Dress Rehearsal Feature

Moral Ambiguities 2011: A Major Solo Exhibition

In Australia, Art by tony2 Comments

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  2 June 2017

Moral Ambiguities, A Major Solo Exhibition


Moral Ambiguities Tony Stewart

Huw Davies Gallery, Manuka Arts Centre, Canberra, 27 October — 13 November, 2011

Introduction

Moral Ambiguities in 2011 was a major exhibition because it was a compilation of artworks that had been tentatively shown elsewhere in smaller size. It was the first time that the majority of works from this period had been shown together in one venue and at full size.

The exhibition highlighted two major streams of work that I had been working on since 2006.

The Crucifixion Series

The crucifixion series arose initially from a collage on cardboard. I’d bought a series of Australian Style Magazines dating from 1993 to 1995 and I cut out photos of the fashion models from these magazines and combined them with scans from Renaissance paintings reproduced photographically. The succinct but unenlightening description: a stream of spiritual work comprising the iconography of the present with that of the past gives an idea of my initial thoughts.

The collage was partly inspired by book dust covers that I’d been collecting randomly for some years from The National Library of Australia (NLA) thinking that I might do something with them sometime. I eventually threw them all out, when I moved! I had been surprised when I found that the NLA routinely throws away the dust covers (as do most libraries) and that inspired me to collect them instead.

Croce I, August 2007, Mixed Media, Digital Print on Perspex, 81 x 61 cm

Croce I, August 2007, Mixed Media, Digital Print on Perspex, 81 x 61 cm

I was dissatisfied with the collage I produced. (I burnt it.) I moved the images of the models I’d cut-out and the scans back onto computer. The result Croce I was in retrospect rather crude, but at least made in harmony with the original physical collage. I had the photographic print front-mounted onto perspex and submitted the physical work Croce I as an entry for the 59th Blake Prize for Religious Art in 2007. This was coincidentally the last Blake Prize where one had to submit the physical artwork for judging. It was rather fun delivering the work with hundreds of others to an old sandstone gaol in Sydney (the National Art School).

The Blake Prize is a very prestigious art prize for religious art with substantial prize money. The prize was instituted in Sydney in 1949 as an incentive to raise the standard of religious art in Australia.

David Chalker cynically said to me that I shouldn’t be entering a religious art competition because I was not religious. Not the point, I thought, and followed my 2007 entry with Crucifixion II: Sign of Contradiction, Sargasso Christ — What Happened? and Dress Rehearsal for the End of the World (major players not required) in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively.

I didn’t get past first base in any of the four years — even when Sasha Grishin, who knew and liked my work, was a judge. The Blake is a very large competition and I do not regret entering it. The prize stimulated me to make a series of time consuming and complex works that I may not have undertaken otherwise.

Recently, I was talking to a young, talented and ambitious artist who was entering numerous competitions. I encouraged her to keep going and not to take rejection personally, as it is not about you. The Blake is unusual in that there is no strong bias towards established or well-known artists, but it is also attracts massive numbers of entries.

The Trafficked Series

The Crucifixion Series preoccupied me for some time to the exclusion of other work, so I was fortunate to turn away from it in the later stages and begin the Trafficked Series in late 2008. These works had a complex gestation too and I think that it may be far from over.

Trafficked Series, Cesspool Earth, 2009, Digital print, 152 x 101 cm

Trafficked Series, Cesspool Earth, 2009, Digital print, 152 x 101 cm

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I found out about and became familiar with the Internet in 1996 (although I had tinkered with modems and connectivity earlier). I remember in those early years that, whilst the rest of the Internet was a construction site (particularly in Australia) and people were trying to work out how to make money from it, the pornography industry was powering ahead as a sophisticated business model.

Similarly, ‘kiddy porn’ predators were also using the web in ways that we’d never even thought of, as we found out later.

When Denise and I lived in Brisbane in 1999/2000 a young man who lived just up the road, and was in the press frequently, was one of those pornography entrepreneurs who had become very rich very quickly. He came undone just as quickly, something about taxes.

I was interested in globalisation as it emerged strongly around the same time, and quite shocked that slavery and human trafficking were growing as a consequence. Organ harvesting was another trend — with scandals in India and elsewhere — as prophesied by William Gibson. One also knew that refugees would become a growing problem throughout the 21st century, as a consequence of population, global warming, conflict and globalisation.

