It's November and the Russian Hermitage collection is on display in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). Naturally, I made a conscious effort to make an early visit to view the works sans people as big names draw big crowds.
The Vuillards were pretty, the Kandinskys were bold and bright, but the one canvas that viewers were lining up to see was a small green painting by Henri Rousseau. This quiet work features a 20th century communal garden or park setting painted in a naive style. A number of well dressed figures all wearing hats (of course, this is the 20th century after all, no tracksuits here) are undertaking a leisurely garden stroll.
What intrigued me so was all the coveting going on surrounding this little painting. I observed viewers from all walks of life stare at this unassuming little work while excitedly remarking how much they liked it to one another.
I wandered what it was that drew so many people to this particular work? And after scanning the rest of the paintings in the room, the one thing that I noticed that set it apart was its colour; that is, the work is predominantly painted in greens. Forest, sap and even.. (gasp!) ..caterpillar green. (It has been noted that humankind in general seems to find this particular shade of green, in short, vile).
Is it that in a fast paced world of technology and deadlines, people are instinctively drawn to the calming effects of the natural world?
Possibly. If this exhibition had a metaphorical window in which to escape to the natural world, then this small green painting would be it with its greenery signifying life, youth, harmony, hope, balance, gentleness and modesty. Interestingly, green was a sacred colour of the Egyptians representing the hope and joy of Spring, so much so, they painted their floors of their temples green. In Japanese culture, green is associated with eternal life, and it is the sacred colour of Islam, representing respect and the prophet Muhammad. Suicides dropped by 34% when Blackfriars bridge in London was painted green. Love is evergreen and people awaiting to go on stage sit in "Green rooms" to relax.
So did Henri Rousseau have this kind of thinking in mind when he painted this scene and his other numerous green paintings full of jungles and tigers?
Keeping in mind that Rousseau was quoted as once having said: "When I step into the hothouses and see the plants from exotic lands, it seems to me that I am in a dream." So, perhaps so.
The Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre (BACC) is a trendy white-washed concrete slab of a building littered with an abundance of local hipsters; casually loitering around the BACC's revolving entrance door. Unfortunately, for me another Biennale was on show (1). In keeping with my haughty tradition of demonstrating a strong disdain for the contemporary Biennale movement (too much pretentious hype and not enough painting for me personally - or perhaps I was just dragged along to too many when back at art school), instead, scowling disappointingly, I donned my dark glasses and headed off to blend in with the hipsters congregating on the ground floor in their rather organic looking coffee-pot establishment. Ordering a hot cocoa I stood peering out of a large, glass window from inside the chilly, air-conditioned BACC, at a sweltering downtown 32c Bangers at dusk.
The interior of the BACC is the whitest of whites, visually impressive with its numerous floors giving it a unique sense of vertical space. Level One had a delightful little art shop that carried a lot of French and Dutch painting supply stock that you just don't see in Sydney. Located opposite was a little violin shop, a small Thai language bookstore and various Thai local artisans selling handmade items off folding tables. Sorry - no mass produced museum stamped memorabilia until you reach the top floor. (Nice work and very much in line with The BACC's mission statement - which can be found here: en.bacc.or.th/content/32.html)
Next to the violin shop, was one of a number of small gallery spaces with some wonderfully imaginative collographs by local Thai artist Surasit Samrong. The works had some terrific titles such as 'Take Your Mind on Holidays' (yes please!) in which one of the works featured a man lying in a claw foot bath sailing out to sea - Highly recommend! :-)
Sydney-born impressionist John Russell spent 40 years in Europe, where he established friendships with late 19th-century and early 20th centuries masters: Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh. While perfecting his technique in fin-de-siècle Europe, Russell stayed true to an Australian artistic sensibility that was at once colourful and defined by a love for nature (he spent half his European sojourn on a remote French island).
The works in the AGNSW presents the first major exhibition of Russell’s work in 40 years, bringing together 120 paintings, drawings and watercolours from art collections around globally.
Although Russell's more trademark works are those of the French coast painted in strong, deep blues, I preferred his figurative works completed in a warmer palette, such as Mrs Russell among the flowers in the garden of Goulphar, Belle-ile (1907) and Peonies and head of a woman (c1887), so much so, I may have to make a second visit! - and this time with my sketch book and picnic rug to capture those beautiful trees on my way to the gallery.
Exhibition Dates: 21 July - 11 November 2018. Art Gallery of New South Wales. www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/john-russell/