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Pollyxenia Joannou-Reddin is an award-winning Sydney-based contemporary artist working in painting, drawing, sculpture and installations.
She has only recently returned from spending a couple of years with her partner in London. London, however, is no stranger to Polly as she completed her MA in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins (UK).
The breaking news, however, is that Polly is having a new exhibition in a gallery on the fringe of the Sydney central business district, opening 23 August, 2023.
“The work or process is a path that evolved rather than a conscious, academic process. I see the world or landscape as structured architectural codes; the repetition of lines; 3D structures of an urban landscape and what I perceive as unnecessary, I discard. I seek in my work a quiet corner. The work provides a pause or a resting place before moving on. I try and achieve this through colour palette, a balance of aesthetics via shapes, line, repetition, and materiality.” (Pollyxenia Joannou-Reddin)
I love Polly’s clean, intelligent work…so it’s a pleasure to photograph and contemplate each piece as we manoeuvre it into position for the final capture.
Check out Polly’s work at CBD Gallery in the city (until 23 September), a relatively new space which also runs workshops in various topics.
It has been my pleasure to photograph the development of Charles’ paintings, drawings and installations over many years. This time it was a little different … recording his artworks on public display, as part of two outdoor installations. This situation brought its own technical hurdles in terms of light and reflections, particularly as his drawing at The Rocks was displayed behind a deep-set glass window, which was also unevenly lit (a challenge for any photographer)
However we managed to get good results and Charles’ large-scale works have now been properly documented. If you are near either Botany Road in Alexandria or Nurse’s Walk at The Rocks, look out for his two installations.
Artist extraordinaire Laura Matthews has recently completed a new body of work, which I happily photographed and documented at her inner-west studio in Sydney. Her paintings often look at how figures interact with expressive landscapes, including her recent series of underwater images.
Laura is the product of the illustrious British art school, The University College London Slade School of Fine Art (informally known as “The Slade”). It is touted as one of the UK’s top institutions for art, design and experimentation. A notable teacher at the Slade was the well-known British painter Lucien Freud.
After her studies, Laura moved to Australia with her husband, where she has worked as an artist ever since.
I enjoyed photographing her recent work. I admire Laura’s draughtsmanship as well as the looseness of her painting. I love “painters who paint”. What I mean by this is that I appreciate painters who really push their colours around on the canvas … where you can see the medium of paint and their techniques.
My ongoing Spot the Arab project continues with the addition of Yunis Dargit to the ever-growing line-up of models I have photographed and exhibited. Spot the Arab is my highly-personal series of portraits looking at issues of race, identity, gender, religion and prejudice as seen through my lens, presenting honest, uncomplicated portraits which challenge the viewer to consider whether the model might identify as Arab or not. Some of the models identify as Arab, partially Arabian or not at all. It is up to the viewer to read the signals, and make their own assumptions. It is truly interesting to see on what basis each person makes their guesses.
I have exhibited my Spot the Arab series in Rome in a solo show at Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea in 2017 and later in Australia, at the Backspace Gallery in Ballarat in 2018. For more information and a more detailed description of this series please visit the following Link: Spot the Arab
Now in 2023, I have continued my series with Yunis, an interesting man with a fascinating background. Currently he lives in Sydney, Australia and works in hospitality. I first challenge you to guess whether he identifies as Arab or not.
We started the shoot with some standard head-shots as a warm-up. This was also to provide Yunis with some new images to use for his social media and CV … see the official portrait below.
Following the head-shots, we moved on to capture the Spot the Arab portraits. Here are a few depictions of Yunis in costume from this shoot.
Yunis does identify as Arab, which is the short answer to the question. But it is more complicated than this … as it often is when we discuss nuances of human identity. Here’s an excerpt from what Yunis wrote:
“I researched my background as far back as 1843 and although some may dispute the fact that I am Arab, I possess documents that verify my lineage.
My family originates from what is now known as Syria, however I was born in Turkey and grew up later in Germany.”
My good friend Maree Azzopardi has a wonderful solo exhibition showing at the Gosford Regional Art Gallery. Maree and I have known each other for many years, both professionally and privately. We have shown our work together many times in group exhibitions across the globe including in New York, Malta and Rome, as well as in galleries here in Australia.
