timeFRAME – Works from the Taylor / Jones Collection

Curatorial Essay – A Living Collection – Peter Jones

 

Introduction

 

This exhibition of works from the collection of Susan Taylor and Peter Jones aspires to open a window on a living collection that is still growing and expanding into new areas and, through sharing their experience, expose some of the underlying considerations and decisions that go into building a collection.

 

The exhibition is in three parts. Two parts comprise works from the first three years of our collecting (2000-2003, the ‘early selection’) and works from the last three years (2014-2017, the ‘recent selection’). As these periods ‘frame’ the collection over a period of 17 years, timeFRAME seemed an apt exhibition title. A total of 41 works has been included from a collection of over 220 works.

The third part of timeFRAME is a capsule exhibition reprising the first show held in our in-house gallery, Spare Room 33, in April 2013. It presents 20 artist-designed exhibition posters from the avant-garde gallery in Bremerhaven, Germany, the Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst, dating mainly from the 1970’s. There have been 11 further Spare Room 33 exhibitions, all drawn from our collection, and it continues at a rate of three shows per year.

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Works in the early selection show our immediate attraction to non-objective art, particularly geometric abstraction. This derived in part from our earlier interest in mid-century modern design. But we were also learning as we went in those first years and we endeavoured to look at as much art as possible to educate ourselves, train our eye and refine our taste. There is an element in the early selection of ‘trying out’ works in different styles and genres, one of which, photography, continues to be a small but important part of our collecting. In choosing to buy such works for our collection – and we conceived of it as a collection before we had reached even half a dozen works – we never varied from our intention to critically discuss and assess what we considered to be the best and strongest works in any exhibition that we visited. As a result, even though we may not have continued to pursue particular genres, the works that we bought at that time generally continue to engage and satisfy us.


Works in the recent selection demonstrate our ongoing commitment to abstraction, but also a preparedness to investigate other forms of artistic expression. This did not involve any revision of our abiding lack of interest in representational and figurative painting, but grew primarily out of our increasing engagement with conceptual art. Focusing on the quality of the artist’s idea, and accepting its primacy, also means accepting that such ideas can be activated in a variety of forms, including found and sculpted objects and quasi-figurative works. As well as continuing to collect particular artists in depth, such as John Nixon and Justin Andrews, we also indentified gaps in the collection, adding new artists and acquiring older works where available and within our means.


The outcome of selecting works for timeFRAME from these two periods is perhaps an overall impression of the collection as more eclectic than a visit to our house would suggest. The middle period of our collecting was predominantly non-objective and abstract, and that remains the spine of the collection.


The third part of the exhibition illustrates another avenue in collecting – the desire to show and make available the collection to others. Collectors do this in various ways: loans to exhibitions, gifts to institutions or establishing a gallery or museum to present the collection to the public (à la JAHM). Our choice was to establish a small gallery space in the guest bedroom of our house, called Spare Room 33, which we created to give exposure to work that doesn’t appear on our walls, principally artists books, works on paper, concrete poetry, exhibition catalogues and ephemera and contemporary jewellery. We aspire for each Spare Room 33 exhibition to be of museum quality, in terms of the selection and presentation of high quality works, the design and production of the invitation cards, and the accuracy and accessibility of the exhibition essays. Ideas for future Spare Room 33 shows have also become powerful engines for our collecting activity, as we will not hold an exhibition until we have assembled a critical mass of quality work.


Early days


We were relatively late starters on our collecting journey: I was 41 and Susan 31 when we bought our first work, Craig Easton’s
Loaded. Neither of us came from art backgrounds and we became adults with no conception of acquiring original art. (The benefit of this may have been that we were not acculturated to believe that a work of art must be ‘of’ something). But we bought our first house in 1996 and, faced with decisions about what to put in it, found ourselves strongly drawn to the clean lined functional forms of mid-century modernism. For several years, we bought furniture, glassware, ceramics and jewellery that reflected that taste. A more direct precursor was a three month visit to Canada and the US in the second half of 1999, where we made it a priority to see as much art and architecture as possible. And one of the friends we stayed with had original art on her walls. If she could do it, why not us?


On our return, in the first part of 2000, we made a conscious decision that buying art was something we wanted to do and began visiting the few local galleries in Canberra. We were introduced to Ben Grady Gallery at the time he was showing an exhibition of the New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based painter Craig Easton. Buying
Loaded was a bold statement of intent for a first purchase, but one we’d been building to for some time. The painting is large, 12 feet long, and uncompromisingly abstract, comprising two 6 foot panels with two monochrome elements in each panel. We became regular visitors to Ben’s gallery. As well as bringing in artists from interstate, he also showed the work of local Canberra artists such as Marie Hagerty and Andrew Powell. Before Ben closed his gallery in 2002, we bought nine of our first 14 works from him, covering a range of styles, from Easton’s hard-edge abstraction, through the more organic abstractions of Hagerty and Matthew Johnson, to the fragmented and recombined landscapes of Powell and the eerie realism of Tony Lloyd. Seven of those nine works are included in timeFRAME.


