Encounter with the abstract

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Curator Mark Bayly with works by Marie Hagerty.
YOU don’t expect artists to know precisely what nano-technology and or dark matter is but, as Canberra Museum and Gallery curator Mark Bayly sees it, they intuitively sense the enormity of such concepts.

Bayly, who arrived at CMAG after nine years as head of exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia, has been busy curating the new “Word of Mouth: encounters with abstract art” and plainly enjoys spreading his curatorial wings.

He’s been looking at a group of 19 artists, connected with the ANU School of Art, who use abstraction in their work, even if not exclusively.

Does he mean wild expressionist encounters with paint that leave ordinary punters complaining that their “kids could do better than that”?

No way, Bayly tells me, that is precisely what he’s trying to avoid, partly by extending the selection beyond just painting into glass, small sculptures and mixed media prints.

Take Ruth Waller, faculty member of the School of Art whose love of European Renaissance art is well known. A quick look at her complex structures in “Op phase (Visitation)” reveals a disciplined approach and the painting is, in fact, based on a 15th century Russian fresco.

Or Jonathan Webster, whose delicately coloured, felt-pen work “Swirl” shows discipline and refinement.

Many of the other selected works, he says, show “crystalline brilliance”, and all are carefully crafted. The art Bayly has selected “is in touch with the world around us, the built environment and the psychological world”. Richard Blackwell’s “East Village” is based in architecture and the smoked glass towers of contemporary urban renewal.

Greg Hodge’s “Magazine mystics” will be 60 sheets mounted on walls to make a five-metre wide grid and his subject matter ranges from hallucinogenic aspects of rave culture to Islamic architecture.

Artists these days don’t operate in a vacuum. Behind the scenes at the CMAG I discover print artist Emma Beer, once of the exhibiting artists, busily framing the works of another.

Bayly is sure this is not going to be a show for the cognoscenti. On the contrary, with its look at technology, architecture and the world around us, it will appeal to a broad audience base.

“Word of Mouth: encounters with abstract art”, Canberra Museum and Gallery, Civic, June 23-August 19.

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Helen Musa
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