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CHROMA the Jim Cobb gift

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CHROMA the Jim Cobb gift

Publication Sponsor


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CHROMA: the Jim Cobb gift Published to coincide with the exhibition CHROMA: the Jim Cobb gift Orange Regional Gallery 24 January-29 March 2015 www.org.nsw.gov.au Project Manager: Lisa Loader Curator: Bradley Hammond Exhibition Designer: Martin Wale Exhibition installation: Brenda Gray Publication Sponsor: Gordon Darling Foundation Catalogue design & layout: Bradley Hammond Photography: Vince Lovecchio Reproduction permissions & exhibition graphics: Claire Buchanan Printing: Westlink Print, Orange, NSW ISBN 978-0-9587126-4-4

Cover image: Emily Kam Ngwarray, Untitled (detail), 1994, acrylic on Belgian linen, 120.8 x 89.0 cm. © Emily Kam Ngwarray. Licensed by Viscopy. Previous spread: John R Walker, The dry dam, Bedervale (detail), 2004, oil on canvas, 190.5 x 199.0 cm. © John R Walker.

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CONTENTS F O R E W O R D

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J i m C obb - Our C olour M an Brad l e y Hammond

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L isa Loader

C hroma C ollec t ion H ig hl ig h t s Brad l e y Hammond

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L i st of Work s

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Acknowled g E men t s

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David Rose, After the fires at Kariong #2, 2006, acrylic and sand on canvas, 140.5 x 25.5 cm. Š Estate of David Rose.


FOREWORD L IS A L OA D E R d i rec t or , oran g e re g ional g allery The early stages of planning the inaugural display of the Chroma Collection focussed not only on providing an acknowledgement of Jim Cobb’s gift to Orange Regional Gallery, but also on making it a celebration of the wonder of colour so brilliantly explored in the works. Discussions with Jim revealed that although he is very interested in colour, it is the paint medium itself that he is most passionate about–its tactile nature and the effects it can produce in an art work. Whilst colour can be experienced in both the real and virtual worlds, the physical qualities of paint cannot be conveyed in the same fashion. It is this fascination with paint that has guided Jim’s work as a paint maker, and the development of his personal art collection. In curator Bradley Hammond’s essay he discusses this lifelong passion Jim Cobb has had for paint. I would like to congratulate Bradley for his thorough research and considered approach to the works in this collection and for going that extra mile to bring these paintings and Jim Cobb’s story to life. I would also like to acknowledge the generosity of the Gordon Darling Foundation for providing funds to make this publication possible. Jim’s close working relationship with some of Australia’s most accomplished painters, and refinements he has made to his products in response to their needs, has been seminal in the creation of many significant works of art over the past 50 years. His delight in the real thing, coupled with a strong desire to make great contemporary works of art available for all to experience, has led Jim to gift many such works to public collections in recent years. The extraordinary gift of 35 paintings and two sculptures, by some of Australia’s foremost artists, has taken the Orange Regional Gallery’s collection to another level and we hope that Chroma: the Jim Cobb gift provides a fitting tribute to the contribution that Jim Cobb has made to the communities of Orange and the Central West, and to the visual arts in this country.

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Euan Macleod, Jim Cobb at factory, 1998, oil on canvas, 124.4 x 100.2 cm. Š Euan Macleod.