With so few galleries in Canberra, we realised fairly early that we needed to see more art in Melbourne and Sydney. An early landmark was a first visit to Anna Schwartz Gallery in 2001. We were there to meet the contemporary jeweller Susan Cohn, and the visit fortuitously coincided with an exhibition of black and white paintings by Stephen Bram, based on his collaboration with the architect James Brearley, several years previously, in the design of a residence at 6 Penny Lane, South Yarra. We had never heard of Stephen Bram but as soon as we walked in, we knew that this was for us. And even though the show had been up for three weeks and various works had sold, the one that we responded to most strongly hadn’t. It is perhaps a necessary part of collecting to be confident (arrogant?) enough to consider one’s own judgement of a work definitive, irrespective of the views of others. We had little hesitation in buying the painting we considered to be the strongest work in the exhibition. It was the third work in our collection and the commencement of an ongoing admiration for Stephen’s practice.


During this first couple of years, we ingested a large amount of information on Australian art, through conversations with gallerists and artists, visits to exhibitions and reading art books and magazines. Such research led us inevitably to John Nixon. I clearly recall being struck by a picture in
Art & Australia of the installation featuring a massive orange monochrome that had won John the Clemenger Contemporary Art Award in 1999, and then feeling intense annoyance at reading David Larwill’s derisive comments on John in another article in the same issue.


It was a while after that that we heard that John was having an exhibition at Sarah Cottier Gallery, which we went up for and faced the challenge of selecting one work from the many, many on show. The one we picked,
Orange Monochrome Construction (with 5 colours), demonstrates John’s incredible command of materials, proportion and colour. Consider, for example, the positioning of a piece of pink dowel against a yellow panel, and the way the topmost piece of wood stops short of the right hand edge, allowing the orange in the upper section to escape and release tension in the work (there is a similar stratagem and effect in Easton’s Loaded). If any one element of this construction was positioned slightly differently, it wouldn’t work. This was the first work of John’s of the 25 that we now have in our collection (there are three others included in timeFRAME; there are no Larwills). Our friendship with John, along with other friendships we have developed with artists whose work we collect, is one of the joys made possible by our engagement with art.


Collecting now


By 2014, the date at which the second selection of works for timeFRAME commences, we were experienced collectors, buying on average around 15 works a year and actively pursuing an interest in collecting artist books. Due to the time demands of Susan’s retail business, one direction our collecting journey could not go was overseas, excluding us from the various international exhibitions and art fairs. However, abstraction maintains its own international networks of artists and galleries and, through these, we had the opportunity to buy in Australia, in the mid period of our collecting, works by Christoph Dahlhausen, Andreas Exner, Tilman, Jan Maarten Voskuil, Jan van der Ploeg, Guido Winkler and Hans Riedl.


Our love of collecting is directly related to our love of knowledge, and this is at the heart of keeping our collection dynamic and evolving. As the collection grows, each new work brings with it new connections and influences to investigate, which in turn exposes new areas to explore. Seeing lots of exhibitions is also fuel for this process, and is an important antidote to insularity and complacency. Looking at other private collections can also be instructive. I recall our seeing Peter Fay’s collection when it was shown at the NGA in 2004 and, while not liking all of the works, being impressed at how such a variety of high and low art could co-exist within a collection that remained powerful and coherent. Drawing on that example, we began to allow that work that was not initially pleasing to our eye might nevertheless be worthy of deeper consideration, especially if we found ourselves unable to dismiss it from our minds. Indeed, a suspicion of the immediately likeable has become more of a consideration in our collecting, especially when choosing between works.


Another significant influence was our growing interest, from about 2009, in collecting vintage concrete poetry and artist books. By association, this led us to researching and collecting works by the first generation of US and European conceptual artists between 1967 and 1975. Although conceptual art splintered into a variety of practices from around that latter date, and became unfashionable with the rise of neo-expressionist painting and post-modernism in the 1980’s, many of the art practices we see today had their origin in that period of conceptual art. To us, the ideas and wit in those early works seemed as fresh and engaging as when they first appeared.


As a result of this interest, we began to look more at art that demonstrated similar qualities, in terms of the quality of the idea and the rightness of its handing and expression in a particular work. Works by artists such as Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley, Gail Hastings, Robert Rooney and Peter Tyndall have entered the collection in recent times. This tendency has also emerged in our acquisition of objects, such as those in timeFRAME by Tom Buckland, Jacqueline Bradley and Mitchel Cumming. As for John Loane’s work
And he rode … , that might at first sight look out of place in our collection, and is as close to abstract expressionism as we have gone, but one of its attractions is the intriguing notion of the disciplined and skilled master print maker overwriting the product of those skills – an etching – and subverting it with the free and unrestrained application of etching ink.


