At the Newcastle Art Gallery until 1st November.
After a long stint in The Emporium on Friday in a space I share with a few crafty women I was glad to escape into the afternoon sun. There’s a lot of publicity happening at the moment in regard to the Renew Newcastle projects and there’s no doubting the creative forces behind the scheme. But just letting Novocastrian’s know there’s more to the mall than coffee and doughnuts. There’s also an art factor happening that you’re not going to find at the large shopping centres. Just in the past month Gavin Vitello has taken up residence in The Emporium  where he works at a bench in the corner creating gruff and robust jewellery. His sculpture features in his space so it’s an eclectic mix. But I wonder sometimes about art in our city. Yes there’s a large population of people creating art but apart from this posse I think it’s considered a boring frivolity by the multitudes. So we can thank Roland Pope for donating a collection of art to the city on the proviso that an art gallery be built because my guess is we’d be still struggling with the whole concept of a gallery what with council, alliances and philistines.
Until 1st November there is a small selection of the collection being displayed. Most would be familiar with names such as Arthur Streeton and Russell Drysdale and it’s good to see some of the popular images again. But for this keen art watcher I was thrilled to find some unfamiliar names. Kenneth Macqueen is among those names. His work titled “From the bottom cultivation paddock c1939” is a watercolour on paper appealing due to its liveliness and crisp clean line. There is also an atmosphere to the work that describes the colour and vastness of the Australian landscape so well. A quick search of his biography shows he studied art at various institutions after serving in the Australian army during World War 1 but eventually became a farmer. His great affinity with space and composition is no doubt a consequence of this.
“Lane in Hampshire 1937” by Alison Rehfisch is beautiful because of its simplicity. An oil painting of sombre hues is brought to life with an abstract form of yellow in the foreground signifying light. Its vibrancy is reflected subtly in the sky. What I enjoy in art is a works ability to inspire stories and pasts and in this work I had images of bookish weekends alone and wandering aimlessly in the garden. That melancholy sensitivity is one to relish.
Another landscape in this exhibition that cannot be ignored is “Morning Olinda, Dandenong Ranges 1933 ” by the artist Max Meldrum. He is known for formulating a theory on art and allowing this to become a basis for an art school. Tonal quality in art work is the fundamental principle of his analysis of art thereby relegating colour as insignificant. But it is the colour in this painting that is attractive. Soft mauves emphasise the hills in the background and together with the deeper green of the trees help to carry what is otherwise a typical landscape that little bit further. Also the loose relaxed quality of the paint application together with the meandering road coming in from the left of the picture plane establishes this piece as a favourite of mine. It’s an unassuming composition that works.
Mr Pope had a desire to collect art of significance but he clearly could distinguish quality work. It’s a desirable talent and one that must develop with time and enthusiasm. Newcastle has been lucky enough to be the benefactor of his ability. This exhibition is predominantly landscape based and it’s great to see the lesser known works.
 The Emporium is located in Newcastle Mall. It’s the old David Jones building.