AN INTERACTION BETWEEN MUSIC AND PAINTING

This year Arts Centre Melbourne celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the creative collaboration between abstract painter John Peart (1945 – 2013) and composer Nigel Butterley (b. 1935). In 1967 the pair took to the stage of the Sydney Town Hall, along with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, to present the collaborative performance Interaction as part of the Last Night of the Proms.

Peart and Butterley conceived the performance as a creative interaction between music and painting, a live ‘happening’ where each could act in response to the other. Prior to the event, Butterley, a pianist and an established composer, wrote a work of five movements, each more energetic than the last. On the evening of the performance Butterley was seated at the piano and divided the orchestra into five sections. This allowed him to direct the various sections of the orchestra to come in and out, responding to Peart’s evolving painting.

Peart, who was only 22 at the time, was establishing a name for himself as an innovative abstract painter. During the performance he worked on the stage above the orchestra, with long-handled paint rollers on a large canvas stretched before the audience. For each of the five movements Peart painted with a different colour, the intensity of which increased as the performance unfolded; the palest used during the first, gentle movement and the darkest during the final, most vigorous movement.

The performance is fondly recalled by Peart’s close friends and directors of Watters Gallery, Geoffrey Legge and Frank Watters, who looked on with “amazed admiration at the way the vast painting came into marvellous and inevitable being as Peart proceeded”. They remarked that “he couldn’t step back and survey the work as it developed, he just flowed with the music. His application of black during the final exciting movement made it hard not to believe he was under the spell of an out-of-body intelligence so inspired did each new mark seem”.

Interaction, 1967, a recent donation to Arts Centre Melbourne’s Art Collection, was a preparatory study created during rehearsals. Although smaller in scale, Peart’s lyrical and direct brushstrokes capture the rhythm and movement of the improvisation on canvas. Produced at the beginning of Peart’s career, the work also signalled his lifelong commitment to an exploration of abstraction and experimentation. The addition of this artwork to the Art Collection enriches the historical interpretation of our Foundation Collection, particularly in the artistic connections with Peart’s abstract contemporaries, Yvonne Audette, Roger Kemp and Donald Laycock.

An Interaction between Music and Painting is currently on display in the Smorgon Family Plaza (May 20 – June 25), featuring Interaction, 1967, alongside the award-winning film, Interaction – music and painting, 1967 (directed by Gil Brealey, reproduced by permission of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – Library Sales © 1969 ABC TV). This film, produced in the same year as the performance, captures the essence of the creative partnership between composer and painter.

Nicole Bowller
Assistant Curator

Kylie On Stage Tour

Ever wondered what it takes to send an exhibition on tour? In this behind-the-scenes post, you can get a glimpse of staff from the Performing Arts Collection busily preparing Kylie On Stage for tour.

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Gold boots and stiletto heels worn by Kylie Minogue in the On A Night Like This tour packed into their travelling box with custom inserts to prevent movement and damage while travelling.

The Kylie On Stage exhibition wrapped up in January and is now being meticulously prepped and packed for a regional tour to the Mildura Arts Centre, Geelong Gallery, Ararat Regional Art Gallery and La Trobe Regional Gallery in 2017 and 2018. The exhibition allowed visitors to explore the creative processes behind the costumes and production of Kylie Minogue’s concert tours, but for the objects themselves, the show doesn’t end when the exhibition lights go dark. Instead, a team of registrars, curators, conservators and other museum professionals go to work preparing each object for travel to the next exhibition venue.

This lengthy process involves careful photography and documentation to record the condition of each object, creation of handmade supports, and fitting out or building customised boxes to fit complex objects such as headdresses. Exhibition objects risk damage ranging from packing materials and handling through to vibration caused by transport vehicles, so each one is carefully packed with conservation grade materials and dedicated supports to provide the best possible protection. The intricacy of the craftsmanship on many of the Kylie On Stage costumes has inspired clever solutions to protect delicate beading, diamantés and fabrics. Photos of the packing process are then used to guide installation and prevent handling-related damage during unpacking at the next venue.

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Fitting custom supports in a box tray to support a headdress.

