Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Just Between Us
Solo exhibition by Kate Gagliardi
Magazine Gallery
Oct 13

Kate Gagliardi is a natural artist. Compelled to create as the rest of us are compelled to eat she constantly sketches the images that pass before her eyes and through her mind. You won’t find a contrived concept or stale formula here. Gagliardi’s finished works are the intuitive expression of her fascinations and, as such, they are best appreciated intuitively. Thankfully, this task isn't difficult; Kate’s talent is plain to see.

Although she’s still in her final year of study Gagliardi’s works have already been showing up around Adelaide and interstate in the form of group exhibitions, published illustrations and street art. Now her first solo exhibition, Just Between Us at Magazine Gallery, gives us the first full glimpse of what she has to offer.

Illustration is her obvious strength and forms the starting point for much of her work. Female faces and figures feature prominently. Depicted in a naturalistic line of striking clarity Gagliardi’s women all display some kind of fantastical adornment that conveys a sense of otherworldly power. The emergence of animals in her new work follows the trend in art that seeks to covet the natural world as its fragility become ever more apparent.

As the title of exhibition suggests, there’s intimacy to Gagliardi’s work that only reveals itself on close inspection. The combination of pencil, watercolours and rice paper convey a feeling of delicacy and those with an eye for detail will appreciate the line work that’s left uncovered or only slightly obscured.

But ultimately the intimacy of the work is born out of Gagliardi’s own relationship with her craft. Each work is the result of hours spent in exploration of materials and refinement of style.

This wouldn’t be so interesting if it weren’t for the fact that so much art over the last 50 years has been created without any trace of the artist’s hand. From Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst there isn’t a stroke of skill between them. Yes their work is expensive and entertaining but so are most Hollywood blockbusters.

At the end of the day (or century more to the point) nothing beats the skill and vision of an individual artist whose work is the product of their own hands. When art shows the ‘hand of the artist’ it brings meaning to their physical striving. Such works reflect the meaning of all human striving.

Of course, the reoccurring formula of contemporary art is to substitute human striving for irony which is often used to pose the question of whether there is, in fact, any meaning to human striving. Such works demand that we laugh at the meaninglessness of it all or else be laughed at. It's a kind of nihilistic laziness that becomes tiresome pretty quickly even if it is covered in diamonds worth $100 million. After a while such works leave you empty and wondering why we elected such talentless misanthropes as our cultural leaders.

For a new generation of artists the proverbial rubber band seems to have snapped back in the other direction. Not surprisingly this new movement has emerged outside the establishment of contemporary art from two distinct streams of visual creativity, namely, graphic design and street art. This new breed of artist uphold a respect for their craft that belongs outside the post-modern era. Perhaps the best example of the melding of these two streams is the work of Anthony Lister who Gagliardi credits as an influence.

Coming from a street art background, Lister’s paintings subvert popular superhero characters from graphic novels and, in doing so, work to attack our tendency towards idolatry. What sets Lister’s work apart from others of his ilk is his ability to sign post his images with the techniques of fine art figuration, linking his work to a tradition that is centuries old.

Both Gagliardi’s and Lister's work presents human figures in a super human, fantastical light. These images, like so much of the cultural output of our time, answer our desire to affirm a belief in some supernatural aspect of life; to uphold something sacred, beyond the grasp of rational reductionism. Such work has become impossible within the established order of contemporary art that has been sterilised by critical thought.

But art is nothing without an audience and this new breed of artist are being met with a new generation of art collectors who are immune to shock tactics and bored with the notion of ‘is this art.’ Tomorrow’s art collector want beautiful images that whispers secrets to them rather than craftless objects that shout questions at us all. Riddance to the entertaining but impersonal blockbuster exhibitions of large institutions. Tomorrow’s collector prefers the personal growth of individual artists.

Although it’s a first for Adelaide, Magazine gallery follows thousands of others like it around the world. This low cost exhibition spaces places no limitations on how young artists present their work but avoids the non-commercial pretenses of artist run initiatives. Galleries like Magazine offer emerging artists a chance to build an audience and sell their work.

