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Justice and Police Museum, Sydney, Saturday 20 October 2012 – Sunday 28 April 2013

Entering the galleries of the Justice and Police Museum late on a quiet Saturday afternoon for ‘Wicked Women’, is like walking onto a 1950s pulp fiction film noir set, and being surrounded by high profile female actresses in character, poised in fiercely provocative poses of femme fatales. The Valadon’s 17 portraits of high profile professional women like Tara Moss, Rachel Ward, Skye Leckie, Imogen Kelly, Sonia Kruger, Ros Reines, Larissa Behrendt, Antonella Gambotto-Burke, Margaret Cunneen, Essie Davis, Annette Shun Wah andKara Shead, are imposing and larger-than-life in both size and scale.

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The portraits, painted in oil are unframed, hung and arranged at eye level against a dark royal blue background, beautifully complementing the artist’s chiaroscuro technique and rich but luminous palette of racy reds and devilish greens . Each portrait is lit by spotlights, giving the flesh of Valadon’s figures a life-like iridescent glow . Valadon’s lush brushwork and evocative palette creates excitement and danger, while the textures and luxuriant surfaces of paint and colour prompt the eye to linger slowly across the canvas . In the quietness of the galleries, the paintings seem to come alive with a strange and seductive feminine power, imbuing the space with a highly dramatic, sexually charged and theatrical atmosphere.

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Each painting has a label next to it with brief description, or quote by the sitter, and the corresponding title and image of the pulp fiction novel or film poster on which it is based. This effectively allows the viewer to compare the original image with Valadon’s re-production. The labels are informative and engaging without being over-burdened with detail. The paintings are grouped wall by wall under a theme indicated by gilt inscriptions above them. For example, underneath the wall with ‘With a Gun in Her Hand she was Slaughter in Satin’ are the portraits of gun wielding Essie Davis and Sonia Kruger, and satin adorned killer looks of Skye Leckie and Imogen Kelly.

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The main gallery also has objects from the Justice and Police Museum collection such as hand-guns and poison bottle on display in cases in the middle of the main gallery. There is also a small exhibition space with 30 drawings documenting the artist’s creative process arranged in a sporadic, cluttered fashion against a dark red wall. In the centre of the room, there is a resting space where visitors can watch documentary film containing interviews with artist Rosemary Valadon and her sitters.

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Rosemary Valadon (1947-), is an award winning Australian artist, with a career spanning 35 years. Her work is represented in major Australian collections , and private collections in Australia and overseas. From her early portraits to prize winning works through to her more recent interest in feminine rituals of identity, her work continues to be included in major art prize exhibitions . She is a regular finalist in the Archibald, Sulman, Blake, Portia Geach and Mosman prizes. Her body of work explores politics of gender and identity, the body and its representation in a playfully seductive, ribald and mysterious manner . Most recently, her interest has been in ‘feminine’ and depictions of women throughout the ages. Her representations of the feminine explore the power of sensuality and display an interest in psychological theories of the self, in particular Freudian theory, identity formation and gender, freedom and dependence, and issues of human development.

Valadon’s inspiration for the exhibition came from her time as artists-in-residence at the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney in 2009, where she explored the Museum’s extensive collection, researching the history and depictions of women and crime. She also visited its Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal exhibition, where she was struck by the vast contrast between the glamorous depictions of women in the pulp fiction covers and the photographs of real-life female criminals from the 1920s and 1930s . At the height of its popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, pulp fiction books covers and film noir posters evoked the sexy, smoky underworld of the femme fatale, and female criminals of the ‘Razor Gang’ in the 1920s and 1930s like the notorious Tilly Devine, to seek widest possible circulation . The ‘bad girls’ of pulp fiction were portrayed, against the middle-class norms of the 1950s, as vixens, seducers, deceitful and untrustworthy women of a subculture, wielding knives and guns with masterful cunning, power and intelligence, trapping men with their highly sexualised and scantily clad provocative, yet passive poses .

