Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Blake Book Comes to Brisbane

In 2002 Rosemary Crumlin was described by a journalist as Australia's Sr Wendy Beckett.. Ten years later on October 7 2012, Brisbane priest, Tom Elich also made reference to this similarity when welcoming Rosemary to the Francis Rush Centre in the grounds of the Cathedral of St Stephen to speak about her most recent work, The Blake Book, Art Religion and Spirituality in Australia.

Rosemary Crumlin has published her own 'four gospels" of Australian Art::
Images of Religion in Australian Art, 
Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, 
Beyond Belief 
The Blake Book, Art Religion and Spirituality in Australia.

I can claim three as "read" in my Goodreads collection. As a responsible social media practitioner I will be using this blog post to promote  these works which I believe are essential reading  for anyone exploring issues of art, spirituality and that enigmatic "Australian Character".

Rosemary Crumlin is an educator at heart. Her presentation to an appreciative audience in Brisbane was  an engagement in expectations of those attending and a generous respect of people's ability to "read" art and explore layers of meaning in a work.

The Blake Book, Art Religion and Spirituality in Australia. is a beautiful book at many levels. The pages reveal a chronological history of Australia's major  prize for religious art. The illustrations of works by those who have won the award throughout its history provide a personal exhibition of the art that has made the Blake Prize a dynamic presence in art history in this country.

The biographical details compiled for each winner  are largely the results of personal interviews by Rosemary.  In each interview she explores intentional questions of the artists' motivation and response to the prize. Tracking down the artists would have tested the best skills of Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher combined.Throughout the text there are quotable quotes both by artists and commentators. These gems are like  the "pearl of great price" imagery found in the Gospel of Matthew.

The Blake Book, Art Religion and Spirituality in Australia. also contains a "book within a book", which is Rosemary's description of the glorious foldout pages of  non-winning works submitted for the Blake Prize during the first 50 years of its history. The genius of these pages is that they provide a visual social history of Australia from 1951 to our present day. The first panels of the 1951 contributors are immediately recognized as dominant themes of the Christian Story. The names of artists as well as being exclusively masculine are associated with major art schools of the era. The final panels from  the most recent awards are images that reflect the cultural and religious diversity of contemporary Australian artists.

Any history is fraught with personalities, perspectives and passion.The Blake Prize has its fair share of these and the book is divided into six sections. As with any creative venture you would expect the first section to deal with  "Beginnings". As each section  ushers in a new era  the tension  mounts through the Art/Religion/Spirituality  divide. The fifth section points to new horizons in "2007-2010 Breaking Boundaries, Youth Justice and the Marketplace". The sixth section  features  an extended interview with Rosemary about the foldout pages. Each section concludes with informative and useful notes for both general readers and  art historians.

The scope of the images provided in this book is obvious in the list of plates index which runs to 7 A4 size pages. Readers should  be grateful for the extraordinary work of obtaining permissions and copyright to publish these images. The selected bibliography is offered as " invitation and resource for those who choose to continue engaging with diverse ways of seeing, and with the questions, influences and concerns  opened up and entered into by the Blake"

This is not just another coffee table book although it would be worth having  at hand for quiet moments of reflection and wonder as the art works invite regular viewings. After the presentation with my newly signed copy of this valuable book under my arm I sat down in  a classic Australian shrine, my local pub to  prepare this review. This choice comes from an inspiration more than 20 years ago when I saw Rosemary's inclusion of John Perceval's Christ Dining at Young and Jackson's in her first publication.I could not imagine a better place to ponder the mystery of art religion and spirituality in Australia.

The Brisbane visit of Rosemary Crumlin was an activity of COSSAG , the Cathedral of St Stephen Art Group.

 The Blake Book
By Rosemary Crumlin
$69 paperback (incl postage)
Blake book e order form.pdf [
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