Just Between Us has achieved just that. Gagliardi’s works has developed in leaps and bounds over the last year and it seems the perfect time to let others in on her journey. Gagliardi’s work will develop further as she discovers greater depth of subject matter through which to open a dialogue with artists of the past. But artistic maturity of that kind can’t be rushed. The path of the natural artist is essentially one of self-discovery that persistently challenges the creator to delve deeper into their fascinations. It’s also a journey that holds great rewards for a patient audience.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


There's nothing like the suprise joy of bumping into a old friend in a foreign city. So you can imagine my delight while exploring London's East end to find myself face to face with a large piece of street art by Adelaide's own James Cochran. The 2.5 Meter high image of a bearded pilgrim was depicted with thousands of layered dripping aerosol dots that is Cochrans unmistakable style. Like much of Bricklane's street art the image is the constant target of the camera phones that quickly snap up whatever's new from London's greatest underground tourist attraction.

It's funny to think that James Cochran, or Jimmy C as he has been known, was once one of Adelaide's most notorious graffiti writers. With a pseudonym (not to be mentioned) high on the list of SA police's graffiti task force during the 1980s Cochran gave up graffiti for the studio and the world of fine art. Since then his style of aerosol based pointillism has gained recognition from Melbourne to Paris for its amalgamation of French impressionism with Aboriginal dot painting. To my knowledge he hadn't painted anything on the streets for a long time so I was excited to track him down to find out why now, why London and why he gave it up all those years ago.

After bumping into James as an opening we meet over coffee at an East end bar. "The Graffiti world was like a second family" explained Cochran who was kicked out of home at 16 "but it just wasn't sustainable as a way of life." It was this belief that led Cochran to art school only to discover that in the postmodern era where 'painting is dead' he was going to have to teach himself. So by day James Cochran was taught how to think about art and by night Jimmy C went out and made art on the street. It wasn't until Cochran visited Europe in 1995 that he discovered the old masters and found within himself a respect that was lacking in what he'd been taught.

Ask Cochran about Caravagio and he'll display a warmth and excitement that's totally unbecoming of a contemporary artist. In fact, James' whole personality is far too open. Rather than obscuring his intentions in convoluted art speak Cochran is all the more enigmatic for the exuberance with which he races through his ideas. It's easy to understand why such a character finished study only to turn to rural based art projects such as mural painting in remote aboriginal communities. It was through collaborating with local aboriginal artists that Cochran developed his drip painting technique that he was then able to combine with his knowledge of the Western tradition of painting. But after 10 years of community projects Cochran gave in to the pull of the studio and exhibiting paintings. Within 2 years his work would be exhibited at the Point Ephemere in Paris.

In the years since Cochran turned his back on his former life, the world of graffiti has developed a social conscience and reemerged more powerful than ever in the form of street art. It's that sense of social consciousness that's attracted Cochran back. "It's always been present in my work from when i was doing community projects until recently but i did feel an expectation to play that element down within the world of contemporary fine art" he explains. This willingness to engage with the world around it offers some explanation for why street art has found such a widespread appeal. But that's not the only reason why artists find street art so appealing. While the world of contemporary art becomes ever more stratified as institutions and curators tighten their hold, more and more artists are turning to street art as a means of circumventing the establishment.

But for Cochran the initial reasons seem more personal. "I came to London just to shake things up a bit in my art practice" he explains "but I found things just weren't feeling right in the studio." Given this it doesn't seem surprising that the ex-graffiti writer should take a break from the static world of contemporary art in favor of the fluidity of the street. In the weeks following its completion, images of Cochrans work will be viewed by thousands, photographed, uploaded, passed around, commented on, discussed, and (perhaps best of all) responded to with yet more street art. "It's a way of giving something to the place that you're in" says Cochran.

You might be asking 'why then should London be so lucky?' Well, there's no real mystery to that question. There's a long history of Australian artists needing to gain recognition overseas before we feel secure in honoring them back home. However, in Cochran's case, London is about reaching a wider audience. In his words "what happens on the island stays on the island." It's a fact that only really means that Australian artists need to try a little harder if they want to get onto the world stage. Often 'trying a little harder' translates to 'extended international travel.' But just as often Australian artists who take a piece of homegrown culture abroad also manage to smuggle something back on their return. I'm expecting Cochran to be one of the latter.