Stairs climb up to the top of Gaffa Gallery, moments away from the hustle and bustle of Town Hall in the heart of Sydney. But instead of moving away from Sydney’s urban landscape, ‘PorquéNo #4’ welcomes the architecture of the city, as well as the soul and character, of six iconic venues in Sydney — the Opera House, Observatory of Sydney, Town Hall, Central Station, St Mary’s Cathedral, and Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW).
‘I created PorquéNo in 2013, to bring people together and create for the sake of creating,’ Juan Pablo Gutierrez, director of sponsor Bluemelon Design Agency, explains. ‘Porqué no is a Spanish word that translates to why not? If anyone asks you at the exhibition, why did you do this or that? Well, you can say, why not?’
The idea transpired from the juggle of artistic minds in commercial spaces — always justifying their creative decisions. The mostly international collection of artists bring their own takes on the city, uniting a community of creatives to explore the nuances of Sydney’s history and personality. ‘As a cosmopolitan city, sometimes it may be hard to know where to get that inspiration. But here you can really be and do whatever you want to,’ Gutierrez muses.
A varied mix of artworks line the walls of Gaffa. We first arrive at Liam O’Donnell’s photographic series, which display each one of the six locations distinctly. The juxtaposition of exposure and light isolate the rememberable buildings to highlight their architectural features. O’Donnell’s work provides a reading of other artworks in the exhibition, such as those of Jean-Paul Faint. Faint’s mixed media on archival paper and plywood artworks embody the materiality of the locations, bringing texture from these sites and placing found objects within a conceptualisation of the archival process.
Elsewhere in the gallery space, Leanne Tomkins and Tim Christinat personify Sydney as characters in colourful worlds through pencil and pen on paper and oil on canvas. Tomkin’s characters live in whimsical dreamscapes, whereas Christinat paints the architects of each location in pinks and purples, with bright blue eyes.
Vicki Inglis and Jacs Wallace, a new mum and soon to be mum, both invite play through the lens of the city with ink on paper. Inglis’ drawings play on repetition and give the city icons personality as a Brit exploring the new landscape. A painter activates the AGNSW, and Central Station becomes alive with a bustling crowd. Wallace continues to insert narratives within the urban setting, inviting her background in industrial design as the cityscape comes alive with hot air balloons and planetary systems. Her tiny drawings pull the viewer into their orbit and inspire awe at the details.
The theme of play and exploration continues with ‘Chico’ and Goya Torres, who lure the urban landscape into the gallery by using graffiti and street art. Mexican-born Torres uses spray paint to adorn skateboards, but also uses more traditional art materials like charcoal, oil pastels on canvas and paper in bright colours. ‘Chico’ applies stencil to each Sydney location, with the addition of Godzilla-esque characters roaming throughout the gold framing.
Michael Scanu and Chloé Darmigny similarly represent Sydney in colour, enveloping the city within a mystic-interpretation. Scanu draws on digital art methods, inserting the Opera House or Town Hall into little windows of these other worlds, depicted as highly stylised biospheres. Whereas Darmigny brings her French sensibilities into a bohemian Sydney, such as in Framed Oasis (2019) which sees the Art Gallery as arches filled with colours of tropical flora and fauna.
In this sentiment, Juan’s own works reduce the buildings to individual expressions of form. Balancing wood, geometric shapes, and simple colours, in which the artists describe as ‘a childlike approach based on symmetry, abstraction and colour harmony.’ These overtly simplistic artworks only use four colours and a repetition of shapes throughout the six pieces. With names like Flippyti Flap, Brush! Brush, Humpty Dumpty, and Chu Chu (all 2019), the gouache and ply on paper hint towards Juan’s soon-to-be future: becoming a father of identical twins.
On other walls, Olivia Audrey Jones’ charcoal hyper-realistic drawings echo each of the Sydney icons, yet remain as in-process architectural sketches, waiting to be completed. The intense detail of each artwork affectionally named The Sound of Beauty, Magic Walls or Stand Tall (all 2019), reveal a love and admiration of the city — that is still ongoing and developing. Liz Finnigan’s prints mirror the architectural detail of Jones’ works but appear as cropped viewpoints with smudges of pink watercolour and flora to reflect Sydney’s natural backdrop. All named after the featured plants: Waratah, Kangaroo Paw, and Eucalyptus (all 2019).
‘PorquéNo #4’ offers the audience a chance to fall in love again. With art, with the city, with a creative practice. It really only asks why not? But in a city, and country, at ends with the arts, immigration, and the environment — the exhibition is a pertinent reminder to cherish these little creative moments.
Emma-Kate Wilson is a Sydney-based art critic and writer.