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Curious mix at Maitland

HIGH-IMPACT: See Fiona Foley’s photographs at Maitland Regional Art Gallery.
Nanjing Night Net

MAITLAND Regional Art Gallery has at the moment six individual exhibitions, not including the long-running gift collection of Lionel Lindsay’s prints.

The current exhibitions all extend into October, apart from Derek Kreckler’s innovative photomedia finishing on Sunday.

Kreckler is formidably original, with a body of curious work extending back many years. In Maitland a wall-filling augmented video threatens to dump us in the surf, if not drown us. A blind Ned Kelly struggles through the scrub, with a witnessing kangaroo.

A family’s discarded newspapers are pulped and moulded into bricks for an imposing ziggurat in an elegy for lost trees.

Cyclists are filmed negotiating a tricky course. Refrigerators dangle from trees.

Clearly there are myriad issues, histories, techniques, jokes and intellectual inquiry.

Also downstairs is a corridor of high-impact photographs by indigenous artist Fiona Foley, who took this series of costumed Afro-American fellow students while on a residency in New York. Their pointed hoods are black, but they certainly reference the Ku Klux Klan. Their garments are made from bright African cloth. Their glittering eyes confront us uncomfortably. In the present context it is hard to see this powerful band not only as ironic comment on racism, but also invoking the terrorism nightmare. A splendid addition to the Maitland collection.

Upstairs Anne-Maree Hunter demonstrates that printmaking can expand in many dimensions. For years her classic etchings and lithographs have appeared in galleries and exhibitions. Here she stretches her range into sculptural projects, with inventively augmented old books, intricately folded new ones, updated songlines and miniature modelled landforms, (including Uluru), housed in precious jewellery boxes.

An overarching presence is the map, global or celestial, but also including Gregory’s Sydney street directory. There are maps as arbitrary patterning, editorial statement and built up in three dimensions. There are travel diaries and fashion statements, all meticulously fabricated.

In the adjoining room is a musical offering constructed by Sylvia Ray of resonant female body parts moulded in clay. There are many breasts, kneecaps, violin-shaped backs, lips, fingers, hands and pregnant bellies, all equipped with drumsticks to assault them with. The sounds are melodious and attractive, but does this apparently playful violence against women’s bodies challenge our feminist sensibilities? Perhaps we should be invited to jangle some male dangles?

Also at Maitland are two exhibitions keeping faith with the gallery’s commitment to its community. Works mainly on paper have been selected from high schools up into the Hunter Valley to reveal the diversity and power of classroom-based artmaking.

We anticipate vigorous originality from younger children, so it is good to see seriously creative artmaking from often-reticent teenagers. A congregation of small basic clay figures captures the uncanny power of the gaze just as the warehouse of similar figures, famously amassed by British superstar Antony Gormley, transfixed us several years ago at a Biennial.

In the upstairs corridor are watercolours and mixed media by Maitland artists Gaye Shields and Julie Hosking celebrating local scenes and simple pleasures.

REFINED MUSINGSTHE distinction between sewing and drawing is increasingly porous. Margaret Adams is one of many artists who use textile techniques for linear artmaking. Her exhibition at Timeless Textiles until September 10 demonstrates that she also has a refined feeling for texture in many small works evoking memories and musings.

Both Timeless Textiles and the Lock-Up next door have significant exhibitions scheduled for the coming months, with Timeless Textiles showing artists from New Zealand and the United States as well as a solo show in November for Judy Hooworth, a local textile artist with a distinguished international presence.

All these shows were programmed long before the nodule of galleries at the beach end of Hunter Street came to realise how close they would be to the Super Cars.

The main entrance to the racetrack will be directly outside their doors. Access and parking problems are already having a serious impact on visitor numbers.

The galleries will be closed on the race weekend. However, Anne Kempton is determined to continue both her exhibitions plus the regular workshops with Newcastle’s dedicated textile enthusiasts who will surely find ways and means of reaching the gallery.

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