Cherry Bounce/The American Elections: An Invitational Exhibit at the William King Museum

I love this artist’s work: an abstract and symbolic expression of her Christian faith in paint and collage.

This is the latest post from her blog about some of her recent paintings.

grace carol bomer

Last year, guest curator Eric Drummond Smith invited me to be part of the “historical” show Cherry Bounce/ The American Elections at the William King Museum in Abingdon, VA. It was historical in subject matter–its theme the history of the American elections from George Washington to Barack Obama, the 44th President. His well-chosen title Cherry Bounce, an Appalachian liquor, alluded to either hope or despair as we anticipated the yet undecided outcome of the November 2016 election. It was historical because Nixon. jpegI was assigned the Nixon/McGovern race of 1972 (the Nixon poster called for “a sense of history, not histrionics”), and historical also because my own Christian faith believes all of history is a story with a divine plot and the post-Fall battle for power.

I am a painter who is conscious of this “grand narrative” called history. My statement reads, “Bomer is concerned with the human condition surprised by…

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Ben Quilty and Syrian Refugee Crisis

Quilty Confronts Syrian refugee crisis

Earlier this year the celebrated Australian artist Ben Quilty and the equally lauded author, Richard Flanagan, travelled to Europe and the Middle East to witness the refugee crisis in those regions.

They’ve since returned home and Ben Quilty’s new exhibition opening this week at the Art Gallery of South Australia is his interpretation of that experience.

Barbara Miller visited the artist in his studio.

See video here:

Also: Confronting mortality.

Artist Ben Quilty and author Richard Flanagan make a harrowing trip to Europe and the Middle East to witness first-hand the refugee crisis.


Eurovision 1944

The Eurovision song contest was an annual TV event in my family’s house when I was growing up in England. Maybe partly because we had only two channels, later reduced to one when the tuner on our TV set broke.
It was an earlier, less consumer driven era when people of my parent’s background were careful with their money, so repairs or replacement were out of the question.

After moving to Australia in the early 70s, Eurovision was consigned to memory – no longer relevant or accessible. By the time Australian TV started to broadcast it I was no longer interested in the kind of music it featured.

This year, for the first time since leaving England, I chose to watch most of it; because of the presence of Dami Im as a contestant from Australia (apparently Europe’s newest state).

Gloria and I have followed Dami’s career from her first appearances on Australia’s X Factor, where she was expelled in the early stages due to forgetting the words of her song, on to her readmission to the competition, and finally through to her victory in the final.

When she was entered as Australia’s contestant in Eurovision we wished her well, and wanted to see her performance as compared to the other contestants.
It was exciting to see she was the leader after the first round of scores were tallied and only slightly disappointing when she was tipped into second place by the eventual winner, Jamala of Ukraine.

While we thought Dami far outshone the majority of the entries, I felt the Ukrainian’s passionate performance of her very personal song 1944 made her standout.

The song raised some controversy as it centred on Russian atrocities in WWII that affected her great grandmother. Some saw the song was actually addressing Russia’s current relationship with Ukraine, and should be banned according to Eurovision’s policies on political songs. Adding to that controversy, the Russian entrant had been favourite to win the competition but was pushed into third place behind Ukraine and Australia.

Here is a video of the winning song.

Jamala – 1944 (Ukraine) Live at Semi-Final 2 of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest from nonamenko on Vimeo.

Ben Quilty and Andrew Ford.

QuiltyThere are some fascinating insights into the creative process in these discussions between painter Ben Quilty and composer Andrew Ford.

Quilty is one of my favourite artists, and I recall Ford giving a talk to my Arts Journalism class at university in the early 90s.

So far I’ve listened to the first two recordings in the series and particularly liked the second – very moving: looking at the way an artist struggles to address difficult human experiences.

Their Murder Seems Imminent

What can I say about the imminent deaths of two former drug smugglers who have cleary turned their lives around since they were sentenced years ago?

Pastor Andrew Chan is one of two Australians whose execution in Indonesia is imminent. About 10 years ago Chan was found guilty of helping organise the export of heroin from Indonesia to Australia. He was found to be the leader of a group afterwards known as the Bali 9, who were picked up at the airport as they were about to board a plane to Australia, They all had significant amounts of heroin bound to their bodies.

Chan and a co-organiser Myuran Sukamaran were given the death penalty while the others had lengthy prison sentences.

Since that time Chan became a follower of Jesus and trained to be a Pastor to fellow inmates within the jail. Sukamaran turned to art and has been studying for a fine arts degree through an Australian university. Within the jail he has run art classes for current and former inmates.

There is absolutely no doubt that both men have turned their lives around and have become valuable assets to the jail that has been their home for a decade, helping to change the lives of other inmates just as they turned their own lives around.

But recently Indonesia changed its President and he’s been trying to show his authority by coming down hard on those found guilty of drug crimes – irrespective of any demonstrated rehabilitation.
Now after ten years, the new President has demanded that the 10 year old death sentences be carried out. It seems that will happen some time this week.

For more details of the current situation see the following:

The Indonesian President, who demands the death of these men.

The Indonesian President, who demands the death of these men.

Images of Modern Evil

On the weekend we had our third viewing of the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra. Gloria wasn’t impressed with anything the first time she saw it and her view hasn’t changed through repeat viewing. I have to confess that I haven’t enjoyed it either after that initial visit and the excitement of seeing some things for the first time (i.e. works of de Kooning and Frankenthaler).

I noticed that several paintings in the exhibition had been donated to the gallery by artists’ families and I’ve developed a theory that reflects upon the standard of a lot of work held by galleries such as the NGA in Canberra. I suspect that after the death of a well-known artist, their families sort through the paintings now in their possession. They keep the ones they like and sell those with clear merit that will realise big money at auction. The rest, the un-liked and those with less commercial appeal, are donated to public galleries that can’t afford to refuse the offer of free paintings by significant artists, no matter how poorly they represent an artist’s catalogue of work.

But maybe that’s my over cynical side coming through.

On this visit I had the unexpected opportunity to see an exhibition of work by Albert Tucker. I’m part way through reading a biography of Tucker written by Janine Burke, so it was interesting to see so many of his paintings in the one place. They were part of his Images of Modern Evil series, a very disturbing collection that he painted during the Second World War.

The thing that I found most interesting about these paintings was the way an apparent simplicity of technique created the impression of something much more complex. How a few simple brush strokes gave an illusion of detail and how so much was expressed through so little. That ability seems to be the signifying feature of a “real” artist. Is that skill learned technique or is it something more instinctive?

The paintings are very dark (literally as well as figuratively) works with symbolic, sordid and unpleasant portrayals of humanity as perceived through Tucker’s experience of wartime Melbourne. I read the following explanation of what was behind this series:

“He was disgusted, but inspired by scenes of Melbourne’s nightlife, of a city he felt demonstrated a collapse of simple morality. He was shocked and outraged by images of schoolgirls trotting home to reappear wearing skimpy miniskirts made from Union Jacks and American flags, ready for a wild night in St. Kilda with the drunken American and Australian soldiers.” (

In many of these paintings Tucker portrays people (mainly women) with a tooth filled, smiling crescent of vivid lipstick-red, topped with a triangular pig-like snout and long-lashed eyes or sometimes a single eyeball. A few of the paintings were grotesquely explicit in their depiction of the “female” body. They are definitely not paintings that anyone could “like” or find aesthetically appealing – but they effectively live up to the title of the series, being images of the some of the worst aspects of human nature and activity. While those aspects are often recognised and (as with Tucker’s example) vividly depicted in art, rarely is the cause of the darkerside of humanity explored. And even more rarely are possible solutions addressed.