Wandering through 40 Years 40 Paintings at Philip Bacon Gallery (2 Arthur Street, Fortitude Valley) is a real treat for lovers of and newbies to Australian art. The exhibition celebrates the 40 year anniversary of the gallery's existence in Brisbane and the time, subject matter and styles it packs into these paintings is one of the best tributes to Australian art you could wish for.
Orange fruit dove by Brett Whiteley. Photo: Philip Bacon Galleries
Some of the artists you will already know, but leaning into the vibrant colours of Orange fruit dove, Fiji by Brett Whitely and noticing how tropical fruit actually pop out of the top corner of the painting to emphasise and balance the rounded body of the dove and its nest eggs makes you realise why these artists are acknowledged as so damn good in the first place. Catalogues and art text books can't do them justice.
I was also introduced to artists I hadn't seen before. Recently arrived from Canberra, I was blown away by the dramatic torch-like tree in Weeping Willow by Matthew Zavros, shining in the otherwise wintry Canberra landscape.
Weeping willow by Michael Zavros. Photo: Philip Bacon Galleries.
As someone more used to public galleries, I was made envious by the labels saying 'Private collection, Brisbane' and almost rushed out to buy a lottery ticket when I saw other paintings with price tags. It was a good reminder that the private gallery scene is just as important in supporting Australian artists as the big institutions, by introducing new artists to buyers and fostering local artists (the last exhibition I saw here was of Brisbanite Ralph Wilson's exciting surfing paintings).
To give you some idea of the breadth of artists shown at this gallery, I'll mention just a few of my favourites – elegant pink flamingos by Sydney Long (1916), jacarandas and blue flowers by Grace Cossington-Smith (c 1933) and Margaret Preston (1933) respectively, confectionery like barrels by Jeffrey Smart (1992), and gazing into a number of mythical William Robinson landscapes was better than actually going for a bush walk. A catalogue of the works can be viewed on the galley's website.
Landscape and jacaranda by Grace Cossington-Smith (1933). Photo: Philip Bacon Galleries
Given the rather harsh reviews of 'Australia' at the Royal Academy of Art in London, it's clearly pretty hard to do a comprehensive survey of a whole nation of art. This gallery's approach in making it personal, about its experience of Australian art, is perhaps a more modest but ultimately very successful way to show such a wide variety of styles and times.
Given that this gallery is located in the heart of The Valley, there is really no excuse not to pop in before the exhibition finishes on 15 March next time you're in the area. Catalogues are available for sale.