It was not the deliberate visit many others were. I like exhibitions at Salamanca’s Long Gallery, visiting them reasonably often, with the neighbouring Sidespace also featuring as well due to its proximity. On this occasion, adored granddaughter needed a pit stop, which just happened to be opposite the latter viewing space so, whilst waiting, I wandered towards it.
Initially, standing on the outside looking in, I took what hung there to be photographs, so realistic they were from that distance. Suitably enticed, I entered the space and was surprised to discern the stunning nudes were wrought, so deftly, in pastel.
Stephen Firth completed these exceptional renderings, of an array of wonderfully local models, between 2011 and 2013. He’s an architect, resident in Hobart for some forty odd years. He has been participating in life drawing classes for thirty of these – and clearly has honed his skills to a very fine degree. I was impressed. Such a collection of naked or scantily clad feminine flesh could appear confronting on first take, but there was nothing salacious about what was on offer to the eye with this the artist’s second exhibition. What I espied there, in that gallery, that day I’d best express, in words, as being just simply beautiful.
As the artist was in residence and with the bulk of Hobart’s population either at the Wooden Boat Festival nearby, down at the docks, or at Salamanca Market immediately below, his exhibition was hardly drawing a bumper crowd at the time of my presence. The Long Gallery was also devoid of an attraction and I asked Stephen if this was affecting his own prospects for sales. Her reckoned that was possibly the case, but as something was due on show next door in the oncoming week he was hoping it all might improve. Although I didn’t query him on it, I did wonder if his choice of subject matter may also be be a limiting factor – even in this day and age. In an ideal world I would have added a red dot for my favourite, but there’s no surfeit of wall space in my household. He’d sold a couple of works on his opening night and professed contentment with that. I thought, at around the $1500 mark, they were good value for those with space (or cash) to spare. I went on to ask a couple of questions to which he responded in artists’ speak, but it was clear he was serious about what he hoped to achieve by having his models make ‘…eye contact with the viewer.’ He praised the virtues of the Conté crayon as his medium and I congratulated him on his skill with them.
My conversation with Stephen Firth then moved on to the last showing at the Long Gallery where, again in my dreams, I would have been making purchases to grace the walls of Lovell’s Riverside Gallery.
Our beloved island, as well as producing beguiling subjects for figure studies, can trade, as well, on its unique natural panoramas – panoramas that are attracting overseas snappers to our southern shores as well as giving the local brigade ample subject matter. Held from the 22nd of January till the 5th of February, ‘Island Light’ was curated by prominent camerasmith Wolfgang Glowaki and featured the alumni of the local landscapists’ scene – such names as Mathew Newton, Dennis Harding and my personal favourite, Luke O’Brien. As well as those I was already well familiar with, there were a whole array of up-and-comers whose work, well, lit up the walls on the day I visited. Mr Firth was of the same opinion that with Arwen Dyer, Kip Nunn, Joshua Vince et al, the legacy of Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis is well in hand. With the opening of Wild Tasmania, replacing the old and perhaps tired Wilderness Gallery, around the corner, as well as with tourism booming, the future for these gifted people being able to turn a buck would seem considerably enhanced. Glowaki himself has a new publication worth checking out – I am particularly partial to his macro work.
Eventually precious granddaughter, with parents in tow, returned and so I departed Mr Firth and his engaging ladies. I followed up by examining his web site, readily available to all those not adverse to slightly NSFW material.
All this led me on to reflect on Kirsty Pilkington who has melded together both aspects mentioned above – she’s bought her nudes directly in contact with the Tasmanian landscape. Her ‘Bare Winter’ series – in book, card and print formats – has been around for some time – the tome gracing my own bookshelves. She also is a dab hand at animal photography, having a popular range of product in that genre also available.
I wonder if Stephen Firth has any notion of publishing his nudes in book form. Those struggling for wall space would be a ready market – his nudes are every bit as appealing to one’s senses as the island’s glorious natural sea and land vistas. I trust he gained many more attendees to his exhibition in the days after I attended and made a few more sales to make it all worthwhile. His labours certainly gained my attention. Long may he render our womanhood in such an appealing manner. And long may the Salamanca Arts Centre attract us to diverse and stimulating artistic showcases. It is a valued adjunct to TMAG and MONA, helping make to our magical city an artists’ haven with increasing clout.
Stephen Firth’s website = http://www.stephenfirthartist.com.au/
Luke O’Brien website = http://www.lukeobrien.com.au/
Wolfgang Glowaki website = http://wolfgangglowacki.com.au/
Kirsty Pilkington website = http://www.kirstypilkington.com.au/