a life for art, agent and all - 3rd October 2003
The Sydney Morning Herald)
Dick Watkins is the first to show in a new gallery
aiming for national significance, writes Angela Bennie.
1996 Dick Watkins caused something of a flurry in
the gallery scene when he found himself an agent.
What was he, a jobbing actor? Artists were artists;
and in artspeak, a dealer was de rigueur, but an agent
was definitely declasse.
had been invited onto the books of the sporting and
entertainment management company International Management
Group, whose Australian division was run by an impresario,
art lover and collector, James Erskine.
was then well known for its hard, sleek entrepreneurship
of sporting heroes like Greg "the Shark"
Norman and singers like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Anthony
arrival on the books as its first visual artist marked
a new phase in IMG's management interests. It signalled
its recognition of the commercial possibilities of
promoting the artist per se, as much as the artist's
Watkins's decision also marked a new twist in the
often complicated relationship between the artist
and his or her commercial needs. The notion of patronage
- whether through a benefactor's or an art dealer's
interest in one's work - has a long tradition in art.
Taking on an agent to promote one's career and one's
work was something quite different. Hence the flurry.
deal was that he would receive a regular salary in
return for the production of works suitable for an
annual exhibition; IMG, in turn, would manage his
career, promote the exhibitions and take a cut of
relationship flourished. Watkins was able to stop
worrying about money and just paint; and, when Erskine
quit IMG in the following year and set up his own
management company, Sports and Entertainment Ltd (aptly,
SEL, for short), Watkins went with him.
now leads the small stable of artists that SEL has
gathered together, and he produces a show a year.
week saw the relationship peak: on Tuesday evening,
Watkins found himself again amid another flurry in
the Sydney scene, once again at Erskine's initiative.
was the occasion of the opening of a new, bright gallery
space, Liverpool Street Gallery, in Darlinghurst,
with Watkins as its inaugural exhibitor, and Erskine
and William Nuttall, of Melbourne's Niagara Galleries,
as its joint directors.
intention for the new space, says Nuttall, is to create
"a very important centre for contemporary art
in this city and in this country".
approached me last year about the possibility of a
partnership. I am very much an admirer of his. He
is a great lover of contemporary art, a collector
himself, and a great supporter of art in this country,"
presence in the new venture is significant. He is
an expert in Australian art and, with his 25 years
at Niagara, a powerful figure in Australian art politics.
With Erskine's entrepreneurship skills and genuine
commitment to Australian art and Nuttall's clout and
knowledge, the two make a formidable directorship.
of the artists I represent in Melbourne already show
at galleries in Sydney, but there are some who don't,"
says Nuttall. "Major artists like Rick Amor,
for example, who show in Melbourne are not shown here
at all. So Sydney does not get to see their work,
yet they are major artists. We will show their work
here. Similarly, artists represented by SEL who do
not show in Melbourne will have an outlet at Niagara."
said the gallery exhibition program will also include
overseas artists "so that we not only create
a dialogue between the two cities but also with artists
new gallery, for Erskine, represents a dream come
true. "I have always wanted to own an art gallery,"
he said, surveying the white walls now galloping with
Watkins's great sweeps of colour and wild, large brushstrokes.
"When SEL moved into this building, I saw the
potential of the space down here at street level.
It just looked to me there and then to be the right
space at the right time."
Watkins's part, he appears to be bemused at being
the one chosen to baptise the new space. Watkins held
his first one-man show in 1963. Since then, it has
been a long, up-and-down career. He has either been
ridiculed for producing "high-minded scribble"
or praised as "Australia's best abstract colour
painter". But very few would not acknowledge
his place in contemporary art for the drama he creates
in large, theatrical flourishes of colour and brushstroke.
can tell what an artist is feeling by the quality
of the brushstrokes," he says, peering with interest
at his new work.
is deadpan, so it is difficult to tell what Watkins
me, feeling, emotional feeling, that is what painting
is about. In fact, the whole painting is that, or
should be that: the embodiment of the feeling, the
charge, that drives it." On the word "charge",
he swoops the whole of the painting before him up
metaphorically in the air and balances it there between
his hands as if about to hurl it like a thunderclap
across the floor. But then he drops his hands and
says, "Oh, well, I don't know. I just paint."
Watkins: New Paintings 2003, Liverpool Street Gallery,
243a Liverpool Street, Sydney, until October 26.
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