Still Life is a wonderful art subject and I have just spent a weekend at three exhibitions, all had some connection to still life. The two that were directly connected to this genre are ‘Still’ the National Still Life Award at Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery ( 20 September – 16 November 2019) and it’s annexed exhibition, the ‘Still Salon’ (18 October – 2 November 2019) in Coffs Central. The national award attracts work in all media, both 2D and 3D and over 700 entries were received! Of the entries that were not finalists, a further selected local artists (living and working between Port Macquarie and Byron Bay on the north coast of NSW) were chosen for the Still Salon. More on these two exhibitions later. 

The other exhibition I attended was one in our very own Lennox Arts Collective Gallery, ‘Paper, Stone, Mud : Elements in Transition’ presented by Sharon McIlwain, Jen Banks and Jenny Schirmer. Not specifically presented as still life art, I believe they certainly fit the profile as presented in the ‘Still’ exhibition which contained works in paper, stone and mud!  As indicated by the title all the works represented our natural world and the French expression for still life is ‘nature morte’ or ‘dead nature’, so I feel that these works also present in the exhibition space as still life.

Sharon presented gorgeous paper based works – naturally dyed with leaves, sticks and other natural elements in nature’s colours infused into vertical concertinas, books, sculptural objects and more. Jen presented new jewellery pieces incorporating natural ‘dendritic’ stone and Jenny displayed her crafted ceramics – no two exactly alike and again presented in nature’s colours. The whole was curated by the very talented Narelle Bretherton.

Let’s perhaps think a little about the question, what is a ‘still life’ artwork today?

Its an interesting discussion to have. Traditionally, I would have thought that it was a painting of Fruit, Flowers, Foods, dead animals and fish accompanied by decorative objects – think Dutch (see below) and Spanish masters of the 16 and 17th Century. The Tate Art Gallery in London defines still life art as subject matter that does not move. 

Jan Janz 'Still Life with a Pewter Flagon and two Ming Bowls 1651
Jan Janz ‘Still Life with a Pewter Flagon and two Ming Bowls 1651

Contemporary still life art it is not confined to 2D decorative representations. It is often sculptural, ceramic, digital and, when painted often more a political statement than decorative. What I saw at the Still Exhibition was quite confrontational for die hard traditionalists, but for all that, was extremely refreshing in its ability to make a statement about art and the state of the world as contemporary art should. 

Some of the finalists in the Still 2019 Award:

The ‘Still’ exhibition should be definitely be seen if you have the opportunity to visit Coffs Harbour on the NSW mid north coast. I think it is beautifully curated and the works displayed are of a very high technical standard. The oil on linen works by Victoria Reichert are a stand out in technical mastery – piles of waste in the form of take away coffee cups and fast food packaging – I really liked that the artist has chosen to paint them, not just to make an assemblage of discarded waste, which would be the easier option. The winning art work by Kelly Austin is quite monumental – an installation of ceramic shapes in solid 3D form coloured in blacks and greys. Very little of the conventional in the whole show. 

Moving on to the ‘Still Salon’ – here we see more of the traditional still life but also very innovative with sculptured reef and tv screen, collage, ceramics, felted objects, a beautifully crafted timber bowl with charcoal interior containing three timber pieces. My own piece was a traditional painting but with a narrative about my immigration to Australia as a child. A stand out was a large work in traditional Dutch still life genre style, but using Australian natives as the floral element. 

Some of the work in the Still Salon and a few photos of the opening reception on 19th October in the images below. I volunteered to work on the morning of 20th October and had a great time meeting and greeting people who popped by to see the work. It was a great idea to have it sited in a shopping centre – many people came in because they passed by and it was fun to see children drag their parents in to have a look at the still life art on display!

Overall the narrative and conceptual element in all three exhibitions was the unifying feature – there was a message about our world somehow relating to our place in it and in many cases decorative as well. 

Categories: Exhibitions

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