Valadon’s portraits are a startling re-imagination of the history and depictions of women and crime, and the place of the ‘femme fatale’ in the art of early to mid-20th-century pulp fiction and film noir. By painting professional twenty first century women in the archetypes of pulp fiction and film noir femme fatales, showgirls, husband killers, and sirens in suggestive poses, guns, knives, and cigarettes, Valadon raises questions about women, their power, their humour and their femininity. This co-insides with contemporary commentary about the virulence not just of sexism but also of misogyny, particularly targeting successful, outspoken women . Valadon’s representation of women as trailblazers, all making a statement forging a career, in some ways celebrates the successes of women in a society whilst also highlighting their struggles, especially in professional sphere . Her portraits ask the viewer to consider who holds the power, the artists, the sitter or the viewer? That is, whether women depicted as individuals with their on their own identity or as objects subject to the male gaze.

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This question of female agency goes to the heart of what it means to be a woman and the problematic nature of representations of femininity. This dichotomous dilemma goes as far back as biblical stories of creation, and has persisted into and beyond the middle ages, Enlightenment and Victorian era with the patriarchal phallocentric ideas of thinkers like Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who categorised women as passive lesser versions of the whole more active and rational male . The idea that women are secondary to men in terms of artistic ability has also pervaded Australian art history, with many young Australian women artists of late 19th century and into the 20th century like Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington-Smith .

According to Valadon, her intention is to capture the look of the original artworks but add a vibrant and playful modern-day twist that reflects the sitter’s personality, and overthrows the sexist overtones of the original artworks . For Valadon, ‘sexual wickedness is all about suggestion and adventure, not porn’ . Her portraits reflect this, containing only a glimpse of skin through sensuous, rustling fabrics; full skirts, fitted bodices and waists. For Valadon, wicked women are those women who display ‘a lack of fear, curiosity, and refusal to obey certain rules’ especially where expressions of femininity, sensuality and sexuality are concerned .

The pulp fiction crime novels and posters the portraits are based on depict women as objects of lust and subjects of desire crafted by men’s fantasies . For me, Valadon’s skilled use of painterly conventions of oil painting imbues her female figures with a lush and sensuous power, which both conveys the beauty of the feminine and reasserts the power of seduction. Valadon’s preliminary drawings and final works show empowered women, unashamed of their sexualised identity and erotic relationships with others, a view or attitude which contradicts the ethos of 1950s Australia. The figures in the portraits exude sass, confidence and control. They are a celebration of the strength, style and dark side of successful, independent, unconventional women who have embraced the full power of their femininity in the professional realm. Valadon’s work, turns male gaze around, creating a space where women are actively in control and commanding their world, highlighting the seductive power of ‘the feminine’ to appeal to both men and women. Some men and women will be threatened by this exhibition. Others will fall in love with it. As Mae West also said: ‘When women go wrong, men go right after them’. I highly recommend this exhibition as an interesting and thought provoking experience which raises more questions than it answers. It prompts the viewer to question their ideas and assumptions about sexuality, crime, feminism and gender representation.

Bibliography:
Allen, T 2001, Cross-Currents in Contemporary Australian Art, Craftsman House, St Leonards, Sydney
Baudrillard, J 1990, Seduction, St Martin’s Press, New York
Cixous, H & Clement, C 1986, The Newly Born Woman, University of Minnesota Press, Mineeapolis
Behrendt, L 2012, Wicked Women Exhibition Opening Speech, viewed 17 May 2013, http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/wicked-women-exhibition-opening-speech/
Flax, J 1990, Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and Postmodernism in the Contemporary West, University of California Press, California
Gambotto-Burke, A 2012, ‘Billion Dollar Bodies: The Rosemary Valadon Interview’, viewed 17 May 2013, http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/billion-dollar-bodies/
Gibson, P 2012, An Exhibition by Rosemary Valadon, viewed 17 May 2013 http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/an-exhibition-by-rosemary-valadon-by-prue-gibson/
Johnson-Woods, T 2004, Pulp : a collector’s book of Australian pulp fiction covers, National Library of Australia, Canberra
Matheson, M 2012, ‘Wicked girls love brush with infamy’, The Australian, October 19, viewed 17 May 2013, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/wicked-girls-love-brush-with-infamy/story-e6frg6n6-1226498901476
Pattenden, R 2006, ‘The Textures of Desire’, viewed 17 May 2013 http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/the-textures-of-desire/
Slipp, S 1993, The Freudian Mystique: Freud, Women, and Feminism, New York University Press, New York
Taylor, A 2012, ‘Pulp depiction’, Sydney Morning Herald, October 13, viewed 17 May 2013, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/pulp-depiction-20121011-27e64.html#ixzz2RFPzrbqN
Valadon, R 2006, The Divine Burlesque: That Art of Rosemary Valadon, Macquarie University, Sydney, and online at http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/the-divine-burlesque-the-art-of-rosemary-valadon/
Valadon, R 2013, ‘Great time at WW panel discussion’, Rosemary Valadon’s blog, viewed 13 May 2013, http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/blog/
‘Wicked Women’, Limelight Magazine (online), http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Event/319566,wicked-women.aspx
Young-Bruel, E 1990, Freud on Women, W.W. Northon & Co, New York

