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'Michael O'Connell - The Lost Modernist' is an exhibition set under low lights. The space is dim for the purpose of conserving the delicate, printed textiles on display but is in no way a reflection of O'Connell's art, which is playful and vibrant.
As explained by the information plaques around the gallery, Michael O'Connell was born in late eighteen hundreds and worked through the twentieth century in a variety of media. His very early beginnings were in watercolor before he moved on to experimental cement. Later, he found his true form in linocuts and batik textiles.
Approximately sixty pieces of O'Connell's work have been put together for 'The Lost Modernist'. They have been hung carefully against grey, painted walls and positioned within tall, glass, display cabinets. Some are memorabilia, like the old exhibition posters, artist's diaries and tools but the main focus of the exhibition is O'Connell's, block printed cloths.
He applied his type of printmaking to scarfs, curtains, furnishings, wall hangings, dress fabric and more, with each item dominated by pattern and bold lines. Figures dance across the material, paying tribute to ancient greek designs. In other pieces 1920's flappers appear and in others still, people dressed in traditional medieval garb are depicted.
The delicately, preserved samples, have their own history beyond simply being created by the artist. Particular linens were used as tablecloths in South Yarra cottages of the time and those, in conjunction with the exhibition's few pieces of early nineteen hundreds furniture, give a tableau of domestic decorations from the era.
The 'Michael O'Connell - The Lost Modernist' exhibition is held at Bendigo's regional gallery. One of the pleasant advantages of this, is that while visiting, you'll rarely have to fight with the type of crowds some of the bigger, national galleries attract. There's is time to appreciate the works and wander haphazardly throughout, without worrying about getting in anybody's way.
A book, written by RMIT university professor Harriet Edquist, is available from the gallery gift store and details the life of Michael O'Connell and his work. It retails for approximately $49.95.