Newsletter Archives

December 2009


Dickerson Gallery presents - Max Dupain and John Witzig
Spotlight on... Damon Kowarsky
Dickerson Gallery artists - events & achievements
Christmas Trading

The Sunbaker
Max Dupain

Bob McTavish and the '48 Holden
John Witzig

At Newport
Max Dupain

Dickerson Gallery presents - Max Dupain and John Witzig

MELBOURNE 31 March - 17 April 2010
SYDNEY 28 April - 15 May 2010

Described as one of Australia's most revered photographers, Max Dupain's renowned beach images will, for the first time, be joined by Australian surfing photographer John Witzig's works in a historic 50-year look at Australia's beach culture. The exhibitions open at Dickerson Gallery in Melbourne on 31 March and in Sydney on 28 April 2010.

These exhibitions provide a historical snapshot of the evolution of Australia's identity now intrinsically centred around beach culture. Dupain's images capture life during the 30s and 40s when ladies and gentleman walked the promenade in dresses and suits, surf lifesavers regularly marched the shoreline and a day at the beach was more of a holiday treat.

Witzig's images capture the sub-culture of beach life during the 60s and 70s, a time when Australian surfers carved their names into surfing history with the introduction of the first short boards.

Dupain's photographs helped define Australian beach culture as an identifiable national trait. His famous and enduring images include Sunbaker (1937), At Newport (1952) and Bondi (1939), which will all be on show.

"Dupain captured the growth in Australia's identification with the beach, something which is now embedded in our national psyche and so intrinsically part of our everyday life." says Jill White, benefactor and developer of a large collection of Max Dupain's negatives.

Working with Dupain for over 25 years, White saw first-hand Dupain's work philosophy and dedication to his craft, combined with his natural, spontaneous flair and intuition for capturing poignant moments in time.

"He certainly had natural talent when he picked up a camera, but he also had a very strong work-ethic, that meant he was forever mastering his modernistic style," says White.

For John Witzig it was more a case of "being at a great place at a great time. I was taking photographs of my friends, surfing and hanging around. What I didn't know back then was, that time in history would turn into a period of significance," he says.

Witzig's friends, many of whom went onto to become world-famous surfers, forced their names into the history books when they took the infamous Malibu surfboards and started playing around with short boards.

"I had the good fortune over that decade to capture some iconic moments in surfing history and the evolution of short boards, which are now being seen as nostalgic memoirs of a time that's irrevocably passed," Witzig adds.

Society back then looked at surfing with a certain amount of disrespect and surfers were seen as drop-out hippies. Now surfing has become its own industry and a lifestyle in which millions of people participate and many millions more have a keen interest.

"I can see why there's interest in my images from a social history viewpoint, times have certainly changed from when I took these photos, but it still surprises me somewhat," says Witzig.

Witzig, a self-taught photographer, candidly accepts the superior quality of Dupain's work and is humbled to be shown beside him. "Dupain was a master; he had a brilliant eye and was obsessive about his craft. He was the most successful photographer in Australia," he says.

Director of Dickerson Gallery, Sam Dickerson says "This exhibition shows a fascinating insight into Australia's beach culture, how we see ourselves individually and culturally, as well as a narrative link to the remarkable changes that have taken place over time, reported by two very different photographers."

Christmas Trading

Melbourne - Closed 20 Dec - 11 Jan 2010, re-opening on 12 Jan
Sydney - Closed 22 Dec - 8 Jan 2010, re-opening on 9 Jan

Spotlight on.... Damon Kowarsky

NYC I (detail)
Damon Kowarsky

Cities and Desire I
Damon Kowarsky

Standing Figure
Damon Kowarsky

One of the highlights for Dickerson Gallery's exhibition calendar next year will be a solo show by prolific Melbourne artist, Damon Kowarsky. He recently sat down with Melbourne Gallery Manager David Hagger to explain what motivates and inspires his work.