Maree has always impressed me as a really “gutsy” painter and I have long admired her work. If you happen to travel to the Central Coast over the next six weeks (the Fireworks exhibition 29 Oct – 13 Dec, 2022) make sure you visit the Gosford Regional Art Gallery to visit her show.
The following are my photographs of some of Maree’s works from the exhibition, with a text written by the Rome-based curator (and mutual friend), Jonathan Turner.
“If fire (…) was taken to be a constituent element of the Universe, is it not because it is an element of human thought, the prime element of reverie?”
Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire, 1938.
According to the mid-20th Century French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, the phenomenon of fire is situated at the crossroads of science and poetry. His studies included an approach to the components represented by fire, the libido and flaming passion, while his philosophical response to man’s basic instinct to control fire was his brilliant analysis of the myth of Prometheus, who was punished by the capricious Greek gods for his theft of fire and its subsequent gift to humanity in the form of knowledge and civilisation.
Maree Azzopardi takes Bachelard’s Psychoanalysis of Fire, and reverts back to the aspects of the impulsive, transgressive nature of fire, its ability to cause unintended consequences, the destructive powers of wild-fires and the subsequent joys of rejuvenation. At the Gosford Regional Gallery, her new Fireworks exhibition of paintings, drawings, concertina books, ceramic sculptures and mixed media photographic works assess the complexities of damage and grief associated with fire, but also the healing powers of nature and positive energy. In her work, Azzopardi reaffirms a desire for transformation. She studies the coexistence of life and death, reminiscent of the Greek myth of the phoenix, the immortal bird which regenerates cyclically, or is reborn in a different way. Associated with the sun, the phoenix receives new life by being resurrected from the ashes of its predecessor.
Fire has no form, weight or density, and Azzopardi’s watercolours and canvases reflect this. Like Mother Nature herself, bush-fires are untameable. Soothe Your Sorrows was initially created in response to the Black Summer Fires. The text comes from a late 19th Century diary kept by Tottie Thorburn, an unmarried woman who lived with her sisters in Meroogal House on the south coast of NSW. Tottie was devoted to the Scriptures, and Azzopardi’s work is inspired by her independent, isolated life. In a painting representing fire and the pandemic, Azzopardi uses 12 panels as a sacred number symbolizing the Apocalypse. But all is not lost. Azzopardi depicts both the scorched earth and the regeneration of native wattle.
“So after the fires, I created images using what I found, such as burnt branches used as charcoal and also the burnt bones of animals that I used as drawing tools,” explains the artist. “It became a sort of ritual of helping the scorched earth to heal, to release the spirits of the deceased animals, as well as addressing my own grief at what I had witnessed.”
In her recent work, Azzopardi incorporates a variety of materials including gouache, Sumi and Indian ink, oil stick, sand, flecks of gold-leaf, burnt feathers and rattan matting she has salvaged from discarded cane chairs washed-up on the beach at the high tide mark. Her Wings of Desire series are photographs of dead seabirds printed on linen, with shimmering stitches embroidered in gold thread. One work featuring matted feathers and the gilded skull of a bird is dedicated to the Greek myth of Icarus, the man whose wings melted when he flew too close to the sun, and who fell to the sea and drowned. Meanwhile the shape of the bird skull itself is reminiscent of the beaked masks worn by medieval doctors in Italy to symbolically protect them against the plague, and now worn as traditional costumes during Carnival in Venice. Thus Azzopardi’s Fireworks reference the apocalyptic harbingers of pestilence, famine and war as the most pressing global concerns today, as well as the destruction wrought by floods and the Australian bushfires. Her theme is death heading towards rebirth, strife redeemed through spirituality.
In a nod to the hyper-vigilance of Google Earth (sometimes Azzopardi’s landscapes are even viewed from above), her paintings offer a deconstruction of the contemporary gaze. Her landscapes explore the notions of what is instantly recognizable and what is magnified to the point of abstraction, what is naturalistic and what has been crushed, scratched and blurred. Formal questions centre on empty and filled space, on shadow and light. This is all part of Azzopardi’s questioning on the “exhaustion of images” and the deeper concepts of memory and oblivion.
