Journey of discovery

Australian artist Alan Jones' first exhibition reviewed by Giles Auty in the Weekend Australian.

‘Journey of discovery’ by Giles Auty

Asked to pick a promising young artist, Giles Auty was stumped until he came upon the work of a youthful painter from Sydney’s west.

A week or so ago I was asked to nominate young artists who might spring to prominence early in the next millennium. Off-hand, the question defeated me. Outside exhibitions at art colleges, opportunities to see the work of young artist tend to be limited, and I could not readily recall seeing any work at all that rang the right bells. In spite of what many people think, good art does not happen by accident, although it may take some kind of accident to bring it to our attention.

However, if I had been asked the same question a week later, I would have had no hesitation in naming Alan Jones, a young artist from Dural in NSW, as a highly promising talent. Shifting through scores of invitations to gallery openings, even a small reproduction of a drawing of his caught my attention as something particularly confident, resolved and interesting. For once, the exhibition itself did not disappoint.

Jones has made a journey of pictorial discovery from his base in Dural, ending in Alice Springs. A number of key works in the show, Ormiston Gorge, Spencer Hill Walking Track, East View form Spencer Hill, The Todd River and Sandy Yellow Track, suggest an artist older then his mid-20’s. All had an air of authenticity and genuinely lived experience impossible to fake. The artist also exhibited a number of slightly more self-conscious paintings which lack the conviction of the best of the drawings.

Jones, or the enterprising art gallery showing his productions, also hit on the novel idea of showing some 90 pages of sketches, which impressed me especially. In days when few understand the uses of drawing fully or at all, Jones brings mood and atmosphere to topographical pencil drawings in a way certain older Australian artists would probably applaud. For anyone at a loss for a memorable small Christmas present for a friend, one of these sketches would have a great deal of recommend to it.

The gallery where the work is shown was a former factory for making artists’ paint. Happily the ambience and enthusiasm of the gallery’s director build on this promising start. The show remains open for a few more days and I will certainly revisit it before it closes.

With Christmas in mind, last-minute shoppers in Sydney’s central business district might also introduce themselves to the recently opened gallery of Michael Carr, which boasts a former prime minister as a landlord. In a highly eclectic show I was taken especially by some 1930’s watercolours by Rah Fizelle of travels in Europe. In the wrong hands, watercolour can be a feeble or even depressing medium, but Fizelle brings a dramatic sense of compositional design to his efforts, a lesion many other watercolourists could observe with profit. In this Fizelle echoes the skills of contemporary artists such as Kenneth McQueen, who is still largely unrecognised for the excellent painter he was. Another tempting work is by another contemporary, Adelaide Perry. This is Summer Morning, Berry’s Bay 1928, an area made famous by Roland Wakelin’s dreamlike tribute. This area just north-west of Sydney Harbour Bridge continues to have a unique atmosphere of its own and would probably be my own choice of locale if I could muster the patience or energy to move.

Carr’s Christmas collection veers from a huge American pop painting by James Rosenquist to a colour lithograph by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. For more chauvinistic collectors, works by such as Colin Lanceley, Ann Thomson and Ron Robertson-Swann may more accurately fit the bill.

In an age in which buying truly appropriate gifts often seems to grow harder by the year, many overlook the merits of good artists’ materials for younger members of families. I was given my first set of oil paints at the age of 13 and not long after received lessons with an elderly instructor. I do not think any subsequent gift has given me greater pleasure.

At the other end of the spectrum, a formerly house-proud aunt of mine who was widowed at the age of 70 took up painting, initially as a hobby, but shortly could find no time for any other activity at all, including housework. Without question painting profitably prolonged her life.

  • Drawings from Dural to Alice by Alan Jones, Global Gallery, 5 Comber Street, Paddington, Sydney until December 22.
  • Old and New – The New Millennium Summer Exhibition 1999-2000: International and Australian Paintings, Sculpture and Works on Paper, Michael Carr, level 3, 31 Bligh Street Sydney until December.

Giles Auty, ‘Journey of Discovery’, The Weekend Australian, 18-19 December 1999, page 19.