Done with a difference

Murrurundi Historical Society had a 2017 Christmas treat in one of the most enlightening art exhibitions seen in the village.

Local artist Jelle van den Berg was joined by NSW South Coast artists Richard Hook and Leonie Watson in an exhibition titled Figures of Difference.

This exhibition will presented paintings by three Illawarra artists who make use of the human figure.

Its rationale is two-fold: to contrast some dramatically different approaches to working with the body in painting and to show how these varied representations also embody very different approaches to the medium and its history.

Somersault — a relief print (2017) $240 (unframed)


“They exemplify the ways in which the ‘speaking body’ (Sartre) can express psychological states and also embody theoretical ideas of painting's relation to itself and the world,” according to Richard Hook.

“These paintings shift our attention to the ambiguous figure-ground relations of modern painting and abstraction,” he explained.

Study # 1, acrylic on paper (2017) NFS

“The body is celebrated for its inherent mobility and its potential to generate new structures for paintings.

“Sartre speaks of the body as our 'anchorage in the world', which is presented here in ways that are personal, individual and also formal, along different aesthetic lines: a long way from, but not unaware of, the unified, idealised classical body of traditional art.

Study # 2, acrylic on paper (2017) NFS

“However, the figures are not merely arbitrary compositional devices. Each body takes up a position that is always part of some action, moving or still.”

Despite their differences, the artists share a common visual language.


Study # 3, acrylic on paper (2017) NFS

They present the body as a vehicle for metaphor, for narrative performances and for formal-expressive explorations, each artist using these modes with varying degrees of emphasis.

Study # 4, acrylic on paper (2017) NFS

Jelle vanden Berg reports his series of works are predominantly about performance.

The small scale paintings in oils are an extension on the drawings in gouache about some of the original 'actions'.

“They are directly related to some form of action or a performance piece. As a product of the 1970's we as students/artist were under strict instructions not to document our performances and I stick to that dogma to this day,” Jelle said.

Industrial Relations, oil on canvas POA

“However my memory plays tricks on me and sometimes these events bubble back up to the surface.

“I have completed rather an extensive body of work centred on the imaginary re-enactment of some of the performances I did in the early 1980s.

Nature Morte, oil on canvas POA

“My history in Sydney is littered with performances and you (or I ) will have to go to considerable lengths and effort to find an image about these 'actions' ( thankfully ).

“Now I find myself in another phase altogether and I enjoy the part where memory profoundly affects the outcome of the paintings related to earlier events.”

Joop Buis, oil on canvas POA

Jella points out Joop Buis was a performer in the early 1980s, an apprentice to Herman Lamers.

“They were a collective of eight artists in Groningen.

Here Jella learned about site-specific installation art wehich quickly turned his attention to understated sound-based performance art.

Double Dutch, oil on canvas POA

Meanwhile, Leonie Watson's work investigates the relationship between the figure in painting and aspects of the self not able to be communicated via the classical human form.

Her paintings reveal strange, solitary figures suspended in dark spaces. The figures are neither clearly object nor body; they merge animate and inanimate forms that hint at enigmatic psychological content.

Mother Sireil, oil on linen POA

Her work draws on the traditions of still life and drapery painting.

In certain configurations, draperies come to stand in for the body by visual analogy: the skin's surface is evoked by creases, folds, bulges and invaginations that suggest the body's hidden topographies.

Ms Watson employs drapery as a sculptural object in order to develop a language of unexpected forms for articulating aspects of everyday existence normally hidden from view.

Mother Sireil, oil on linen POA

The paintings appropriate Baroque style in their extreme chiaroscuro and their theatricality, but they also recall the inversions of Surrealism and thus acknowledge the continuing relevance of these historical models to contemporary art practice.

Dream of Juan, oil on canvas POA

Figures of Difference is an important step in the evolution of art in Murrurundi according to Muswellbrook gallery boss, Brad Franks.

Opening the latest exhibition by Murrurundi & District Historical Society Inc., he said the small community was fast developing into an art clique in the Upper Hunter.

Around 40 people turned out for the opening 10/1/2018 and witnessed not only a complete change in art directions but also a revamped exhibition church hall now labelled by the museum as "Gods waiting room."

Still Life, oil on canvas POA

The paintings were on display until March 3, 2018 in the Church Hall "God's waiting Room" on the New England Highway in the centre of Murrurundi.


World War 1

Landscape Memories

Figures of Difference