At this point in 2017, we are collecting in five main areas:

 

  • works by the artists who we follow closely and collect in depth, e.g. Nixon, Andrews, Hagerty and Peter Vandermark;
  • filling in gaps and expanding the range of the collection with artists who work in genres we like but have not so far bought (e.g. works by Trevor Vickers, Andrew Christofides and Masato Takasaka were all first works by those artists in the collection), and with historical works, such as Rollin Schlicht’s 1966 screenprints;
  • identifying young emerging artists, such as Buckland, Anja Loughhead and Patrick Larmour, whose work engages us;
  • artist books and artefacts of early conceptual art, particularly in support of Spare Room 33 exhibitions; and
  • contemporary jewellery – a collection motivated by many of the same ideas and tastes as our art collection.

 

A short word on video art: I have to be frank and admit that, for the longest time, contemporary video art left us cold. We found many works in that genre to be either superficial in their decorativeness or spurious in their alleged profundity, particularly those works that seem to automatically associate filming in slow motion with the sublime. We contrasted these with the spikiness of earlier video art, particularly that which emerged from conceptualism and essentially documented performances, e.g. Mike Parr, Martha Rosler, Ant Farm, Bas Jan Ader. However, things seem to be looking up and we have seen a number of recent works that eschew decoration and use video and sound to activate a strong idea persuasively. Anja Loughhead’s video work Exercises in Repatriation interrogates, with no interceding artifice, the abiding characteristic of Australia as a nation of immigrants. The work caricatures Loughhead’s unsuccessful attempts to make connections with the cultural icons of her Finnish heritage. Sharply resonant, honest, humorous and short, it’s what we’re looking for in a work of video art.

 

Spare Room 33

 

As noted in the Introduction, we established Spare Room 33 in 2013 as a space dedicated to showing art that isn’t seen on our walls and would normally be hidden away in storage boxes and map drawers. The twelve exhibitions to date have included themed shows – on artist books, conceptual art catalogues, contemporary jewellery and conceptual photography – and exhibitions of the work of specific artists, including Ian Hamilton Finlay, James Lee Byars, Peter Tyndall, Lawrence Weiner, Peter Downsbrough and Simon Cutts and Stuart Mills.

 

For timeFRAME, we have chosen to reprise the very first Spare Room 33 exhibition, comprising 20 exhibition posters from the Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst in Bremerhaven, produced between 1972 and 1988. One of the reasons for this choice is that it shows how interesting and engaging exhibition posters can be as collectible artworks in their own right, particularly when the exhibiting artist is involved in their design. Indeed, several of these posters have been included within the catalogue raisonné of the particular artist, Lawrence Weiner and Bas Jan Ader to name two, and others have original photos of the artist’s work tipped in. These posters were screenprinted on the Kabinett premises in editions of around 50 and are quite scarce.

 

Another reason to reprise this particular show is simply the status of the artists represented – it really is the cream of the European 1970’s avant garde and every artist is worthy of further study. Lest this be thought of as somewhat irrelevant to Australia, many of the artists in the Kabinett posters showed in and visited Australia, e.g. in Sydney Biennales, and a number of important Australian contemporary artists showed and worked in Europe in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The story is more intertwined than a nationalist or isolationist reading of Australian art history usually allows.

 

Final words

 

We hope that a close look at the works in timeFRAME, assisted by the contextual information provided in this essay and the notes on the individual works, will fulfil our aim of exposing to visitors to JAHM some of the workings beneath our particular collecting journey, and help demystify the process of building a collection. Collecting art is not as intimidating as those outside the process often think. It requires only the willingness to look at artworks and reflect upon them; to make an initially instinctive connection with an artist or an artwork, and investigate that feeling through (simple) research, discussion and debate; and finally, to make that connection permanent by buying the work.

 

We want more people to appreciate art and to express that appreciation by buying it, because Australia as a country needs more people to buy art – not commercial prints, not decoration, not knock offs, but genuinely original art that an artist has put their mind and their soul into and has been brave enough to put before the public. Having experienced purchasing a first work, it would be something of a shame not to use that experience as a stepping stone to the next work. We can attest that, from that point on, the rewards are rich and numerous.

 

Acknowledgements

 

Susan and I would like to thank Charles and Leah Justin for their vision and fellowship and their generosity in inviting us to show our collection at JAHM. Thanks and gratitude also to Sue Cramer for opening the exhibition. We thank all the artists whose work is represented, and also the many artists who we are privileged to have in our collection but who have not been included by dint of falling outside our date range criteria – we’ll make it up to you! Last but not least, because it is the toughest retail job on earth, we would like to thank the many gallerists who have helped us build the collection over the years through their generous advice and expertise, particularly Ben Grady, David Sequeira, Anna Schwartz, David Pestorius, Sarah Cottier, Charles Nodrum, Geoff Newton, Sabrina Baker, Julian Goddard and Hamish McKay.

