Artwrite winners

The 2011 student art writing prize, Artwrite: your say on contemporary art, received 101 entries.

Winners were selected by the editors of Art & Australia magazine and Leeanne Carr, coordinator of secondary education programs at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Section 1: Art labels

Intermediate: years 7-10 (maximum 75 words)

Winner

Katerina Theocharous
St Catherine’s School, year 7

RICKY SWALLOW
Killing time 2003–04
laminated Jelutong, maple

The sculpture is a detailed life-sized representation of the artist’s family table. The omniscient off-white of the artwork reflects how it has been preserved as a moment in time – frozen realistically, but lacking life and unable to be fully resurrected. Swallow’s sculpture shows that time can be ‘killed’ and a memory physically preserved – but reducing it to an object renders it less real.

Senior years 11-12 (maximum 100 words)

Winner

Ceilidh Newbury
Mulwaree High School, year 12

UGO RONDINONE
clockwork for oracles 2011
mirror, colour plastic gel, wood, paint, mixed media
John Kaldor Family Collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Rondinone’s work transports the viewer into another dimension, juxtaposing the ideas of a window and a mirror. The reflective qualities of the work invert a person’s sense of looking out a window and make them look into themselves. It is intense and imposing and uses repetition to shape its ideas about time. Confronted with the image of themselves, the audience asks what the artist wants to say about them. The contrast of the old timber and the glossy mirrors makes the work seem fragile despite its intimidating size. This work reflects on the concept of time on a personal level, changing for each viewer, as they look into themselves.

Highly commended

Lena Nguyen
Bankstown Girls High School, year 11

UGO RONDINONE
clockwork for oracles 2011
mirror, colour plastic gel, wood, paint, mixed media
John Kaldor Family Collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

clockwork for oracles captures the internal refection of individuals. Its melancholy undertone and brightly coloured window installation associates itself with a carnival-like experience, a memory often related to childhood. The idea of a playful and adventurous area is juxtaposed with the newspaper background that has been white-washed. The monotonous use of white expresses a solemn and isolated atmosphere which challenges the conventional knowledge of a happy life. The newspaper hints at the passing of time and, with the 52 windows (associated with 52 weeks of the year), the artist hints at his ideas of mortality. Through peering at ourselves we question and criticise us and our world. Are we good enough?

Section 2: Art essay

Senior: years 11–12 (maximum 500–750 words)

Winner

Lauren Austin
Green Point Christian School, year 12

Exhibition critical review
Endlessnessism
Brett Whiteley Studio
28 August 2010 – 3 July 2011

Whiteley’s journey through art and life

If you travel down a few backstreets of Sydney’s Surry Hills to Australian artist Brett Whiteley’s former studio and now transformed public gallery you will meet two matchsticks standing guard by the front door. Matches 1985 is a sculpture of two door sized matches – one reduced to a burnt stick of decaying charcoal, the other new, perfect, untouched. This stark image has become a symbol of Whiteley’s artistic practice, a representation of life and death, the power to create and to destroy, intense dualities undergirding the exhibition Endlessnessism.

Endlessnessism embodies Whiteley’s discovery of life, his influences, discoveries, fascinations and struggles. In exploration of his ‘inner paddock’ Whiteley references artists, writers, leaders and philosophers, demonstrating how history has become a representation which when explored, can inform our understanding of contemporary existence.

Whiteley’s largest and possibly most famous work, Alchemy 1972–73, dominates the exhibition. Stretching over two walls, Alchemy can be seen as a documentation of life, death and rebirth, an examination of his personal experiences. Having a fascination with the notion of alchemy, Whiteley explores the transformation of form, simultaneously questioning the complex nature of existence. This abstracted maze involves collages of the familiar and the imagined lingering amidst different landscapes. This surrealist technique cleverly subverts familiarity, recontextualising everyday pictures onto a subconscious dream world where hands arise from ocean depths and ears give birth to brains. Small cut-outs of board provide looking holes for discovery. The glowing light of a flower’s centre, a bird’s nest, a pencilled thought or a blank square form intriguing focal points of consideration. Yet Whiteley’s questioning Nothing or God? provokes a deeper intellectual and philosophical engagement, alongside a sense of wonder. The vast blue landscape likewise alludes to both the terrestrial and celestial spheres, objects such as a telescope and magnifying glass reinforcing humanity’s innate desire to understand the metaphysical.

In further exploration of this, Whiteley appropriates Post-Impressionist artist Van Gogh, reflecting on his concepts of discovery. Whiteley’s Starry night evokes a voyage through an ocean of black and white whirlpools amidst giant stars, blurring the distinctions of sky and water. Whiteley’s repetition of curvature is a characteristic technique alluding to the natural as opposed to the constructed, imbuing a spiritual dimension of the landscape. Similarly, the omission of colour alludes to the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang, where a balance between darkness and light was believed intrinsic to human existence. This philosophical approach within Whiteley’s practice can be read as an extension of the Surrealists whose artworks were a reflection of new ideologies.

Likewise Whiteley’s self portrait, Art, life and the other thing 1978, poignantly demonstrates the evolution of figurative painting. A lion [Ed note: the animal depicted is actually a mandrill], an artist and a photo of himself form a portrait. As the artist Whiteley’s face is portrayed suspended in transformation between himself and a lion, his arms and torso stretch long and disproportionate, eye peering sleepily towards us as if in a dreamlike trance. Such a depiction demonstrates Whiteley’s self reflexivity, showing himself as a creator and subject matter. Alongside this, Getting quite close 1983 pictures Whiteley transformed. The feather of a bird, a strange, flat fish and eye-hole form a mask-like image over the photographed face, probing the dichotomies between the seen and unseen, the real and the imagined. Thus challenging the conventions of realistic form, Whiteley perceptively considers the human psyche as integral to figurative representation, where artistic expression is a part of who he is. Similarly, and the other thing signals the complexities of human identity and our existential questioning of the meaning to existence.

Like the pioneers of art history, Whiteley’s exhibition seeks to account for the multifaceted nature of reality with our continual wondering, imaginative dreaming and speculation. Endlessnessism thus portrays our desire to comprehend the invisible and the real, where artistic expression is valued as a form of such investigation.