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The Paris of the 1920s-1930s, was ablaze with bright lights and the sound of jazz Paris. A city of the artistic avant-garde where movements such as Cubism, Surrealism and Dada had taken hold, attracting a host of international artists, writers and performers. In the early years of the 20th century, Australian artists living in Europe, were captivated by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. One such artist was John Wardell Power (1881-1943).

Situated in the bohemian district on Montparnasse, Power found inspiration in the work of Picasso, Braque and the Cubist artists, and developed his own ideas on picture composition based on geometry. A cosmopolitan modernist steeped in the Parisian avant-garde, Power was interested in the relationship between colour and music and also drew inspiration from the stage, screen and popular entertainment. For example, Power’s ‘Danseurs à l’accordéon (Dancers with accordion), 1929’.

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‘ Art is the mythical expression (or statement) of feeling. Plastic art is the rhythmical expression of a plastic experience. No rhythm no art. No feeling no art’ – John Wardell Power (1881-1943).

Hanging in a prominent position near the entry to the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library at the University of Sydney, this artwork features a pair of entangled dancing cowboy puppets in ten gallon hats and tiny boots, with cubist panels of accordion keys against a Spanish mission set. Although it has a strong highly formalised geometric structure, the interwoven curved lines created by the two central figures evoke a sense of rhythm and movement. Painted in the cubist style, this artwork combines abstract and surrealist elements, evoking the modernity of the 1920s. In a similar vein to Picasso’s American manager in cowboy boots design for the Ballet Russes ‘Parade’ (1917), this work displays an ironic and playful approach to the Parisian avant-garde’s flirtation with American popular culture and the cowboy myth. It is an artwork which challenges our ideas about art, popular cultures and modes of cultural consumption, their role in a postmodern society, and the established practices of art-making.

The current exhibition showing at the University Art Gallery, ‘Atelier Paris: The Power Studio’, celebrates the 50th anniversary of J.W. Power’s bequest to the University of Sydney which enabled the establishment of the first international residency for Australian artists in Paris. However, Power’s image as a generous benefactor, travelling émigré and expatriot artist has obscured his own artistic achievements as one of the most important post-cubist Australian artists and participant in the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century.

After leaving Sydney in 1906 as a young medical graduate he undertook further studies in London, later serving in World War 1 before renouncing his profession at the age of thirty-eight to study art in Paris. During the interwar years 1920s-1930s, Power moved freely between London, Paris and Brussels in, immersing himself in contemporary and international avant-garde movement. The career of an artist like Power, who left Australia and settled abroad to pursue an artistic career, has left him estranged from nationalist art historical narratives. Works such as ‘Danseurs à l’accordéon’ in the University of Sydney’s collection are an important illustration of the intercultural exchange between Sydney and Paris and France and Australia which took place in the early part of the 20th Century. They provide proof the plurality of global manifestations of modernism, and force the viewer to broaden their cultural perspective of Australian modernism beyond the confines of the nation state.

