Last weekend while in Canberra I visited Beaver Galleries to see the Victor Greenaway exhibition. In the room next door were sculptures and works on paper by Judy Holding. I did a double-take because I knew we had one of her works in our collection – this handsome ceramic vase hand-painted in shades of ochre, black and blue.
Despite the title of this post, Holding is a visual artist who works in a variety of media. Born in Bendigo in 1945, she completed a Diploma of Fine Art (Painting) at Monash University in 1977 and has been living in Melbourne ever since. In 1979 she started making regular visits to the Kakadu region of the Northern Territory. Her interest in indigenous rituals, social structures and spiritual beliefs informs the imagery she uses in her paintings, drawings and sculptures.
Our vase is a commercial blank painted in 1994 at a time when Holding was interested in exploring the impact of the ‘balander’ or foreigner in Arnhemland. A male figure with hat and pipe sits in a small boat. A female form carrying a dilly bag seems to flee before him. Naked lovers float in abandon while the fully-clothed balander looks on. Various symbols convey ritual or unease.
From Holding’s website, it looks as though she ventured into the decoration of ceramic forms in the mid 1990s as a way of resolving the ideas she was exploring at that time. With our vase, the imagery is revealed as the observer moves around, or turns, it. The narrative is loosely connected, but can be experienced in sections.
A two-dimensional painting dated 1993 entitled ‘Ballander in the landscape’ – the last painting on this page – is harder to read because the eye has to take in all the imagery at once. The images are also more confronting. As a decorative object, the vase can be viewed as a combination of line, colour and pattern, with what is being depicted coming as something of a shock when it is closely examined.
By contrast, as celebrations of the flora and fauna of the kakadu region, the images of birds and trees exhibited at Beaver can be read coherently as two-dimensional works, and even the sculptures are two-dimensional.