NGV Australia’s current special exhibition is entitled Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur (meaning a person who constructs or creates work from a diverse range of things which happen to be available) and it comprises the watercolours and sculptures of ex-Victorian artist Ricky Swallow. The show is surprisingly small and covers only two large rooms. Frankly I think his sculptures very much outshine his paintings – so I was in and out in 30 minutes.
Unfortunately cameras were not allowed in the exhibition so I can’t show you some of the outstanding wooden sculptures on display. (As an aside, is this policy because the gallery wants you to purchase the program? I’ve been able to take photos at major world galleries like MOMA, the British Museum and the Tate Modern without issues). [Ed- Thanks to NGV for providing the pictures below].
Gripes aside, here are some of the highlights of my visit:
‘Rehearsal for Retirement‘ is a pair of wooden carved feet resting on a pedestal. Although the angles of the ankles and feet suggest that the rest of the not-present body is positioned in a restful pose, the meticulous detail of sinews and tendons give the feet an almost repressed, clenched kind of pain, like the feet of the dying Jesus nailed to a crucifix. It made me wonder what the person’s mind was actually thinking to express such emotion through their feet.
‘Tusk‘. From afar this sculpture looks like the skeleton of two arms reaching out in a handshake or clasped together in front of a body. Look closely though and the forefinger and thumb of each hand are actually fused together at the tips, so that the two hands (and arms) are inextricably intertwined into a delicate heart-shaped cage. To misquote Ian Curtis, Love Will (Not) Tear Us Apart.
”The Man from Encinitas‘. Craftsman Cranston Montgomery suffered a cardiac arrest while surfing but the pounding of the waves revived his heart as he was pushed back to shore. The closed-eyed sculpture of his head is similar to a death mask, but as the exhibition described, it is actually a symbol of death deferred.
‘Caravan‘. Barnacles are apparently a recurrent theme in Ricky Swallow’s work and in Caravan he symbolises the passage of time by attaching barnacles onto thin-skinned balloons.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is the large wooden sculpture, ‘Killing Time’. The lively work is a Dutch still life in three dimensions – a kitchen table spilling over with the bounty of the sea depicted with extraordinary detail. Even though it is all carved of the same colour of wood, you can still discern the differences in tones and textures – a pile of slippery fish with glistening scales, the dimpled skin of a dangling wreath of lemon peel, dints in a mental bucket, the heavy wrinkled tablecloth, a crushed paper bag and the ridges of a copper pail.