Q: Having been the recipient of numerous grants, scholarships, awards and residencies that have taken you to some of the world's most interesting places, how important is travel for your art practice, and more importantly, how important is it to entrench yourself into the local way of life of each location?
A: Travel is extremely important to my practice. It has allowed me to see an incredible range of cultures, peoples and architectures and bring back some of the things I have seen to my studio in Melbourne. These ideas and drawings underpin all my work whether painting printmaking or drawing. I am not sure that I live the local way of life in each place any more than I do in Melbourne but I do very actively try to get involved with local cultural institutions and meet local artists.

Q: In Pakistan under Murad Mumtaz and Mahreen Zuberi, you studied miniature painting. It is a tradition steeped in history and requires exacting teaching methods. How was this experience for you, coming from a practice that relies heavily on the freedom of the drawn line?
A: Again incredible. I had long admired the miniature tradition and spent much of 2004 looking through the NGV's Asian Art collection with curator Carol Cains. The elegance and economy of line was something I had long admired both within this tradition and in artists like Hockney and Picasso [at least during his Neo-Classical stage]. So it was something I was already interested in and sought to bring to my work. It was also good to be exposed to a teaching practice that is so heavily rooted in an understanding of a body of knowledge and skill. I used to play music and one thing I always felt absent from my art school education was any equivalent to the scales that make up such an important part of a musician's practice. So working from a tradition actually felt very comfortable. Of course it is then up to the artists to take the work in their own direction but at least you do so with some basis in the formal handling of materials and techniques

Q: This is increasingly overlooked these days. Many universities push their focus towards conceptual, rather than practical teachings. As a result, I find there are too many emerging artists struggling through unsuccessful shows with work that is clearly underdone. You can't hide poor production behind a good concept.
A:True, and while the other system is not always perfect - cold hearted technique is its own vice - I would much rather look at the work of someone who has nothing to say but paints well than someone who has nothing to say and paints not at all.

Q: You have plans to head back to Pakistan early 2010. Is this part of further studies?
A: This time I will be exhibiting works based on my experiences in Pakistan in 2007 and teaching drawing and printmaking at universities in Karachi and Lahore. I will also be making drawings to inspire the next body of work. Some of these will be based on the life of Mohamed Bux, who in the 1880s migrated to Perth and established himself as a successful businessman and trader. In later life he established a mosque [Australia Mosque] and bank [Australasia Bank] in Lahore. It is wonderful to realise that the links between our two countries stretch back so far.

Q: You have worked in a number of mediums, mostly etching. Are your works taken from pen and ink or pencil drawings rather than straight onto the plate?
A: I always work from drawings rather than directly onto the plate. Part of this is because travelling with copper plates is impractical [I cannot yet afford porters!] but mainly it is because very few of the drawings I make end up as prints. I like the ability to edit, filter and discard my drawings. I know there is a school which insists you should work directly on the plate [as if this were a 'truer' way to work] but I found the miss rate was too high and modifying a drawing once it is on a sheet of copper is just hard work. I also found editing meant I was able to push my practice along as I would only use what I considered the best drawings rather than what happened to have been made that day.

Q: I guess it also enables you to build tighter bodies of work come exhibition time.
A: Yes, though this is also the result of producing a large body of work and then selecting the most appropriate pieces from it.

Q: I feel your distinct linear style comes through eliminating certain details; where the subject becomes not so much a true representation, but a suggestion. In your New York City works for example, you concentrate on establishing building heights to accentuate the sheer scale in levels of the city, rather than the finer details of each building.
A:The paring down of detail is more a matter of skill and time than anything. The NYC drawings you refer to took about two hours of fierce concentration while standing on the roof of a building to make. Adding detail would take another twenty hours. But I do try to push my abilities - the cities I drew on the last trip were far more complicated than ones I had drawn previously. I find I don't think of it as a style, just the best response I can make to a given scene or artistic problem.

Q: I think if you had spent another twenty or so hours working on every detail the resulting image would have been too busy, too cluttered, and would reduce this effect of height and scale.
A: That's possible, but I also suspect something would come in to balance this excess of detail. The drawings of New York based artist Josette Urso [] are far more detailed than mine but achieve grace and elegance through the occasional spare application of line.

