Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Christie's to Stage Second Modern + Contemporary Australian and South African Art Auction

April 21, 2011
Australian Modern and Contemporary Art Highlights
Leading this section is a single-owner collection of nine pictures by the pioneering Australian modern artist Grace Cossington Smith, including Wattle (estimate: £20,000-30,000). The property of the artist’s sister Mabel, the suite of pictures features five fine still lifes dating from the 1920s to the 1940s. Cossington Smith was one of the first Australian artists, along with de Maistre and Wakelin, to take an interest in colour. She developed her own individual technique and her works demonstrate the influence of the impressionist and post-impressionist revolution on Australian art. Painting in single dabs of pure colour, Cossington Smith created a language which was completely new in Australian art at the time and which placed her work in the vanguard of modernist art in 1930s Sydney.

Moving forwards by almost a century, the sale will include six flower pieces dating from 1993-94 and 2007-08 by the contemporary Australian artist Tim Maguire. Maguire’s work resonates with that of Cossington Smith, as he too explores the nature of pure colour, this time in the digital age. In his latest work Maguire’s dots of magenta, cyan and yellow, mixed in a computer, generate a uniquely new and intense fluorescence. One of a group of early still lifes from 1993-4 to be offered is the powerful Untitled 94U09 (estimate: £35,000-45,000). Maguire’s extravagantly enlarged images of flowers, blown up from digital DNA - derived from photographed details of those intensely observed 17th century Dutch and Flemish still lifes, and more recently from the artist’s own photographs of flowers – might be viewed as the 21st century cousins of Cossington Smith’s vibrant flowerpieces.  

Tim Maguire's floral passion

    Tim Maguire ... "the local artistic patrimony doesn't apply when
you get to Europe."
    Tim Maguire ... "the local artistic patrimony doesn't apply when you get to Europe."
    Photo: David Rose

    Stephanie Bunburry
    May 12, 2007

    IT IS ASTONISHING how one's luck can turn. Twenty-three years ago, Tim Maguire was a young landscape painter on his way from Sydney to art school in Rhode Island with a large cheque from the Australia Council in his pocket.

    "And then Keating floated the Australian dollar while I was in the air on my way to Los Angeles," the artist recalls. "When I arrived, I discovered that, during the time it had taken to cross the Pacific, I'd lost thousands of dollars."

    There was no point going on. He could no longer afford the American school's fees. Instead Maguire, now 49, ended up at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, where the tuition was free but the atmosphere ferociously constrained. He was only accepted thanks to the grace and favour of a Dutch professor who insisted that, before he lifted a brush, Maguire should travel around Europe's galleries for at least six months to gain some idea of what art should look like.

    "I didn't particularly want to be there," Maguire says now. "And in no sense did the Kunstakademie want me either. But I was really lucky at the same time."

    The legacy of that first grand tour is all around us in Maguire's London studio: vast canvases, some of which take up entire walls, showing magnified details of flowers, cacti and winter branches. These light and luminous natural abstractions have made Maguire one of the art market's great success stories. "When I started working with this floral imagery," he says, "they were based on Dutch still-life painting from the 17th century." He would choose a detail - perhaps a small square of petals from a still life of flowers on a table - and rework that tiny scrap as a large canvas, blown up to the point of abstraction.

    It sounds precious, even academic, but the effect is bold, lush and intensely physical. And, paradoxically, very Australian. "One reason I was drawn to that, I think, was because of a sensitivity to issues of cultural dislocation you might experience as an artist who has grown up and been educated in Australia and then goes to Europe and sees, for the first time, those paintings you had known only in reproduction."

    At that time, he says, he felt entirely excluded from the contemporary art world. "The local artistic patrimony doesn't apply when you get to Europe," he says. "You are a fish out of water and you have to try to link up, not only your personal world, but your cultural world with this other cultural world you are now moving through."
    The story of Australian art was largely about the struggle to use European artistic strategies within the local context, a battle of zero interest to Europeans themselves. He felt, he says, as if his tongue had been ripped out. "Not only could I not speak the language, but none of my ideas seemed to connect with anything."

    Back in Australia, meanwhile, there was a tug-of-war going on between a hard core of formalists, who talked about painting as mark-making, and the painters keen to overthrow the traces of abstract expressionism in favour of imagery. "I suppose I was between those two things," he says, "trying to find some sort of third way where the way you made things and what you made were intrinsically bound."

    Maguire always knew he wanted a career outside the confined world of Australian art. In the early '90s he went to London and was gradually establishing himself when the gallery handling his work went out of business. It was, he thought, simply too difficult to begin again, so he and his family returned to Australia, the artist resigned to pursuing a local career. Then in 1993 he won the prestigious Moet et Chandon scholarship, which allowed him to work in France under a premier cru name. It changed everything, he says. He worked, exhibited and made contacts; he wasn't going to be excluded again. After a decade in France, he is once again based in London.

    Maguire was hardly the first visitor to the Louvre or the Prado to be struck by how different it felt to look, at last, at the real thing. But the experience led him to reflect on that peculiarly Australian experience of learning a culture second-hand. "These paintings, where I would take little details from Dutch paintings and reconfigure them, were as much to do with the idea of the source and how that gets broken down, how they are changed by reproduction and by their story being told and retold, in a sort of game of Chinese whispers."

    Tim Maguire

    By Louise Bellamy

    November 5, 2005

    Tim Maguire in his London studio. "Everything I do is process
Photo: David Rose
    Tim Maguire in his London studio. "Everything I do is process driven".
    Photo: David Rose

    Tim Maguire's Unnatural
    Tolarno Galleries
    289 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 
    MENTION Tim Maguire and massive canvasses chock-a-block with flamboyant flowers and bulbous berries come to mind. But little more seems to be known about this 46-year-old painter, one of the hottest mid-career Australian artists around.

    Maguire was raised in Melbourne and Sydney, moved to France in 1992, then Britain in 2002, and still calls Australia home.

    Born in Surrey of Australian parents who were teaching in Britain, Maguire came to Melbourne as a baby. Influenced by his mother, who encouraged her children to play instruments and mix powder paints, Maguire's primary interest at Huntingtower School, Glen Waverley, was music.

    But believing he wouldn't be good enough to be a solo performer, he spent years after graduating bumming around on the dole, "rebelling against my rigid family background, where the notion that God was all things good and that anything bad was regarded as a misconception".

    "Like many youthful experiences, these issues have long since been resolved," he says.
    The artist who paints for a living, plays sax in a band that recently supported Joe Cocker, adores golf and has a French farmhouse in the Loire Valley.

    It was an accidental decision, when he was 21, to go to art school: "A friend was enrolling at East Sydney Technical College and I thought it might be fun."

    During post-graduate studies he lost faith in the modernist values he'd initially embraced "because I had come to identify them with the religious values I'd rejected", and stopped using paint altogether.

    Maguire is quick to dispel the misconception "that flowers and fruit is what I do", and emphasises that since art school his practice has taken many forms. He's referring to a project based on slides of photographs of news items projected onto canvas draped over an armchair; the idea developed in a squat in Sydney's Newtown and clinched him a year's scholarship at the Kunstakadamie, Dusseldorf, under influential Dutch photographer, Jan Dibbets, in 1985.

    In Germany, away from Australia for the first time, in an unfamiliar culture and not speaking German, he began painting self-portraits with the brush in his mouth, or drawing with his feet, or with his eyes closed, "as if handicapped, being linguistically disabled and culturally disconnected".
    His loss of cultural identity led him to his Australian roots and an ironic series of landscapes featuring barbecues and water tanks in flood plains.

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