01 Apr 2004

ILLOS - the art of contemporary illustration


To be opened by Mr Squiggle, Thursday 1 April 6-8pm.


(left: Mr Squiggle & Miss Rebecca at Newcontemporaries opening ILLOS)



ILLOS features artwork by: - Amanda Upton, Kerrie Leishman, Jock Alexander, Reg Lynch, Rocco Fazzari, Richard Collins, Matt Taylor, Biddy Maroney, Edwina White, Andrew Weldon, David James, Clemens Habicht, Louis Pratt, Bruce Petty, Keith Looby, Lawrence Finn, Alison Kubbos, John Shakespeare, Peter Kingston, David Waller, Michael Bell, Garry Shead, Reg Mombassa, Monica Monin and Laura Gulbin.




Australia has a fine, proud tradition of illustration. In the 1890s, the black and white artists in the Bulletin were the equal of any in the world – as confirmed by the international success of draftsmen such as David Low, Phil May and Will Dyson. The journal was a national institution that not only reflected an emerging Australian temperament but helped create it. The bushies who read the Bulletin in the remote backblocks, eagerly awaited the latest efforts of artists such as Livingstone Hopkins and Norman Lindsay, whose irreverent attitudes towards authority and pomposity echoed their own. The larrikin ethos was celebrated as the preferred stance for a young, larrikin nation.


left: John Shakespeare, Carr/ Lincoln, super sculpt wood.   center: Lawrence Finn, The Trickster, from the book The Hemetic Garden, linocut, 1994.   right: Jock Alexander, Crested Pidgeon, earth & binder on panel.


For many artists, black-and-white illustration was the most congenial way to buy time for some serious painting. For much of their careers, artists such as Julian Ashton and George Lambert were better known for their illustrations than their oils. It was a distinct, self-contained art form that demanded quick wits, a skilful pen, and the ability to meet a deadline. It was great training, and a great reality check, for those who dreamt of seeking their fortune in the salons of London and Paris.


left: Peter Kingston, Shit a Brick, mixed media, 2002.   center: Reg Lynch, Advertising (Hoover) gouache, collage on paper.   right: Matt Taylor, John McDonald the Sock Puppet, ink on paper, 2004. 


It is a little surprising, nowadays, that such a chasm has opened up between ‘illustration’ and ‘art’. While the newspapers and current affairs magazines are still brimming with brilliant illustrators, the specialist art publications prefer to rely on a strict diet of photographs. It may be the word “illustration” that they find discouraging – as though it referred only to a second-hand art, a visual crutch for the printed word. Even an accomplished graphic artist such as Donald Friend was known to express his distaste for ‘illustration’, although the critical consensus today sees his illustrations as superior to his paintings.


left: Edwina White, Brioni, ink, pencil & collage on paper.  right: Kerrie Leishman, Change 2, oil on canvas.


There is also the sneaking suspicion that illustrations carry the germs of humour, satire and irreverence – qualities from which so much contemporary art remains quarantined. Indeed, the mere suggestion of humour would be enough to destroy some of the more absurd devices of the self-regarding avant-garde.


left: Amanda Upton, CLock Hotel, miixed media on paper, 2003.  center: Andrew Weldon, Premature Ejaculator, gouache & ink on paper.  right: Monica Monin, pencil & acrylic on paper.


But all illustrators are artists, even if many artists are not – or cannot hope to be – illustrators. As with their ancestors on the Bulletin, the same nimbleness of pen and wit is required, and the same willingness to engage with the world around: with its politics, its fads and pretensions. Like the illustrators of the old Bulletin, many of the artists in Illos have a kind of double life – illustrating for wages, and making their own work for exhibitions. This show brings those public and private worlds together, revealing a shared spectrum of interests that range from established artists such as Garry Shead, Keith Looby and Peter Kingston, to the underground fringe, where we find draftspersons such as Lawrence Finn, Alison Kubbos and Biddy Moroney. Many of the participants in this show will be familiar to audiences who have savoured their efforts in the newspapers and magazines. The familiarity will be there, but also a vein of fantasy that, until now, has been Not For Publication.


John McDonald, Director


March 2004



Until April 28, Newcontemporaries is happy to provide a home for "Bluey", Hermann Conte's Canis Familiaris, one of the 31 life-size Guide Dog collection boxes, which  have been lovingly transformed into works of art by a variety of Australian artists on display in store windows throughout the QVB, as part of the How much is that Doggie? event raising money for Guide Dogs NSW.


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