While all objects are treated with the utmost care, sometimes you can’t avoid having a particular favourite. Some of the team’s favourite items from the packing process include a pair of yellow Dolce & Gabbana stilettos worn in the encore of Kylie’s 2002 KylieFever tour, a kimono-style mini dress worn in Act Five of the X2008 tour, and two pairs of gold shoes worn in the On A Night Like This tour (2000/2001). Shoes and accessories are not always very visible in performance, so being able to see the detail and craftsmanship of smaller items in the collection up close is a particular privilege.

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A standard box which has been fitted out with customised foam and Tyvek supports for a pair of shoes worn by Kylie Minogue in the encore of her 2002 Fever Tour.

Visitors can look forward to getting their own close-up view of these and all the other objects featured in Kylie On Stage when it arrives in Mildura this August. To learn more about the exhibition and regional tour, visit Kylie On Stage or explore the Kylie Minogue Collection online through the Arts Centre Melbourne website.

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Left: The textile conservator fits a padded Tyvek belt around the Jean Paul Gaultier bodysuit worn in Act Six of the Kiss Me Once 2015 tour.
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The bodysuit also has a fitted internal support to preserve its shape and prevent crushing of structural decorative elements.
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PAC curatorial and collection management staff pack the silver crystal-mesh costume worn by Kylie during Act One of the KylieFever tour in 2002.

Ercole and Nancy Filippini: Opera Pioneers in Australia

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This year marks the centenary of the arrival of baritone Count Ercole Filippini in Australia. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1885 to Italian parents, he made his professional debut in his home city, before gaining a contract with Italy’s prestigious La Scala opera house in Milan in 1912. With the closure of theatres in Europe during World War I, Filippini joined the Gonsalez Opera Company for a tour that included India, China, and the Philippines, followed by 14 months in Australia and New Zealand from June 1916.

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Count Ercole Filippini in the title role of Rigoletto, c.1914 and Contessa Nancy Filippini as Marguerite in Faust, Perth, 1930. Images courtesy of Coralie Tonti-Filippini.

When the tour ended Filippini remained in Australia and, in 1918, opened a school of opera in Sydney. One of his students was a young music graduate, Anne McParland (later known as Nancy), and by the end of the year the couple were married. In 1919 Filippini joined Frank Rigo’s touring company, which featured other Italian principals and Australian singers.

During the 1920s, the Filippinis set up Grand Opera companies in South Australia and Western Australia, all the while envisioning a national audience. Ercole performed onstage while Nancy produced and directed. She became Australia’s first female conductor of symphony orchestras and later joined her husband in lead roles.

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Programmes for the Italo-Australian Grand Opera Company, 1927 and 1932. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection.

The pair were dedicated to making Italian opera widely accessible, touring regularly to the outback and remote corners of the country as well as major cities. In order to make ends meet, Ercole also sang in vaudeville venues and cinemas, and together with Nancy, experimented with shortened versions of operas. In the early 1930s they broadcast regularly on ABC radio in Perth, even performing full operas with their company in the studio.

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Nancy Filippini, Sonara House Studio, Melbourne, 1936.  Image courtesy of Coralie Tonti-Filippini.

Ercole Filippini died at the age of 48 in 1934. Nancy continued her involvement with singing, broadcasting, and leading choirs and orchestras; she died in 1987, aged 91. Instrumental in sharing Italian opera across Australia, their musical legacy also continues through many family members including grandson, singer-songwriter Paul Kelly.

“Opera Pioneers in Australia” is on display in Smorgon Family Plaza, Theatres Building, Arts Centre Melbourne until 30 August 2016.

Shakespeare 400

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Tomorrow, 23 April marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare – poet, playwright and actor. Across the globe Shakespeare’s influence and legacy is being celebrated as part of Shakespeare400 with works of theatre, dance, music, art and literature inspired by the Bard being performed throughout the year.

Australians have long been enthralled by the plays of Shakespeare. The first known performance of his work in Australia is believed to be a production of Henry IV staged in Sydney on 8 April 1800. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Australia played host to many international Shakespeareans from Charles Kean and George Rignold to Laurence Olivier, however, only the work of local actor-managers Allan Wilkie and John Alden seemed to hint at the possibility of a permanent company. This dream was finally realised in 1990 with the founding of The Bell Shakespeare Company by actor John Bell and philanthropist Tony Gilbert.

To coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death we’re sharing some highlights from our Bell Shakespeare Collection including costumes and production photographs from the company’s past twenty five years. Also on display are some very special items donated to the Performing Arts Collection by John Bell earlier this year which reflect the history of Shakespeare in Australia. These include two very fine prop swords used by 19th century Shakespearean actor, George Rignold who performed in Australia from 1886 to 1899. In true theatrical style these pieces and a number of others were passed down to John Bell by actress Amber May Cecil, whose father actor/director Captain Lawrence H. Cecil came into possession of them following Rignold’s death in 1912.

Shakespeare 400 is currently on display in Smorgon Family Plaza, Theatres Building, Arts Centre Melbourne.

 

Last Chance to See The Age Music Victoria Hall of Fame exhibition

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The Age Music Victoria Hall of Fame inductees for 2015. Photograph by Martin Philbey

This year marks the tenth anniversary of The Age Music Victoria Awards Hall of Fame and to celebrate we’ve extended our star-studded exhibition highlighting the musical careers of this year’s inductees: AC/DC, Bill Armstrong, John Farnham, Olivia Newton-John, the Palais Theatre, Archie Roach, Stan Rofe, The Seekers, Sunbury Festival and The Thunderbirds.

Each of this year’s inductees has been instrumental in creating the lively and diverse Australian music scene we enjoy today. Early rock ‘n’ rollers The Thunderbirds started the ball rolling in dance halls across Melbourne. Radio DJ Stan ‘The Man’ Rofe and sound engineer Bill Armstrong introduced young listeners to the sounds that would define their generation.

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Stan Rofe crowning John Farnham King of Pop, November 1969. Photograph by Laurie Richards. Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection

The breakthrough international successes enjoyed by The Seekers, Olivia Newton-John, and later AC/DC paved the way for Australian bands to take a chance overseas. Closer to home, John Farnham’s power ballads and anthemic pop songs bridged the generation gap while Archie Roach quietly opened our eyes to the plight of Australia’s Stolen Generations. The pivotal role played by venues and events in connecting musicians with new audiences has also been recognised this year with the induction of the Sunbury Festival and St Kilda’s elegant Palais Theatre.

The Age Music Victoria 10th Anniversary Hall of Fame exhibition features more than 50 items connected to the inductees including memorable costumes, rarely seen before photographs, striking posters, programmes and album covers. Highlights include one of Angus Young’s early AC/DC schoolboy suits, Judith Durham’s stunning 1960s beaded performance gown, Kylie Minogue’s red sequined  “Better The Devil You Know” costume worn at The Palais Theatre and original recording equipment from the legendary Armstrong recording studio. The items are drawn from Arts Centre Melbourne’s extensive Performing Arts Collection or have kindly been lent by the performers themselves.

Come in and see the exhibition in the St Kilda Road Foyer before it closes. Last day Sunday 3 April 2016.

 

 

Roll Up! Roll Up! Circus Automata Is In Town

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Circus Automata by Mark Ogge, 2015

There has been quite a buzz around Arts Centre Melbourne this week with the arrival of Circus Automata, a mechanical coin-operated diorama created by Melbourne artist Mark Ogge.  The diorama is the culmination of Ogge’s lifelong fascination with set painting, circus, vaudeville, commedia dell’arte, Weimar cabaret, Renaissance painting, automata, 18th century miniature paper theatres and Daguerre’s popular diorama theatres of early 19th century Paris.  Ogge has also drawn inspiration from historical circus and performance photographs held in Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection which he has studied over many years.

Within the diorama’s proscenium arch a fanciful world of some twenty-three characters including a strongman, acrobats, a human cannonball and a whimsical donkey unicorn come to life. Each figure is powered by a tiny motor and is accompanied by its own sound effect and choreography.

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Ogge’s circus-inspired paintings and installations have been drawing gasps from audiences around the world since the early 2000s. In 2001 he designed and painted an elaborate new façade for the much-loved Famous Spiegeltent and for ten years Melbournians have watched it magically appear and disappear from the Arts Centre Melbourne’s forecourt.

Since 2006 Ogge has been the official artist of Speigelworld, an Australian-led immersive entertainment experience based in New York. Under the patronage of Australian impresario Ross Mollison, Ogge has created a series of works designed to celebrate the opening of each new Spiegelworld show. Artworks have included a monumental archway for Spiegelworld’s New York base and this three-dimensional mechanical diorama created for the opening Absinthe in 2015.

Circus Automata, accompanied by its original artwork, will be on display in Smorgon Family Plaza, Arts Centre Melbourne until 20 March 2016.