Monday, 6 October 2008

Brisbane Art: Jon Cattapan's Possible Histories: Valley Nights exhibition

John Cattapan at Opening night of Jon Cattapan's Possible Histories Valley Nights exhibition 081003-15

On Friday night I went to the opening of the free Possible Histories: Valley Nights exhibition of Jon Cattapan's work. It's on at the Dell Gallery at the Queensland College of Art until Sunday November 16th - see below for a Google Map.

This video of the opening speeches by Doug Hall and Jon Cattapan also pans over the signature work, Valley Nights, a huge, 4-panel work that is almost seven metres wide and almost two metres high:

The notes on Cattapan's art by exhibition curator Simon Wright talk about how Cattapan has been coming to Brisbane for the last twenty years, which means he has seen Brisbane change from a backward-looking, inwards-looking provincial city into an "Australian metropolis". Wright says that this sort of change is an important part of Cattapan's work.

Another important thing about Cattapan's work is that it is not very clear exactly what stories (if any) he is trying to tell. There are human figures in his work, but they it's often hard to make out exactly what they are doing. This means that when you look at his work, you have to make up your own mind about what's going on.

Opening night of Jon Cattapan's Possible Histories Valley Nights exhibition 081003-17

It's a small exhibition: just four walls of the smallish Dell Gallery. On one wall is the huge "Valley Nights" work. As you can see from the video, it's all about Fortitude Valley. The Story Bridge dominates the centre of the painting, streching over a river. But very little else is clear. There are small-ish sketches of the McWhirters building and the gasomter at Newstead, but apart from that the "Valley Nights" is not true to physical reality. You can't move from one landmark to another as if it was a map, and the streets aren't laid out like they really are in Brisbane. I guess this is another part of asking you to work out your own story when you look at it.

Most of "Valley Nights" is dominated by blue night with long rows of street lights, or red, green, orange and yellow light, like the bright colours of street lamps and traffic lights. There are a couple of sketches of people gathered together doing stuff, but it's not very clear exactly what.

Opening night of Jon Cattapan's Possible Histories Valley Nights exhibition 081003-1

"Valley Nights" is something you should go and sit in front of for at least ten or twenty minutes - just soak it up.

When you've finished looking at "Valley Nights", turn to your right and you'll see twenty works that make up the "In Valley" series. Once again these are pictures of groups of people, but it's really not clear what they are doing. Some of them might be getting hassled by the cops, and some of them look like they could be having car trouble. The people are drawn in blue pencil, and there are splotches and dashes of bright orange paint over these paintings as well.

Opening night of Jon Cattapan's Possible Histories Valley Nights exhibition 081003-23

Behind you (as you look at "Valley Nights" are dozens of smaller artworks making up "The City Submerged #23: the lie of the valley". Some of these are reworked photographs, many are brightly-coloured ovals. And to your left are five untitled works making up "Valley Study 1-5", which look like photographs that have been silk-screened with oil and acrylic paint. As with all the other work, nothing is clear but an impression.

There's a long article by Suzanna Clarke about Jon Cattapan on the Courier-Mail website - it's worth a read if you want to know more about Cattapan's work and what else he's done.

Opening night of Jon Cattapan's Possible Histories Valley Nights exhibition 081003-9

"Possible Histories", which is a book by Chris McAuliffe about Cattapan's work from the 1970's onwards, is on sale at the exhibition. You can also buy it here from Melbourne University Press, and you can read it at the University of Queensland Library, the Queensland State Library, or the Brisbane City Council Library. If you need to look the book up at other libraries, use this list from Wikipedia.

The photos in this article are shots of people at the opening. If you'd like to see the full set of 30 photos, click here.

If you're interested in buying any of Cattapan's work, the Milani Gallery handles all enquiries.

The Dell Gallery at the Queensland College of Art is open from Wednesday to Sunday each week. On weekdays it opens from 11am-4pm, and on weekends from 12 midday till 4pm. This Google Map shows you where to go: the gallery is about two minutes walk from Southbank train station or about five minutes walk from the Southbank bus station:

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