'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The NGV - Ian Potter Centre.

Of course it was a given that we'd both want to visit the city's art gallery while we were in Melbourne.  Although we thought we were going to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), we actually went to only the Australian art part of it - the Ian Potter Centre.  It is located on Federation Square and is covered by the amazing (and, at the time it was built, controversial) 'fractal' faรงade.

The NGV complex, Federation Square, Melbourne.

Going up to the front entrance.  Exciting!

The triangular 'fractal' facade over the Ian Potter Centre.

I can't look at a lot of works in a gallery.  I get too tired and forget what I've seen.  I've rather do a few well, than zoom around fast and look at a lot for a short time.  I think art works reveal themselves slowly and need time.

So I chose to focus on only 5.  This one is the first I thought might stand some investigation.

I looked at this painting for about 20 minutes.

My thought process is below, but please feel free to look at it first and see what you think.
I took a couple of close-up side-ways shots so I'd remember the texture.  It was very shiny!

This seemed at first to be a smiling clown face, with big eyes and grin.

Then I began to suspect it was not that at all, but I couldn't work out what it was, so I just let my eye drift over the patterns and colours.

I was drawn initially to the vibrant colors and 'clockwork' design. I thought I could make out cogs and traffic lights and perhaps that was a motorbike with broken spokes on the ground.  I liked that there were only a few colors and I counted how many.  I realised that for each color in the top half, there was an equivalent 'toned down' one in the bottom half.

 The overall feeling was one of happiness at first.  Then I thought I could see a figure and I thought it looked a little like the playing-card soldiers in the Disney film of Alice in Wonderland.

I loved the clean blocks of shape and color, the strong design element, and the carefully considered composition.
There seemed an engineered, mechanical feel in the limited number of angles, curves and shapes.  Repetition of geometric shapes ties the composition together.  Ambiguity, and variety of tone and color keeps it interesting, and one's eye roving to make sense of it all. There is flattened perspective and almost two-dimensional sheets that have been sliced, drilled or peirced. There are elements of Cubist ambiguous space in the background shadows; holes-that-aren't quite holes, light that behaves wrongly, an encroachment of the background into the foreground and vice-versa.

After 15 minutes I read the blurb ticket about when it was painted and so on, and suddenly I saw the significance - the spots of blood and the meaning of the tonal variation - the top-down over all light: an almost unbearable bleached brightness from the top contrasting with the dark, fallen, crumpled figure below.   

Here's what the accompanying information said:

Leonard French. Born Australia 1928
Death and Transfiguration
1958-59 Melbourne
enamel paint on composition board
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGW Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO, OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004.

Leonard French worked at sign writing to support his studio art. When he received the commission in 1963 to make the stained glass ceiling for the new National Gallery of Victoria designed by Roy Grounds, he became one of the best-known artists in the country.  Death and transfiguration, with its theme from the Gospels, is an early example of his exploration of materials and form.  This painting has two figures - Christ lying with head to the left, then rising, with arms outstretched, through the top of the canvas.


  1. To me it's an interesting and puzzling and even pleasing work and with the explanation I can even see that. As to understanding....that's a different matter.

  2. I didn't get the resurrection significance at first. It felt more to me to be about the passage of time with the clockwork and moon phases, and then death and rebirth.

  3. Oh, my, I truly do not understand modern art at all. Other than an array of colors and geometric shapes and a progression from light at the top to darkness at the bottom, I saw very little. Once the painter explained about Christ rising, with arms outstretched, through the top of the canvas, I could just make it out.

    Before that, I had only three thoughts about the painting: It is pretty. It is interesting. And my most profound thought: It is pretty interesting.

    Is there no hope for me, Katherine?

  4. I wonder why the artist called it Death and Transfiguration? Why not Death and Resurrection?

  5. My initial reactions to this painting were pretty much the same as yours. It's an intriguing canvas but does it matter that I never saw "Christ lying with head to the left, then rising, with arms outstretched, through the top of the canvas"? Though of course - I did see light rising above the greyness and I did see this painting as a positive reflection upon life.

  6. Pretty/pleasing plus interesting/puzzling and worthy of discussion... I think I'd be happy for any of my art to be thus.

  7. I enjoyed Melbourne too during a visit a few years ago. Never went to an art gallery though. I think we see whatever it is we see in art. Sometimes those who 'admire' or criticise art can be snobs - Dave

  8. P.S. re- my comment above, I was not referring to commenters here... Sorry - Dave

  9. Hi Katherine,
    I came no further than the smiling clown face, with big eyes and grin.
    Impressive Glassworks at the entrance though.

  10. No need to apologise Dave. You are correct, I think, in saying that there is a lot of snobbery associated with the art world. And, yes - many people see something different in the same piece of art. That's because we are individuals! Thank goodness.

    Ben - yes, the scale of the glass 'cover' was huge and yet it looked so delicate.


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