Babes at Sea- Meg Cowell

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Babes at Sea- Meg Cowell

Essay by Laura Skerlj

“A being dedicated to water is a being in flux.”

Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter

The Mast

‘The Mast,’ 2014, giclee print on gold fibre silk paper, edition of 5, 133 x 92 cm

Shakespeare’s infamous Ophelia—broken-hearted, grieving the death of her father—drowns slowly in a river in Denmark. In a state of spiritual collapse, she has fallen from the bough of a tree while collecting flowers. Now submerged, the young woman’s hands puncture the river’s surface like lilies. As she welcomes in death, Ophelia sings, her flaxen dress turning lavender as the water exchanges its initial offering of buoyancy for debilitating weight.

Melbourne based artist, Meg Cowell, photographs undulating feminine garments in, what appears, a vacuum of infinite space. The dresses, rich in hue and excessive in their skirting, are handpicked for their unique and romantic character: “Each garment has to speak to me in some way, to tell me what its wants me to do with it, as cosmic as that sounds.” The chosen articles of clothing are then photographed in a 1000-litre pool Cowell has installed in her inner-city backyard.

Flume and Night Garden

‘Night Garden’ 2014, giclee print on gold fibre silk paper, edition of 5, 133 x 92 cm.

Ritual dress accompanies many important rites of passage. For women, white wedding gowns and Victorian mourning attire are iconic artefacts that carry their wearer from one stage of life to the next. In turn, it is not beauty, vanity or a political reading of fashion that concerns Cowell’s practice. Instead, it is the moment when a woman dons a costume for her transformation that is of interest. For the artist, such occasions elevate garments beyond their materiality to become an embodiment of female ritual.

Cowell’s exhibition, The Sea, The Shore, presents a series of large-scale photographic works that illustrate this shift from garment to artefact. Through sophisticated direction, the artist creates vignettes of unique gowns, lingerie and couture as they bloom into new forms: for example, dresses appear flower-like, floating in the abyss. She describes the satisfaction when clothing abandons its inanimate physicality for a sense of agency: “I think an image is successful when it shows metamorphosis. Good images require a kind of imaginative collaboration from the viewer to interpret what they are seeing.”


‘Flume,’ 2014, giclee print on gold fibre silk paper, edition of 5, 133 x 92 cm


However, it is the body of water (literally, metaphorically) filling each gown that encourages spiritual transformation. Water—as a passage between shelves of land—is inherently connected to transition: mortals and immortals alike have cleansed, purged and even re-birthed here, moving from one tangible or metaphysical place to the next. Although the actual water is not visible in Cowell’s images, it acts as an agent for movement and a deep, almost cosmic, setting for the garments. Inspired by scenes like Ada’s drowning in The Piano and Ophelia’s watery demise, the artist explains, “It’s the Romantic idea of the psyche unanchored and adrift in deep water that fascinates me.” In this way, aqueous infinitude becomes a chamber for the memorialisation of female transition. As woman and outfit are separated, they alight one another, passing through the rigor of ritual toward transcendence.


Laura Skerlj is a Melbourne based artist and writer.

MEG COWELL at Flinders Lane Gallery
The Sea, The Shore 25 November – 19 December 2014




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By Celeste Hawkins


MoreART public art Show is in its fifth year. I recently had the chance to chat with Dan Mitchell, Moreland Council’s Public Art aficionado (the creator and producer of the project) ; to get some insight on the projects evolvement over the past five years and to guage how these varied styles of artworks are received by their audience.

What inspired you to take on or create this project?

The dynamic and evolving nature of contemporary public art inspired me to find a way to facilitate a project that gave artists access to a diverse range of sites and extended possibilities for realising and exploring their practice. Moreland – Brunswick, Coburg, Fawkner and beyond is a crowded urban environment. MoreArt aims to introduce both artists and the community to the ‘spaces in between’ – the unusual, the industrial, the unloved and the odd.

Reflecting back on the past five years, what have been some of the highlights and what might you have done differently?