Q: The vantage point is crucial tool for your composition. Your works of 2007-09 are mostly drawn from a high vantage point. Is this an intentional shift from the earlier works, which tended to be at eye level?
A: The current series is all from above, though there are many in my sketchbooks at street level that I have not yet transformed. The use of a high vantage came about in Mexico City. It is very crowded [30 million people make it home] and sitting on the street was impossible. But there were some very interesting views from a look out tower in the centre of town and this led to curiosity about similar views in other cites. Also modern cities tend to be awful at street level [all those canyons and lack of ornamentation] but quite remarkable from above. Which does beg the question as to who or what the architects are building for. Certainly not the man on the street.

Q: I remember visiting Cairo and being astounded by the amount of building rubble and detritus on top of all the city buildings. You certainly can't see that from the street.A: No you can't, and I have always been amazed that rubbish is hauled to the roof rather than down to the street.
A: You are right, and in my recent Cairo drawings I have removed this rubble. And mostly satellite dishes too, though they do appear quite prominently in some older Cairo drawings as well as one of apartment blocks in Damascus.

Q: Obviously architecture is a great passion of yours; one that transpires through your images. What else do you find drives your creative mind? Who do you admire?
A: Architecture is a passion but if I had to describe what drives me it would be people places and things. I have begun work on a series of etchings on the theme of transit featuring planes helicopters and ships. I tend to move around thematically over any given year. Not all of the works make it to exhibition as I find it better to keep any given show within certain thematic restraints. I keep returning to Hockney and Picasso, both for their skills as draughtsmen and that they NEVER abandoned pictures as a means of communicating. In both artists there is a keen sense of visual intelligence at work, and a commitment to the history and future of art through painting, drawing and printmaking.

Q: More recently you have been drawing with charcoal. What led you to this?
A: I had used charcoal a long time ago but the recent return came during a recent residency in Barcelona. My studio was huge and this seemed a great opportunity to work on a larger scale than I could at home. And 2.4 metre drawings do need a bit of space to work on. I am continuing them here following a very good response from a gallery in Cairo. My partner Miriam has been very patient in allowing me to take over the lounge room at home to do so.

Q: And how then has the transition been in terms of scale, from say smaller etchings and miniature paintings that are fine in detail, to the larger sheets of paper?
A: I was talking about this with my father recently. Even though the drawings are very large I use the finest [5mm] charcoal available. So a similar relationship exists between tool and medium in the large drawings as etchings and miniatures. So while I am scaling up I try to preserve an appropriate level of detail.

Q: Your figures are large and appear powerful, as if mythical creatures from a bygone era. They hold clubs, sticks, and other historical artifacts. They seem to have no distinct creed or colour, and are often represented as transparent within the landscape. Who are they, and what are they doing?
A: In practical terms all the figures come from life drawing classes I attend in Melbourne. If they are without nationality it is because up to now I have preferred models that are slightly neutral. But as with my responses to cities much of this is because drawing is very difficult and achieving specific likeness challenging. There is also the matter that a slightly blank figure may sit better with a given scene - it is as much about balancing the needs of the picture as anything else. Though this is changing somewhat, and I am working to make my figures more distinct. It is a slow process though. As to what they are doing I am often not sure. More often than not a certain figure seems to need a certain scene, or one kind of city another kind of human interaction. The use of transparency was a formal response to try to balance increasingly complicated cityscapes with a figurative content.

Q: The nature of etching process means your works are mostly monochromatic. Now that you have explored painting and drawing as a medium within your practice, do you think colour will become more important to you?
A: Colour is important, though it is usually expressed as tone rather than in realistic terms. Because my work depends so strongly on the line I need to make sure that the other elements in the picture do not overwhelm it. Also monochrome is extremely powerful, often more so than colour. If you have seen Robert Frank's 'The Americans' you will understand what can be achieved with such apparently limited means.

