We tend to view Europe as the hub of the artistic universe. It is. However, this exhibition brought European culture to Brisbane in a context I was not expecting…
For decades as a multi-genre critic, I’ve categorised different elite art forms as separate entities: ballet, theatre, musicals, classical music and literature; painting, sculpture, architecture…
My perspective was challenged recently when I reviewed Queensland Ballet’s world premiere of Miroirs. The norm is that a production is the artistic outcome of an entire team of expert collaborators.
Miroirs is a neoclassical ballet choreographed by Australian born, Europe based, Remi Wortmeyer. It was an outstandingly fluid work. Looking on, I had an odd sensation of complete cohesion as opposed to successful team input.
That was explained when I read the program acquired on the night. Wortmeyer was more than the choreographer. He was producer, director, costume and set designer. A surprisingly young man appeared on the stage as we applauded. I went home in a fog of bewilderment.
Further research into Remi’s background thickened the new fog with which I was now contending. There was much more to this young, ridiculously beautiful young man. He’s a painter, sculptor, jewellery, costume and fashion designer. Not as hobbies on the quiet. He’s at the high end of Parisian couture.
Incredulous, I looked at photographs of his gorgeous creations. On Instagram I peered at his Parisian apartment. On the balcony, he painted a wall mural to match the outdoor tablecloth he had created. Indoors, he painted another tablecloth to match his own framed wall painting which matched the lampshade he had also painted.
Next, I had to comprehend that he’s also a principal ballet dancer with a Dutch ballet company. How was all this humanly and artistically possible? It seemed that somehow Remi was in an open, harmonious relationship with all artistic fields. Remi practices Simultaneity.
I read that he has recently completed a full length ballet based on the ballerina wife of Pablo Picasso. Another work was inspired by artists, Robert and Sonia Delaunay. That took me in a different direction. I then realised that many famed artists had painted backdrops for ballet and theatre. Including Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec and our own Sydney Nolan.
I visited our state art galleries to study the displayed works of the above artists. Three works by Sonia Delaunay are in storage! That led to my online search for current Brisbane exhibitions to visit. I immediately selected two (Daniel Boyd and Steve Lopes). I gave myself a day down the valley and an immersion in New Farm.
Steve Lopes is currently based in Sydney but has lived, worked and studied in Europe, London and New York. His exhibition, Shapes for Gods can be viewed or acquired at Mitchell Fine Art, Fortitude Valley until 4 November 2023.
Perhaps, I was anticipating a glamorous portrayal of New York, London and Europe. Instead, I found myself surrounded by paintings which captured the pathos of displaced peoples. It was an emotive and deeply personal visit. The immigrant and refugee experience is often, far from grand.
Despite all I have achieved, the paintings took me back to my own immigrant experience. That day when I was seven years old and I went outside to play with other children in the street. Suddenly, I was confronted with exclusion. A unified front of children announced, ‘We’re not allowed to play with you because you’re Irish and dirty and stupid!’
I was unaware then that my mother had married out of the gentility. Unaware that my private education was paid for or that I had been reading since age three. Undeniably, I was Irish. I felt again, the deep wounding I had endured that day.
A year or two later, I witnessed an Italian mother confronting the children who had called her little boy a ‘wog’. Hands on hips, she declared with a haughty authority, ‘Do not call my little boy that word… you convicts!’
Refugees and immigrants remain dear to my heart. I volunteer my time to teach advanced level English in free, community classes.
If you’re in or visiting Brisbane, I strongly recommend a visit to this exhibition. Be warned – for some, it may be triggering.
I bought a book about the artist’s previous exhibition in rural New South Wales. I was dismayed to realise that if I’d found this viewing opportunity days earlier, I could have humbly asked Steve Lopes if would sign my copy of the book.
Steve Lopes’ Shapes for Gods exhibition is currently on display at the Mitchell Fine Art Gallery, Fortitude Valley, until 4 November 2023. For more information, visit: www.mitchellfineartgallery.com or www.stevelopes.com.au for details.
Image: Steves Lopes, Outfield Figure, 2023, 63.5 x 94cm, oil on canvas
Words: Michele-Rose Boylan