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Victorian Artists’ Society Opens Heritage Renovation

April 2, 2017

What Lies Underneath the Arches?

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Victorian Artists’ Society

Tuesday 28th March 2017 saw the opening of the recent heritage restoration of the historic galleries inside the Victorian Artists’ Society in Albert Street in East Melbourne. The society was foundered in 1888 and in 1892 the Victorian Artists’ Society’s elegant building appeared on the landscape of East Melbourne, a place for artists to gather, to share their ideas and exhibit their works.

 

 

This was a reflection of the enthusiasm and pride that pervaded the formative period of Marvelous Melbourne. The arts society provided studio space for many of Melbourne’s early impressionist artists the likes of which included Streeton, Roberts, and McCubbin.

Over a century later this collection of splendidly restored galleries were officially opened the 28th March at a sparkling evening event. This bustling occasion was not simply well attended but importantly provided a platform for the announcement of the winner of the society’s contemporary art competition

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Audience at the Victorian Artists’ Society event 2017

The exceedingly affable MC, Ron Smith, gave us a brief overview of the many luminaries that have exhibited and performed at the society, including Melbourne’s famous opera diva Dame Nellie Melba who taught at the music conservatorium from 1915- 1931 when it was incorporated into the Artists Society premises.

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Rebecca Bode

To honour that occasion we were treated to soprano Rebecca Bode singing three opera arias including my favourite, One Fine Day from Madame Butterfly by Puccini. Rebecca’s stunningly powerful rendering of these opera highlights left the audience quite spellbound.

Victorian Artists’ Societies much loved President Eileen Mackley spoke passionately about restoring the original building to its original state and an important aspect of which was the restoration of the iconic arched façade. The recent work has repaired longstanding water damage, heating, and plumbing and added a new purpose designed sophisticated German lighting system to add luminescence to the artwork.

The Victorian Artists’ Society prize for Contemporary Art was judged by Godwin Bradbeer, a Melbourne based figurative artist, Head of Drawing in the School of Art at RMIT University in Melbourne from 2005 until 2010. In his eloquent opening speech Godwin chose to reference 20th century cultural icons that the audience could relate to instantly.

 

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Godwin Bradbeer courtesy of The Art Room

“In a field of paintings, varied in manner and accomplished in execution I am ultimately drawn to those works wherein the residue of struggle remains evident and visceral. Where risk and courage are present in the mix. I am reminded of the statement – perhaps apocryphal of Pablo Picasso’s –that;

“the work of art is a battle between the painter and the painting and if the painter is lucky, it is the painting that will win”

“So on this occasion, rather than presenting awards for fine art or for excellence in contemporary painting practice I have chosen to make these awards for valour, for stepping into the breech, for courage in the face of the blank canvas and for confronting the visual culture of the twenty first century”.

Erica Wagner and artist Godwin Bradbeer

Erica Wagner & Godwin Bradbeer

With this criteria in mind I acknowledge the high achievement of the Jo Reitze, Paul Laspagis, Margaret Gurney, Clive Sinclair, Raelene Sharp and Ian Wilson.

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Alison Waters (me) & Erica Wagner

I deem artist Erica Wagner the prizewinner on this occasion. Her painting Watching the Water has a beguiling visuality and Erica’s work has an energy all of its own.”

I caught up with Erica Wagner briefly after her win and asked her what inspires her to paint. She gave me a quote from the German writer and statesman Goethe.

‘Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.’

“His words kept me going during the many years of squeezing my art into tiny spaces while juggling work and family. For the last 7 years, working part-time in publishing, I’ve had the luxury of more time, but when the juggling gets out of control, that quote still fires me up”.

 

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Winning painting Watching the Water by Erica Wagner

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