TOP: Beryl Gay: Of Rugged Mountain Ranges (detail), 2015
Oil on stretched canvas 60 x 150cm

Visitors to artist Jim van Geet’s new Myrtleford Contemporary Art Gallery have labelled it a surprising oasis, a gift, a rare needle-in-a-haystack find. I can wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment: it’s a major experience to visit the shopfront gallery, where a wealth of hugely varied work is on display. There is gold displayed on these walls and I encourage all art lovers to visit and enjoy it.

Several of the artists are locally and internationally awarded and recognised painters, Jim among them. He knows every artist personally and can tell the story behind each and every carefully selected work on display. As far as art education is concerned, this hands down beats any tutorial by a fussing art historian or curator. Here in the relaxed sub-alpine township of Myrtleford, a sense of peace, discovery and sheer pleasure begins to unfold as one views the collection. For me, viewing art is often an emotional experience, a release. It’s a collective exhalation, a much required decompression of life’s continued complexities and daily stresses. I feel relief.

Jim’s Myrtleford gallery opened in July 2016 as a long-term business and pleasurable project designed to feed the growing urge for people’s need to include art in their lives. Jim bolsters this message with some extraordinary evidence that I was not aware of. He explains how the enormous popularity in adult colouring books the world over has forced new-growth forests to be prematurely cut down to meet the demand for colouring pencils! Thinking about this, I see that it paints an alarmist picture. Clearly Jim’s right, certainly something is missing.

‘We humans like to relate to each other. People want to express themselves by experiencing creativity first hand,’ says Jim. ‘Its a meditative self-philosophy, a way of discovering who we are as humans. With colouring books everyday people have been given a choice in expression. This versus new technology that might only offer a fixed format: for example Instagram – it forces you to work within its constraints, you’re boxed into a pre-programmed, pre-formatted concept.’

Jim reminds me that pictorial art is the oldest form of human communication, and has been used within all ancient societies: Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Australian Aboriginal and so on. Art is something that’s fundamentally within us all. It’s who we are as the human animal. Therefore creating art – telling our story through creation – and viewing art gives us an immense sense of pleasure as it helps to define our sense of self.

Jim and I continue to talk of the magic in creative arts and how an artist starts with just thin air. Nothing exists, then a concept, a thought, is turned into an image, a visible, tangible item. ‘It’s the ultimate power of choice,’ says Jim. ‘And in terms of human expression is also the ultimate freedom.’

Stephen Jesic, King Parrot’s Fortress, 2012
(print), original: Acrylic on composition board 75 x 90cm

Jim’s gallery features a collection of nicely crafted Australian landscape paintings. Astrid Bruning’s Bovine Boulevard painting reminds me of Arthur Streeton’s Golden Summer, Eaglemont with its display of dry summer grasses and that tell-tale, burning hot, Aussie gold afternoon light. This can only be Australia!

I ask Jim about his thoughts on ‘the establishment’ and the history of the Australian art scene and those who were schooled and later rebelled. ‘Learn the rules first and then you can rebel,’ says Jim. ‘But one has to choose to rebel. I feel learning and honing skills at art school is valuable, but I think that such skills should be seen and used as guidelines only.’

Beryl Gay’s Of Rugged Mountain Ranges, Wilpena Pound/Kara-Flinders Ranges National Park painting, with wedge-tailed eagles in flight, was a first rebelling step in a new direction for the artist. This powerful painting was the result of a friendly push of rebellious encouragement from Jim.

‘Beryl paints a lot of different things: flower studies, still life and landscapes; she’s technically extremely adept. The Wilpena Pound was something I encouraged her to do, to force her out of her comfort zone. Many artists are “tight”, in their training and technique. She had told me: “I wish I could loosen up and be freer.”’

Jim encouraged Beryl to simply use bigger brushes to help free things up, and then to go back to smaller brushes and tighten up where required. It’s this kind of mentoring, or collaborative friendship as he prefers to call it, that makes Jim such a great bloke to chat with. He’s foremost an art lover and therefore is more than happy to explore and talk about any and all concepts in discussion. There’s a lot to be learned from listening and/or debating with him.