Q: I agree; look at Picasso's Guernica, or even the works of the colour field, minimalist and abstract painters throughout the 20th century. Then you have, of course, the successes of master photographers Ansel Adams, Robert Mapelthorpe, Max Dupain to name but a few.
A: The South African photographer David Goldblatt is another. His early photographs were all black and white [how appropriate in Apartheid South Africa] and phenomenally powerful. The later ones, in colour, do not have anywhere near the same economy or tension. There are also practical concerns. Charcoal is not available in other colours [!] and pastels do not have the same degree of flexibility and luminosity.

Q: I want to talk about your use of the diptych and triptych. Why divide your works into panels, rather than a single, continuous piece?
A: I travel around Melbourne by bicycle and there are limits to the size of plate I can fit in my panniers. There are also practical limits to how large a piece of copper I can comfortably print from and etch. Likewise with the drawings it is much easier to transport, work on and store three smaller pieces of paper than one 3m sheet. The use of the diptych and triptych also came from looking at Japanese prints which often span multiple plates and pages and do so very beautifully. There is an implied sense of narrative flow that comes from associations with graphic novels and comic books. And then there is the tension that arrives from chopping the image up. It gives you many more points to play compositional games with, to break the gaze and disturb the landscape. Finally there is the challenge of printing up to 8 pieces of copper perfectly on one sheet of paper. It is nice to make things hard for yourself and push your abilities and techniques

Q: You are considered amongst your peers in the art industry as prolific in both the production of prints and through the amount of exhibitions held. Have you always been active in the promotion of your own work?
A: It has grown with time. I am lucky to be able to make art full time which allows me to explore many subjects and styles within the one year. And while some of the themes do not fit into the main body of work taking part in group shows allows these works to be seen in public. For example some of my current prints [with planes, helicopters and airports] would not fit into a solo show devoted to the architecture of the Silk Road but might find a place in a group exhibition based around the theme of transit. It is also the nature of the print that you can be in more than one place at the one time. I like that there are many opportunities to see my work.

Q: So what is next? Where can we next see your work on show?
A: In February next year the Australian High Commission Islamabad and Lahore Arts Council will present perdesi [foreigner] at Alhamra Art Gallery Lahore. While I have frequently exhibited works based on foreign places here in Melbourne this will be the first time I have taken them back to the place that inspired them. I very much look forward to seeing the responses of my friends, colleagues and the wider cultural community of Lahore. Closer to home Dickerson Gallery will be exhibiting works based on my most recent travels around the world in late 2010. This journey was made possible through the support of a Toyota Community Spirit Artist Travel award and saw me visit more than 16 cities on five continents. It was an amazing journey, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of it with you soon.

Dickerson Gallery Artists - Events and Achievements

Damon Kowarsky, David Frazer and Regan Tamanui were finalists in the Geelong Acquisitive Print Awards, 2009
Honor Bradbeer was a finalist in The Hutchins Art Prize
Marc Standing and Filomena Coppola were finalists in the Banyule City Council Art Award
Jason Cordero was highly commended in the Waterhouse Natural History Prize and the Heysen Prize for Interpretation of Place. He was also a finalist in the Tattersall's Club Art Prize.
Samantha Everton has been busy delivering workshops to primary school students in Melbourne and regional Victoria forthe Moran Arts foundation, following her highly commended in this year's Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize. The workshops cover basic photography skills, composition, lighting and telling a visual story. "The children love it and I have met some wonderful budding photographers who have had their world opened up through the workshop," says Sam.
Sharon Billinge is currently on a residency at Laughing Waters, Eltham - her third residency for the year. Sharon has been conducting teaching workshops and has been invited by Nilumbik Shire Council to do some teaching there next year.
Mark Dober recently returned from a travels to London, Paris and Canberra. However, it's the countryside around Gundagai which is inspiring his latest works depicting rural landscapes.

You can print this newsletter out.

Download DickersonNews-Dec09-Low-Res.pdf