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Reviews/Visual Art

Quality not quantity for the win

17 May 2021

This year’s “Pulse Perspectives” may be smaller in size than usual but the result is a treat, says Craig McKeough.

“Pulse Perspectives”, Various artists ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) ·

It is invigorating to wander around the Centenary Galleries at the Art Gallery of WA and take in this snapshot of young lives in Western Australia today, bursting with potential and with plenty to say.

“Pulse Perspectives” is a collection of the best work of the Year 12 visual arts class of 2020. An annual exhibition at AGWA for almost 30 years, it introduces us to emerging talent from schools across the State.

A table set for dinner. On the plates are portraits, presumably of the people who will sit there.
Innovative: Sean Cameron, Applecross Senior High School, ‘Collected views from dinner’ 2020, pencil and ink on paper with mixed media, 90 x 197 cm (overall)

Art works are chosen by a judging panel; in 2021 that panel included WA Contemporary Artist Amy Perejuan-Capone, Cassie Bussell (Department of Education), and former AGWA Associate Curator, Projects, Rachel Ciesla.

The 2021 version of “Pulse Perspectives” is smaller than in recent years. Just 30 young artists were selected by the panel so it is an elite group. That may be disappointing for anyone who missed out, but it is a treat for the visitor because there is barely a weak link anywhere.

There is a startling degree of technical proficiency on display in paint, drawing, ceramics, textiles, assemblage, digital media and more.

In most cases, the artists wear their influences heavily. That is not a criticism, just the reality of people setting out on a creative journey. The artists might be seen as blank canvases themselves, exploring ideas and techniques, grasping to understand what has come before and how they can incorporate these approaches to express themselves effectively.

For many it is a case of explaining their own identity, their cultural background, gender and sexuality, where they fit in with their family, local community and the wider world.

Michelle Edward's 'Louis in Suburbia' includes three images of a dashchund, rendered in bright colours that make the work seem almost surreal.
A delightfully unusual perspective: Michelle Edward, St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School, ‘Louis in suburbia I, II and III’ 2020, oil on canvas, three parts: two at 29.5 x 29.5 cm; 60 x 90.3 cm
A portrait of a teenager. Thought the subject is unclothed, it is not obvious if the person featured is a female or male. The subject stares impassively at the viewer with clear blue eyes, their hands held up in front of their chest.
Sarah Hoey, Kalamunda Senior High School, ‘Androgyny ‘2020, oil on canvas, 91.5 x 61 cm

While there are debates and complaints about how the arts are regarded and supported by government and community, this exhibition reminds us that there is always a new wave of talent coming through, full of optimism and ideas and just excited to express them creatively. They may not all be professional artists of the future but by embracing an artistic process at a young age, they set themselves up for a life where creative expression is normal and an influential element in whatever path they follow.

Members of the class of 2020, of course, were significantly affected by the restrictions around COVID-19 – an unwanted disruption in the final year of school. It is hard to say how much this affected the subject matter but there is a strong emphasis in many works on home and family, an introspective approach that reflects the times.

It is perhaps unfair to single out any works, but a handful left a strong impression on me and demand a specific mention.

Sean Cameron’s Collected Views from Dinner, a family table installation with dinner plate portraits is an innovative way of expressing where he fits – or doesn’t fit – in the domestic dynamic.

Michelle Edward’s Louis in Suburbia, a three-part oil on canvas work featuring her pet dachshund, is beautifully rendered and offers a delightfully unusual perspective of a dog’s life.

Sarah Hoey’s Androgyny, an exquisite self-portrait in oils exploring gender stereotypes, arrests attention from across the room.

Over an image that looks like it comes from a film and depicts a bombed street, are superimposed a text message conversation and a FaceTime screen featuring the face of a teenage girl. The messages are from one side only and are increasing in concern as the other person doesn't respond.
Jas Choo, Perth Modern School, ‘送友人’ (Farewell to a friend) 2020 digital film and audio, Duration: 4 minutes

Nicholas Carter’s Dad, a diptych portrait in graphite of his father is impressive in its detail and a moving tribute which reveals the strength and vulnerability of his subject.

Most intriguing of all is Jas Choo’s digital work Farewell to a Friend, which explores the fleeting nature of connections through social media. It is cleverly conceived and the narrative around the disappearance of an online friend stayed with me long after I left the gallery.

There’s plenty more to take in here, and it’s well worth a visit to learn something about the perspectives of an emerging generation and to be inspired by their creativity and awareness of the world.

“Pulse Perspectives” runs in the Art Gallery of WA Centenary Galleries until 30 August.

Pictured top is ‘Dad’, 2020, by Nicholas Carter, Wesley College, graphite on paper, two parts: 104.5 x 80 cm each (framed).

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Author —
Craig McKeough

Craig McKeough is a writer and visual artist, with a lifetime’s experience in journalism, covering everything from the arts to horse racing, politics and agriculture. Craig has always been drawn to the swing; an egalitarian, grounding piece of equipment where you can go as high and wild as you want, but you’ll always return to where you started.

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