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For many, the Gold Coast exists in the greater Australian consciousness as the destination for a multitude of childhood, caravan beach holidays, of sand in the sheets, motel dinners and oddly shaped sunburn. For others it remains a bastion of eighties glamour and excess, of white shoes and gold accessories, and shady business deals––a monument to bad taste in the absence of an ironic love for kitsch, and worse, the last frontier of parochialism. The Gold Coast is torn between its national role as the capital of awkward nostalgia, and its reputation as a playground for the filthy rich and culturally challenged. As the millennium approaches, it would be difficult to find a city more resolutely confident in the knowledge of its importance in the grand scheme of all things Australian (well, they do get the lndy Carnival, and they still have Meter Maids). So much so, that the terminally hip, Gold Coast bound tourist for whom the obligatory stay at the ironically kitsch Pink Poodle Motel is de rigueur, could be forgiven for thinking that not much has changed in the 'Venice of Australia' (according to a 1970s' canal frontage property push).
But much has changed. The city is becoming just that, a city with traffic problems, faux celebrities and employment opportunities. In the past, Coast artists have found it necessary to look to Brisbane for a successful commercial show, but a new space at Currumbin is taking the initiative, and is offering local artists a new venue with an emphasis on the contemporary. Pandanus Art is owned and run by Fran Cummings (with her business partner Susie Briggs), who is well known in local art circles for her nine years as Director of Gold Coast City Art Gallery, and for her involvement in the Gold Coast and Brisbane art scene as a curator and all-round supporter of local artists.
Located on the beachfront at Currumbin, the gallery benefits greatly from its close proximity to the Coast's greatest resource. The space is small, indeed intimate and openings tend to spill out onto the boardwalk. The gallery features a stable of well known local practitioners including Elisabeth Cummings, Pat Van lngen, Palsy Hely, Greg Colwill and Anna Bassi who show works on paper, ceramics, and painting on a permanent basis, alongside selected contemporary Torres Strait Islander artists and Indigenous artists from Arnhem Land, the Kimberleys and Melville Island. These exhibitions are supplemented by small curated shows and solo shows, the calibre of which is extremely heartening for the Coast.
Cummings curated Living Colour, which featured Peter Alwast, Julie Reeves, Michael Zavros, Richard Muldoon and Donna Marcus, in response to the need for dialogue between Brisbane and Gold Coast artists, and with an emphasis on emerging artists and the relationship between abstraction and realism. Donna Marcus has long based her practice on the Coast whilst maintaining a national profile, and her work continues to examine formalism through domestic icons. For Living Colour she produced two wall panels of anodised saucepan lids arranged into abstract grids of colour, suggestively named Coolangatta and Parlour. Marcus's work appeals by virtue of its universal themes and its ironic celebration of the everyday, and the banal. Each assemblage, carefully and obsessively constructed from recycled kitchen utensils and other domestic ephemera collected from bric-a-brac stores and Salvation Army depots, resonates with personal memories and associations that their carefully chosen names evoke. Coolangatta is bittersweetly nostalgic of old beachside fibro shacks, and Formica kitchens, and in the context of the exhibition and alongside Peter Alwast's coolly urbane abstraction, communicated effectively with the space, and its location.
The resin pieces of 1999 Samstag Scholarship recipient Peter Alwast, related well to Marcus's sculptures with their reference to debates around formalism and abstraction. Not quite painting and not quite sculpture, his colour suffused works are vehicles for natural light and offer a new inflection to the rhetoric of painting that has been described as '1980s New York minimalism "with a twist" meets Pop'. Julie Reeves has quickly emerged as one of the most interesting painters on the contemporary Brisbane scene with her exquisite Baroque inspired abstraction. The works in Living Colour, Instigate and Perpetrate offered an edge to the tag 'decorative'. Layers of delicate detail painted on satin emerge from the dense polyurethane surface. The highly polished surfaces both reflect and draw in the gaze. Indeed, they seem to describe desire itself: they are about the act of seduction, about desire perpetrated.
Another of Brisbane's emerging artists, Michael Zavros has come to prominence through his inclusion in several curated group shows, and a 1999 solo show, Catalogue, which showcased large scale photorealist images taken from Mercedes Benz catalogues. The paintings in Living Colour reflected similar concerns although on a different scale. Here Zavros showed miniatures, photorealist oil paintings on board drawn from glossy male fashion magazines. He selects and crops images that celebrate masculinity, and the beautiful in the banal. The small fashion paintings are all about the overlooked detail: the neatly turned cuff, the fine pinstripe, the fall of the collar, as well as being an exercise in objective painting. Man in a Woof Suit, a reference to Mapplethorpe's famous photograph, Man in a Polyester Suit, is a tightly rendered work that examines the enduring appeal of the dandy. The man in question is anonymous; the headless image is cropped close, focussing on the beautifully veined hands and the torso outfitted in a delicate navy, double breasted pinstripe. The miniature scale of Zavros's works coupled with their luxe subject matter is a significant part of the appeal of these witty works that play with traditional realist painting genres. In contrast, Richard Muldoon's large-scale oil on canvas Trail, painted from a blurry photograph of car lights at night, offered the aesthetic of abstraction with the technique of photorealism. Painted from candid snapshots, the work bridged the gap between abstraction and figuration with a sense of cool irony. The obscure angle and nature of the subject matter (what are we looking at exactly?) was reminiscent on one level of Gerhard Richter's investigation of abstraction.
Living Colour, with its attempt to encourage debate about some of the issues surrounding contemporary art, bodes well for the Gold Coast art scene.