ArtCollection a unique snapshotJill Stowell

FULL HOUSE: The walls at the University Gallery are thickly hung for The Art of Collecting exhibition.COLLECTING art can be a passionate and compulsive habit, with many of the world’s great galleries based on collections bought from or donated by royal or rich patrons.


In Australia, too, our major institutions are based on gifts and bequests by generous individuals. Think of the foundation works in the Newcastle Art Gallery from Dr Roland Pope’s collection of the paintings of his era.

Today there are few people who buy paintings in such quantities.

The Laverty collection of Aboriginal art has been an exception, but most art buyers hold perhaps a dozen works rather than several hundred. Our houses aren’t designed to hang too many.

It is all the more surprising then to find at the University Gallery until Sunday, 169 works from a private house in Newcastle, the purchases of an anonymous individual who in under 20 years has amassed a vast collection, mostly by Newcastle artists.

The gallery’s walls are thickly hung, but there are still hundreds more works from the same source available for further exhibitions.

What is surprising is that the collection does not have an overarching theme or follow in detail the careers of particular artists.

There are notable paintings by Peter Gardiner and a strong group of early works by Francis Celtlan. But most of the works are single pieces by a bewildering variety of artists, many of them no longer known.

Paintings and sculpture were acquired from local galleries and exhibitions, many it would seem from Watt Space and other student sites.

There is a remarkable range of large sculptural pieces in many materials, including assemblages.

Reviewing such a magpie collection, it quickly becomes apparent that it is hardly a comprehensive representation of the work of Newcastle artists since 2000. Major figures like John Morris, Vera Zulumovski, Lezlie Tilley or Sheree Fleming have small or uncharacteristic works.

Other prominent artists, like Michael Bell, Brett McMahon, Nigel Milsom or Peter Tilley will perhaps appear in further exhibitions.

It is a particular pleasure to discover among the wealth of works a large painting by Michelle Guerin, several Ben Kennings, a pastel gymnast by Lee Zaunders, a sea urchin by Trevor Weekes and a curious love seat.

Many works are anonymous; most are for sale.

WISTFUL AND BIZARRECLARE Hodgins is the inventive graphic designer for Maitland Regional Art Gallery. Her exhibition at Gallery 139 was a photographic vanitas essay, setting up tableaux of wilting stems and flower heads against a funereal black background. The results were mesmerising: wistful, poetic and, with a found dried frog, gently bizarre.

WATT A SHOCKEARLY in the academic year Watt Space is happy to draw upon the work of Postgraduate Doctoral and Honours students. Still, it was a shock to find a room of John Morris’s grand stoical landscapes.

Silje Buxton Soldal is another accomplished artist. A room of small graphite drawings of the nude figure were elegantly confined by the shape and size of the paper.

Scott Propst’s photographs attempt to convey the utterly remote landscape of wintry Iceland.

Interestingly, printmaking is attracting new talents to the disciplined processes of traditional techniques. Libby Eckersley is even experimenting with mezzotint.

ATHENA IS BACKTHE intergenerational Athena Group exhibits every year at Back to Back Galleries, mixing graphics and ceramics.

This year the anticipated high standard was maintained, with fallen leaves inspiring the monoprints of Helene Leane, the collage prints of Jeanne Harrison and Pat Davidson’s intricate fabric replicas, while Faye Collier assembles long leaves into openwork ceramic bowls.

Sue Stewart’s elegant ceramic bottle forms set up agreeable tensions with fine lines of abstract decoration.

Piano keys and electronic fragments combined for Lucile Carson’s evocative overcrowded boats.

FRAGILE FORMSAT Art Systems Wickham until Sunday, sculpture in timber and steel surprisingly suggests fragile flower heads, seedpods and leaves.

Kelly-Ann Lees, as we know from her large-scale commissions, is a master at suggesting organic form in uncompromising, often recycled metal.

Anna Scobie, in a first exhibition for many years, celebrates her talent for woodcarving in a variety of timbers, inspired by leaves of many species.

It’s an accomplished exhibition that has proved very popular.