Perc Tucker Regional Gallery

Posted: 05 Apr 2012  |  By: Louise Martin-Chew

Perc Tucker Regional Gallery started, in 1981, from a traditional model, but like many cultural enterprises outside the capital cities, it has influence beyond the limits of the heritage-listed building in which it opened. The gallery’s thirty years of engagement with its local community and national visual art audiences was marked in September 2011, with 30@30: a collection exhibition celebrating Perc Tucker Regional Gallery’s thirtieth birthday.

It showcased objects that explored “an abundance of interesting stories and connections between artists and artworks, and the gallery”. Gallery curator Eric Nash included one work acquired each year since the gallery’s opening in this survey and mapped the depth of talent and interest in both the local community and its collection (which focuses on the tropics in both physical and conceptual ways).

Connections between the gallery and the national scene were illustrated by an Ian Smith painting titled Seaview Lunch. Painted when Smith was in Townsville for Perc Tucker’s first exhibition in 1981, Nine Queensland Artists, it shows artists and gallery staff at the local Seaview Hotel, in a painting that channels a dark, cool tropical interior. It is a rollcall of important Australian artists from this period — Davida Allen, Stephen Killick, Sally L’Estrange, Robert MacPherson, Glen O’Malley, William Robinson, Madonna Staunton and Bill Yaxley. They sit in a tight, reflective circle around the table, with staff and the gallery’s foundation director, Dr Reg Chapple.

Other standout works included paintings and drawings by artists who have spent time in the district (like Ray Crooke and Sidney Nolan), locals from Anneke Silver to Robert Preston, and powerful works by nationally known figures such as Vernon Ah Kee, Gordon Bennett, Mike Parr, John Firth-Smith and John Olsen.    

Frances Thomson, gallery services manager since 1997, finds her adopted city “very sophisticated — a beautiful northern city — isolated and calm, not frenetic. And people come! There is constant traffic of visitors and artistic people to Townsville.” That is not to mention the long-term locals. Tate Adams (awarded an AM in 2009) is one of Australia’s most revered printmakers and has been resident in Townsville for decades. Now eighty-nine years old, Adams’ last print (due to vision loss from the macular degeneration he suffers) was given to the Perc Tucker collection as part of the birthday celebrations.

Since coming to the directorial role at Perc Tucker, Thomson has guided the institution through significant development and change. Perc Tucker aims to maintain a sophisticated aesthetic commentary yet, given its status as a regional gallery, also have traction with its community. To this end, Strand Ephemera, an exhibition of outdoor art established in 2001, has become a northern Sculpture by the Sea with a difference.

“We have connected with the community on Townsville’s coastal edge, The Strand, a recreational area that looks towards Magnetic Island. It is a spectacular pathway into which art is insinuated, gaining an enormous audience.” It has also allowed local artists to “hone their skills and compare and contrast their work within a national context. The focus on ‘ephemera’ encouraged artists to investigate inexpensive materials for a short-lived exhibition of around 10 days.” After Townsville hosted the Regional Galleries of Australia conference in 2009, similar outdoor initiatives in other towns and cities were inspired by its example.

Strand Ephemera has been complemented, in every other year since 2007, with the Percival Portrait Award, designed to “unearth Townsville stories”. In 2012, this acquisitive prize will be $40,000, thanks to the backing of Perc Tucker sponsor Xstrata. The award fuses significant artworks with a connection to local history and character, and in 2010 the (then) $20,000 award was won by Victorian-based artist Ted May with the painting Tate Adams.

Thomson’s directorial role expanded with the amalgamation of councils in 2008. She inherited Pinnacles, a purpose-built exhibiting space located in Thuringowa, supervised by Anthony Edwards. It is large enough to show the Queensland Art Gallery’s touring Ron Mueck exhibition (until 9 January 2012) and, given its multimedia capability and the strong youth demographic in this area, is programmed to a younger audience. Ah Kee’s Can’t Chant gave northern audiences an opportunity to see the exhibition first viewed at the Venice Biennale (2009). Other recent programs included work from local artist group Run Collective, whose members are influenced by street art.

It is Thomson’s creative team that she credits with Perc Tucker’s ability to run a variety of multifaceted programs. Other annual exhibitions include a children’s exhibition, and a strong relationship with Townsville’s annual Australian Festival of Chamber Music has led, in 2012, to the Festival’s Master Classes to be run within Perc Tucker’s gallery spaces. Artist/composer Di Bresciani will also hold a solo exhibition.

The gallery was named for Alderman Perc Tucker, Mayor of Townsville from 1976 to 1980. It honours the history of the area — both past and present — as well as carving out an increasingly proactive role for itself in asserting the community value of culture. Now working on a book that will document the work of Tate Adams, Thomson remains stimulated by her role and Townsville itself. “I may contribute professionally, have everything I need on my doorstep, and all within a pristine environment.”

Images from top:

Erica Gray, Rock Anemone, 2011, PVC fabric, polyester fibre, 1.2 x 3.5 x 0.75m.

Ian Smith, Seaview Lunch, 1982, oil on canvas, 180 x 168cm. City of Townsville Art Collection.

Girringun Artists, Bagu with Jiman, 2011, ceramic, wood, string, cane, grass, metal.

Ann Cape, Welcome Home, 2010, oil on canvas, 122 x 91cm.

Tate Adams, Pandanus XX, 2011, linocut, 80 x 120cm. City of Townsville Art Collection.

Click here for further information on Perc Tucker Regional Gallery .

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Issue 38