Exhibition review: Ivan Durrant: Marmalade Skies Through Opal Eyes, Hamilton Gallery

An exhibition that focuses on Ivan Durrant's commitment to colour and observations of the world around him.
Installation view of 'Ivan Durrant: Marmalade Skies Through Opal Eyes' at Hamilton Gallery. L to R: 'Cavendish', 2023, and 'Murray River', 2021. Photo: Supplied. Two paintings showing blurry riverscapes with bright colours, seemingly drawn from a photograph.

Disclaimer: This reviewer is a contributor to the Friends of Hamilton Gallery newsletter.

Hamilton Gallery is now showing Marmalade Skies through Opal Eyes featuring recent paintings by Australian artist, Ivan Durrant.

Durrant is an artist who is committed to colour and its effect on his world. It would be easy to refer to the more controversial aspects of his long career, but there is much to say about his current art practice.

His career spans 50 years in an Australian art and culture boom that offered a pantheon of artists who grew familiar to an Australian audience, and whose styles are instantly recognisable. Some names run off the tongue: Brett Whiteley, John Olsen, Tim Storrier, Jeffrey Smart and more. Olsen and Storrier are represented in the Hamilton Gallery collection, along with Durrant’s Red Float, an acquisition from the early 2000s.

Durrant moved through the 70s and beyond, metamorphosing chameleon-like, developing and honing his skills and techniques to express his love of colour, life and observations of the world around him.  Controversial art happenings aside, Durrant has arrived at a point in his painting in a style that he has described as ‘supraphotolism’ – an expression of his fascination for the ‘beyond realism and photorealism’ style to engage purely with light, form and intense colours.

Visitors to this exhibition are drawn first to the artist’s fascination with the shifts and plays of colour on trees and water, a metamorphosis of forms blurring the viewer’s gaze. In the exhibition’s artist statements, Durrant declares that his mother, uninterested in education, allowed the young Durrant to ‘roam the bush, looking for ponds and dams full of colour… I wasn’t aware I was learning to paint – no wonder I’m addicted to trees and colour reflected in water’.

Marmalade Skies through Opal Eyes is not Durrant’s first exhibition at Hamilton Gallery. Some locals have recalled seeing his work back in 1982 in an exhibition titled Meat for Art’s Steak.

In his fourth exhibition in Hamilton, Durrant’s subject matter is varied. It moves from tree-and-river-scapes (some of them painted in 2023 of the local Wannon River at Cavendish), cows, luscious portraits of tubes of paint and “still life paintings” of his studio detritus of colour-splurged paper palettes, dirty brushes and squished paint tubes to, of course, a vibrant collection of racehorse and jockey images. Durrant inserts himself into the action – not unlike the split-second catches in a TV broadcast.

Some of the studio works and horse-and-jockey paintings were included in Barrier Draw, Durrant’s retrospective show at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in 2022.

Hamilton Gallery’s regular education program will benefit from a return visit by the artist to discuss and encourage a new generation of creative spirits – the evidence of this accomplished artist all too present in his intense, small display of his studio “madness” – piles of used paper plates, dirty brushes and paint-daubed studio chair, along with two tiny toy cows.

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Along with another new exhibition, New Exuberance: Contemporary Australian Textile Design, travelling from JamFactory in Adelaide, the Durrant show offers an extraordinary contrast to the previous monumental exhibition, Emerging from Darkness: Faith, Emotion and the Body in the Baroque, in which the gallery spaces were transformed to rich and low-lit galleries befitting an inspired curatorial offering of Italian Baroque art, and something that had not been seen previously in this regional gallery.

Ivan Durrant: Marmalade Skies through Opal Eyes runs until 29 September at Hamilton Gallery; free.

Cate Whitehead is a multi-disciplinary artist who lives in Cavendish, near Hamilton, Victoria. She acquired her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Ballarat and has taught creative writing and professional writing at the University of Ballarat. She wrote the Friends of Hamilton Gallery’s 50th Anniversary History and has contributed to and edited their newsletter for several years.