Reflecting on the Glasshouse

Posted: 03 Feb 2013  |  By: Louise Martin-Chew

Port Macquarie’s enviable natural and environmental assets are reflected in the ambition of the Glasshouse building that was built to house not only an art gallery and gift shop but a performing arts venue of significant ambition. The curvaceous built form changes its appearance daily, hourly, in response to the passing weather, seasons and light. Its open design encourages audience access and involvement with the community, those in pursuit of culture and all passers-by.

The provision of an ambitious cultural facility for the Port Macquarie–Hastings region has also stimulated a vision for its regional collection on a par with the building. Successful regional gallery collections have tended to focus limited acquisition resources on specific targets. Since 2003, the Port Macquarie–Hastings collection has been significantly supported by the region’s artists, the cultural community of the New South Wales and practitioners of relevant aesthetics.

The quality of glass, translucent or opaque, transmitting light during the day but also reflecting at night, may be seen to link the concept and reality of the Glasshouse to a collection that focuses on abstraction. This important aesthetic development was at the height of its influence in Australia between 1960–1985 and remains a significant element in contemporary Australian painting. However, it also connects seamlessly to the theme of landscape, environment and water that characterised this region’s earlier collection focus.

The power of abstraction relates to the artist’s highly personal and non-literal view of a subject, and the world. Landscape, the environment and water are amongst subjects that are highly topical in recent decades and may be treated powerfully in abstract terms.

The recent redevelopment has garnered significant acquisitions to underpin the new phase of the gallery’s history and, in the last twelve months, there have been strategic donations of abstract art. Marion Borgelt’s Strobe series speaks directly to the connections between nature and culture. A dark surface is punctuated by a pink line that hiccups or pulses like the life force recorded on a heart machine and reads optically as a corrugation on the linen surface in which oil paint is mixed with sand.

Alun Leach-Jones, a major talent who emerged with the Australian abstract painting movement, has given five major screen prints. These describe the personal spiritual connections often intrinsic to abstraction. India I and India II, inspired by Leach-Jones’s travels in the early 1970s, also highlight his interest in visual explorations of the mandala. Gavin Crichton’s Blue Rivers, 2011, makes the connection between the real and the abstract with two rivers of blue paint that run vertically through a patchwork of muted colour and textures. Other works include Elizabeth Cummings’ lyrical Minerva Waterhole, 1977, a response to place that retains an image of a squiggly gum and its markings over other less literal elements.

The spectrum of the real is refracted through the artists’ experience, taking the viewer into an individual narrative that is the core of the human story. This exhibition sets new benchmarks for the Glasshouse Gallery and bodes well for a cultural future that will inspire its audiences to reflect, and return.

This is an edited version of an essay published with the exhibition New Acquisitions 2009–2012, Glasshouse Port Macquarie, 2012.

Images from top:

Luke Sciberras, Creeping Shadows, Flinders Ranges, 2010, oil on board, 120 x 120cm.

Marion Borgelt, Bloodlight Strip Fig 5, 2007, acrylic, pigment, pins, canvas, 70.5 x 70.5 x 12.5cm.

Click here for further information on Glasshouse Regional Gallery .

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Issue 38