I felt that I needed to try to understand these things more and to overcome my squeamishness about pornography. Nowadays, I don’t think that I’ve progressed very far in this regard and consider further investigation as unfinished business.

What I did then was to download hundreds of softcore porn images of naked young women (over 18 years of age) and I used their breasts pasted into breadtag shapes as a background to some generic posters protesting aspects of globalisation. The posters were modelled on but much larger than the Polavaram Dam Project posters from 2006. I also went back to my earlier first physical breadtag artworks, by utilising the same random number generation strategy developed by the Rand Corporation to order the breast breadtags randomly and to ensure that each background was different.

This was somewhat obsessive behaviour, but it was done symbolically for the same reason as in the earlier artworks, as a hidden icon, perhaps for the nuclear age or the second half of the twentieth century.


Previous Exhibitions

Sargasso Christ — What happened (2008) printed by Macquarie Editions (using UltraChrome HDR pigment inks on 310 gsm Canson Infinity BFK 100 per cent cotton rag), 32 x 38 cm was first shown in the PhotoAccess 25th Anniversary Print Portfolio Exhibition at the Huw Davies Gallery, Manuka Arts Centre, 18 March to 14 April 2009. The print portfolio was a collection of 16 fine art prints, both to celebrate PhotoAccess’s 25 years as a public access photography space and public gallery, and to raise money for the organisation. The price for each portfolio was $4900.

The brief artist statement said: Sargasso Christ — What happened (2008) is part of a stream of spiritual work comprising the iconography of the present with that of the past. This was a succinct, but not particularly enlightening description.

Later that year another exhibition In for Life celebrated the work of 24 life-members of PhotoAccess for the 25th Anniversary. The In for Life Exhibition was held at the Huw Davies Gallery, Manuka Arts Centre from 15 October to 1 November 2009.

For this Exhibition I showed Cesspool Earth (from the Trafficked series), 2009, mixed media, digital Lambda Prints, 152 x 101 cm (image).

I also showed some earlier versions of the Crucifix Series in various small sizes in various members exhibitions at PhotoAccess.


Moral Ambiguities, Tony Stewart, Huw Davies Gallery, Manuka Arts Centre, Canberra, 27 October — 13 November, 2011

Catalogue Essay

I was driving when I heard Tony Stewart interviewed about his Use By exhibition in April 2002. Puzzled and intrigued by his description of the work—an unlikely marriage of the humble bread tag and images made on a visit to India—I decided I should take a look.

Use By was a small but striking show. The works were complex, with minute individual and group portraits woven together by and shining through a grid of bread tags, each marked with its own use by date. The clear depth of Stewart’s feeling for humanity and the vitality and technical precision of his images made an impression on me.

Contradiction Christ, 2011, Digital Print on Arches Velin Museum Rag, 152 x 112 cm

Contradiction Christ, 2011, Digital Print on Arches Velin Museum Rag, 152 x 112 cm

Later that year Sasha Grishin reviewed Stewart’s Transit at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Manuka. In The Canberra Times of 4 October 2002, Professor Grishin commented that Transit was ‘… a very rich and rewarding exhibition, where cutting wit is combined with an engaging intellect.’

I met Tony Stewart when I became Director of PhotoAccess. Sasha Grishin’s description of the Transit exhibition could also have been a description of Stewart himself, who is a long time PhotoAccess board member, generous supporter and regular contributor to group exhibitions. Tag, in September 2005, was first his solo exhibition in the HUW DAVIES GALLERY.

Moral Ambiguities, Stewart’s second solo exhibition at PhotoAccess, includes work produced over the past three years. Again it is a quite complex show, conceptually and technically, drawing heavily on Tony Stewart’s humanist values and concern for the future of the planet—as suggested in this statement from the catalogue for our 25th Anniversary Life Members Show:

Cesspool Earth is a protest against inaction. None of us wants the world we are creating for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. But nations, governments, corporations and individuals do nothing, while everything goes to hell around us. For example, the Murray Darling Basin in Australia—the problem seems too buried in complex entitlements and interests but, as the previous Director of the basin authority said before she retired: ‘We know all the science and what needs to be done. All that is required is action’. Similarly, problems of the 6th great extinction (human caused over the last 400 years), declining biodiversity, declining fisheries, climate change, poverty, global pollution, even such things as health and education are not intractable, but certainly seem to be?

Trafficked Series, Trafficked, 2009, Digital print, 152 x 101 cm

Trafficked Series, Trafficked, 2009, Digital print, 152 x 101 cm

Stewart’s recent essay also bearing on the pressing issues confronting us, In praise of Indian Mangoes, can be accessed by following the link from the website.