Charles Cooper is a well known, accomplished, incredibly talented artist who has an impressive CV and career. For many years he has been part of the permanent stable of artists showing at the prestigious Annandale Galleries, Trafalgar Street, Annandale. Charles also works as drawing lecturer at the National Art School
On Saturday 10 September, 2022 at the Annandale Galleries Charles launched a monograph of his work over the last 40 years. Dr Michael Hill, Head of Art History and Theory at the National Art School, spoke at the launch together with Joe Frost who contributed the accompanying text in the book. John McDonald (Art Critic) wrote, “”It’s illuminating to read Joe Frost’s description of Cooper’s career and trace the evolution of his work. While the artist’s themes and ideas have remained consistent, the formal innovations have never ceased.”
I captured a few images from the launch (selection pictured below). The book is available from Charle’s website: www.charlescooperartist.com
I’ve been photographing Rhonda Pryor’s works and exhibitions for many years. Originally Rhonda was my studio buddy when we both worked in the same warehouse building in Lilyfield – me with my photography and Rhonda in her painting studio. Rhonda has since moved on to work in a studio closer to home, but she continues to commission me to photograph and document her eye-catching works, which combine painting and textiles, both hard-edged and shadowy.
Rhonda writes about her work: “While studying for my master’s degree at Sydney College of the Arts, my media of choice evolved to photography and textile work. However, I feel my work still suggests a painter’s sensibility in many ways and has influenced me in working with oils yet again after a long break. Recent textile pieces range from tight, abstract and amorphic shapes with linen, to more fluid, evocative manipulations – like catching sight of something but not quite seeing or understanding it (much like the process of remembering).”
My friend, the Palestinian artist, Emily Jacir has a solo show at her Turin gallery, Galleria Peola Simondi, Italy (until 14 October, 2021). The photo based works, film and texts are her response to the ongoing conflict between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people in and around her ancestral home and artist’s studio in Bethlehem. Jacir’s house is 200 metres from the “Apartheid Wall”, the imposing security barrier which was supposedly designed to protect the Jewish Israeli population but instead serves to isolate and and antagonise Palestinian communities. As Jacir states in the text by Francesca Comisso, “the wall does not separate us from Israel, it separates us from ourselves”.
I have photographed Emily several times over the years and one of these images was used by La Repubblica newspaper in the review of her current show at Galleria Peola Simondi.
“This work comes from walking through the fire ground after the 2019-20 fires in the Blue Mountains….the textures, the still glowing logs, the xanthorrhoea stumps, the profound and shocking stillness,” says artist Margarita Sampson.
It is great to photograph Margarita’s work and spend a couple of hours with her magnificent and unusual creations. I wonder what’s next….?
Pigment inkjet on cotton rag, 112cm x 78cm, Edition of 9, (2AP)
Since 2008, every year I have taken an “official” annual portrait photograph of Matthew Mitcham, Australia’s gold-medal Olympic diver, award-winning cabaret performer and television entertainer, in my studio in Sydney.
Facing the camera with a direct, unflinching manner, each consecutive portrait is added to the growing series of similar portraits, which commenced when Matthew was only 20 years old, before his rise to Olympic fame.
Each portrait is taken under similar conditions, plotting the changes in his physical appearance and growing self-assurance. This particular 2020 portrait marks a bumpy year for all of us, facing the pandemic. It is only fitting Matthew is masked and “Covid-safe” for this one. MMXX marks the 13th portrait and the 13th year in this ongoing series.
I thank Matt for his support in continuing this series, in allowing a very public view of his “personal time-line”. Matt married Luke just over a year ago in Belgium I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to photograph their wedding (see blog post: Matthew Mitcham Marries). They spent a good part of 2020 here in Australia but only a few days ago Matt and Luke have left our shores for the UK.
It’s uplifting to see how clever businesses are able to find fresh ways to survive in the current climate, and to reward their loyal customers.
Le Coq, a well-loved restaurant in Darling Road not far from my studio in Rozelle, boasts a menu focussed on traditional French poultry dishes. Together with David Poirier, the owner of Le Coq, I recently set up a photo-shoot as a way to celebrate their regular clients at a time when business is beginning to return to normal. Inspired by Leonardo’s Last Supper, I created a series of iconic portraits of various local people from Rozelle and Balmain seated at a long dining table. The new series is called The First Supper. These culinary portraits will soon be hanging on the walls of Le Coq.
The Sydney Morning Herald published a short story in its Short black good food guide on June 20, 2020.
