Tag Archives: Steven Vella

Masculinities at Penrith

We drove out to Emu Plains yesterday to visit the Penrith Regional Gallery – the Art Student had had a lecture on Gerald Lewers and Margo Lewers, the sculptor and painter whose bequest formed the basis of the gallery, and as our friend Steven Vella was part of a show there, we decided to make the trek (all of 53 minutes, it turned out).

Curiouser & Curiouser, which includes work by James Blackwell and Peter Williamson as well as Steven Vella, is on display in the gallery that was the Lewers’ home. These three artists may not constitute a movement, but their work sits beautifully together. They all take objects from the natural world – feathers, seeds, leaves, twigs, bird bones, inflorescences – and make art from them. Peter Williamson has raised basket weaving to a high art. James Blackwell’s delicate, fragile lattices seem completely artificial until you look closely. And Steven Vella’s headdresses and bowls suggest ritual uses, and even though some have a funereal edge, they’re extraordinarily exuberant. The catalogue describes the work collectively as ‘detailed organic assemblages of remarkable beauty’.

That would have been worth the trip. But there was more. A Lego corner for young patrons featured a substantial mural created by students from a nearby public school, a version of a photograph in the main gallery (both pics taken on my phone – but you get some idea):







The fabulous image on the right is William Booth’s photograph of Manu Vatuvei, a New Zealand Rugby League player, dressed as a traditional warrior from his native Tonga. It’s part of Body on the Line, photographs of 13 League players of Pacific Island heritage as cultural warriors. This, and Heads Up in the next room, ten huge close-ups of Penrith Panthers players and fans taken by Craig Walsh and Josh Raymond within minutes of losing a major match, bruised and gutted, gave me a new respect for the qualities of elite sportsmen.

Nowhere does the gallery try to draw a connection between the meticulous, fine-tuned contemplative aesthetic in the old house and the heroic muscularity of the main gallery, but I’d love to see the various makers and their subjects chatting over canapes at a joint opening.

An acquisition

I dropped in at Little Queen Street today to pick up Steven Vella’s small bowl, which we bought a couple of weeks ago.

Here it is nestling in its bed of polystyrene:

Out of the box:

On the wall, though we have yet to find a place where its shadow is as dramatic as in the gallery:

Steven Vella at NG Galleries

It seems decades ago, and it probably is, that my eldest niece was living in Sydney with a number of creative young men. The Art Student and I have just come in from the opening of an exhibition of splendid art created by one of them. Steven Vella’s Garden of Natural Wonders [Do click on the link and scroll along for some of the pieces] is the kind of exhibition that has you looking constantly from the artworks to the catalogue sheet, not to see what the piece is called, though some of the names are revelatory, but to see what materials it’s made from. It’s a gleaner’s equivalent of the treasury of a renaissance church, with bean pods, palm inflorescence, feathers, banksia seed in place of precious stones and metals. The religious dimension of that comparison isn’t too wide of the mark – there’s at least one cross, a couple of stupas, and a wall of ceremonial staffs that remind me of the theatricality of Mediterranean Catholicism. Steven’s North Queensland provenance and his Maltese heritage are both strongly present. But then the room is dominated by ‘Medusa’, which if not for its gorgeous flowing lines could be a homage to the Flying Spaghetti Monster:

But you know, my favourite piece is probably ‘Aunt Bibi’s Salad Bowl’, one of the smaller works, which assembles durian skins and a vintage teak bowl, among other things, to create a weird, spiky, domestic icon. Sadly I can’t find a photo, so if you want to see it you’ll have to go there yourself.

The NG Art Gallery is in Little Queen Street, Chippendale, just around the corner from the White Rabbit Gallery, and the exhibition will be there until 8 May.