Fish… finishing this weekend

Has the Australian National Maritime Museum fetishised fish? and is fetishised even a word?

This weekend is your last chance to find out, and to view what I think is one of our most inventive readings of Australian art from a maritime perspective.

Entering the ‘Fish in Australian art’ exhibition guided by Deborah Halpern’s ‘Fish’, neon lighting and perspex, 2010

Fish in Australian art  is an exhibition of watercolours, prints, publications, drawings, paintings, multimedia, artefacts, and artifice… all of which feature Australian stories of fish or fishing. Through artist’s eyes you see the wonders of fish,  fish as characters in dreaming or creation stories, as objects of European curiosity, science, charm, fantasy, nature, and the sublime. You see fish as decorative or design elements, and you see fishing as a way to while away the hours, for musing, sport or industry, and above all for cooking, eating, or serving at the table.

The exhibition includes works from important Indigenous artists like Yvonne Koolmatrie, Arthur Koo’ekka Pambegan, Micky of Ulladulla and Roy Wiggan, and many household names of European Australian art like Arthur Boyd, William Buelow Gould, Conrad Martens, John Olsen,  Margaret Preston and Anne Zahalka, in an exhibition which is both thematic and broadly chronological. I especially like the luminous drawings from the natural history painters who worked with pencil and brush to document all they saw around them – here, the fish and the fishing techniques of Indigenous Australians, and their watercraft.

Richard Browne watercolours

There are a number of works by the Port Jackson painter, Ferdinand Bauer and Thomas Watling on loan from the British Museum of Natural History which are truely sensational and here in Australia just for this exhibition.

These works show Indigenous people fishing from their nawi and cooking their catch.  They are beautifully drawn. There are so many nuanced details, like the moon rays floating to the water in the ink and watercolour sketch A N. South Wales native strikg fish by moonlight while his wife paddles him along with a fire in the Canoe ready to broil the fish as caught attributed to the Port Jackson Painter, 1788-97. These details remind you that these painters were not just about picturing science and are worth a really good look.

Artists of Port Jackson works in ‘Fish in Australian art’

The exhibition blends media and artefacts, and in this early colonial section you see a canoe of bark with tied ends, made by Albert Woodlands from the west Kempsey region, built before 1938, and on loan from the Australian Museum. This Indigenous canoe is used to interpret the fishing drawings and to add texture and meaning – together they become a delicious viewing experience for those interested in Aboriginal watercraft. The canoe – similar in style to the nawi used by Sydney Aboriginal people – forms such a refined shape that it is almost sculptural.

There is much to see in this exhibition and I can only suggest you make it to the museum this weekend to catch it before it goes…

Canoe and watercolours from Fish in Australian Art

The lone fisherman

The Beach Fisherman by Kenneth Macqueen 1934
Lent by New England Regional Art Museum, Armidale

There’s something ambient about Kenneth Macqueen’s The Beach Fisherman, 1934. A man stands barefoot on a beach, fishing line in tow, with the shore stretching out further than the eye can see and the clouds threatening rain in a decidedly gloomy way. This is one of the many artworks on display at the museum’s Fish in Australian art exhibition.
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Art in the dark

Longhead dreamer, yellowhead hulafish, horseface unicornfish,eyebrow wedgefish, scribbled pufferfish, longhorn cowfish, zebra hornshark, toothbrush leatherjacket, piano fangblenny, pacific jellynose, abyssal ghostshark, curious wormfish, splendid snaggletooth, glowbelly seabass….

Believe it or not, these are real fish …. and there’s even stranger ones where they came from.

Deborah halpern

Deborah Halpern- Neon Fish, 2010, perspex and fluorescent tubes

I’m standing inside Fish in Australian Art and staring at the fish names installation as they light up one by one, flickering lights shimmering like a school of silver scaled barracuda. I’m imagining what we can play here for our Art in the dark family tour this saturday. We’ve been busily crafting luminescent art games- glowstick connector sculptures, exquisite fish corpses painted with glow in the dark pigments, taping together experimental drawing tools, and choreographing some fish inspired dance moves.

french fish

French meets Fish in Art- the theme of our fun filled torchlight tour!

I’m also talking with our indefatigable character actor, who shall be known only as Monsieur Le Poisson. A chameleon and master of disguise this torchlight tour guide also wears the hats of Johnny Grog-Nose, our resident Pirate and Spanker Boom, the museum’s night keeper.

This Saturday he will be a somewhat more refined creature in French inspired attire, moustache, beret and accent to boot. Monsieur Le Poisson( Mr Fish) is not a fish, but he knows all about them, he is not an artist, but he could be, and he is taking time out of his busy Bastille day celebrations to take us through the inspiring exhibition Fish in Australian Art– sans lumiere.

torchlight tour 2

Torches at the ready we will uncover a world of stories, strange materials, peculiar fascinations, artistic wonders. Following a line from rock art to contemporary as we seek to answer  the timeless question “What is art?”… “Why did they make that?”…. “What does it mean?” …

fluro paints

Get painted up like a glowbelly sea-bass with glow in the dark face paints

After dark tours are a special affair, giving visitors a chance to see the exhibitions when the lights are out and no one else is around! They’re also an occasion for fun and interactive games, art making activities and delicious food. This Saturday we are being inspired by the chance occasion that it is also Bastille day, and of course what is more French than good art, and good food. So we are planning delights like crepes avec nutella and pommes frites, to be enjoyed after our tour alongside some creative capers with fluorescent face paint and a blacklight torch!

Needless to say, we’ll be painted up like a glowbelly seabass by the time the night is done.

Art in the dark- Torchlight family tour– Saturday 14 July – Bookings Essential

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