Reviews/Visual Art

‘Flying Circus’ – a love letter to the Swan

29 March 2022

Anyone who grew up around Perth and its waterways will find Tony Jones’s new exhibition appealing, says Craig McKeough, but you don’t have to be a boatie to appreciate this show.

‘Flying Circus’, Tony Jones ·
Holmes à Court Gallery @ No. 10, West Perth ·

To enter the ‘Flying Circus’ exhibition at Holmes à Court Gallery @ No. 10, is to wander into the memory and mind of sculptor/artist Tony Jones as he marks a lifetime of messing about on boats on the Swan River/Derbarl Yerrigan.

There are small dinghies suspended from rafters, boat parts on the walls, tall steel sculptures representative of river markers around the floor and small sculptural pieces and paintings of boats on the walls. Add to the mix family memorabilia and photos from days racing small boats on the river and we get a picture of one man’s obsession to get out on the water as seen through that same man’s obsession to make art.

‘Flying Circus’ is Jones’s love letter to the Swan and generations of family life living and playing on or around it.

Jones is best known for his public art works, in particular the much-loved Eliza on the site of the old Crawley Baths and the dramatic CY O’Connor tribute in the surf at Coogee Beach. But his work is in public spaces throughout the city and beyond, much of it linked in some way to the water either by physical location or form. 

For ‘Flying Circus’, he scales down the size but the bold aesthetic remains. His towering river markers in powder-coated steel and the use of reclaimed timber piles remind us that we are still in the river, metaphorically at least. 

A sculpture from the 'Flying Circus' exhibition - pictured is a red sail boat and a metal dingy.
We are still in the river, metaphorically at least. Pictured is an exhibition view of Tony Jones’s ‘Flying Circus’. Photo: Laetitia Wilson

Jones’ strong sense of design is always present, with a focus on simple geometric shapes and primary colours, often with a touch of nautical whimsy. This clarity of form and simplicity of line are apparent in the delightful small works in steel, No. 1 Channel Marker and the Porthole series.

His small collection of deftly rendered sailboat paintings make effective use of repetition of the sail motif, a strong triangular form which appears throughout the show in paintings and sculptures large and small.

Physically, the centre of attention is the old dinghies, seemingly pulled out of the shed and installed in the gallery space. These are little boats, simple in design but highly effective in sheltered waters; the Skate, Moth, Mirror and VJ Vaucluse are the type of vessel on which thousands of people have learned to sail and then raced on the western reaches of the Swan over the decades. Here in the gallery, suspended in mid-air like some strange flying machines, they present as sculptural forms in themselves, the sleek hydrodynamic design of the hulls, their surfaces weathered and burnished from years of conflict with sun and water, building a deep patina of texture and time.

A sculpture from Tony Jones' 'Flying Circus' exhibition. Pictured is a sculpture of a face in metal painted red.
Clarity of form:Tony Jones, ‘Marker for Sol’, 2014, detail from the ‘Flying Circus’ exhibition. Photo: Laetitia Wilson

The title of the exhibition, ‘Flying Circus’, is a tribute to Jones’ own Flying Circus river racers (there were two of them) and as a key work here, Jones has produced Flying Circus 3, a reinvention of an abandoned small boat that has been brought back to life with some distinctive Tony Jones artistic flourishes. The result is an impressive sculptural form of a vessel filled with a haphazard collection of plywood boxes, perhaps a nod to the lifetime of personal and family stories these heroic little sailboats carry with them.

There is a strong sense of nostalgia about this collection. Anyone who grew up around Perth/Boorloo and its waterways, especially in the 60s and 70s, will find it immensely appealing. But Jones offers much more than mere memorabilia and the application of his celebrated background in design, making and teaching to the works on show here means you don’t have to be a boatie to appreciate it.

The catalogue itself is worth a mention, with its quirky nautical references and a heartfelt essay by Jones’s daughter Gemma which evokes beautifully the family history of connections to the river, her father’s loves of art-making, sailing and family, and the wealth of stories that continue to flow from that rich spring.

“Flying Circus” continues until 7 May 2022.

Pictured top: Tony Jones, ‘Porthole 1,2 ,4’, 2021. Photo: Laetitia Wilson

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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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