Wednesday, 2 August 2017



Wedding Dress, (1982)


(Second in a series of ‘my favourite works’)

The Johnston family was a taunting mix of genius and misery. George Johnston’s My Brother Jack, (1964) is known, if not read, by very many Australians. Along with Albert Facey’s A Fortunate Life, (1981) and Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip, (1977), it offers another personal tangent, if a somewhat melancholy one, to another iconic era of our short white Australian history, verbally complementing the visual work of Albert Tucker in that each is ‘a daring challenge to the cosy assumptions of national character and virtue’. These latter are the words of one reader/writer, Paul Daley, who confesses to re-reading Jack every ten years or so – as a wake up to our ‘origins’, possibly as a reassurance that something of the kind still exists, in this world of flux. His loving (not too emotive a word) account can be read here: My Brother Jack at 50 – the novel of a man whose whole life led up to it

Indeed the ‘Johnston world’ was not easy – but is the world of any artist (and in this case in a family of six, including Johnston’s first child, four were ‘artists’). What did George Johnston expect, leaving his first wife in the land of herbaceous borders and running off with a glamorous other, in the days when this was definitely not done, (dreamed of but not done). One might suspect that he would argue: someone had to feed the vicarious pleasures of such a mundane world, someone had to live the fantasy in order the spark of inspiration survive. But there would be fallout. Johnston did not plot his life, the animal in him just took over a boy from Elsternwick. Then he and ‘the other’, Charmian Clift, abandoned what they described as the ‘bewildered’ world of Australia for the drama of London, and in time gave up that smoggy capital for the tough idyll of Greece. Left behind in all this was the gorgeous daughter of Johnston’s first marriage, GAE, her name derived from her parents initials, G-A-E (George And Elsie) Johnston.

Sadly GAE JOHNSTON is no longer with us but her spirit lives on, for this writer, in a substantial drawing (above) admired for nearly 40 years. I first saw this work leaning over to the left of our conversation when I went to speak with Gae about her mother, stepmother and father, back in the early 1980s – I was writing about Australian artist couples. The drawing kept drawing my attention. When we stopped talking about parents I asked Gae about it.

The subject is a dress hanging over a chair. The dress is a ‘significant’ type, not a shift, but perhaps something ceremonial. Further afield among leaning works there was a similarly dimensioned, what might be called ‘negative’ of the same subject. Where the drawing that immediately caught my attention was dark, the other was light, in the same way that a black and white photographic negative, which ultimately produces a darker image is lighter. Gae was exploring the positive and negative with significant reason in this context.

If my memory is correct Gae was then living in Eltham, or nearby. I recall the room in which we talked as rather sombre, with internal stone walls, similar in style to a lot of buildings in the area inspired by Monsalvat. Gae and I moved in the same circles, to an extent, so I knew her from other occasions too. Gae was a very beautiful woman, small, natural blonde, gentle in manner but ferocious in her visual ability, a significant draughtswoman. The strength of her work and her physical demeanour seem strangely mismatched.

The story Gae told of the dramatic drawing that leaned into my consciousness was this: it was indeed a significant dress, a wedding dress, lying over the back of a chair. The dress belonged to her half-sister Shane, the second child of George Johnston and Charmian Clift’s union. Nadia Wheatley, in her biography of writer Charmian Clift, (The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift, 2001) reports Clift retrospectively musing, (in a Hazel de Berg interview, 8.6.65), of the time of her second pregnancy with Johnston, so soon after the birth of their first son Martin, who was then seven months old:
At this point I should have taken wings and started to fly, but at this point also, of course, I was involved in having children, and for many years I had this dual thing, the frustrations that are inevitable with any creative person being tied and bound and at the same time struggling, beating one’s head against a wall to do what one wants to do. I think those are terribly difficult years for any young woman and for a young woman who wants to write or paint or anything else, even more so.’ (Wheatley, 218)

Clift and Johnston had just shared the 1948 Sydney Morning Herald Prize for their collaborative novel, High Valley.  It is impossible not to wonder how much of such thinking found its way into the psyche of her gestating child.

George Johnston on Hydra

Shane wore the dress in the drawing on at least two significant occasions: her wedding, and her death. She put it on before she committed suicide in 1974. Her mother, aged 45, had died of a barbiturate overdose in 1969 and her death seemed to open the floodgate of family tragedy. George died in 1971, Gae died of an overdose in 1988 and poet Martin Johnston, the eldest Johnston-Clift child, died of alcoholism in 1990. Yet they leave behind them very significant achievements, one of which in my care I wish to share.*

I have asked various contemporaries and mutual friends what they can recall of the Gae of some thirty years ago, at least one said her work still influences his.

*Because of the nature of what I was writing, I asked Gae if I could buy another work which is reproduced below.

Gae Johnston (signed but untitled) 1978 

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Carolyn Cardinet WORKSHOP @ NEWSTEAD

Carolyn Cardinet
September 2017

Installation WINDOWSPACE-BEEAC, May 2016

Inter-disciplinary French-born and Melbourne based artist Carolyn Cardinet will call Newstead home for the month of September as the first Arts Hub artist in residence.

