Archive for the ‘Word From Down Under’ Category

Thinking of Judith McGrath Down in Western Australia

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Yesterday, after another sweltering trip to Charleston, SC, I returned home to check my e-mail. While sorting through the days’ list of junk, outlandish offers, jokes about our Governor (no name offered) and even a few directed for Carolina Arts – I found myself gazing at a few e-mails I leave on my incoming list as a reminder of things – things to do, people to get back with, e-mails that I shouldn’t forget about, and e-mails kept for legal reasons. That’s right, I have to occasionally deal with some people who are down right nuts, so I keep their e-mails.

Among those e-mails was the last one I received from Judith McGrath down in Kalamunda, Western Australia, near Perth. This one is saved as a good reminder and as I looked at it I wondered about what it would be like to be there right now. You see, while we’ve been going through 90+ temps for several weeks, thunder storms, and near 90 percent humidity, Australia is going through its winter season. I know – the grass is always greener…

McGrath was a contributor to Carolina Arts for almost ten years, until the economy hit the fan and we had to cut back on expenses (even small ones) and space in the paper, but I miss her words about the visual art community in her corner of the world and most of the time about the visual art community in general. Through her writing we learned that it is a small world and things are not that different – no matter where you are.

So, I sent her an e-mail and woke up this morning and found the following response about what has been going on with her. She’s been teaching an Art Appreciation class at the local Learning Centre in her area.

Here’s part of her e-mail:

Talk about great minds thinking alike! I was just on your site the other day and enjoyed reading your blog about the National Outdoor Sculpture Competition and Exhibition in North Charleston. Also appreciated viewing the excellent pictures and deciding which ones I’d like to have in my own garden – when I’m rich and famous! I particularly liked the gentle flow of Pattie Firestone’s Thoughts Running Like a River, the contemplative aspect of Corrina Sephora Mensoff’s, Where I have come from, what will I leave behind?, and James Burnes’ Rich Sis which had me thinking of a retired race horse, worn out but still majestic. However, all were excellent presentations.

We have two similar sculptural exhibitions Down Under, both presented on the white sands of the beach, albeit each with a different ocean as a backdrop. One is on Bondi Beach along the Pacific Ocean near Sydney on the Eastern side of the continent, the other is held on Cottesloe Beach by the Indian Ocean near Perth in Western Australia. I always enjoy attending the latter and seeing families lounging on the sand, under the sun and in the company of monumental works of art in all manner of material. It reminds me that art should always be for the general public, not just the literati.

You may have noticed that I’ve been slack about posting reviews on my own site. My only excuse is that I’m finding precious little to write about when meandering through commercial galleries and local public venues. What I have found is how the rhetorical “there’s nothing new in art” has become the reality of “seen it all before”? As such I fear for the future of the visual arts due to the lack of inspirational and/or practical artistic education.

In my capacity as an art reviewer I have no problem with giving polite “corrective” criticism to aspiring artists who are happy to take it on board as they may benefit from it. However, I am not in the habit of writing “negative” reviews because, as an ex-art history lecturer, I am aware that anything written, be it positive or negative, is archived and available to future generations. My logic runs along the lines that if I name a practitioner in an article, whether I condemn or praise their work, it is proof that at one time, he or she existed as an “artist” therefore according them a place in future art history. With that in mind, I have banned myself from writing “bad” reviews, as there is already sufficient “equine manure” in print validating the artistic underachiever.

The ban became a real hurdle for me when viewing the latest exhibition of works by newly graduated art students. While walking through the exhibition the thought that if this is the “best” the schools have to offer had me fighting an urge to sit down and cry. The craft work was excellent while only a few sculptors considered their 3D constructions from all points of view. But it was the painting that brought tears to my eyes as they lacked an understanding of color usage and underlying compositional structure. It was so depressing I was sorely tempted to break my long held “ban on the bad” as I felt something had to be said publicly. And I would have overcome the temptation and ignore the show until I spotted one exhibit that was very familiar. I had seen something very much like it twenty-odd years ago in a different gallery. I knew who the artist was then, and I knew he was now a lecturer in the art school being represented by this student. As I stood in front of the work, I asked the gallery manager if teachers were exhibiting too. He knew what I saw, smiled enigmatically and shook his head.

There’s a saying in the art world in my town that goes; “Them that can, do. Them that can’t, teach.” It’s no wonder there is nothing new for me to say about art in my town. I do hope in your town, each year brings new and exciting aspects in the wonderful world of the visual arts.


I’m hoping as the economy recovers and we get through this long summer, I’ll be able to offer McGrath’s writings again in Carolina Arts. You can still find the articles McGrath sent us archived on our website here, dating back to 2000.

Judith McGrath lives in Kalamunda, Western Australia, 25 minutes east of Perth. She received a BA in Fine Art and History from the University of Western Australia. McGrath lectured in Art History and Visual Literacy at various colleges around the Perth area, and was an art reviewer for The Sunday Times and The Western Review both published in the Perth area. McGrath is currently a freelance writer, reviewer for various art magazines in Australia and teaching. She also co-ordinates the web site Art Seen in Western Australia.