A visit to Arcadia: Sounds of the Sea exhibition

Surfing's been going on in Australia for about 100 yearsBut I wasn’t one of those gutsy girls in the 70’s who braved the laughter and social ostracism and tried it when I was growing up. Instead I read the surfing magazines. Mainly for the sensational photography.

And one of those sensational photographers was John Witzig, co-founder of Tracks magazine, who is featured in the enjoyable exhibition ‘Arcadia- Sound of the Sea’ at the Geelong Art Gallery which I recently dropped off to see on the way to the beautiful beaches of the south coast of Victoria.

John Witzig 'Wayne Lynch at Possum Creek' (1969) pigment print, printed 2014
The title of the exhibition Arcadia: Sounds of the Sea, comes from a photo Witzig took in 1969. Named as he thought his friends looked like characters from mythology, unaffected by the hassles of urban life, living in a place of pristine tranquility.

The exhibition featured around 50 of his romantic, beautifully textured black and white and sepia photos of male surfers at play. They capture the excitement and beauty of being out in the landscape. Of being in the water. Some of them were scaled up, perhaps to give them more realism but personally I think they would've had more poetic power smaller. 

Along with the photos there was a couple of powerful ink drawings by Nicholas Harding (- it's always enjoyable to see real drawings because that individual touch is so personal-you hardly ever see them anymore though in galleries) and psychedelic film footage by Albert Falzon.

Nicholas Harding Diggers Scrub (figures, board and bottle) (2014) ink on paper 
Exhibition Shot at Geelong Art Gallery.
John Witzig 'Nigel Coates and Murray Smith, Smiths Beach WA' (1972) pigment print, printed 2014

Wandering through the exhibition caused me to ponder the other side of the surfing story which is in the novel Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabriel Carey. The warts and all version of the surf culture in Sydney at the same time. Perhaps the exhibition overall could've been more powerful if it had have referenced this side of the experience too. 

(The original 1981 film of Puberty Blues is here. The recent 2012 television series is here. It’s a very interesting experience to go from watching the film to reading some of the ancient texts listed below which also have the same pain and tragedy waiting just around the corner of the tranquillity.)

The idea of Arcadia

The idea of Arcadia goes back to ancient Greece and probably beyond. Though Arcadia the place was first mentioned in Homer’s epic poem The Illiad. Arcadia in the poem was a remote place where the people kept to the old customs. In general arcadia refers to a vision of pastoralism and harmony with nature.
Theocritus’ Idylls 3rd century BC
Callimachus’ Hymns 3rd century BC

Many, many painters have tackled the theme.
Nicholas Poussin Et in Arcadia Ego 1637
Thomas Cole ‘An Evening in Arcadia’ 1843
The Impressionists. Post Impressionists. Picasso and Matisse immediately come to mind. Here's a good overview of the theme here for the Return to Paradise exhibition which would've been great to see.

It’s a theme that’s never going to go out of fashion for artists. Or for anyone that values peace in the world.

Geelong Art Gallery
Little Malop Street
Geelong 3220
Open daily 10-5pm 
Ph: 0061 0352293645



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