Paul Miller Opening Talk

Australian Galleries 1st October, 2019

I would like to pay my respects to the Gadigal people, traditional owners of the land on which we stand.

The Gadigal people have been part of a sustained and sustainable culture on this land for sixty thousand years.

The gallery in which you now stand is just over sixty years old, which is extraordinary for a gallery, but constitutes only 0.01% of indigenous presence here.

This Sydney outpost of Australian Galleries has just had its thirty year anniversary.

Happy anniversary Sydney!

Among galleries in Australia, Australian Galleries stands alone in having stood the test of post-colonial time.

When other galleries have keeled over from exhaustion, Stuart has not only not wavered in his enthusiasm, but is expanding, with his support of sculpture and the sculpture park soon to open Porcupine Ridge in Victoria.

Australian Galleries makes its artists make the most of themselves. The gallery provides an immaculate context to show those artists their ‘best’ work in the best possible way.

Apart from longevity what does Australian Galleries have in common with indigenous culture?

Indigenous culture takes its cue on how to advance from looking back. The future path is mostly evidenced by what is already passed.

Our contemporary culture is mostly focused on the new. It is the way of the west and more recently also the way of the east that ‘forwards’ is the only direction that holds promise.

We are increasingly suspecting however, that ‘forwards’, as they say, ‘moving forwards’, leads to climate change and river’s drying.

In the late seventies a group of Sydney sculptors, who would much later be identified as The Sydney School and who were mostly occupied by the use of steel, were startled by the sudden presence in town of a Melbourne group of sculptors colloquially known as The Three Musketeers.

Tony Prior, Gus D’Allava and Geoffrey Bartlett had brought to Sydney a body of work that had a vitality that put our work if not in shade then in the shade of doubt. Such was the force of the work that the Sydney group was rattled into defensive mode. We generalised about Melbourne temperament and a particular attachment to material and applied to their work what our prevailing concerns at the time were. Now, forty-five years later, water under the bridge has provided some perspective. We get to be part of a big picture, that may not accommodate more truth, but at least it’s bigger.

Geoffrey went on to have an extraordinary career and it doesn’t really matter what anyone thought back then, or now. He and I are having an ongoing sculptural discussion with each other on the corners of Collins Street and Harbour Esplanade at Docklands in Melbourne with somewhat oversized work. Whether the discussion is amicable or whether they are facing off against each other is a matter of ongoing debate.

The Melbourne group had been taught by George Baldessin who is also represented by Australian Galleries. Ron Robertson-Swann, who had master-minded the formation of The Sydney School has the next exhibition here, with Ayako Saito.

So, thank you Geoffrey for bringing this new work to Sydney, and to Stuart again for providing the frame for this big picture.

This brings me to my main pleasure tonight in welcoming Paul Miller’s work to this Australian Galleries’ spectrum.

In keeping with the expanded time theme, I met Paul about twenty years ago, introduced by my school friend Andrew Burnett. Please show your hand Andrew. Andrew was in the GPS debating team with, I can’t remember his name now. Malcolm Somebody.

I remember being concerned at the time for Paul, when I met him, that a Canadian perspective would bring no bearing on synthesising an Australian experience, notwithstanding that notion was already moribund by then. Surely his dark, cold climate background would find no voice in such a harsh place as ours?

Twenty years down the track we find and see how extraordinary his work is.

The paintings are still lifes, but the arranged objects come across more as actors and the paintings are plays. There’s a dialogue, I am free to make up myself, which is riveting. The members of the cast are mostly straight-faced, certainly not comedians. The lines are delivered dead pan as if there was some moment in their pronouncements.

The paintings are small enough that you can’t fit your head inside them, even if you were inclined to try. If a painting was once a window to the world these paintings are a window into the mind of the viewer. You can see as far as your capacity to reflect.

It may be that the stage interpretation is enhanced by the sculptural arrangement of parts, the way things are set up establishes relationships that cannot help but trigger dialogue.

What we seek as an audience is to be held up short, breathless, startled, aroused, confused. Good art induces us to take stock, to remake ourselves. Art provides a safe haven to stall the fall into oblivion.

If my desire was to be held up, the paintings provide no escape prospects.

While the paintings bring me to a standstill, the sculptures induce me to keep moving. Moving around a work allows you to unravel it to find out how it works and what is happening. If you have to keep moving you have been captured by it.

These works describe the birth of the universe or some other place. These are the moments where matter forms and is held, before it dissipates and dissolves.

This reading perhaps is aided by the fragility of the material, which replicates the fragility of life, but also it is the space between the parts in the sculptures which suggest the explosion has already taken place which points to the return to dust.

I’m sure in his mind Paul is speaking for himself or his father among other things, but they speak widely as well, and with their colour they blush with uncertainty which adds to their appeal.

All of these works might have been made anywhere between 1890 and 2060. They employ the zeitgeist of the age but belong to a broad time church which is what makes the work compelling and also what allows them to fit so well in the Australian Galleries context.

Paul has titled the show, ‘To call out the silence’.

About time, I say.

Beautiful show Paul, congratulations.