Speech by Richard Perram 2009

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Gundungarra and Darug people who are the Traditional Custodians of this Land. I would also like to pay respect to the Elders, both past and present, of the Gundungarra and Darug Nations and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who are present.

I would like to thank Jeffrey Plummer, the Director of the Kedumba Art Award for bestowing on me the honour of opening this, the 20th anniversary of this important art event.

To start, a little bit of history, the genesis of the Kedumba Drawing Award goes back to when Jeffrey was invited to work at Blue Mountains Grammar School more years ago than Jeffrey would probably care to remember. He has been Bursar, Registrar, and Director of Development of this fine educational institution.

When Jeffrey came here, he decided to revamp the usual School Art Prize and in 1988 and 1989 he staged two static art displays. It was not until 1990 that the Kedumba Drawing Award as we know it occurred.

It has always been an invitational art prize and this makes it distinct in Australia. As Andrew Sayers, Director of the National Portrait Gallery said:

“When the Kedumba Award began in 1990 it was one of a number of awards offered for drawing around Australia, and whilst most of these others have now withered away, Kedumba remains a vigorous and hardy plant.”

The names of artists invited to participate in the award are sourced from recommendations by state, regional and private galleries, from the artist Trustees, from submissions of individual artists and from the Jeffrey’s personal research, in that the selection process is fairly democratic.

As far as I can work out it has always been judged by artists, which is a truly excellent idea, there should be more of it.

Currently the collection numbers some 152 works collected over 20 years and the judgement and remarkable eye of Euan Macleod will add more drawings to the collection.

I had known personally about the Kedumba Collection for many years and in 2008 when the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery was giving the gallery over to a series of exhibitions with a drawing focus, it was a given that we would talk to Kedumba about showing its collection. It was a sense of relief after discussions with Jeffrey that we had, by mere chance, managed to coincide our exhibition with the 2008 Kedumba Drawing Award and as a result, we were able to exhibit some 41 works from the Kedumba Collection.

Along with the Kedumba Collection, we had a major collection of Australian drawings from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, curated by our Education and Public Programs Officer, Brad Hammond, which featured works by Glover, Tucker, Friend, Drysdale, Whiteley, Cassab, Hessing and many others. It featured works from the 19th and 20th centuries and looked historically at Australian drawing through a number of themes, landscape, portraiture, the horse.

Whilst the Kedumba Collection exhibition curated by Jeffrey in conjunction with our Curator, Sarah Gurich showed us what is happening now. The exhibition included work by John Wolselely, Euan Macleod, Jan Senbergs, Howard Arkeley, George Gittoes, Elizabeth Cummings, Cherry Hood, Michael Zavros, Ann Thomson to name just a few.

The combination of these two exhibitions was a truly joyous experience and even people from Sydney came to see this wonderful series of exhibitions.

The art of drawing goes back many thousands of years from the caves in Lascaux France to indigenous rock paintings found all over Australia.

Lascaux is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings/drawings they are estimated to be 16,000 years old. They primarily consist of realistic images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time. Interestingly there is no reference to trees or plants. They are believed to have had religious meanings; either tied to the solar system or to trance dancing. Maybe they were done to capture the souls of these horses, bison, bulls and other animals.

Similarly Australian indigenous rock art with its strong lineal quality also has these religious qualities.

Aboriginal art makes sense only to those with sufficient knowledge of the culture to recognise the information the art conveys. Although there are explanations of the paintings at the Lightning Man rock art site at Nouralangie in the Northern Territory, the explanations are incomplete: non-Aboriginal people are not entitled to know the full story.

Imants Tillers wrote in Paul Taylor’s Art & Text magazine in the 1980s about the use of dots in Papunya Painting that was to cover the religious meaning within, to cover that which was meant only for indigenous eyes.

And that for me if the importance of all great art and drawing, we are never allowed to know the full story. Great art and drawing leaves you guessing.

The drawing/painting Les Demoiselles d’Avingnon by Picasso is a case in point, why did Picasso give the women African masks for faces. We know Picasso was fascinated by these objects, but when he undertook this breakthrough cubist work he was not aware of the cultural significance of these masks and that is the mystery.

Drawing seems to me more intimate than painting or sculpture, it is that direct contact of pen, pencil charcoal with to paper, which gives it that directness and freshness.

At the MCA in 2003 was the exhibition The Stage of Drawing: Gesture & Act: Selected from the Tate Collection. I was enchanted by this exhibition and revisited it several times.

That exhibition drawn from the collection of the Tate Britain presented over 140 drawing works by over 65 artists and covered the period from the 18th Century to the late 20th Century.

It included drawings by William Blake, Paul Cézanne, Aubrey Beardsley, Henry Fuseli, Francis Bacon, Pierre Bonnard, Marcel Duchamp, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, Carl Andre, Barry Flanagan, Sol Lewitt, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol.

It was for me an extraordinary experience to look closely at these works knowing that each artist had directly made their mark on the paper.

I remember looking at the drawing by Aubrey Beardsley and was immediately transported back to the fin de siecle England. I created in my mind the elfin Beardsley, ill with consumption, coughing blood into a white handkerchief, carefully dipping his pen into the inkbottle, and slowly drawing in black ink onto the paper those fantastic images of decadence, of Oscar Wilde as the Moon smiling benignly down on Salome dancing in the moonlight.

Similarly who can forget seeing for the first time exhibitions of those two major holding of drawings/paintings by William Blake in the Tate Britain and closer to home at the National Gallery of Victoria. In both museums, to enter the darkened display area was like entering some religious shrine; after your eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, the small works emerged jewel-like from the gloom. Blake’s use of drawing covered in washes of watercolour is truly breathtaking.

Like the caves at Lascaux, indigenous rock art and Blake’s work, the best drawing like all good art is imbued with a “religious” fervor and a sense of mystery, which transports the viewer to another world.

Before I finish I would like to quote the great American composer John Cage who said:

“If you do not like a piece of music, listen to it again, if you still do not like it listen to it again, if you still do not like it listen to it again, soon you will begin to like it.”

And that applies to all contemporary creation, it may appear difficult at first, but ultimately it is extraordinarily rewarding.

Finally as John Olsen, that Australian living treasure said:

“The Kedumba Drawing Award is, in my opinion, a view shared by many others, the most important drawing prize in Australia.”

Congratulations to Kedumba on reaching 20 years and with that, I declare the 20th Kedumba Drawing Award officially open.

Richard Perram
Bathurst Regional Art Gallery
October 2009