 

Peter Jones

‘EARLY’ SELECTION OF WORKS, 2000-2003

Loaded, 1999, Craig Easton. Image courtesy of the artist and The Nancy Sever Gallery.

The first work in our collection. The scale of the painting, the simplicity of the four fields within the work and their different treatments (matt and gloss) marked this out as the strongest work in Craig’s second exhibition at Ben Grady Gallery in 2000. The title Loaded alludes to a strip of film (note the two white sprocket notches), which is activated by the viewer’s changing perspective as they move from one end of the painting to the other. The painting took up the whole of one wall in the living room of our house at the time.

Drive, 2001, Craig Easton. Image courtesy of the artist and The Nancy Sever Gallery.

We bought Drive from Craig’s third show with Ben Grady. This was an early example of Craig applying and then removing thin strips of tape from a painting, in this case a grey monochrome, to leave white indented lines in it. It reminded us of a map of US state borders being crossed by interstate highways and the title may allude to something similar (unless it’s borrowed from a song title, the source of a number of Craig’s painting titles).

Truck Stop, 2001, Andrew Powell. Image courtesy of the artist.

Andrew Powell is a Canberra artist who paints local landscapes in close to a naive style, but has a sophisticated eye in the way he cuts up his paintings and reshuffles the various pieces to create new combinations and dynamics. In this work, this method has enabled him to capture the bustle and the lights of a busy Hume Highway truck stop at night. We thought it was Marulan; turned out it was based on Yass.

Painting (3 point perspective), 2001, Stephen Bram. Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

Oh serendipity! Our first visit to Anna Schwartz Gallery, more spontaneous than planned, coincided with an exhibition of paintings by Stephen Bram, some of which followed the perspective points he had used in an architectural collaboration in 1995-96 on the design of an apartment at 6 Penny Lane, South Yarra. Three perspective points set by Stephen external to the building determined the configuration of all its internal surfaces, and determine the paths of the black stripes in the painting. Stephen continues to make architectural spaces as part of his practice, such as his installation in Melbourne Now at the NGV in 2013.

Suburb, 2003, Andrew Powell. Image courtesy of the artist.

This is a work from a show two years after Truck Stop. Andrew was using the same technique but was cutting his works into smaller pieces. The rearrangement here perfectly captures a Canberra suburb in summer (and very specifically for Susan, the Hughes Primary School), with glimpses of the Brindabella mountains peeking out above houses, trees and playing fields, with a palette of tan, olive, grey and white.

Swerve, 2001, Tony Lloyd. Image courtesy of the artist.

Tony Lloyd is generally classified as a realist painter, one of the top five in Australia according to Andrew Frost in the latest Art Collector magazine. The attraction to us of his work at this time was not only the precision of the painting, but his selection of particular scenes and their cinematic treatment: lonely roads at night, subways, eerie mountain landscapes. Swerve catches a moment of tension between something that has happened and something that is about to happen, a driver losing control of his vehicle, witnessed only by the deep blue of the night sky through the treetops. VERY Twin Peaks!

Receding Light VI, 2002, Matthew Johnson. Image courtesy of the artist and Hill Smith Gallery.

Our enthusiasm for this work has waxed and waned over the years. Peter was primarily attracted to it by its small scale and the way the mauve and pale yellow dots of colour stand out. But it can be seen as a soft edge landscape/seascape in the misty modern tradition. Without denying its ability to evoke a pleasant retinal response, it probably wouldn’t be challenging enough for us to buy now.

Digimodel 1 (Multi State), 2002, Justin Andrews. Image courtesy of the artist and NKN Gallery.

Justin Andrews is an artist we have followed since he was at art school. Indeed, he still was at art school when we visited his studio and bought this painting. He is resolutely non-objective, experimental and process-oriented in his practice. At this time, his method was to digitally establish a geometric shape, such as the open box in this work, and then apply a formula to it which morphed it through a sequence of states. The more visually interesting of these states then became models for paintings. Digimodel looks to be early in a particular sequence, with the two overlapping geometric bodies just beginning their dance through space and time.

Orange Monochrome Construction (with 5 Colours), 2001, John Nixon. Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Galley.

This work is mentioned specifically in the catalogue essay. As our first John Nixon work, it holds an important place in the collection. By 2001, the orange colour that he had been concentrating on in his painting since the mid-nineties was still prominent, but he was exploring a range of other colours as well. Thus, the work’s title keeps the commitment to the orange monochrome, but the reality is that the five other colours occupy most of the real estate and also give the work its constructed nature. They have the bright cheeriness and optimism typical of John’s work this century.