PhotoAccess is delighted to present Tony Stewart’s thoughtful and provocative Moral Ambiguities in the HUW DAVIES GALLERY at the Manuka Arts Centre.

David Chalker, Director of PhotoAccess


Artist Statement

The two streams of work in Moral Ambiguities seem shockingly disparate. But, eventually I realised that they were just approaching the same topic from extremely different starting points.

Sargasso Christ – What happened? 2011, Digital Print on Arches Velin Museum Rag, 152 x 112 cm

Sargasso Christ – What happened? 2011, Digital Print on Arches Velin Museum Rag, 152 x 112 cm

The first uses the Renaissance and modern iconography to ask quietly where we are in the modern world and what globalisation means as a transition period. The second series uses breasts as icons to expose nasty sides of globalisation.

Both streams I’ve realised come from anger. I was deeply shocked at the turn of the century by the common dogma that globalisation was inevitable and therefore we did not have to concern ourselves with the fate of losers because the juggernaut would roll on regardless. Morality does not seem to be an issue any more and yet to avoid asking difficult questions is an evil choice that may well doom our civilisation.

With the Renaissance Series, I initially thought I knew the meaning of what I was doing but as I progressed in making the works I realised that it had all bubbled up from deep within my psyche and I had no clear idea anymore what it all means.

With the Trafficked Series, I was initially sensitive about downloading images of soft core porn but, as we all do, I became inured quickly.

Both streams are linked by the ubiquitous plastic bread tag, an icon of technology, with its use by date. I use ephemera to explore time and movement through geographical and social space, and across cultural divides. I’ve tried to move on from the bread tag but seem unable to. Besides, all the work is iconography and I hope that the icons represented in my images are at least thought provoking.

Tony Stewart, October 2011

Comment

The creative process is an odd one and was completely unknown to me, when I embarked on an art career. I was very happy with what I achieved over a ten-year period. (I will write about this separately in another post.)

I was also and am still very satisfied with my Crucifixion Series especially the final three large works. From when I began making art to sometime towards the end of the Crucifixion Series, my inspiration and drive to create were just there and the making of works was engrossing and pleasurable.

Dress Rehearsal for the end of the world (major players not required), 2011, Digital Print on Arches Velin Museum Rag, 152 x 112 cm

Dress Rehearsal for the end of the world (major players not required), 2011, Digital Print on Arches Velin Museum Rag, 152 x 112 cm

However, one consequence of the Crucifixion Series and perhaps the Trafficked Series was that my creative desire, the passion and inspiration dried-up. This is not unusual and many artists have gone through it. However, neither my identity nor my career were tied up exclusively with making art. Although I was disappointed to some extent that I wasn’t powering on to the next project, I wasn’t devastated as I had plenty of other things to do, some of which had been in abeyance.

I said to myself that it was probably a good time to take a break from art. When it was ready the inspiration would re-emerge. It hasn’t, until now. In the interim, Denise and I began to take art classes and learned drawing, painting and other techniques. We undertook many things without finishing anything. But, it was fun. I also felt that this learning might prove useful sometime.

Suddenly in 2017, I have set aside the time to begin creating again. Starting with an extension of the Crucifixion Series and perhaps the Trafficked Series, and moving on from there. I don’t know whether this will continue. However, I have completed one complicated work and intend embarking on others. I am quietly confident and hope to enjoy making art once more.


Key words: Moral Ambiguities, Tony Stewart, Art Exhibition, Australian Style Magazine, spiritual, Blake Prize, religious art, Crucifixion Series, Trafficked Series, Bread Tag, Renaissance, modern iconography, icon, globalisation, slavery, human trafficking, morality, ubiquitous plastic bread tag, icon of technology, use by date, ephemera, geographical space, social space, across cultural divides


