Art treasures seen in fresh ways
GALLERIES with permanent art collections are the custodians of cultural heritage and its historical connotations.
While respecting the context of events and the mores of society, they are also able to develop exhibitions that negotiate change and transition by offering opportunities to question, confront, and resolve aspects of human experience.
The permanent collections of the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery are treasure troves that can be cleverly mined to present fresh ways of seeing through various versions of Aladdin’s claim of “new lamps for old”.
This analogy is particularly relevant to Light Relief, the current exhibition in the larger Lindsay Gallery.
The title is a wry comment on electric lighting, something we take for granted but which, initially, was a life-altering revelation.
The building in which the gallery is situated was once the Toowoomba Electric Light and Power Company and the electrically lit stained glass skylight remains a significant feature of the gallery.
An early photograph by Max Dupain shows the old building with its almost louche wall advertisement featuring a provocative young woman and the words “Do it with electricity…”.
Light and lust may be deadly enemies as Shakespeare suggested, but in Lionel Lindsay’s Ocean Wave Hotel the presence of both encourages a lively exchange between the sailors and the girls standing near a lamp post.
Ron McBurnie’s etching and aquatint, Court of all Desire, with its lighted windows and shadowy staircases is a perfect setting for brief encounters.
While the small painting of a night scene in Campbelltown by Douglas Annand carries the eerie portent of works by Edward Hopper.
Early local townscapes by photographers Fred Hardie and Charles Fryer give a fascinating historical perspective as they hero a rather incongruous street lamp in the centre of the Margaret and Ruthven Streets intersection.
Light and shade give crisp definition in the book plates designed by Lionel Lindsay, however, the lighting in his etching of the McDonnell Theatre at the Toowoomba Hospital is stark and chilling.
A pen and ink drawing of a naked light bulb by Billy Jones is an apt adjunct to his stream-of-consciousness poem This morning.
The notion of ‘light relief’ is given an amusing twist in Elissa’s Bellert’s Red Elephant, a quirky lamp made from old kettles.
The small Lindsay Gallery is hosting Lionel Lindsay Doubles Up, another inspired pairing of works that honour historical contexts but invite fresh interpretations.
Portraiture as subterfuge and reality is seen in Lindsay’s self-portrait as a jester, in the inscrutable density of Mike Parr’s Organon II #11, and in Martin Sharp’s pop-art theatre poster.
Still life studies like Normana Wight’s postcard homages, Lionel Lindsay’s fruit arrangements, the kitchen accoutrements depicted by Brigid ColeAdams, and Joachim Froese’s impossible tea ceremony are more about composition than the shared conviviality seen in Lindsay’s wood engraving, Morning Tea.