Saturday, 22 August 2015

A gallery of lost art

Original PictureAustralia home page, 2000
One of the unexpected benefits of delivering PictureAustralia was a heightened awareness of art, particularly paintings.

Although all were presented as digital miniatures, the ability to traverse a slice of time, an artistic stream, or an iconic heritage statement was seductive.

As a result, exhibitions and galleries beckoned me; before that I would never have dared to breach their portals.  PictureAustralia was hosted by the National Library for 12 years before it was absorbed into Trove. Links to Australian art and artists are easily traced.

In more recent times, I have started to create my own gallery of orphan works. I find them in secondhand shops, and choose the small ones, most of which are no more than $4. Interestingly, they are usually landscapes. It's rare to find a portrait -  perhaps it's harder to give away an image of a family member.

These paintings are usually orphaned by the family of the artist, as a quick BDM search usually reveals that the artist has died. A description of place is sometimes also attached.  It is their sense of place which attracts me to the subject matter - a low timber bridge over a country creek recreating a reminder of childhood, a clearing of pines reflecting both snow and fire in the Brindabellas, or a snapshot of "Albert" trees. 

Part of "Banana trash", R Smith
A simple view made from dried 'banana trash' is captivating in its experimentation.

Almost none of this art is 'expertly' painted, which is why it is not in gallery, museum or library collections. Many of these agencies trying to save our cultural heritage are under financial strain. 

All curators know that suitable environmental storage conditions are an essential commitment made to ratepayers. As a result collection policies appear to have become more stringent to the point of appearing ruthless. Offers of artefacts are declined, collections are downsized, agencies which are shut down and have no exit strategy for their collections tend to lose items to the nearest tip. The risk of losing the context of our 20th century life is higher, especially if the digitisation safety net has not been cast over it.

However, personal items which illustrate the desire to paint, to experiment with a natural fibre or to recreate a memory of place sometimes find their way to my outdoor gallery. The investment made 10, 20, 30 years ago is difficult to ignore. Protected from the sun, they are safe with me. At least for one more generation.