Staff at Arts Project Australia are always looking for interesting opportunities for artists who attend Arts Project to work on their art outside the premises in the broader arts community. These opportunities, often involving collaborations with other artists, inevitably lead to valuable learning and expanded horizons for the artists. Their sense of identity as artists and their sense of belonging to the arts community are strengthened.
Recent collaboration between Arts Project and the Melbourne Theatre Company afforded four artists such an opportunity. Paul Hodges, Bobby Kyriakopoulos, Eden Menta, Lisa Reid and staff artist at Arts Project Elyss McCleary travelled to the rehearsal spaces for MTC in Southbank one day a week over four weeks. For 2 ½ hours each time they observed rehearsals for a production, did live drawing and worked on capturing action as it occurred in a novel context. One of the main purposes of the project was to give the artists the opportunity and incentive to work quickly and produce work on the spot.
The art that resulted is impressive in both quantity and quality. A selection of work – sketches, drawings, mixed media and work on canvases — will be displayed in an exhibition titled ‘Movement and Action: Observations from the MTC Rehearsal Space’ in the foyer of the Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre Melbourne during the play’s run. The exhibition will highlight the different styles of the four artists and the ways they approached the experience.
The play, ‘The Sublime’, by Brendan Cowell, will run from August 22-October 4. It is described by the MTC as ‘a brilliantly perceptive take on everything true Australians hold dear: mateship, family, footy and sex scandals’. The play, which definitely contains ‘adult themes’, ‘coarse language’ and ‘some violence’ (to use the terms used on TV!), offered opportunities to learn about the processes of rehearsals and play productions and a new context for drawing. As well, the content of the play evoked much discussion and some strong views from the artists.
Elyss, who oversaw the project and co-curated the exhibition in collaboration with the Arts Project gallery team, said that the experience was enjoyable and a great learning experience for all four of the artists for a number of reasons. The artists found drawing live to be an invigorating process as they attempted to capture the actors’ character and movement. They tackled the project in different ways, often bringing partially finished work back to the studio to complete. She indicated that during the four weeks the artists’ different styles and approaches to the task became evident, and that for all of them being able to go back to the same place and people over the four weeks was invaluable.
Eden, who is a skilled and enthusiastic photographer, became the documenter of the project. She took a large number of photographs, approximately 60 per session, during the rehearsals as well as on the journey to and from the MTC. She also used her photographs in the rehearsal space as references to create delicate detailed portraits of the actors as well as to capture movement. The other artists used her photographs back at the studio to complete their work. Eden also completed a portrait of one of the actors on canvas, which is a new surface for her practice.
Over the four weeks Lisa, who typically works in a very methodical way in the studio, became much more comfortable with life drawing. By the end of the four weeks she had produced a large body of work, including some pieces with beautiful linear composition that were completed at the MTC rehearsal space and a gouache painting of the actors in an intimate scene, surrounded by the set, props and the theatre ensemble.
Paul, who has a longstanding interest and experience in theatre and dance, embraced the whole experience. He appeared to feel at home straight away, and produced a large number of works that he completed on the spot. He was particularly interested in the play’s script and dialogue. Paul worked consistently and at an energetic pace throughout the four sessions.
Bobby, who loves watching films, was very interested in the actors and had many questions for and about them. He especially enjoyed the novelty of the situation of being in the rehearsal space. He said to Elyss and the other artists in the first week that he wasn’t going to be able to draw unless the actors stayed in the same spot! Over time however he became much more comfortable and skilled at paying close attention to the actors and using his memory to capture movements. He was a talented observer of the space and produced work with very good composition.
Eden Menta Ben O’Toole 2014 acrylic and pastel on canvas 56 x 56cm
Elyss believes that the opportunity to explore the same subject matter over time paid off not only in terms of the artists’ comfort with working quickly and dealing with movement. She noticed that over the four weeks the figures the artists created contained more details and captured some of the actors’ traits and characteristics. The repeated experience also allowed them to become familiar with the backdrop and interior space in which they were working.
The artists used the breaks to interact with the cast and others involved with the play and to ask questions and react to the play. They all enjoyed the chance to talk with the actors and others involved in the production, and over the four weeks developed a rapport with them. Naturally the actors were interested in the work being created and enjoyed talking with the artists about their work as well as about their acting. Elyss said that there was good dialogue between the artists and actors. The artists shared many comments and observations about the play with the MTC staff and each other.
Being in a small group over four weeks, travelling together on public transport to and from the Arts Project studio in Northcote and having lunch after each session at the Malthouse Theatre café added to the richness of the experience. The artists could talk about the project, enjoy each other’s company and get to know each other and Elyss better. There was much discussion over lunch about the play as well as the work of the artists.
Elyss sums up her main impressions of the experience: In addition to the valuable opportunity to go out together and observe a professional theatre company at work, it was really great to do it over a period of time and to have the opportunity to draw live and try to capture the essence of a person in movement. It was fascinating to observe how each artist approached this new way of working. I have no doubt that this opportunity will extend and benefit all four artists’ drawing practice.
Anne Stonehouse, August 2014
This project was made possible thanks to a private donation as well as the collaboration and support of Major Supporters:
22 August – 4 October 2014
The exhibition is on display at the Arts Centre Melbourne in the Fairfax Studio Foyer and the Smorgan Family Plaza Foyer. The Smorgan Family Plaza Foyer is the central foyer space and the hub of Arts Centre Melbourne. The large space leads to the State Theatre, Playhouse and Fairfax Studio. Patrons access it from the car park and the St Kilda Road entrance. The Plaza also houses the Box Office and the Cascade Bar. The exhibition was created from MTC’s production, The Sublime, written by Brendan Cowell. Arts Project Australia celebrates its 40th Anniversary in 2014; ‘Movement and Action: Observations from the MTC Rehearsal Space’ is a featured event in Arts Project’s extensive 2014 exhibition and event program.