What’s in the Stockroom?

To celebrate 10 years since we started our ‘What’s in the Stockroom?’ newsletter, each week we wander through one of the region’s premiere stockrooms to find out what treasures lay inside.

MARS Gallery

This week we visit Melbourne’s MARS Gallery, with director Andy Dinan.

Cameron Robbins, Leanganook Storm – Hepburn Wind Farm, 2018. Inkjet on platine, edition of 5 + 2 AP, 100 x 160cm.

“Cameron Robbins’ art takes you to a place in nature you probably will never travel to in any other way,” says Dinan. “It’s the kind of art that leaves you asking questions – How? Why? Where was he? Was it real? Want to fly like a kite? Ride in the stars or be the wind? Cameron Robbins takes you there in his drawings, installations, sculptures and videos with the nigh-on magical help of his structural devices that may or may not be visible.”

“MARS has been representing Robbins for a good four years now and he consistently delivers work like no other. He transcribes invisible energies of the natural world in order to make art which is simultaneously powerfully physical and oddly ethereal. We act as proud hosts to his giant sculpture on the gallery roof and I have been known to dance under it after an opening! I also have been known to be found staring at his work in the stockroom after a tough day on the computer – it reminds me why I have a gallery.”

Atong Atem, Horse girl, 2016. Ilford smooth pearl print, 90 x 150cm.

“Atong Atem’s Horse Girl is the girl I want my daughters to be. The girl I wish I had been. Like the artist herself, this alien femme fatale is strong, intelligent and unafraid. She stands her ground graciously and with command, but with more than a little mystery. Her skin glows with chlorophyll sensuality and an-other-worldly exoticism and a powerful dose of the erotic.

Is Atem laughing at us? Playing a dress-up game to entertain herself? And are we willing take the ride? And behind this surreal self-portrait one may be tempted to recall the shuddering reverberations of Patti Smith’s ode to the poet Arthur Rimbaud: Horses. Atem is an Ethiopian-born South Sudanese artist and writer now living and working in Melbourne.”

Damien Shen, Heaven and Hell, 2020. Etched tintype, tintype image made from charcoal drawing, 13 x 10cm.

“All too many contemporary Australian artists have become besotted with identity politics in recent decades and all too often it is politics, over aesthetics, that sadly prevail. That, thankfully is not the case when it comes to Damien Shen’s work. But then again Shen is an unusual case in more ways than one. Born from the rich combined heritage of mainland China and the Ngarrindjeri peoples of South Australia, Shen has adopted traditional imagery and documentary exploration to create works that simultaneously embrace traditional drawing alongside photography and installation.”

“I do get angry at the fact that Indigenous and Asian voices rarely get heard and here we have an artist saying it eloquently, beautifully and vitally for this country. Curators and institutions have responded, but collectors are lagging behind. I feel it is my mission to get it out there in front of people. When they see Damien’s work, and understand the voice behind it, they understand how vital it is.”

Sophia Hewson, Untitled, 2017. Oil on canvas, 94 x 110cm.

“That Sophia Hewson can paint is beyond dispute. But her practice is so much more. What she chooses to paint is always disturbingly beautiful and painted with a fresh style that travels the test of time. However, like a chimera or a chameleon, she can change style on a whim, from scrupulously photo-realist to wildly expressionistic. But even when she allows swathes of colour and anarchic movement to dominate the conversation, her sense of control is absolute.”

“A multi-disciplinary artist, the work that Sophia has finessed over the last decade leaves no doubt that this artist has a great deal to say that is well worth listening to. Her theoretical and clinical studies in psychoanalysis have led to a body of painted work that has not been shown to date and I cannot wait to exhibit next year. But no matter what she serves, it will come with a side-dish of her trademark sensuality.”

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