Each year there is has been some minor controversy – it is always difficult to predict these as each year artists will throw up all sorts of challenges be they practical or philosophical. Highlights have been many over the years and I loath to single out. I personally have enjoyed artists who are in situ and bring a performative or interactive element to their work.

Roseanne Bartley

Roseanne Bartley

Why is Public art so important to you personally and do you think it resonates with the community?

I think it has many roles to play and it varies, especially regarding context i.e. particularly sites, municipalities and communities. Artists are very good at generating debate and/or introducing new and revitalised ideas. They are good at identifying the beauty in the most unusual ways, encouraging the community to have a second look at the place they live and the people they share it with. All this kind of dialogue can really help with community building. This can resonate with the community in different ways. For example; some may be happy to see art for arts sake others want beautification and other motivations are more political. We try to make our program a bit of all of these.

Is there something about the city of Moreland that seems to attract a proliferation of public artworks or has it evolved and been built up slowly by directors such as yourself?

I think it is just the type of place we live in. So many more artists are engaging in the public space as it provides just the kind of danger many seek for their work. How will people react? Will it get destroyed? Will there be a complaint or compliment? You just don’t get the kind of honest responses to work within gallery confines. Whether its self initiated or within the context of projects like MoreArt, it’s all good.


Do we need more public art works and how do you see this project evolving?

That is a good question. Moreland is a crowded environment with not many open spaces that might lend themselves to more epic permanent type public art commissions. Local governments don’t have the type of budgets for this kind of work unless it is connected to large scale developments and so on. I am more interested in the artists informing current spaces and places using ephemeral, in residence and non permanent statements, especially as the community and the urban environment are constantly changing.

The way I see MoreArt evolving is for it to continue being in step with contemporary movements in the field and also encouraging new and different artists to engage in the public space.


Everyday Monument

What are some ‘must sees’ in this year’s selection of public artworks?

MoreArt Award winner Roseanne Bartley’s Project ‘Oh!’ at Gowrie Station is worth a visit. James Voller’s Fragmented Patterns on different pieces of public infrastructure in Coburg Central are excellent. ‘Everyday Monument’ by Alica Bryson Haynes and Ria Green at Brunswick Town Hall is worth a look.


Get your limited edition Brunswick/Coburg themed comic book – Squishzine Brunston from libraries and various cafes throughout.

Find out more here









Four places to go in and around Melbourne Town…

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Places to go… Here are some ideas if you’re hankering for a great art adventure or a more localised city bound experience.

sugar mountain

Tickets are on sale now for the Sugar mountain festival in January of next year. The Victorian College of the Arts  is to become the festival’s new home with a juicy offering of music and a feast of visual art to devour. See here for more details.

open studios

Sculpture by Matthew Harding

Macedon Ranges Open studios will be running over three weekends. See here for an interview with painter Catherine Abel and here for an interview with the festival’s director, Jill Rivers. And for more details visit the website here.


MoreART festival is a Public art adventure occuring along the Upfield rail and bike precinct in the city of Moreland running until the 19th of December. See here for more details.

ILinden Postcard Show 2014 25 October - 6 December 2014

Blue Wall, Linden Postcard Show-Photo by David Marks

The annual Linden postcard show is on now from the 25th- 6thDecember. Come down to St Kilda and see a great range of works by top artists. All work is for sale, so you can pick yourself up an afforadble gem.



Catherine Abel -Daylesford Macedon Ranges Open Studios

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Abel_OPIUM DREAMER-122x91cm-oil on linen

Catherine Abel-OPIUM DREAMER-122x91cm-oil on linen

It is widely known, even to the layperson recalling just a little from a school art history lesson that artists from all over the world have frequented the Louvre in Paris to copy the works of Great Master Paintings. By this process, a diligent self-motivated student could and does experience an immediate lesson from the ghosts of artist past. Montparnasse, the well renowned area of Paris is alive with the spirit of these artists, as many had flocked there between the years of World War One and Two for its cheap rents and vibrant atmosphere; selling their works to buy food.

