ARTLOOK #6 | November 2004

Photo David Paterson

Granting Time

With the Capital Arts Patrons Organisation’s Annual Ball just around the corner, and a prized artlook subscription up for grabs at the auction, Kirsten McCulloch tracked down three of last year’s grant recipients to find out how their projects evolved  

'THE TINGLE DOWN THE spine you get as the light changes to create a scene of wonder is intoxicating,' writes David Paterson, citing the joy in sharing this experience as a motivation for his current exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG). Barbara Campbell describes the work of putting together the Neil Roberts website as 'an immensely satisfying journey'. Vivienne Binns sees an enormous value in practising artists taking time to write about making art and art theory, but also finds that things get very out of kilter if she is not able to maintain her time in her own studio.

All three Canberra artists received grants from the Capital Arts Patrons Organisation (CAPO) last year to assist them with these projects. In the case of Binns the grant was in the form of the CAPO Fellowship, allowing her to take time off teaching to work on a book, while maintaining her own practice. The book fills a gap she and colleagues have been aware of for some years, the need to, 'Mediate between the sort of high theory that frightens people and the reality of art practice. Everyone who makes art has words they use to describe their ideas and beliefs. For some this is very simple, for others it may be more complex and abstract.

Theory and practice are intertwined at every level.' Ideally, Binns hopes the book will be accessible to all sorts of people on their journey with art-professionals and amateurs alike.
As a result of the CAPO grant Binns has now been able to get some hard copy written, after several years of talking, conducting reading groups and doing other research. With the rise in theory in the 1980s Binns says that for a while the voice of the practising visual artist was virtually lost. She explains that the essence of this book is that it's by a practising artist who talks about theory. 'I think there's actually an enormous value, and even a need, for artists themselves to speak out about things like this,' she says, pointing out that most talk about art seems to be done by specialist art critics and historians, rather than practising artists themselves.

David Paterson's CAPO grant assisted in the production of his current exhibition at CMAG, allowing him to bring his art directly to the people in the form of almost 120 images, many of which have never been printed before. 'I just get so busy sometimes,' Paterson says. 'You need something like this to stop and make you focus on what you've achieved and what you actually have in stock, and hopefully motivate you to do something with it.'

Paterson usually only prints the very best photos he takes-primarily the ones that he decides to submit for an award. So while there may be other great photos, they often don't get to see the light of day. As an example he cites Sunset from Telstra Tower, which he took when he happened to turn around in the middle of shooting some images for a book cover, and had never looked at closely before now.

The exhibition is heavily weighted towards Paterson's newer work, and includes sections of portraiture, of landscapes and of specific types of photography, including a number of images shot on his grandfather's Agfa Isoly camera. About taking portraits, Paterson writes that he enjoys pushing the boundaries to produce something, 'A little more confronting, thought provoking and amusing to both the sitter and the viewer.' He says, 'I embrace the challenge… to work in collaboration with the sitter and preconceived ideas can be quickly modified or abandoned.' My personal favourite is a portrait of two of Paterson's children pulling faces at the beach, titled simply Annie and Eleanor. It captures beautifully the fun that can be had when relaxing with a camera, rather than posing with traditional expectations of the result.

Paterson received a CAPO grant to assist with framing his works for this exhibition and, through some judicious shopping and the recycling of old frames, extended it to assist with the cost of printing the catalogue as well. Without the grant the catalogue would have become a CD to reduce costs.

A catalogue which has gone much further than becoming a CD is the complete catalogue of the late Neil Roberts's works (1954–2002)put together in a website by fellow artist and wife, Barbara Campbell.

The Neil Roberts website grew out of Barbara Campbell's desire to have a catalogue of Roberts's work produced, and Merryn Gates's desire to extend to a travelling exhibition the survey show she had curated at the School of Arts in 2001, which included a catalogue. The artsACT grant they received was not enough to extend the exhibition, leading to the modified proposal for a website, and a grant from CAPO to fill in the gaps.

The website, which among other things includes current news, writings by and about Roberts, and his complete CV, also contains almost 700 images of Roberts's works-a complete catalogue to the best of Campbell's knowledge. The web will be an effective means of keeping Roberts's memory alive. The enormous task of uploading a life's work could be a likely stumbling block for many, but aware they were setting a benchmark, Campbell says her job was made much easier than it could have been by Roberts's meticulous record keeping. It took her three months to do most of the data entry and slide processing (Roberts had slides of nearly all of his work filed) instead of the three years she imagines it would have taken for any other artist.

Of the three months of unpaid time she took out of her own practice of performance art to do this work, Campbell says, 'I just made a decision. It was an immensely satisfying journey to take, because for me it gave a much stronger sense of Neil's practice, over some 25 years.'

Kirsten McCulloch is a Canberra based freelance writer.

This year’s CAPO grant recipients will be announced at the CAPO auction ball on Sat 13 November. For more information contact CAPO on 6249 7860 or at