Yesterday we had a preview of the new exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of the University of Melbourne. Groundwork: Butcher Cherel, Mick Jawalji, Rammey Ramsey has been curated by Quentin Sprague for the Potter, and he has put together a show that includes an excellent selection of work from each of the three artists, hung with discretion and taste. Sprague began working in the Indigenous art sphere at Jilamara in the Tiwi Islands, and later worked at Jirrawun for twelve months: it was there that the seeds of this exhibition were sown.
Groundwork is spread over two rooms in the Potter. In sheer numbers, I think that the bulk of the work is Cherel’s, whose work is hung in quantity in both galleries, his soft, almost pastel palette modulating the distance between Ramsey’s brilliant primary colors and Jawalji’s muted earth tones. About half the works in the first gallery are Cherel’s and half Ramsey’s where Ramsey’s Miro-like drawing stands in counterpoint to the abstract shapes Cherel organizes into complex patterns. In the second Cherel shares the space primarily with Jawalji, and here the hang cleverly puts a rare pictorial image of spearthrowers and other weapons in a painting by Cherel across from Jawalji’s depiction of fighting boomerangs. As you circulate around the galleries, the consonances and contrasts deepen your appreciation of each man’s individual genius.
Groundwork will be at the Potter from August 3 to October 23. I am certainly glad that we had the chance to take a look in the company of Sprague and Potter curator Joanna Bosse.
Lunch on Lygon Street also offered us a chance to catch up with Henry Skerritt before he takes off for a course of study at the University of Pittsburgh. Henry’s show at the Potter, Experimental Gentleman, has almost run its course: it’s an intriguing look at the ethos of exploration by which the British filled in the remaining blanks on the Antipodean world map in the nineteenth century.
On the ground floor, the Potter is hosting a large retrospective of photographer Ricky Maynard’s work that is stunning. Maynard’s portraits of Wik elders, his Urban Diary series documenting Aboriginal life in St Kilda, his portraits of inmates and recovering addicts, his explorations of Tasmania and its satellite islands, all are represented here. The photographs are supplemented by a screening of the documentary Portraits from a Distant Land on the second floor of the Museum. The film literally gives voice to many of the people recorded in Maynard’s images and brings the sense of community he documents almost into the room with the photographs.
In the evening we had a chance to reconnect with Adrian Hyland, author of Diamond Dove and Gunshot Road, the novels of Central Australia that feature Emily Tempest, Aboriginal hell-raiser, policeman, and unwilling detective. On Monday Adrian’s newest book will be officially published by Penguin Australia. Called Kinglake-350, it is a non-fiction work that documents the heroic actions of a small group of residents of the town of Kinglake, which was at the epicenter of the Black Saturday fires on February 7, 2009. Adrian was kind enough to bring me an advance copy, and although I’ve only had the chance to read the first two chapters, I can tell already that it will be an amazing adventure, a moving celebration of community, a thrilling and devastating read.