John McRae’s work is featured as part of “The figure of the mother in art: an embematic representation of love” by Pepe Alvarez and Fernando Galan, published in art.es in December 2018 (pages 59-64). It is part of the special issue of the Spanish art magazine dedicated to the theme of the mother. The article discusses the broader concept of maternity in Michelangelo’s “Pietà”, the female viewpoint as presented by the contemporary artists Nathalie Djurberg, Leiko Ikemura, Francesca Marti’, Isabel Munoz, Yoko Ono and Cindy Sherman, and the work of James McNeill Whistler, John McRae, Roman Ondak and Tatsumi Orimoto. John McRae is represented by Lois (2006), a portrait of his dead mother. This work was chosen as a finalist in the 2006 Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture at the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah, Australia.
As the art.esarticle states, “The figure of the mother, and maternity as a concept, have played an important role in the historical development of mankind as reflected in its cultural manifestations. The cult of the mother is as old as humanity … a link to the earth, making the mother the only real and tangible point of reference.”
The Museum of Love & Protest was an inter-active exhibition at the National Art School (NAS) in Sydney in February/March, looking back across four decades of the history of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. It featured original costumes, photographs, iconic posters, rarely-seen video footage, story-telling, music and artefacts. This large scale group show celebrated love, protest, diversity, humour, pride and creativity.
The exhibition included my photographs commissioned by Mardi Gras for the 2012 and 2013 official Mardi Gras posters (MARDIGRASLAND and GENERATIONS OF LOVE), and also my grinning portrait of cheesey performer Bob Downe, attached to one of his infamous cabaret safari-suit costumes.
Spot the Arab opened at Backspace Gallery, Ballarat on March 1, 2018 (see images below) through March 18.
Local artists, photographers, arts administrators, friends and family of the artist, journalists, and the general public from Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Melbourne and beyond were in attendance for the opening of “Spot the Arab” on the walls of this art space (housed in a heritage-protected, former police station), funded and supported by the City of Ballarat.
Deborah Klein (Arts and Culture Co-ordinator), Cash Brown (Curator and Conservator at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka) and Jonathan Turner (exhibition co-curator, Rome), opened the exhibition.
In particular, the “Selfie Stand” was a huge success. This is a portable photo-booth which has been set up, where visitors to my exhibition can use their mobile phones to take a self-portrait wearing Arab head dress or costume provided, standing in front of desert landscape backdrops I photographed in Israel and Palestine.
Visitor summary – Spot the Arab, Ballarat
An estimated 3,000 people visited the exhibition inside the Backspace Gallery. Many more people saw the exterior images pasted on the Backspace building and in the square (20,000 people passed by the gallery building on the Saturday of the White Night Festival)
SOCIAL MEDIA SUMMARY
A total of 20,000 people were reached through Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
3,507 people visited the separate Spot the Arab page on Facebook
John McRae’s personal photography page was visited by a further 3,393 people
6,585 people saw Spot the Arab posts via twitter
5,750 people saw Spot the Arab posts via Instagram (with 965 likes)
There were a further 1,000 likes via other media, and 125 direct comments
The Selfie Stand
From at least 400 people who dressed in the Arab costumes provided and took selfies at the exhibition, 33 people posted their portraits on social media.
Link to pod-cast with John McRae about his Spot the Arab portrait project and exhibition in Ballarat. Interview by artist and communications officer Rebecca Wilson, as part of her Western Connections programme.
Interview conducted in Sydney: February 12, 2018. 25 minutes.
John McRae will exhibit his latest body of work Spot the Arab for the first time in Australia. Images from McRae’s Spot the Arab series were shown in June 2017 in Rome, at the cutting-edge Italian gallery Il Ponte Contemporanea.This exhibition took place in the centre of the “Eternal City”, close to the Vatican, in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto.
Name: Spot the Arab – John McRae
Venue:Backspace Gallery, Ballarat, Australia
Dates:Exhibition runs from March 1-18 , 2018
Opening Thursday March 1, from 6pm – 8pm
Backspace Gallery hours: Thursday – Sunday, 12 – 4pm, The artist will be present for the duration of the exhibition.
The closing weekend of the exhibition will coincide with Harmony Fest (March 17-26), White Night Ballarat (Saturday March 17,from 4pm to 2 am) and Ballarat Cultural Diversity Week (March 14 – 25).
Note: the Backspace Gallery will remain open from 4pm to 2am on March 17, as part of White Night Ballarat.