‘We [many of the artists represented in the galley] bounce ideas off each other, share concepts and techniques. I like a challenge and I’m constantly learning; there must be growth!’ he says

Jim van Geet, Autumn Gold, 2016
Oil on canvas 30 x 40cm

Jim’s recent work Autumn Gold represents one such challenge. With this painting he worked to a smaller scale and concentrated on exploring back light – ‘atmospheric haze’. Positioning the figure in the landscape builds the composition to a nice balance, while his use of brighter grading of autumn gold tones plays a brilliant illusionary trick, fooling the mind into the belief that sunlight is filtering through the tree canopy. It’s a magic painting. Also magic is the perfected, hard-edged blind infinity of confidence within the expression of Charles Waterstreet. The painting Rake’s Last Stand, 2015, depicts ‘the real Rake’ with a dripping of sleazy, hungry wenches at his feet. They cower yet beg for attention but all he notices is his own self-confidence and forward-thinking blind luck. In a word, the painting is hilarious, and shows that Jim is never too serious about everything he touches. This face of ‘Rake’ is a cracker of a work.

Jim was a finalist in the 2016 Glencore Percival Portrait Painting Prize – North Queensland’s own portrait competition – with Serenity, a painting of Argentinian fashion model Gabriela Ruiz. He’s worked extensively with Gabz, as he calls her, and expresses a great respect for her performance craft, exemplified by the fact that in truth she is an extremely shy person who has to work hard at pleasing and teasing her audience.

Jim van Geet, Gabriela and the Butterflies, 2015    
Oil on canvas 150 x 100cm

In gathering content before beginning a painting of her, Jim builds a vast reference library, making live sketches, taking notes, producing test colour swatches and often taking 200-300 photos of Gabriela per sitting. Gabriela and the Butterflies, 2015, is a painting that plays with her skilled alluring qualities. The deliberately regal outfit in bold red amplifies the ‘look but don’t dare touch’ sex appeal. We are drawn so close to her, and intimately share in this ultra hot, come hither moment. I, like many others, find it difficult to take my eyes off her. I too, now, also want to photograph Gabz! Jim can I have a contact please?

Alluring beauty here also comes in the form of other creatures. I next spy a signed print from Gold Coast painter Stephen Jesic: King Parrot’s Fortress, 2012. It is a work of astonishing detail and impeccable colour and composition. Stephen brings us front and centre into the safety of the parrot’s nesting domain. This high vantage point places the viewer within a remote mountain range. Here there is no danger, only a feeling of comfort and safety among the moss, vines and leaves. Winter mists cloak the distant peaks and in doing so, help to focus our minds on the importance of the feather’s protective purpose and requirement of upkeep. Stephen’s work is represented in the USA by Arcadia Contemporary Gallery, Los Angeles. In 2016 he was awarded the ARC realist art prize award (animal category) for his work Jewel of the Amazon (acrylic on baltic birch).

Jin Won’s Kosciuszko – Series II is yet another eyecatcher. And while it displays a happier, safer view of the Kosciuszko upper plateau landscape, it does connect me with the great Eugene von Guerard. Here, as in von Guerard’s work, rocky outcrops and distant mountain views amplify the isolation, but that’s where the similarity ends. Jin lightens the load with a full bloom of alpine wildflowers in gold, white and pink. It is playful and offers a pleasurable sense of freedom. With this work I gain a desire to explore the landscape further. Jin has passed on a fine message. His painting is yet another gem within the substantial Myrtleford gallery collection.

Myrtleford Gallery represents 24 different artists including Jim van Geet, Astrid Bruning, Stephen Jesic, Di King, Bonny Hut, Craig Davey, Jin Won and Beryl Gay.

Standish Street, Myrtleford, Victoria
Tel 0427 929 974

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