By Stephanie Volkens

References:
Bouvet, V & Durozoi, G. 2010, Paris between the Wars: Arts, Style and Glamour in the Crazy Years, Thames and Hudson, London
Carroll, M. 2011, The Ballet Russes in Australia and Beyond, Wakefield Press, South Australia
Donaldson, A.D. & Stephen, A. J.W. 2012, Power Abstraction-Creation Paris 1939, University Art Gallery, Sydney
Howell, C. 2010 ‘Changing Perspectives on Modernism in Australia: Cubism and Australian Art’, Modernism/modernity, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp. 925-933.
Stephen, A. 2013, ‘Atelier Paris: the Power Studio’, MUSE, Issue 4, March 2013, pp. 6-8


Spanish film-maker Carlos Saura’s first live stage production, ‘Flamenco Hoy’, had the audience at the 2013 Adelaide Festival on their feet!

‘Flamenco Hoy’, is an expedition through past, present and future of flamenco, incorporating the sounds of jazz, classical and tango, but maintaining a strong flamenco heart-beat. Carlos Saura’s conception of light and space, tempo and movement is visually captivating.

The ballet and contemporary influences in Rafael Estevez and Nani Paño’s choreography adds a rich expressiveness. The eleven dancers show their astounding versatility in their ability to move from traditional flamenco dances like the Nanas, Sevillanas, Tangos, Peteneras, Farrucas, Saetas, Fandangos, Guajiras, Malagueñas, Seguiriyas, Soleares, Zambras, Alegrías, Bulerías, to tango, ballet and contemporary with great ease and skill.

The heart-stopping execution of the compositions and arrangements by Chano Dominguez and Antonio Rey, transport the audience into the depths of flamenco through the lens of jazz, incorporating the piano, saxophone and flute. The highlight for me was Seguiriyas. The incorporation of the piano heightened the drama, whilst the saxophone brought out the sultriness of each dance. The Sevillanas started out at an unusually slow tempo, but then exploded into a heart-racing scene of movement and jubilation.

In Carlos Saura’s own words, “this is a theatrical music show that is respectful, rhythmic, profound, and beautiful to look at, using the diversity of interwoven factors that have shaped flamenco…the Arab contributions, the Jewish laments, the African rhythms, the Gypsy people that one day came from far away India, the rhythms that come and go to and from Cuba and South America to Spain, jazz, and of course the imprints of the Gypsy and Andalucian people which intertwine to form the musical structure of what today we call flamenco” – Carlos Saura

Spending first day of 2013 with the brilliant choreography by Sir Robert Helpmann in 1948 film, The Red Shoes, I am reminded of a brilliant quote from the film:

“Boris Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?
[Vicky thinks for a short while]
Victoria Page: Why do you want to live?
[Lermontov is suprised at the answer]
Boris Lermontov: Well I don’t know exactly why, er, but I must.
Victoria Page: That’s my answer too.”

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040725/quotes?qt=qt0158921

“The Ballet of The Red Shoes” is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on.”

Just love this video filmed by my friend Amanda Krivograd post Pena Flamenca gig at The Newsagency, Marrickville in June 2012.

Post flamenco at the Newsagency

Each year Cronulla celebrates cultural diversity with the annual Fiesta @ the Beach at Dunningham Park.

In 2012, entertainment will included Bollywood performances, Greek and Can-Can dancers, Te Amo from Peru, Polynesian dancers and drummers, Brazilian Latin dancers, Salsa Kingz and the Vietnamese Dong Tam Lion Dance.

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Aperitif was French and Mediterranean tapas bar and restaurant, owned by celebrity chefs Manu Feldel and Miguel Maestre.
Every Thursday night during the colder months of 2011, we would rug up and descend on Kellet Street Potts Point to immerse ourselves in a weekly dose of paella, churros con chocolate and live flamenco featuring artists of Flamenco Australia- with guest dancers and guitarists. Sadly, it closed its doors at the beginning of 2012. Photographs taken by A. Krivograd 191648_1862858249707_1188507830_2198543_5305133_o (2)202215_1889509355968_1188507830_2233313_7912810_o (2) 192231_1896846939403_1188507830_2242856_8065126_o (2)191244_1921657519652_1188507830_2253779_7810362_o (2)