Colour My World

With the plethora of blockbuster exhibitions that leave us yo-yoing between the major galleries, it is sometimes the smaller exhibitions scheduled in between, and down the corridor that hold their own. Colour My World currently on at the National Gallery of Australia is a stand out example of this.

Dealing with a significantly recent aspect in Australian photography, this is the first exhibition dedicated to the revival of the handcoloured photograph in the 1970s.

The handcolouring of images has a lengthy history, literally marking a turning point for photographic manipulation and its artistic potential. Gaining huge popularity in its beginnings, the practice of applying paint, dye or other media to a photography added longevity and lifelike colour to black and white pictures. The ability to correct photographic mistakes only enhanced its economic value, and allowed a new artistic sensibility which carried on until its decline in the middle of the twentieth century – as modernist photographers sought to maintain to the virtuosity and technical purity of the original photographic print.

Whilst most only place hand coloured photography during its peak throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there is more than just the added economic value of coloured photography than meets the eye.

Making a comeback in the 1970s it continues today as a strong and diverse practice for contemporary Australian artists. Colour My World highlights the bold attraction of the handcoloured image. Trends in the art world during the late twentieth century tended to engage with the medium’s technical integrity, favoring black and white photography, whilst colour photography was associated with the commercial realm and fashion. Thus to pick up the brush, or coloured pencil, was an act of resistance.

In this tone of resistance and re-evaluation, the broad range of artists in this exhibition are cleverly linked together by themes of ‘Challenging conventions’, ‘Aesthetics’ and ‘Reconnecting’. New acquisitions and rarely seen works from the NGA collection include works by Micky Allan, Ruth Maddison, Warren Breninger, Julie Rrap, Janina Green, Christine Barry, Fiona Hall, Miriam Stannage, Robyn Stacey, Nici Cumpston, Lyndell Brown, Charles Green and Jon Cattapan.

Fresh, clever, and honest, the exhibition is a diverse showcase of artists that wanted to express earnest emotions and ideas through a previously mechanical and removed technique. From subtle tones to bright and bold, the works address the full circumference of social, environmental and political issues in Australia. Artists Julie Rrap, Fiona Hall and Robyn Stacey create handmade works to as highly personalised responses to the grand themes of Western art and culture, whilst for feminists handcolouring acknowledges the excluded history of women’s photographic work as studio handcolourists.

Defying the digital and tackling the surface, handcolouring imbues a personal touch of the artist’s hand that rejects machinelike sameness. Maybe it’s the awareness of the artist’s hand, or the nostalgia of Ruth Maddison’s shots that capture the classic Australian Christmas holiday in the backyard, there is a warmth and intimacy that emanates from this exhibition and draws you in.

A snapshot of Australia, this exhibition colours a vibrant culture and practice that is ever relevant in contemporary art today.

EXHIBITION
Colour My World
3 April – 20 September 2015
Project gallery, National Gallery of Australia

www.nga.gov.au

Courtesy the artists and the National Gallery of Australia

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