Unique portraits of poverty: Dempsey’s People

There’s a very charming exhibition on at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra at the moment. It’s something like a latter-day Humans of New York, because the subjects are not the fabulous, fine and famous, but the ‘umble and poor.

Dempsey’s People features water colours of English street people from the first half of the nineteenth century. Anyone familiar with Charles Dickens’ work will know the kinds of people I mean – the street sweeper, the fishmonger, the beadle – even the muffin man. But neither the people nor the paintings are glossy and gentrified; they are presented in their poverty, and it’s very moving.

The genesis of the collection of 52 paintings is interesting – they were found abandoned almost – artist unknown – in 2004 in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, when the archive was being re-located. The process of researching the collection and then funding the exhibition has therefore been long.

What I like about the paintings is that they are light – I am guessing that Dempsey was doing quick studies of the subjects and completing them later on, perhaps at night? No electricity. But their clarity and detail are amazing.

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And the subject matter, of course – this man is a bill poster. We know and see lots of information and portraits of the wealthy, right throughout history. But the poor are either absent or mis-represented, and while this could also be the case here, they do feel real.

They are not brilliant pieces of art, but they give voice to people from this period who really haven’t been seen much – the blind, the disabled (many of the men were returned soldiers from Napoleonic Wars), the mentally ill. There are a few women portrayed in the collection – this woman helps the bathers at the seaside to get dressed.

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I particularly like this one of “Black Charley” in Norwich, apparently a freed slave set up in a shoe-making business.

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And Pember of Bath … and friend.

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This image of the Englishman John Rutherford comes from the collection of the National Library of New Zealand, Wellington and is the only “ring in” painting. Look up his story some time …

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If you are in or visiting Canberra before 22 October, take a look. It’s worthwhile. And if not, check out the images online. There’s lots of information there. They don’t know what will happen to the exhibition after it finishes in Canberra – perhaps back to Tasmania or touring if there is demand.

The copyright of these photographed images rests with the original image copyright holder.

 

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Life gets in the way of Life with a blackdog

I’ve been an absentee blogger, sadly.  Real life got in the way in the form of a new job – my first real full time role in 15 years. Yes, having children was a choice and it meant changes and compromises and I’m pretty happy with the results – two beautiful children who I can say bring me joy every day.

But getting back on the chain gang has been a challenge. The life logistics got even more complicated – who needed to be where when and with what packed in a bag?  Evening meals got more simple (simpler?) – being a very plain cook, I wasn’t sure that was possible, but it was. Food as fuel.

The dog has continued to be walked of course, but starting the job mid-winter has meant very little time for wider forays into the public art scene in Canberra.  Now that spring is upon us though and the days are longer, I have plans to get out amongst it all again.  That’s a promise I will try to keep!

In the meantime, here are some pics of our adventures, some close by, some a bit further away.

garden dog Letterbox Seed pods  Suburban swing Tilly and the banksia rosesShoes make a pillow

Who you callin' a dummy (One of these dogs is not a statue!)

It moves, but never gets off the ground

When I first saw Dinornis Maximus I thought it was an actual wind measuring instrument, something that the Weather Bureau had put up to test which way the wind was blowing, or how fast – a kind of new-fangled wind sock. Or maybe a new wind turbine for generating electricity.  But no, it’s a kinetic sculpture.

Tall wind sculpture Tilly

It has grown on me – I regularly drive past it en route through Woden – and I find I am now less distracted by it than previously. Initially I thought the blades might fly off.  Up close, though it seems pretty stable.

Upwards wind sculpture

The day we went to take a look, it was freezing cold, but there was no wind, which is why I felt able to get so close.

Tilly base wind sculpture

Dinornis was the giant moa, a flightless bird, from New Zealand.  Extinct now of course, and thought to stand more than three metres tall.  This sculpture is 11 metres tall, and its arms rotate every which way, whatever way the wind takes it.  A bit like life, really.

Dinorsis long view Dinornis Plaque

The artist is Phil Price, a NZ sculptor.  I do like the irony of the artist naming this sculpture with swinging arms after a flightless bird.  It moves and moves, but never gets off the ground.

Here’s a quick film on YouTube of the sculpture’s arms moving about.

On the road again

With the wind in my ears and a smile on my own face, I think this sculpture adroitly captures the joy of the dog taking a road trip with its owner.

Tilly and on the road again

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The whimsy of the composition, with the dog’s head stuck out of the car’s window – which seems to hang mid-air – encourages the imagination.  And you can feel the movement of the wind as it whooshes through the car, pulling the dog’s ear’s backwards while the car is propelled forward.

Dog truck 1        Anne Ross On the Road again 2011

On the road again by Anne Ross  is located at Lyons shops, and is made of bronze. It was installed in November 2011, and unveiled in 2012.

It adds humour to the shops at Lyons, which is one of the few local shops that also has information about the person for whom it is named, Australian Prime Minister Joe Lyons.

Lyons sculpture

Lyons 2

Swaying stalks of light

The Vessel of Horticultural Plenty looks brilliant at night, but Tilly and I aren’t allowed out then – it’s way past our bedtime. Needless to say, it’s still striking during the daytime.

Funded by ArtsACT in 2009, the artist is Warren Langley.

Light sculpture 2  Light sculpture Tilly

The sculpture is made of galvanised steel, polycarbonate and coloured LED lights. The strips of lighting sway in the breeze, casting a colourful swathe through the night sky. Here’s a picture of what it looks like at night.

It’s located in Childers Street, in Canberra as part of the new ANU precinct (at the Barry Drive end).

There is another Warren Langley glass and light sculpture at the Canberra Glassworks. Will have to ask for a pass out to see that one evening.

Wooden smiles

This time last year I was embarking on a three week trip in the US and Canada with my mum.  It was an amazing experience, and we managed to visit quite a few cultural and historical sites.

The scenery was awesome in the true sense of the word, not just some overused adjective.  But the reason I started thinking about the trip was in relation to the word “face” for a photography challenge; and these images popped instantly into my head.

Oar face Horse head Face 1

I was completely captivated by the various masks I saw throughout the journey; some are from the north west coast of British Columbia, near the town of Prince Rupert.  The museum there was small, but very interesting with lots of statues, masks, and tools.

Red mask

And the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver was overwhelming, with a comprehensive collection of artefacts from indigenous communities all over the world.

Totem 3 Totem 2 Totem 1 Totem 4

But the faces on the totems are in many ways the most striking, particularly the brightly painted ones.  I wonder what the originals were like as the artists surely didn’t have access to such strong colours.  I wish I had taken more notice of their stories, but as usual, I was more interested in framing the shot and getting to the next spot.

A dog walk to A Short Walk

I visit Weston Creek (ACT) shops several times a week – they’re my “local” shops – and I see this delightful sculpture pretty much every time, driving in from the western end of Hindmarsh Drive.

Weston 3

It reminds me of going regularly to the shops with our two children – although we rarely skip through them (any more).  The notes in ArtsACT’s guide to ACT public art say that Mathew Calvert’s statue, A Short Walk, is of three siblings and is derived from the iconic pedestrian crossing sign.

To me, it’s a joyful representation and I am very fond of it.  However, the artist has a more serious message about road safety, and I suspect the statues’ placement so close to the busy Hindmarsh Drive is purposeful, to remind us of pedestrians as we whizz past in our cars.

Weston Tilly 1 Weston taillights

The statues are about three times the size of an average person and are made from steel and highly polished concrete. The artist has hand rendered pieces of broken vehicle tail lights into the surfaces of the statues.  It’s confronting when you get up close – there’s so much of it, and I guess that is part of his statement about road safety.

Further information about Mathew Calvert, who is based in Tasmania, is here.