‘Birds: Flight paths in Australian art’ – Visual art exhibition at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery
Sponsors: Mornington Peninsula Shire; Creative Victoria; Beleura House and Garden; Friends of MPRG; Mornington Peninsula Vignerons
If you have never been to Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery before, here is a gem of info: It is a cultural treasure run by some of the most highly-skilled gallery specialists and curators in Australia. In addition to volunteers, the team consists of eight core staff members: Danny Lacy, Narelle Russo, Ainsley Gowing, Elizabeth Jones, Rowena Wiseman, Jane German, Jill Anderson and director, Jane Alexander.
MPRG always packs a punch for the size of the gallery, consistently providing sumptuous exhibitions with a variety of artworks to induce wonder, excitement and delight. The team at MPRG cleverly designs exhibitions to appeal not only appeal to young people, but to inspire people of all ages. Interwoven with every exhibition, is a wealth of events, public outreach programs, artist talks, tours and interactive artworks to delight and engage all members of the community. The cost is minimal so that everyone can access MPRG: entry fee is $4 for adults and $2 concession (cost varies for other activities). These attributes make the gallery a hub of activity and enjoyment. The current exhibition, ‘Birds: Flight paths in Australian art’, greets visitors with a large flock of brightly coloured bird sculptures created by local school children, and encourages visitors to place black bird stickers on the walls to create a spectacular interactive artwork in the foyer.
The current exhibition is based on four bird themes: collecting, identity, symbolism and the environment. The artwork, ‘Prattle, scoop and trembling: a flutter of Australian birds’ 2016 by Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, puts a delightful spin on a naturalist journal that might have been created by a 19th Century colonial bird collector. Each of the 15 sections contains a text page describing the qualities of birds depicted in the adjacent black and white graphite images, as well as providing a collage of the birds over an original black and white portrait. Not without a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour, the birds appear to be interacting with the person in the portrait and demonstrating their own importance in spite of European colonial attitudes of the time.
Unlike the sense of foreignness that 19th Century Europeans may have felt towards birds on the ‘new’ Australian continent, birds such as the ngak ngak (white-breasted sea eagle) were an intrinsic part of the stories and rich culture that formed the identity and lives of the Indigenous Australian people. Ginger Riley Munduwalawala’s painting ‘Limmen Bight River Country’ 1992 depicts the ngak ngak as a guardian who looks over Riley’s mother country around Limmen Bight River in South East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. A large painting approx. 2.5m by 2.5m, Riley uses vivid, unmixed colours to divide the canvas into three horizontal sections. The top section shows two large birds facing each other, high atop mountains. The middle section depicts small black images of humans hunting kangaroos, and the lowest section, a peaceful campsite and undisturbed wildlife.
For Arthur Boyd, however, birds do not necessarily represent peace and security. In his oil on Perspex painting, ‘Lovers in a boat at Hastings’ c. 1955, the black swan hovering above the lovers symbolises the lovers as victims. Dark greens, browns and blues, mixed and smeared on the Perspex in flowing strokes gives the image a heavy, foreboding mood. This heaviness surrounds the boat, which is the central feature, glowing red and white with only a few strokes to delineate the tangle of lover’s legs, hair and arms. The swan flying large and flat over the lovers, completes the fluid, passionate image.
Boyd is not the only artist in the exhibition to depict images from the Mornington Peninsula. James Smeaton’s four photographic portraits of birds are taken from the Devil Bend Natural Features Reserve, a 1000 hectare environmental reserve that supports a spectacular array of shorebirds and waterbirds, including threatened species. The four images are part of a larger series of 133 bird portraits created in 2007 called ‘The birds of Devilbend’.
With artists Arthur Boyd and James Smeaton deriving their inspiration from the beautiful Mornington Peninsula, it is enough to fill anyone with gratitude at the natural and artistic treasures of the area, whether they be the parks, sea and wildlife or the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery. If you have not yet seen ‘Birds: Flight paths in Australian art’, it is open until Sunday 12th February. Inspire yourself and your friends with a trip to Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery.