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Preoccupations of a young artist

Preoccupations of a young artist
Rhonda Dredge

The 2023 academic year has started with a light touch after so many years of doom with a self-portrait exhibition.

The exhibitors are none other than the art staff at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Usually, they’re the ones meting out the critique to students.

Now their own self-representations are up on the wall for students to assess.

The struggle to get into art school is still uppermost in the minds of those lucky to have landed a place in 2023.

Many dreamed of becoming artists from childhood and have had to deal with practice via the one-dimensional mechanism of Zoom.

This exhibition was their big chance to mingle in 3D space at the Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery and dig deeper into the psyches of their mentors.

It is fair to say that the humans behind the façade of the art professional were quite muffled in this show.

There was a postcard from a famous theorist, plaster models of a printmaker’s thumbs, a flattened aluminium wall hanging depicting fists, and clever graphics with a whiteboard marker among 60 works.

But for sheer poetry of line, use of traditional materials and relevance to a young student Nick Selenitsch’s Self Portrait, aged=16=1995 hit the mark.

“The first self-portrait was done by Albrecht Durer,” the painting and critical theory teacher, who is now in his 40s, said. “It showed the development of an ‘I’ as a modern idea.”

Nick’s “I” is holding up well, despite nearly 30 years since his grandfather framed the portrait and hung it on the wall of his Geelong house.

 

“They were refugees from Europe and most of their family was lost in the war,” he said. “I gave it to my grandparents. They were special.”

 

He said that self-portraiture had almost died out in the art world and that the annual Archibald Prize had a curious place in contemporary culture.

In true art school fashion, Nick outlined the way the practice of self-portraiture might be used to critique mainstream preoccupations.

“Every day I come to work, and I have to argue for my expertise,” he said. ‘What would you know?’ the students ask. It’s for them to see that knowledge relates to how they fit into the world. It’s often the beginning point.”

“I do talk to them and say that this is the most self-absorbed culture ever. The idea is not to enhance that but to critique it.”

A lot of students didn’t do self-portraiture for that reason, he said. “If I was teaching in Soviet Russia of the 1970s, I’d be pushing individuality but here with the focus on individualism I’m teaching collectivism.”

He said that there had been an anti-technology “folksy” push in the past five years with things that were authentic and handmade.

And to look yourself in the mirror at 16 and record what you see in brush and ink is an honest appraisal of the preoccupations of a young artist.

It’s not you, it’s me, Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery, until April 1 •

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