Trentham resident and painter Catherine Abel always had an affinity with those far away artists as a school student in North Queensland. I asked Catherine if there was any particular member in her family that may have influenced her as a child.

Whilst at school, I always had an affinity with the artists living in Paris, particularly the cubists and surrealists. But no one in my family had a direct influence on me in this way. Although, I did happen to take ballet at the age of five and loved Anna Pavlova and that whole period of the 1920’s.

I tried to dig further, but Catherine tells me that she was really a ‘black sheep’ in the true sense of the word.

I think I was just born to do it! I never knew my father, but the little I did find out was that he had immigrated to Australia from Italy in the 1960s and worked as a cane farmer. I later found out he was quite creative and loved making things from wood. He was also half Italian so, perhaps it’s in my blood!

What led you to Paris?

I always had this dream of living and painting in Paris. I went on a holiday in 1997 and met a French guy who came over to Australia the following year after he finished his studies. In 2000 we moved to Paris. He had a really good job offer there and said that he would help me establish myself as a painter. Although I had made art all my life I had only made a few paintings. It was really confronting – did I even have any talent? So I basically set myself a target. I wasn’t sure if I had what it took to have some sort of congruency. I asked myself if I could execute 10 paintings in a row. I basically spent a huge amount of time at the Lourve and then would go back to my apartment and paint.

Abel_LA FEMME EN SOIE-61x46cm-oil on linen

Catherine Abel-La Femme en soie-61x46cm -oil on linen

Catherine sites female artist Tamara de Lempicka as a huge influence and the ‘future she never had’.

She was a very free and flamboyant Polish artist who went to Paris in the 1920’s. She was taking lessons and spending lots of time at the Lourve, just like Matisse and Picasso. I had been reading her biography and had been by her studio in Montparnasse, I was just so hungry to paint!

You portray women in a classical form; highlighting their natural ‘strength and beauty’ do you think it somewhat of a backlash against the often-negative way many women are depicted through the media?

It’s not something that is done intentionally. I often get that question but I’m not making intellectual choices-it just flows in a way. If you look through history the female form has always been depicted and interpreted in a number of ways. Being female myself, its natural, I don’t fear it. I find the form so beautiful and graceful, both the shapes and the emotion. I feel that the strong background designs of my paintings compliment the women. Also, something extra comes in when a female paints a female. In contemporary painting men often paint women more sexually.


Catherine Abel in the studio

I asked Catherine about her style and in particular, her highly patterned and colourful worlds that house her beautiful figures.

In the last five years, I’ve noticed realistic figurative painting becoming a strong presence in the art scene. A lot of people are painting the female form. They’re often beautifully rendered with a plain background. I’m bringing another dimension into the background with the strong cubist influence. I love Picasso and the act of breaking down images-it becomes another side of my mind. There is a strong design element harking back to art deco and nouveau. I also love the work of French designer Edgar Brandt. He produced the beautiful wrought Iron lace work and door grates in Europe during the 1920’s.

What led you to want to represent yourself -away from the gallery/artist relationship?

For the first time I don’t have gallery representation. I have been very frustrated with the art scene in Australia. The gallery that represented me in Sydney basically deterred me from doing my cubist works. They wanted a certain style of image that ‘could sell’. My work sells very well through my own representation.

Catherine Abel

Catherine Abel

How is your work received by the general public and especially in your new community?

Almost everyone who visits my gallery resonate with the cubist works. One person called me a “living Cubist” which really made my day! I think they love the abstraction yet find they can still identify with the imagery. I feel like I will never exhaust the theme, which is great because the demand and interest is there.

What can people expect from their visit to the Open studios?

This is the first time I have participated and I’m replicating my studio into the gallery. I really wanted to be a part of it. I live in the one bedroom apartment at the back of the shop, so two rooms at the front will become the gallery and studio. There will be an easel set up with a few paintings on the go and I’ll be available for questions.

Catherine assures me that she will have work on display despite the six paintings that have been whisked away to the Toorak Village Art Fair! These time laborious works are in high demand and are keeping her very busy.