Self-portrait (non-objective composition), 1987, John Nixon. Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

One of the first cases where we liked an artist so much that we wanted to collect them in depth, and this meant seeking out their earlier works. We were actually looking at a range of John’s small ‘block’ paintings at Anna Schwartz Gallery, but couldn’t settle on anything, so asked if there was anything else historical we could see. Out came this work and it immediately ticked all the boxes for us. It’s so tough, with the black and brown colours completely anti-decorative. The painting is on a found piece of packing case and in certain light, you can still see the letters of the word FRAGILE stamped into its surface. And finally, the cross is a key suprematist motif in John’s work. It remains one of our favourite works in the collection.

Focus II, 2002, Marie Hagerty. Image courtesy of the artist. Represented by Olsen Gallery & Annexe.

Marie has been one of the best and most consistent artists in Canberra for over two decades now. This work is from the final exhibition held at Ben Grady’s gallery and shows Marie’s beautiful handling of blacks, greys and whites and the subtle shadow effects that make her shapes swell and bulge. The smears of green help define the edges of the central organic shape. Most notably, the intrusion of the white border from the background into the foreground at the top of the work, and the abruptness of its cut-off, add a certain tension and discomfort that keeps the work full of interest and life.

Untitled, 2003, ADS Donaldson. Image courtesy of the artist and Neon Parc.

ADS Donaldson combines a rigorous non-objective painting practice with an academic commitment to identifying the hidden international dimensions of Australian art history, and to rescuing historical Australian practitioners of abstract art (e.g. Mary Webb, J W Power, Gerald Ryan) from the obscurity they’ve been consigned to by the dominant figurative narrative in that history. This work was from a show at Sarah Cottier Gallery and it was the sheer in-your-face exuberance of the large red orb spray painted against a pink ground that drew us to it.

The Painting and Its Double (Despair, Blue + Pink combo #29), 2003, Jurek Wybraniec. Image courtesy of the artist.

Jurek Wybraniec is a West Australian artist whose work we became aware of through Julian Goddard at the then Goddard de Fiddes gallery in Perth. In 2003, Julian brought a show of three of his gallery artists to Danks Street in Sydney, including Jurek. Jurek had been focusing on yellow, pink and blue colours for several years, not only creating paintings pairing them but also finding these colours in artificial materials and in the urban environment, and creating artworks from these encounters. This two panel work is one of a series of similar works that are masterpieces of Australian minimalist painting. And, coincidentally, this particular blue and pink are colours we often see in Canberra skies just before sunset, and which we now a call a ‘Jurek sunset’.

Study for a Forensic Landscape, 2000, Marzena Wasikowska. Image courtesy of the artist.

While we were in the US in 1999, we saw some great art photography in galleries and museums and afterwards were open to photography becoming part of our collection. We had seen one interesting exhibition of Marzena’s photography, where she was documenting the social milieu of her teenage daughter and her friends. This triptych photo was part of a subsequent show at a local ARI in Canberra and we were drawn to it by the stillness of the central figure of the sleeping blonde girl in her purple top within a wild and windswept hillside landscape. We still find it a very atmospheric photo work.

Love Will Tear Us Apart, 2002, Simeon Nelson. Image courtesy of the artist.

We were hugely attracted to Simeon Nelson’s late 1990’s wall reliefs, constructed using small modular elements, which he’d previously shown at Sherman Galleries in Sydney, but we only knew them through catalogue images as the best ones had sold. Aware that Sherman was holding another show of Simeon’s work, we drove up eagerly to see it, only to find that his new body of work consisted of digital lightjet prints. What to do? We decided that we liked the works enough to buy one anyway and chose this one because of the interesting juxtaposition of the organic and the mechanical. But it’s something of a cul-de-sac in our collection (and possibly in his practice) and we never did get to acquire one of his wall reliefs.

School Band Leader, 2003, Selina Ou. Image courtesy of the artist and Sophie Gannon Gallery.

Melbourne photographer Selina Ou made her reputation with a series of photos of the details of specific workspaces and of people captured within their workspaces. As with Simeon Nelson, we missed out on these earlier works but were keen to see what she did next. Her next couple of exhibitions at Grantpirrie showed photographs taken during trips to South East Asia and Japan. It was a tough decision to pick this particular photograph, of a school band leader at a school festival in China, over several others. What we liked was that it wasn’t a face-on portrait, and as such, the focus was on the various formal elements in the photo, such as the blue of the sky contrasted with the white of the uniform and of the pavilion awnings; and against these the coloured banner trailing from the multicoloured ball and the red sash the band leader is wearing. And note the human-scale detail of the safety pin fixing the sash to the jacket.

‘RECENT’ SELECTION 2014-2017

Plane Girl 3, 2014, Marie Hagerty. Image courtesy the artist and Olsen Gallery & Annexe. .

