Saturday, September 11, 2010

Andrew Kelly - Short Memory

Andrew Kelly's recent exhibition at the Charles Hewitt Gallery was an invitation to baby boomers to eulogise the holidays they once had. 'Nostalgia art' was how it was described to me, and depending on your own life story, his work either touched you or left you as vacant as the beaches on the gallery wall. Definitely saleable, Kelly's exhibition was like a public dusting off and opening of an ancient spiral bound photo album replete with photos of holidays in the good ol' days.

The associations of Australiana, tea tree scrub, heath and sand alongside neat rows of fibro holiday homes would no doubt bring comfort to Australians anxious to hold dear memories of monocultural Australia lazing over summer. Theses were the good ol' days before we knew about melanoma and we'd smother ourselves in Coppertone oil, lie back and bake like proverbial chooks.

In Kelly's paradise there are no Cronulla race riots, no beaches over run by Muslims picnicking, Chinese fishing and Maori youth bombing into the rock pools. Like a memory, Kelly has taken remnants of the experience, hoisted the image up on canvas and let it fall. There are no people, few cars, no children. Coastal bushland and shacks are painted beautifully, paint (oils) is applied softly and sparingly. The effect is dreamlike and subtle, quite soft and spacious. There is nothing here to startle or remind you of what our summers are actually like, heatwaves, scorching sand, throngs of people and traffic, litter and sunscreen.

I liked his work but it also infuriated me. For whatever reason I was reminded of our ex-PM John Howard and his family annual Xmas holiday at Tea Gardens. Although I'm sure he doesn't rent a fibro, his Tea Garden ritual reflected a retreat to the Australia of the past, to holidays blurry with nostalgia. All this harking back made me cringe. It made me remember how out of place I felt with my family holidaying at the beach. We were often the only migrants, we scoured the rock pools for abalone, oysters and sea urchin. We ate everything we could get our brown hands on. We were loud and friendly and the holidays were to be celebrated. Our neighbours however would steal nervous glances from behind nylon lace curtains, lips pursed. We weren't 'them' and they weren't us. Andrew Kelly's paintings represent 'them' and I can appreciate what he is evoking but the memory of that time in the 1970s, in the shadow of the white Australia policy, is an era I'm happy to bury in the cool sands of time.

Images courtesy of Charles Hewitt Gallery

Top image:
Burning Palms Shacks
oil on linen
51 x82cm

bottom image:
South Coast View
oil on linen
61 x92cm from the

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