The invitation from the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to pour, drip, wipe, mask, scratch or scrape paint on canvas was irresistible. Their MoMA Exhibition of 130 years of Modern and Contemporary Art had only just begun and to tie in, I booked a hands-on workshop, something I’d never imagined indulging in ten years ago when I’d visited MoMA in New York.
As a fledgling artist I’m naïve when it comes to acrylics but I seized on the opportunity to dabble while channelling the likes of Rothko, Pollock or Newman. With enticing events like this to coincide with exhibitions, any wonder visitation to the NGV peaked last year at a record 2.89 million.
Running a tad late, I rush into the foyer to see others still milling around. Many younger members appear to have come from work and were either with a buddy or like me, solo. I gravitate towards an older woman bubbling with excitement who introduced herself as Cynthia. In the same breath she announces: ‘I’ve bought a multi-pass to MoMA and now I can show my interstate friends through any time at no extra cost’. I marvel at her passion but slightly misplaced thriftiness.
In the Education room, substantial cheese platters and a red or white wine of surprisingly good quality, await us. As far as I’m concerned the night is warming up. Like others, I don the faux ink splattered apron and decide I have everything I need. Except, that is a knowledge of how to use acrylics or to paint on the blank canvases lined up in front of me.
The facilitator, Julia Gorman, renown for her bold, colourful sculptural installations and paintings backgrounded the rationale of MoMA’s version of modernism and highlighted several artists and their proclivities especially those we were likely to emulate. As a segway to starting, Julia shows several canvases that she had experimented on and offers advice on using the paints and primers. Sponge-like, I’m trying to absorb as much as I can and I’m grateful when a slightly deaf woman asks her to repeat instructions.
There’s a mad dash to grab colours and brushes and our table of four decide to share. I select three colours and sweep a large brush of vivid vermillion across the small practice canvas before I spatter some drops of purple to see the effect it has. I lift the canvas to get the paint to run, but put it down quickly realising that it’s very different to watercolours.
Beside me, Robert drags a scrunched paper towel back and forward across his painted canvas to reveal a beautiful cross-hatched colour underneath. Admiring his technique, I decide it’s okay to ask his advice as I suspect he knows by now I’m a novice. My questions go something like this: ‘Robert, would I be using this brush to flick paint here? Robert, I think my painting looks a little like the Aboriginal flag, how can I change the colours? Robert how do I….? And so on.
With each answer he politely and patiently gives me his thoughts, no more, no less and then continues painting. Across the aisle, Cynthia, intent on working up her version of a Jackson Pollock look-alike, drips and splashes paint across the page, before announcing smugly that she’d finished. When I ask her where her other paintings are, she says: ‘Oh, that’s all I came to do’. I thought that odd but smile graciously. As for me, I’d certainly found a ‘unique way to express myself in paint’, but decide I don’t need to have my work stretched at a later date. With a greater appreciation of Modernism, I book my ticket to the exhibition next week.
The NGV’s MoMA exhibition is on until 7 October 2018