This session was designed and hosted by co-convenor Neville Gibb to explore a question he often asks ‘Where is the Art?’ Benalla Art Gallery staff responded to Neville’s request for works by two well-known Australian painters to be exhibited before our group, setting the scene for a talk about two greats of Australian Art Neville describes as ‘both arguably geniuses’, Albert Namatjira and Hans Heysen.
Neville began the session with a thoughtfully prepared response to the paintings. His premise was that we can tell where the art is when we look at both men's work. “Both were able to produce works that are close to perfection in their capturing the spirit of the land. Not an easy thing to do”. Neville contended that there would not be an Australian anywhere in the world who would not feel identification with the work of both men. Namatjira and Heysen were contemporaries and it is not known if they ever met but it is known that Heysen admired Namatjira's work. Namatjira came to painting in his 30s. Heysen was recognised from a young age as someone within immense talent. Both had good and bad times. Namatjira suffered mightily the slings and arrows of being an Aborigine and Heysen had to lay low during WW1. Namatjira's intention was to record the land - painting came into it but getting the essence of the land into a painting was his intention. It is an easy argument to make that this was Heyson's intention also. Neville considers both men to have produced work of great worth and feels proud that we have examples of their work in the Gallery. As he sees them standing head and shoulders above most other Australian Artists, Neville hopes we see more of their work on display.
Neville then invited local painter Mervyn Beamish to give his opinion. Merv made several comments where he clearly differed from Neville. Merv said that in his view, art is determined to be art by the beholder, not by someone telling them it is art, because it hangs on a gallery wall or because someone is willing to pay a large amount of money for it. ‘Your two year old grandchild's sketch stuck on the refrigerator door triggers an emotion; a memory, that, to you, is a work of art. A crack in the footpath can be a wonderful work of art and be quite fascinating because it stimulates senses, emotions even a memory.’…’If the item stimulates you senses; disgust and fascination ... the colours, the pattern, the situation, the swirl, there is something about it that takes you beyond the moment’. Merv was able to explain where he felt the strength of both painters lay and made several valuable explanations, warming to his task as the morning went on. Merv's work is on display at NEA.
Neville and Merv’s follow up discussion, together with contributions from the floor by Val Dunin; Carol Perry; visitors Reuben and Hazel Frankland; Bev Lee and others concluded an absorbing and lively session.
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