View the times for Open Studios here:

Read another interview with Catherine Abel on ‘The Countryphiles’ here


Daylesford Macedon Ranges Open Studios-Conversation with Jill Rivers

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By Celeste Hawkins

Jill Rivers, the Creative Producer of the Daylesford Macedon Ranges Open Studios is determined to demystify the Arts and make it more accessible to all. A former Media Director for the Australian Ballet and chair of Ausdance Victoria, Jill has vast experience and has built up a network of associates that feel just as strongly. Jill has also sat on several boards and written numerous articles for major newpapers and magazines and is a local to the area, having moved there in 2008. I had the opportunity recently to chat to her about her role and dedication to the Arts.

How did the idea of the festival come about?

In 2012, Peter Clemenger the Arts philanthropist had been impressed with the Open Studios program in Cambridge, UK. Being an ideas man (the instigator of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival) he thought to bring it to the area. He spoke to the Macedon Ranges Tourism board and because of our previous working relationship with the Australian Dance Awards, I was commissioned as an arts consultant to develop a feasibility study on it. It was from that point that I agreed to take it on.

Catherine Abel

Painter- Catherine Abel


What has been you role as founding Producer?

There has been a lot involved in the setting up process. First I had to establish a committee which all have either a connection to the arts or to the area itself. Fortunately, I have been able to bring all the people of my network into it and develop a basic framework. We have developed guidelines, set up a partnership with the NGV and formed a curatorial panel. We have also managed to obtain funding from Macedon Ranges Tourism.

The curatorial panel currently consists of Frances Lindsay, former Deputy Director NGV; 45downstairs gallery director, Mary Lou Jelbart; and Flinders Lane Gallery Director, Karen Woodbury.

What do you think it is about the area of the Macedon Ranges that draws in so many artists to set up their homes there?

 A while ago Francis Lindsay made a speech saying that an enclave of artists from the 1970’s, who had their spaces in Collins Street Melbourne, were all now living in the Daylesford region. I would love to get the statistics on that! I think one reason in part is economics. The cost of living and sustaining an art career in the city just isn’t feasible for many artists. For instance, Tim Jones is from Wales. He is a very high profile artist who has a place under Hanging Rock and is continually inspired by his environment. However, he also works part time teaching art at the VCA, so the city is also within train distance. But I think overall, artists who reside here have a spiritual and creative connection to their surrounding environment.

Painter and printmaker-Greg Mallyon

What can people expect when they visit the open studio spaces?

I believe it’s a very personal invitation to be able to go in, as most of these artists don’t reveal their work place. It’s an opportunity to see how they operate, why they do what they do and where they take their inspiration from.

Jill reinforces that it has been her overarching aim or mission to demystify the arts. She has been the creator of a series of conversations about Art in pubs that was first set up at the Melbourne Arts Centre  back in 2002. ‘Conversations in pubs’ involves an intimate discussion with a leading creator or motivator of arts and culture in a pub environment. This weekend, you can hear Tim Jones  talking about his creative process over a glass of wine or beer at the Historic George Hotel in Piper Street Kyneton; and there will soon be a series of talks in Bendigo.

Past talks have included Former Prima Ballerina Marilyn Jones; Former Deputy Director of the NGV, Frances Lindsay; the Director of The Australian Tapestry Workshop, Antonia Syme  and Leading Sculptor, Printmaker, Teacher & Local Resident, Tim Jones is coming up on the 19th of October.

 Tim Jones

Details:  Conversation with Tim Jones at The Royal George, Kyneton

this Sunday 19 October, 11 am for 11.15 am – 12.30pm

Where: 24 Piper Street, Kyneton

$30 including a glass of wine or coffee

$65 “ plus 2-course lunch at The Royal George

Enquiries: 03 5417 5228 0418 389 189

Bookings: www.ticketebo.com.au/conversationsinpubs


WEBSITE FOR OPEN STUDIOS:  www.dmropenstudios.com.au


1-2, 8-9, 15-16 November 2014 | Studios Open 10am-5pm