For years, Marie Hagerty kept her skills as a collagist largely behind her studio doors, using collage to experiment with forms and combinations that flowed through to her painting practice. Gradually, however, these works became known and admired and now take their place regularly in her exhibitions. They sit firmly in a futurist and constructivist tradition; the Plane Girls series nods to Bruno Munari’s 1930’s aeroplane woman. As well as the power and beauty of the collaged elements, in this work Marie wraps her three figures in concentric and connective skeins of hand-drawn pencil.

Ritual Habitual, 2015, Marie Hagerty. Image courtesy of the artist and Olsen Gallery & Annexe.

Another Hagerty collage, with doubled red and black suprematist crosses; the red crosses and head scarves replacing the faces of the two female figures. The arm extending from the figure at left, with the hand supporting it, is never the first thing we notice but always surprises: it is both disproportional and completely proportional in the context of the work. This is collage work of the highest order.

Paint It Black, 2016, Marie Hagerty. Image courtesy the artist and Olsen Gallery & Annexe.

There are commonalities between elements of this painting by Marie from last year and the earlier Focus II work, showing the continuity in her practice. In recent years, Marie has been using vibrant single colours – purples and reds – in partnership with her traditional black, white and grey palette. In this painting it’s just the grey scale colours, but it needs no more. A dense and bulbous black form, shadowed in grey, drips from the black oblong above and is delicately lassoed in a loop of white line. The hand of the painter is obvious throughout.

Untitled, 2014, John Nixon. Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

We have three Nixon constructions in our collection, all made of different elements stacked onto a flat base. The first two are from the early and mid-nineties and stack raw and painted pieces of wood, a section of desktop, a hammer etc to achieve powerful and harmonious works. This construction, from 2015, is mounted on white painted canvas. While it also uses rough-hewn and raw lengths of wood, the corner section of the picture frame and the pink circle in the middle give it a certain additional lightness and delicacy in comparison with the earlier constructions. As always, John’s eye for the balance and harmony of disparate elements is masterly.

Yellow Cross 3, 1966, Rollin Schlicht. Image courtesy of the artist and Charles Nodrum Gallery.

Architect and artist Rollin Schlicht was one of the founders of the Central Street Gallery in Sydney, which operated from 1966 to 1970 and was the first dedicated showcase for local practitioners of hard-edge and colour field abstraction in Australia. Schlicht was also represented in the landmark exhibition, The Field, at the NGV in 1968. We saw both these screenprints by Schlicht in an eye-opening retrospective of Central Street artists at the Penrith Regional Gallery in 2002-03. While the major paintings of these artists are now locked up in art museums or are prohibitively expensive, their works on paper remain affordable and are as redolent of this particular time and place in the history of Australian abstraction. We just had to wait until 2015 to find an available example!

Sequence (state 15), 2003, Justin Andrews. Image courtesy of the artist and NKN Gallery.

Another of Justin’s early digital sequence paintings, shown at Westspace shortly after he moved to Melbourne after graduating from the ANU School of Art. We like the vibrating energy in this work, the blockiness that is beginning to disintegrate into shards, and the colour contrast between the upper and lower sections.

Untitled (with Ruler), 2014, John Nixon. Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

One of two works we bought from John’s EPW: Various Paintings exhibition at Anna Schwartz Gallery in 2015. Many of John’s works have found objects affixed to them, which usually spring from, and are emblematic of, the working lives of the labouring population. These works of John’s tend to be quite humble. In this case, a sectioned ruler, a traditional tool of the craftsperson’s trade, zigzags across the small yellow monochrome and can be read as the letter E, M or W, depending on which way you look at the work.

Corner, 1966, Rollin Schlicht. Image courtesy of the artist and Charles Nodrum Gallery.

Even before seeing this screenprint in the Central Street Live exhibition, Peter had clocked it on the NGA Prints and Printmaking website, and had admired it for the subtlety and logic of its geometric design and its ‘out there’ colour combination of lilac and gold. Fifty years on, this work speaks evocatively and elegantly of the art of its decade.

Untitled, 2003, Trevor Vickers. Image courtesy of the artist.

Trevor Vickers is a West Australian artist who embraced minimal and modular painting in the mid-1960’s, was exhibited in The Field in 1968, and is still active today. One of his favourite forms, which he has been painting since the 1970’s, is a pair of vertical rectangles placed side-by-side on the canvas and divided by a central line. Like all the best minimal art, the painting rewards close and extended looking. We find this a very serene work.

Position Point (Waiting Room) #46, 2014, Kyle Jenkins. Image courtesy the artist and NKN Gallery.

This work is an early example of a style of painting that Toowoomba-based artist Kyle Jenkins is still currently exploring, overlaying photographic images of punk and hard core bands playing live shows with brilliant shards of colour. In this work, the combination of the sideways photo of the singer writhing on stage and the colours stabbing into that image produces a sense of instability and tension that we immediately responded to.

