Saturday, December 14, 2013

Stephanie Dowrick applauds two exceptional artists: Michael Leunig and Tina Fiveash

Michael Leunig is surely one of Australia's most influential artists. He reminds us repeatedly of our collective and individual vulnerabilities, defences, needs and neediness. He also reminds us of what personal and social healing we are "not looking", not seeing, not acknowledging. This is not less powerful because he does it in such a quietly subversive way, sometimes making us laugh, sometimes just wryly acknowledging the truth of what he draws and paints. 

Leunig's apparently naive painting, cartooning, sculpture and drawing style suits his "message" or purpose exceptionally well. He speaks to us (the adults we are presumed to be but seldom are) as a child might: with all the innocence and clear-seeing of a child unafraid to say that the Emperor truly has no clothes.
Leunig also speaks to us through that timeless archetype of holy, bold - courageous - innocence: the "holy fool". I love it that he has chosen Holy Fool as the title of his new book. It's a lavish production (my photos barely do justice) showcasing more than 240 Leunig artworks. Much more than a coffee table book, it offers testimony to what matters most: whether or not we can "afford" to bring gentle, delighted appreciation to this life we share...or whether we can possibly afford not to.
For so many years "content" has had an uneasy place in art; even discussing it has become absurdly difficult. Leunig places content where it belongs: in that most intimate, potent and rich relationship between artist and viewer. Through his work, this artist freely speaks. And we listen.
The visual arts have been a passion of mine throughout my adult lifetime. At The Women's Press in London - where I was Managing Director from 1978-1983 - we were literally the first in the world to bring to public attention in a sustained way through a number of books and all the discussion that flowed from them how shamefully women artists had been neglected in the "art world" - and how much there was to be reclaimed not historically only but also in how we see and understand women artists' work.

In the decades since, gender equity in the arts has improved a great deal. Nonetheless, many immensely talented innovative, expressive artists - women and men - still struggle to find an audience and anything remotely like a living wage for their highly accomplished work. Our response to that needs to be active - and intelligently protective. Where we can, we should use whatever funds we have to buy what is original, handmade, meaningful. Many people find it easy to buy the latest "triumph" from Apple; far less easy to spend the same money or less on an artwork that will never have a use-by date or need an upgrade. In supporting art, we support a world that values art and those who make it.

"Twin Spirit" by Tina Fiveash. (Please do NOT use this on the web or in any other way without her permission.)
I don't know whether the work of artist Tina Fiveash is yet fully appreciated, but until her work is in all our major galleries and collections I would say it isn't appreciated enough! I caught up with her - and discovered her work - when I was invited to open a most exceptional exhibition called Sacred, held in Canberra recently. Curated by Benita Tunks, all the work was of the highest standard. Tina's work is particularly accessible - which takes nothing from its intelligence and depth. You can hear here a recording (up now on YouTube) of my brief, deeply felt comments about her work at that most affecting exhibition.

Discovering a new artist is such a joy! You can visit Tina's website; follow her "Bell Tower" project; or contact her about buying her work. What a glorious gift that would be for yourself or for someone you most tenderly love.

Artist Tina Fiveash

Dr Stephanie Dowrick co-hosts the Universal Heart Book Club and is the author of many books, including Seeking the Sacred and In the Company of Rilke. She has a life-long interest in the expressive and visual as well as the writing arts, and in the "sacred."

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