This Annoying Life, takes in anything from warring couples at a ballroom dance – “Hey, this is OUR sexually transmitted disease!” growls one particularly disillusioned partner – to a series of Harry Potters in the Works, which sees the boy-wizard lumped with a series of increasingly unglamorous plot scenarios, such as Harry Potter Still on Dial-Up and Harry Potter in the Car while Dad get some Two-Stroke for the Mower. Featuring originals from various editorial commissions for The Age, New York Times, Meanjin and others, the exhibition not only reveals Davis’s development as an illustrator, but as a keenly perceptive humorist. A personal favourite – lifted from his famed Overheard column in M Magazine reveals a seemingly empty car park outside the Melbourne Zoo, save a blaring loudspeaker: “We’ve lost a boy here at the zoo. His name is Joseph, he’s four and is dressed as Gene Simmons (pause), from Kiss.” Wed to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat noon–5pm, until December 23.

WHAT John Olsen: Paintings & Drawings 2009
WHERE Metro Gallery, 1214 High Street, Armadale, 9500 8511,

At 81 years young, John Olsen is one of Australia’s greats. This show of new works at Metro Gallery, which concludes tomorrow, suggests he still has plenty more to give. Comprising vivid large-scale oils (Dirt Roads is one of the picks), watercolours (see the stunning Wet Season) and kinetic mixed media sketches and portraits, these new works brim with Olsen’s singular perceptivity and almost explosive expressiveness. Nonetheless, it’s Olsen’s more unassuming pieces that really resonate here. His charcoal and crayon Studio Cat series and compact, muted, mixed media landscapes, including Floods Toward Lake Eyre II (pictured), are a joy. As ever, Olsen manages to capture so much with just a few strokes and squiggles. Today and tomorrow, 11am–5pm.


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