And he rode on a stolen horse, 2014, John Loane. Image courtesy of the artist.

Master print maker John Loane has collaborated over many years with several of Australia’s foremost contemporary artists, particularly Mike Parr and Imants Tillers. His imprint, Viridian Press, has published a number of significant print portfolios, including the Bicentennial Print Portfolio in 1988. This is from a series of works in which John overwrote his own etchings with the free application of his trade’s medium – etching ink. The results were spectacular abstract expressionist works, tied both to his past and to his practice through the ghosts of the works lying underneath.

Hold Fast Stay True, 2015, Justin Andrews. Image courtesy of the artist and by NKN Gallery.

Justin Andrews is forever experimenting with different processes to generate non-objective compositions. In the period between his early works and his current practice, he used shuffle boxes for a time to introduce randomness into the composition process, then adapted complex photocopying techniques to produce transfer effects. Current works continue his interest in overlapping stripes to interrogate backgrounds and foregrounds and to produce dynamic conjunctions of colour and form. We liked this work because of its dominant yellows and the two silver stripes forming a cross. And the title signifies the kind of dedication required for any artist making non-objective work in Australia.

Untitled #8 (garage days revisited 1994), 2016, Masato Takasaka. Image courtesy of the artist.

We have always liked Masato’s assemblages of found materials, including supermarket packaging, his obsession with 70’s and 80’s guitar/hair bands and his contributions as a founder member of the Inverted Topology collective. However, we had never seen a solo show until his Garage Days Revisited exhibition at Sutton Gallery in 2016. This painting is one of a suite of 15 that revisit experiments he made with hard-edge painting in his last year of high school, twenty years previously. The 15 paintings are all subtle variations on the same quasi-vorticist design, and it took hours of discussion and analysis before we selected this one from the group. We love its flamboyance! Who’s afraid of green, red, black, brown, tan, blue, orange, yellow, lilac, aqua, turquoise …?

Lull, 2015, Zoe Croggon. Image courtesy of the artist and Daine Singer.

Zoe’s own words perfectly explain what she’s attempting with this work, which ‘poises the human form and its built environment as precise equals – the body no longer occupying space and space no longer determining the body, but each existing only in relation to the other, completed by the other.’ The work is a collage, but our recognition of that is delayed by the way it retains the photographic quality of its components, as well as the sense of documentary authenticity that photography implies. It’s a very accomplished and clever work.

Bamboo Sanctuary, 2015, Mikhaila Jurkiewicz. Image courtesy of the artist.

This photograph was one of a series shown in Mikhaila’s graduate exhibition from the ANU School of Art in 2015, in which she photographed her friends and art student peers posed together in their respective share houses. The photographs are a non-judgmental record of student life in temporary quarters. The subjects’ expressions are deliberately unemotive, inviting the viewer to fill out the narrative from their own imagination. In this photo, the clasped hands of the girl sitting in the hammock have moved slightly during the exposure, and the resultant blurring adds to the sense of quiet mystery in the work.

Melbourne 1952, 2016, ADS Donaldson. Image courtesy of the artist and Neon Parc.

This painting derives from Donaldson’s ongoing historical research into the relationship between Australian and international art. This research not only encompasses Australian artists working overseas as part of various avant-garde movements, but international artists who worked in Australia. In this case, Donaldson is highlighting the presence of the New Zealand artist Gordon Walters in Melbourne in 1952-53. In contrast to the prevailing hostility to abstract art at that time and Melbourne’s reputation for producing ‘brown’ paintings, this is a brightly coloured imagining of work that Walters might have produced here, subtly incorporating signature elements of his style, e.g. in his ‘koru’ paintings.

Forgetful/Quiet Celebration, 2017, Patrick Larmour. Image courtesy of the artist.

We have been excited by the paintings that the young artist Patrick Larmour has been doing since he returned to Canberra from Melbourne in 2016. In some ways, he is a painter of modern life, with the commonplace objects he selects as the subjects of his paintings indicative, for example, of a society hooked on medication, or utterly dependant on its mobile devices to function. The juxtaposition of these objects in anonymous space, and the precision with which they are depicted, lends his works a slightly surreal air. We have already bought a second painting by Patrick this year and can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

Introverter, 2013, Peter Vandermark. Image courtesy of the artist and Olsen Gallery.

Bricolage: construction (as of a sculpture) achieved by using whatever comes to hand. Bricoleur: one who engages in bricolage. Canberra sculptor Peter Vandermark describes himself as a bricoleur, and has a legendary reputation for acquiring interesting materials from accidental encounters, and subsequently combining and transforming these into witty and elegant sculptures. One area of his practice involves inserting mirrors into various lengths and configurations of painted and shaped ducting. You never know what you’re going to see when you look into one of these pieces. Sometimes it’s your own shoes. In this case, it’s yourself, hence the title Introverter.