Passionate about the alarming rate at which our environment is changing. Carolyn Cardinet creates new forms out of plastic waste. Cardinet’s sculptural pieces reflect and draw attention to the worldwide problem of mass production and senseless waste of plastic packaging.

Organic Plastic is an exhibition at the newly restored Newstead Arts Hub*. Sculptural white works from the series Organic Plastic will be displayed across this all white large gallery space (weekends only).

Working from the Arts Hub, Carolyn will facilitate an Art & Sustainability Recyclable Workshop Sunday 17th September 10-4pm – BYO plastics
Reserve your seat https//

* The obsolete train station in Newstead has been transformed in an elegant all white exhibition space complementing the Castlemaine art precinct and state festival.

For more information please contact
Julie Patey 0408 528 536   or   Carolyn Cardinet 0409 307 879

The Newstead Arts Hub, 8a Tivey Street, Newstead, Vic 3462

Saturday, 22 July 2017

You're invited - WORKSHOP with JANE BEAR


led by award-winning textile artist



Transform wool into a bowl

2017 @ 10.30 am

FREE   Book 5233 8599
Max 10 participants
Material costs $5

Thursday, 13 July 2017

ART & CHANGE - a forum in Melbourne

Art, Agency, Action is a public event to connect social movement makers across areas of visual arts and social practice to exchange models, ideas and methodologies for taking agency and making change.

This is a participatory forum; the discussion will be led by short presentations from our key speakers around their own experience, creative projects and models of practice to facilitate dialogue and action with attendees: artists, producers and curators.

Art, Agency, Action is about coming together and fostering community action within the arts and to develop imaginings of our future. The actions and ideas developed will contribute to the 2018 strategy for the arts and the NAVA summit.

Speakers include:
  • David Pledger, artist and curator 
  • Lucrecia Quintanilla, multidisciplinary artist, writer, researcher at Monash University 
  • Guy Abrahams, Co-founder and CEO of CLIMARTE
  • Eugenia Flynn, writer, arts worker and community organiser
Introduction from NAVA Acting Co-Executive Director, Brianna Munting.

Date: 2.00pm-4.00pm Saturday 22 July
Venue: Testing Grounds, 1 City Road, Southbank, Melbourne
Bookings: free event book via Eventbrite here

Saturday, 1 July 2017



at the 

Flight @ RRRTAG
Exhibition which opened Saturday 1st July
as part of the 
Cross-pollination Textiles Festival 
now on in the 
Colac Otway Region 

you can view her winning work at the 

Gallery Open on Weekends 11am - 4pm & 
Mondays, Thursday and Fridays in July 1 4pm 

Exhibition current July 1-30
More info:

Thursday, 29 June 2017



Flight Cloak, (2017)

Flight Cloak (2017)

If you have ever lain down in the grass and gazed up at meandering clouds you will have a fair idea of the mesmerizing beauty of Jane Bear’s textiles. Somehow, from lumpy clods of wool and silk, Jane beats out yards of fabric that peak and hollow, billow and waft like clouds on mountains on clouds. Chimeric, delicate – there’s an inclination to wish for the Inuit lexicon of white.

Akin to paper-making – the transformation from one fibrous texture-material to another is this artist’s metier. An alchemy. The visual ‘magic’ Jane Bear creates mirrors her life’s transitions – her first calling was as a mid-wife; following a car accident she studied farm management at Glenormiston Agricultural College and there picked up a ‘side-course’ on nuno felting. In the twenty years since then she’s been exploring her fascination with ‘structural textiles’.

Jane gives me a physical prĂ©cis of how it’s done: strands of fibres are laid this way and that, atop a matting material (could be carpet underlay); these mesh in a soapy wash in which they are rolled back and forth; a firm material evolves and is teased into the desired form. In a pot on the stove Jane has some yarn bubbling away. ‘Look at this – apple leaves!’ One pale yarn has an evanescent pinkish hue – rose petals? another a faint sunset glow – apricot? Each bubbles in the same pot, the different fibre lending its own character to the staining leaves, chemically ‘held’ by the mordant, in this case the copper pipe on which the fibres are wrapped. Magic indeed.

Art is rarely so close to the ‘land’ – or sky – there is a knitting with the cosmos in all this, that feels a privilege to be near.

Judit Pocs 'felt hats'

Bear refers to Anita Larkin and Judit Pocs as inspiration, the former Australian, the latter Hungarian, each highly experimental. Larkin incorporates all manner of found objects in her weave and these initiate amazing structures, 'improbables'.
Pocs too creates extraordinary structures – hats that curl and wrap with stunning come-hither.

Bear’s work in WINDOWSPACE responds to ‘flight’ with fantastical cloak-like wings.  Her installation is current through July. Read more about Jane Bear’s work at


Jane Bear with 'felt containers', 2017

Monday, 19 June 2017

DAVID MUTCH @ Bundoora Homestead Art Centre

Bundoora Homestead Art Centre

Technician’s Choice

Technician’s Choice honours the important yet often overlooked role of the technician in exhibition-making. It interrogates the role of the curator and notions of authorship within the development of exhibitions and presentation of artists’ works. It also calls into question the nature of authority within the gallery system.
Victoria, Australia
Technician’s Choice image