MG Dingle + GB Hughes Collection

The MG Dingle + GB Hughes Collection is a significant art collection and archive assembled by Max Dingle and his partner, the late Gavin Hughes, over a period of 50 years.

In June 2008 Dingle and Hughes generously gifted the collection and archive to Shoalhaven City to help further the reputation of its art collection and regional gallery, and to provide opportunities for residents and visitors to view works by leading contemporary Australian artists.

Take a look at the MG Dingle + GB Hughes Collection through the eyes of Natalie McDonagh who has selected and curated 40 of some 400 works of art to present here with her observations and responses. She trusts you will share her appreciation of this important collection with its unique focus on linear abstraction and abstract expressionism art made by Australian women artists since the early 1960s.

To find out more visit the MG DINGLE + GB HUGHES COLLECTION website.

In January 2020 Max Dingle was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in recognition of his outstanding voluntary service and contribution to culture and arts in the Shoalhaven.

Percussion / Rhythm

If my selection of 40 artworks from the MG Dingle + GB Hughes collection was a musical ensemble the first group of works would be the rhythm section – six diverse yet unified percussion instruments.

In its layers and tone John Peart’s oil painting, Rhythms and Formations, evokes the versatile sounds that a skilled hand can draw from a djembe drum. This was the first artwork chosen (in that it chose itself for the primary position). Its five companions then leapt forward to join the band. I was tickled to discover later that ‘djembe’ translates to ‘everyone gather together in peace’.

The dramatic tracks of light in Memory Mapping #12 (Katherine Rooke) elicits timpani drums, struck once, issuing a sustained, reverberating wave felt through time and space. In complete contrast Nicole Kelly’s, Woman with Green Thigh, emanates the intricate, warm sounds and rich overtones a skilled Jazz musician can draw from her complex drum kit.

Looking and listening to Debris Field IV (Peter Gardiner) I hear the bell-like sounds of a glockenspiel. What looks like so much bent, twisted, curled metal in the artwork’s graphic imagery conjures up the sound produced by hands and mallets, moving back and forth along the glockenspiel’s tracks, rhythmically striking its precisely made metal bars.

As the sight/sound of Debris Field IV fades, the timbre of Peter Poulet’s work, Untitled (No.9), transports us elsewhere. Intertwined sounds of warm and woody clapping sticks, hand beat on thigh, foot stomp on bare ground, at which point Virginia Coventry’s, Percussion #2, picks up, sounding sharp, high, metallic and old – perhaps an early form of triangle found in a 10th century medieval church.

Yield / Control

Looking at these eleven works, as I see them, their defining characteristic is their precision. This may sound odd when at first glance ‘chaotic’ may seem a more obvious tie. Taking time to look longer and steadily at the works may reveal their remarkable precision; precision that is evident in the artist’s every choice. Every move, in every one of these works is decisive, even those that are quick and exuberant. There is no sense that at any time the artists and sculptors lost their presence or place, no matter how complex the artistic performance.

The maker of each one of these works masterfully maintains an exquisite tension between yielding to the dynamics of the process and logic of the medium – drawing in ink, painting with oils, welding steel, carving stone, constructing with plastics – and preserving sufficient control for what emerges to be fully formed and resolute.

Line / Point / Curve

These five unusual friends all enjoy a marvellously expressive sense of movement – uplifting, vertical movement, traced variously by point, line and curve.

When I first saw Doreen Tolhurst’s watercolour, Mount Macedon, I was captivated by the exuberant upsweep of her brush in capturing building and bush. This seemed to immediately speak to Grace Burzese’s, Lines of Violet, giving us glorious pillars of colour that might be rising up and/or advancing towards us. The delicate lines and points of Vivienne Ferguson’s, No Such thing, ascending in the airy plane of the canvas like delicate lanterns seemed an obvious next companion.

In Untitled (Pizza Picasso) it’s almost possible to see the swift movement of Ed Woodley’s ink pen across the pizza box. I feel almost certain I know the order in which he drew the lines then applied that fascinating pink. The bold blue lines have such a clear start and finish, moving purposefully from point to point.

I can only describe the final friend in this group as a porcelain poem. The gentle, undulating movement up, around, back and forth, in the curves and folds of Jodi Stewart’s sculpture, Forgotten, is sublime. As Forgotten wandered among the groups of work, finding her place, she seemed most drawn to being close to Lines of Violet where a faint echo of Forgotten’s twists and turns can be felt in the partially obscured layers of Burzese’s beautifully resolved painting.

Sparsity / Spaciousness

I find the three drawings by Vicky Vavaressos – Chair and Jardiniere, Brown Hair and Woman with Scarf and Hat – completely captivating in the simplicity of their line and confidence in the sweep of crayon or pencil across the surface of the paper. Everything about them is economical and compelling in how clearly they capture and convey their subject.

Ruth Faerber’s screen print, Something passes – some things remain, embodies the same simplicity and economy, sitting comfortably among the Vavaressos drawings. In a world where I find so much overly complicated, over worked and over done, the sparsity and quiet spaciousness of these four works provide immense relief and a powerful reminder that much can be said with very little.

Surfaces / Solids

Let’s begin with the five etchings by Margaret Dredge – Untitled, Homunculus Through the Looking Glass, Richmond Gothic, Nomadic Journey and Shadow on the Door – which formed the basis of this grouping. As etchings – an image printed from an engraved metal plate – these works have much to say through, and about, surface. Lingering to look attentively at each of these compelling works on paper shows they also have clever things to say about geometry and solids.

May Barrie’s Granite Fragment has its own version of this delightful duality. Its presence as an actual, superbly balanced, solid object is inescapable, but/and its polished, smooth, surface is equally alluring. White Orchid Blue could not be more convincing in its understanding of solid form in Anna Herald Pola’s remarkable rendering on a dry, flat surface.

This play between surfaces and solids threads back and forth through the works shown grouped here. How it is expressed varies from work to work but, for me, it is a unifying constituent in their making.

The colour applied by hand to Judy Overheu’s photograph, Berangara, draws my attention more to the work’s surface than the solid form of the doll producing a somewhat unsettling (but not unpleasant) sensation. Attached Detachment creates its own unusual hieroglyphic effect in which its smooth surfaces and almost flat, cut out appearance call into question its solidity.

And so the interplay goes on … bleeding edges of ink and watercolour reveal the porous nature of a surface that distributes liquid rather than holding it in place Monica Epstein, Xmas ’93 and Ayako Saito, Untitled… and so on.

Mark / Pressure

What sets Jan King’s sculpture, Nude and the Mountain, apart from the two works on paper may be readily seen. For starters, it is three dimensional and the sheer heft of its slate and steel components can almost be felt. It may be less obvious what unites it with its two dimensional companion pieces – etchings by George Barker, Islands – The Long Black Ship, and Aida Tomescu, Sweet Water III.

Letting the eye slowly survey the surfaces of all three works reveals marks with shared characteristics, be it on paper or slate. Scratches on slate speak to marks scratched on etching plates which are seen mirrored in the prints that result from pressing the plate onto/into paper. I get the sense that if I took thin paper and soft pencil, did a rubbing of the slate’s surface in Nude and the Mountain I’d see a reverse image echoing the marks in the etchings.

There is also something about weight and pressure in the three works. If you have seen an etching artwork straight off a press you’ll know the paper remembers the weight of the steel plate or stone pressed into it – leaving a memory trace, a lip that can be seen and felt with the fingertips. I sense, too, that the solid black shape in Sweet Water III and the slate mountain share an understanding.