Portable Office Simulator, 2014, Tom Buckland. Image courtesy of the artist.

This work is a miniature kinetic diorama by young Canberra artist Tom Buckland, one of the quirky small worlds he creates which he invites viewers to experience through a peephole. Both of us having worked in open plan offices, we love this tiny simulation of an office environment, with its white noise and flickering tension, and can instantly imagine another ridiculous deadline looming. The weathered wooden box containing the work, with its wires and plug-in ports sticking out the back, doesn’t hide its homemade origins, and the speaker is adapted from a coffee grinder. It is perfectly functional, unpretentious and charming.

Untitled, 2007, Elizabeth Newman. Image courtesy of the artist and Neon Parc.

Elizabeth Newman is perhaps best known for her works that manipulate colourful bolts of fabric, but these are just one aspect of her practice, which is of a variety and conceptual complexity that defies pigeonholing. This work is from a show at Ocular Lab in 2007, titled The Unprecedented Dark Light of the New Letters, in which she exhibited black or near-black works as a commentary on the way scientific knowledge, in shedding light on the mysteries of the world and turning everything into a mathematical equation, has also cast humanity’s historical and pre-scientific relationships with the world into the dark. Separated from that context, the work still has conceptual power, the sides of the frame bent out of pure geometric line by the forces of time and weather. And the insertion of blocks at each corner creates an elongated cruciform within the inner space of the work. It’s a gnarly object that we likely would not have appreciated earlier in our collecting journey.

Westerly, Jacqueline Bradley, 2013 Image courtesy the artist

Jacqueline Bradley is a Canberra artist who has a particular eye for the ways that humanity interacts with, and leaves its marks on, the landscape. She highlights those contact points in sculptures that combine recovered elements from the landscape with pieces of fabric, clothing, shoes and accessories, often hand-sewn, pioneer style. Westerly conjures for us a scene of a hat being blown off someone’s head by the prevailing wind and bowling along the ground away from them. Typifying her commitment to her art and to the handmade, Jac took a jewellery-making course specifically to learn the skills required to make the little brass arrows and attach them to the wire ‘isobars’ piercing the hat.

Untitled Construction 1A, 1983, Andrew Christofides. Image courtesy of the artist.

In his catalogue introduction to the 2016 exhibition Visions of Utopia, which he curated, Andrew Christofides writes a wonderfully concise definition of the art we love: ‘The essential idea driving the non-objective is that the logic and solution of a work of art lies within the work itself and is not be found in the received appearances of the external world.’ This relief construction from 1983 reminds us of the work of Joost Baljeu and Charles Biederman, and is a starkly beautiful example of the spatial and architectural qualities of Andrew’s practice.

Rose On Loan, 2015, Mitchel Cumming. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo: James Morgan

Young Sydney artist Mitch Cumming is fond of witty word play. In this work, he has borrowed the recognisable banner form and lettering style of another skilled word player and favourite artist of ours, Rose Nolan, and announces this borrowing explicitly in the work, with its almost anagram of her surname. It’s a most amusing and successful homage to her.

Exercises in Repatriation, 2016, Anja Loughhead. Image courtesy of the artist.

This video work arises out of a visit Anja made to Finland, which is the country of her heritage. Travelling around, staying with relatives, she regularly encountered the typical symbols of Finnish culture, such as Moomin mugs, Ittala homewares, Finlandia vodka. The video restages her encounters with these cultural symbols and others, such as Sibelius’ orchestral suite Finlandia, and her attempts to make a connection through them to her heritage. She fails in these attempts, often hilariously, finding that the gap between her personal identity and the Finnish identity bequeathed by her forebears cannot be bridged by latching on to symbolic objects external to her lived experience.

detail A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/ somone looks at something ... LOGOS/HA HA (Family Man regards a Section of the Wall), 1992-93, Peter Tyndall. Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

Central to Peter Tyndall’s practice since 1974 has been the ideogram of a square frame suspended from two wires, symbolising both an individual supported artwork and dependence in general. Join those two connection lines to those of another such ideogram, and another, and we soon have the matrix of ‘everything connected’, which is the pattern in the background of this work. Furthermore, a painting is only a painting if it is observed by someone as such. The importance of observation in defining things is often personified in Peter’s work by the motif of a WASP family group gazing together at something, an image appropriated from a 1950’s advertisement. In this work, made during and immediately after a residency in Berlin, the ‘family man’ from that group observes an isolated section of wall. Usually a wall serves a boundary function, but it can also block, obscure and interrupt. It is significant that the wall in this picture has been covered and permeated by the diagonal matrix and the connections it represents. In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this is an optimistic work from an optimistic time.

SPARE ROOM 33 REPRISED: SELECTED EXHIBITION POSTERS FROM THE KABINETT FUR AKTUELLE KUNST, BREMERHAVEN, 1972-1988