Address: Huyghue House,
Alfred Deakin Place (Camp Street) Ballarat
Owned and operated by the City of Ballarat Arts and Cultural Development team
The City of Ballarat respectfully acknowledges the Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung people– traditional custodians of the land.
Spot the Arab challenges the viewer to identify who among the line-up identifies as Arab.I query if this is such a relevant question in the first place.How complicated life becomes when such things are treated as important.…maybe it’s more interesting to just experience the actual person in front of you, no matter how they are “dressed”, and to leave it at that.
Spot the Arab is a project based on portraiture, as a summary of various themes, ideas and concepts aligned to how I reflect upon contemporary issues of religion, race, gender, orientation, nationality and freedom. I present this work in a game-like yet very serious manner. It is a topical celebration of diversity, with a powerful message about tolerance.
Following 9/11 we have seen a growth in the stigma surrounding the idea of Arab/Muslim/Middle-Eastern, driven by incessant, hounding imagery of the “terrorist”. I resent this repeated, visual conditioning, which occurs every time you turn on the television or open a newspaper. It is easy to make fake computations and lose your ability to comprehend the subtleties and differences…so that you may no longer see the actual person standing in front of you.How often does this occurs in all areas of our society?How often do we close down communication as a result?I decided to take this particular stereotype and use it to draw attention to the insanity of discrimination.
This show has been built around a photo installation, a retrospective of my portraits since 2002 on the theme of the illusions and stereotypes of what is an Arab today.It looks at a selection of people I have photographed over the past decade in numerous countries and from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.In most cases I have imposed Middle-Eastern clothing onto my subjects (who may otherwise wear jeans and a t-shirt) and have asked them to enact the role of what they consider an Arab might be. The sitters include men, women and transgender people in the “guise” of Arabs and dressed accordingly.Spot the Arab focuses on social fictions of femininity/masculinity, recurring themes in my work.
At the end of the portrait session I asked each subject to exactly describe how they identify, since in this way, we can over-ride the preconceptions of imposed racism and prejudice….and whether they identify as “Arab” in any way. This gives additional weight to the complexity of each portrait.
For example, Ali, a Lebanese-Australian national raised in Paris but who is currently based in London, has frequently posed for me over the past decades. He provides a sharp description of how he defines his own identity.
“My ethnicity is Arab, I see myself as Semitic too. I also have Persian lineage,” Ali explains. “Gender is very fluid in the male body that I adore, so I project the idea of Macho Male. My religion: Agnostic, Neo-pagan, Baphomet Worshipper, Hermetic Qabalist, Neo-Platonic, Sacred Whore (I go as ‘London Arab Master’ these days). I love Shia-Islam too.”
I tend to create works in series, often spanning different continents and time-lines. This introduces a multi-faceted and shifting perspective, never a single cultural viewpoint.My specific fascination is to use my camera to break down stereotypes and visual codes, more important today than ever.In my portraits, I try to capture sly or hidden messages, and then juxtapose these with more blatant aspects of drama, styling and emotion, whether it is authentic or staged.It is always about intimacy versus theatricality.
John McRae, 2017
Spot the Arab with be running with a number of community based events which are taking place in Ballarat concurrently:
– White Night Ballarat (Saturday March 17,from 4pm to 2 am)
– Harmony Fest (March 17-26)
– Cultural Diversity Week (March 14 – 25).
Spot the Arab will challenge the viewer to identify who of the various models, dressed in Middle Eastern costume, actually identify as Arab. Viewers will also be invited to participate in the SELFIE STAND, an area in the gallery reserved for those who wish to take a selfie dressed in the Middle Eastern clothing (provided) in front of an Arabian backdrop. The viewer is then encouraged to post this image on social media with the hashtag #spotthearab. Once posted, the artist will print the resulting images and then adhere them to a wall of the Backspace Gallery, so that the visitors can become part of the exhibition.
For further information about the exhibition go to:
I am pleased to announce that GENIUS People Magazine in Italy has published an article about my ongoing Spot The Arab project, aligned to my exhibition at Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea in Rome.
GENIUS People Magazine is a topical, bilingual publication based in Trieste in northern Italy, appearing both on-line and in print form, guided by Editor-in-Chief Francesco La Bella, and Project Manager Mariaisabella Musulin. It focuses primarily on contemporary arts and culture.
Click on the following link to read the article, written by Jonathan Turner: