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Sea change for gallery as Neil Frazer ushers in new wave of exhibitions

Culture

Brisbane’s Philip Bacon Galleries has launched its first exhibition of new works since the easing of social restrictions, with a collection of ocean paintings by renowned Sydney-based figurative and abstract artist Neil Frazer.

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Philip Bacon Galleries officially reopened to the public in late May with a resumption of its ‘Important Australian Paintings’ exhibition, which had been showing before COVID-19 restrictions, but the Frazer exhibition will be the first new curated showing.

“It was a bit of a punt, really,” gallery director Philip Bacon told InQueensland of the decision to host a fresh exhibition. “Neil was happy to do whatever we wanted, like postpone it or cancel until next year, but probably a month-and-a-half ago, we thought, ‘OK we can probably start rescheduling now’, So Neil was the first cab off the rank.”

Frazer was born in Canberra and has spent a large proportion of his life in New Zealand, but moved back to Australia almost two decades ago.  As part of this exhibition, Frazer has specifically created some works based around iconic Queensland ocean landscapes.

“We asked him particularly to paint some local scenes and he loves Noosa, so he went up to Noosa and he was formerly an abstract painter, so there’s a great degree of abstraction in these works,” Bacon said.

“So although they’re figurative, they’re landscapes and they represent a place, if you look at them closely they could almost be abstract as well, which is what he really wants to try and get across – he’s interested in the place, but also the feeling of a place, it’s really very interesting.

“With Noosa, the Paradise Caves, it’s in the National Park and you can only get to it during low tide, so he climbed down before dark, down to the rocks, waiting for the early light to show the caves and the archways, and people who live up there, they’ll get that,” Bacon said, “although we have already sold that particular piece to somebody from Melbourne doesn’t know the area at all, which was surprising,” he added.

Neil Frazer’s Arch at Paradise Caves, Noosa. (Image: Supplied)

Bacon said the ocean was a common theme for artists and noted that many painters tended towards producing photorealistic renderings but he said Frazer’s idiosyncratic style and the sheer size and scope of his pieces set him apart from many of his peers, describing the works as being “much more gestural, and much stronger.”

“And they’re huge, huge canvases,” Bacon said.  “It’s quite an overwhelming experience, it’s very sensory, all you need really is the sound of waves crashing and it’d be perfect.”

Bacon said he was excited to be hosting a new exhibition at the gallery, remarking that he thought people were ready to “immerse themselves in a bit of culture again”.

He noted that people may have been reticent to visit galleries as soon as social-distancing restrictions were eased and hoped exhibitions such as Frazer’s would be a helpful step in building people’s confidence to return to galleries and arts institutions.

“With [the exhibition] Important Australian Paintings, people still were able to look at them individually online and were able to buy them, so from an economic point of view it was absolutely fine but from a curatorial point of view, going to a lot of effort to create a show that meant something, that had a rhythm to it … I was sad about that, that people missed the opportunity, so it’s good that we’re back ticking along.

“I think when they know what we and other galleries are doing I think that’ll just further encourage them.

“The same thing is happening over at the Queensland Art Gallery, they’ve been very assiduous counting people in and out, making sure there are only a certain number of people in any one gallery space at any one time and I think once that circulates through more generally to people, they’ll feel it is something they’ve missed and want to get back, and want to support as well.

“I mean that’s why people Neil Frazer like to paint – they paint for themselves but they also paint for an audience and if we don’t have an audience, then half of the equation is gone.”

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