EXHIBITION REVIEW: Australian Stencil Art Prize

‘See No, Hear No, Speak No’

Abundant with colour and overflowing with themes and attitudes as varied as the techniques of application, the AUSTRALIAN STENCIL ART PRIZE returns for its fourth year in the new location at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery in Camperdown in Sydney’s Innerwest, from the 21 November – 2 December 2012.

Purposefully positioned just away from the graffiti heavy streets of Newtown, the Australian Stencil Art Prize houses itself in a quiet side-street of Camperdown in the Chrissie Cotter Gallery. If anyone is familiar with this space they may be confused as to why stencil art is being exhibited in a gallery so secluded; and one that sit in between a tennis court and a bowling club no less. Well, graffiti this is not. While the Australian Stencil Art Prize definitely has works deep in street influences the prize has a greater concern with the techniques and how and where the medium can be pushed rather than a territorial vandal attitude.

Ralf Kempken

For proof of the very concerns of the art prize one need only look to the exhibitions winning pieces, Ralph Kempken’s ‘Formative’. A layered hand cut stencil with subtle grooves, this is a work strongly evocative of Kinetic, and 60s Op Art. Here, figure and ground are in constant flux pulsating with life and movement depending on what position, and the individual movements, of the viewer. When interacting with this work the viewer experiences the work shift to show different faces, all solemnly reflecting the gaze. One walks away from this work reminded of the many possibilities of perception and the importance of individual activity.

Kempken’s introspective mood-based attitude is reflected by other artists working with similar ideas such as; Thirty60’s ‘Otto’, Ilia Kokalevski’s Escape’, Michael Duncan’s ‘Tea Time’ and 23rd Keys’ ‘Too Strong’. Beyond this, two other dominate themes would be the overtly politicised works, and humour.

Of the political works Liverpool NSW based AAAGHH!!’s ‘Wanna Play?’ is most definitely a standout. Grounded in a Comic Book aesthetic AAAGHH!! presents an image of a young child touting a machine gun and confidently staring back at the audience. Playing off the very techniques and images that would excite the very kind of child depicted. “My name AAAGHH!! is taken right out of comic books, so I like to reference that whenever I can” the artist declares.

‘Wanna Play?

 ‘Wanna Play?’ is an embodiment of the fear of what is shaping the young minds of children.  Whether that is through the violence in toys, images, video games and film AAAGHH!! makes us think about what happens to the minds of those surrounded by ever present violence. The artist further explains “the concept of children and war is what shaped this work. Some children play with toy guns and treat it as a game and others are forced to bear arms as a way of living, others are devastated by it and flee from it. This is a reflection of what I see and hear in the media.”

Considering all the works exhibited the absolute standout is without a doubt Kelly Sullivan’s satirical and the biting social commentary of ‘Australia circa 1978, Q.What’s changed A.Not much…’ In Sullivan’s piece we have a slew of fibro houses that are quintessentially of the 70s with cars racing past. All of which have been gridded and labeled with Aussie identifiers such as ‘Bricky’, ‘Bogan’ or ‘Keg on Legs’.

The work being produced is largely based on the circumstances that surrounded her when she was young, as she was born to a time of great iconic imagery and pop culture. Hence, Sullivan’s work is fundamentally grounded in graphic pop culture that she was, and still is encircled by. “I was born to a family of great iconic imagery and pop culture of the 20th Century. My parents met at an Elvis look-a-like competition when they were 16, and my older sisters – one being a lesbian Sharpie, and the other a Big M model, were two glaring examples, albeit opposite poles, of dynamic 70’s icons” Sullivan explains.

‘Australia circa 1978, Q. What’s Changed? A. Not Much…’
Kelly Sullivan

Aiming to foster discussion and build an audience for stencil art, the Australian Stencil Art Prize presented many points of views, allowing for a broad representation of the medium. And it appears to be working, as since the prizes inception demand and interest in medium as a legitimate practice has been growing, and in 2011, stencil artist E.L.K, who won the Australian Stencil Art Prize in 2010, was the first stencil artist to be exhibited in the Archibald.

For more information head to the Australian Stencil Art Prize website HERE

Words by Luke Letourneau