Further Information

Trafficked Series, No Harm, 2009, Digital print,152x101 cm

Trafficked Series, No Harm, 2009, Digital print, 152 x 101 cm

Catalogue download

Moral Ambiguities Catalogue 2011

Catalogue

Moral Ambiguities Works  
Paper Size (cm)
$
Editions of 10 unless otherwise stated. All prices for unframed prints. Numbers 5 and 7 also available at
44 x 32 cm for $420
Trafficked Series
Lambda prints on Kodak
Professional paper
No Harm Is There? 2009152 x 101950
Cesspool Earth, 2009152 x 101950
Trafficked, 2009152 x 101950
Is the World Bank
guilty of crimes
against humanity?
2009
152 x 101950
Renaissance
Series
Contradiction
Christ, 2011
152 x 1121850
Inkjet print on Arches
Velin Museum Rag
Dress rehearsal for
the end of the world
(major players not
required), 2011
152 x 1121850
Inkjet print on Arches
Velin Museum Rag
Sargasso Christ –
What happened?
2011
152 x 1121850
Inkjet print on Arches
Velin Museum Rag
Dress rehearsal for
the end of the world
(major players not
required), 2009
44 x 32420
Inkjet print on BFK
Rives
Edition of 30
Hovering Christ,
2009
152 x 114 cm
Edition of 25; 2/25
44 x 32420
Inkjet print on BFK
Rives
Edition of 30

Artist’s CV

Trafficked Series, Is the World Bank guilty of crimes against humanity? 2009, Digital print, 152 x 101 cm

Trafficked Series, Is the World Bank guilty of crimes against humanity? 2009, Digital print, 152 x 101 cm

Education

BSC (Hons – 1st Class), Australian National University (ANU) (1972)

PhD (Biological Sciences), ANU (1979)

Solo Exhibitions

2011 Moral Ambiguities, Huw Davies Gallery, PhotoAccess, Manuka Arts Centre, Canberra, ACT

2007 Tag II, X Gallery, Bungendore, NSW

2005 TAG, Huw Davies Gallery, PhotoAccess, Canberra, ACT

2002 Transit, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Manuka, ACT; Use By (with Allan Byrne), Art Space 71, Canberra, ACT

Detail, Is the World Bank guilty of crimes against humanity? 2009

Detail, Is the World Bank guilty of crimes against humanity? 2009

Selected Group Exhibitions

2002-2011  Access all areas Members Exhibition, Huw Davies Gallery, Manuka Arts Centre, Canberra, ACT

2008–10 HIY (Hang it Yourself), Huw Davies Gallery

2010 Holiday Snaps Exhibition; 25th Anniversary print portfolio exhibition; Thredbo – A PhotoAccess Group Exhibition, Huw Davies Gallery

2009 In for life, Life Members Show celebrating 25 years of PhotoAccess, PhotoAccess 25th Anniversary print portfolio exhibition, Huw Davies Gallery

2007 ‘Gifted’ Exhibition, Charles Darwin University, Darwin

2006 40 Polavaram Dam Project Not wanted: Oustee posters for political anti-dam campaign, Hyderabad, India

2005 ‘33’, Artist’s Exchange portfolio (33 printmakers) 33 x 33 cm, coordinated by Rona Green, Melbourne; ‘33’ Exhibition, Port Jackson Press Australia, Melbourne

2004 ‘23’ Exhibition, Port Jackson Press, Melbourne; Fotosource @ Affordable Art Show, Sydney; ‘23’ Exhibition, Phyllis Palmer Gallery, Bendigo

2003 Summer Salon, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne; Finalist, Churchie Emerging Art Exhibition, Brisbane; 10th Birthday Exhibition, Canberra Contemporary Art Space; ‘23’, Artist’s Exchange portfolio (23 printmakers) 23 x 23 cm, coordinated by Rona Green, Melbourne

Collections

Charles Darwin University, Darwin

Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga

PhotoAccess, Canberra

CMAG (Canberra Museum and art Gallery), ACT Public Art Gallery, Canberra

Private collections

Publications

2009 In for life: the PhotoAccess Life Members Show (exhibition catalogue), October 2009; PhotoAccess 25th Anniversary Print Portfolio (catalogue), March 2009

2007 Tag II Exhibition, X Gallery Bungendore, February 2007 (catalogue essay by David Chalker)

2005 Putting a tag on contemporary life, Sonia Barron, The Canberra Times, September 2005; TAG (catalogue essay by Professor Sasha Grishin), PhotoAccess, September 2005

2003 Tony Stewart artist profile, Sonia Barron, Australian Art Collector, April to June 2003

2002 Provocative use of the familiar, Sonia Barron, The Canberra Times April 2002; Exhibitions probe senses, Sasha Grishin (Use By exhibition review), The Canberra Times April 2002; An exhibition rich and rewarding, Sasha Grishin (Transit exhibition review), The Canberra Times October 2002; Visual Art: Transit, Ed Whalan exhibition review), Muse Magazine, November 2002

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