‘Stories and objects float in space, unmoored and uncertain.’
Geelong Contemporary Art Prize 2021
Through the air lock and into the Gallery foyer, the first two large paintings of the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize 2021 loom up in a grand opening statement. To the right Jason Cordero’s surreal multi-perspective floating landscape The embrace, questions perception itself. To the left, Brett Colquhoun’s Telescope (Andromeda), a velvety black canvas dotted with brilliant stars, and mysterious translucent orbs, provokes awe and wonder. The central doorway into the first room beckons. Through the door and down three stairs the opulent golds, transparent yellows and silhouetted black foliage encountered in Andrew Taylor’s expansive painting Outside: yesterday noon are welcomely earth-bound.
Pausing to take a sweeping look around the airy and well-spaced first room, the initial impression is of vivid and invigorating colour; before awareness shifts to the punctuation of monochrome works. Ubiquitous use of pattern in the assembled paintings brings a sense of rhythm and cohesion to the hang.
The Geelong Contemporary Art Prize gathers the 28 diverse finalists (of a field of 600) into an exquisitely curated whole. As well as great beauty, there is contemporary relevance in many of these artworks. The introspection of multiple COVID lockdowns (three quarters of the finalists are Melbourne-based) is evident, as is the need for healing from the pain of isolation and loss.
The stretched canvas tethered between gallery ceiling and floor, 365 days, adds an innovative sculptural element to the hang. Laith McGregor’s amalgam of painted heads, records a daily lockdown ritual of a tiny self-portrait, and a note on daily mood on the verso. In the finished painting, McGregor has created a sense of agency in an uncertain time.
Bundit Puangthong brings a pop sensibility to stories of hardship from his own family history and Buddhist iconography in his painting Skull splitter . His floating, layered stories remind us that, like the artist, we have all survived difficult times in the past.
Moving into the second smaller room, the viewer is again immersed in colour. Jan Murray’s Puff (Chrysalis) uses the central motif of a jacket suspended in a ‘luminous yellow void’ to stand in for a shed cocoon. The painting expresses the freedom of winter lockdown walks. Nat Ward with her beautifully composed surface, captures the patterns and light of the bush outside Albury, her regular place to walk, in the contemplative Wildflower on Nail Can. The work is soothing, and evokes the healing power of nature in its imagery.
Linda Judge, Louise Weaver and Peter Westwood’s works reference the biggest global issues of all, environmental degradation and climate change. Judge’s subtle work, Our daily bread, uses the beauty of pattern and muted colour to salvage the value of thoughtlessly discarded plastic bread tags from which the work is constructed.
Louise Weaver’s heavy impasto net of glowing red and char black, Behind the Scenes, is a powerful poetic response to witnessing the destruction brought about through climate change in cataclysmic bushfires around Australia in 2020. Two tiny yellow petals dotted at the bottom of the painting suggest that the artist’s despair is tinged with a flicker of hope.
Peter Westwood’s literal and metaphorical threads hang from the surface of his powerfully emotional painting Field of sorrow (Untethered) which represents a world overcome by pain in the blood red field with which he surrounds a central floating thistle motif.
Visiting the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize 2021 is an opportunity for joyful immersion in some of our best contemporary painting. This is notwithstanding the absence of its younger practitioners, who perhaps did not enter the prize in large numbers this year. At the same time, the most powerful works in the exhibition provoke strong and occasionally uncomfortable emotion. Stories and objects float in space, unmoored and uncertain.
Note: The 2021 Geelong Contemporary Art Prize was awarded to Diena Georgetti for her work AMPERSAND 2020.