JIM COBB - OUR COLOUR MAN B R A D L EY HA M M O N D Ever since he was a young art student in the 1950s in Sydney under Desiderius Orban, Jim Cobb has been experimenting with making paints. He describes his difficulty with oil paints in those early years. “I’m basically a failed artist who found himself in the world of paint manufacturing,” Jim jokes. “As excellent a teacher as Orban was, he should have made me scrape all the paint off and start again,” he adds “but instead he allowed me to build up too many layers, wet over wet so that I ended up with mud pie paintings.” What Jim wanted back then was something that dried more rapidly than oil paint so that he couldn’t mess it up. With a few drop-in visits to a nearby chemical factory– “you could walk right in back in those days” –Jim was on his way to producing homemade acrylics. This was just the beginning of a 50 year career that has seen Jim at the leading edge of paint production, supplying high quality paints to artists, students and children in Australia and around the globe, culminating in the first artist acrylic paints with controllable drying times. Jim is a natural when it comes to turning obstacles into game-changers. “I think of problems or frustrations as being like grains of sand which act as the irritants which create the pearl,” he says. Now in his eighties, Jim is still regularly at work in the Chromacryl factory in Mt. Kuringgai. A portrait by Euan Macleod, Jim Cobb at factory from the Chroma Collection presents Jim in his element, surrounded by various barrels containing pigments and who-knows-what experimental sludges and slurries. He cuts a mysterious, yet everyday figure, emerging from the shadows in his plain, paint spattered t-shirt. A modern day paint alchemist. Jim describes with some excitement a new oil paint being released next year which will not separate in the tube. “When you unscrew the lid for the first time, there won’t be an oil release before the coloured paint comes out.” Any oil painter will know exactly what he means. “It matters because what is usually left in the tube is unbalanced if all this oil and resin has been separated.” Problem solved. “We now also have a new property added to our permanently flexible oil paint that doesn’t crack as it ages.” With an increasing number of art supply stores shutting up shop or moving towards online sales, the relationship between artists and paint manufacturers is more distant than it’s ever been. The expectation that tubes of Naples yellow, viridian and titanium white should be sitting on the doorstep within three working days is liberating in one sense but its downside is that it is an impersonal process driven by economics.

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In the past, artists either made their own paints, or they likely knew the people who did. Paints evolved through discussion and mutual experimentation. Gradually this relationship grew more segregated as paint production became industrialised and moved into the specialist domain of chemistry. The problem, according to Jim, is that this has evolved to the point where “paint factories rely on their marketing departments to decide which pigments to create.” In this context Jim is clearly an anomaly. Dialogue with artists is of seminal importance to him and he has worked hard over the years to give artists what they need. Elisabeth Cummings has used Jim’s paints for over 35 years. In her experience they are both “innovative and acutely sensitive to the spectrum of the colours found in Australia.” Idris Murphy likens Jim to Père Tanguy who supplied artist materials to avant-garde painters such as Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin in Paris in the late 1800s. In the Australian context, Murphy describes Jim as “our colour-man, painting and making paint in direct contact with the artists!” This spirit of open collaboration and enquiry is partly why Jim is so highly regarded by some of Australia’s finest painters. John R Walker gives an account of his experience of Jim:

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I first met Jim Cobb when I was a young art student in the late 1970s. Jim would turn up at the art school and talk with us about paint and all its wonders, tricks and techniques for hours and then hand out generous free samples. For 50 years Jim Cobb has been one of the unsung heroes of Australian art. His keenness to directly consult with artists about “what kind of paint would suit you?” combined with his skill as a paint maker and his willingness to experiment has greatly enriched our art world. Jim is quick to point out that he is not a chemist. He is perhaps something of a hybrid, brilliantly integrating the rational, scientific sphere of paint production with the material intelligence that artists learn the hard way. “You can only get it by doing it,” says Jim affirming the idea that intuitive and lateral processes are just as important as formulas. He thinks of himself as more akin to a cook who goes to the market to find the freshest and best ingredients. The nuanced knowledge that he so freely shares highlights Jim’s passion for education. He was an art teacher for a few years and was integral to the establishment of ArtExpress. Jim strongly believes that the hyper-connectivity of our online life is causing us to lose touch with the wonders of the materials around us and that this has serious implications for our understanding of art. “The physical surface of a painting is as important as what the image depicts. The only thing we really have when we rely on reproductions of paintings on little screens is the subject, but we lose almost everything else–the scale, the layering, the surface textures. These are all an essential part of the meaning of an art work.”


In keeping with his wish that the public should have access to high quality originals, Jim donated 35 remarkable paintings, and two sculptures, known as the Chroma Collection, to Orange Regional Gallery in February 2013. This is just one example of Jim’s philanthropic way of participating in the art world–a quality which has endeared him to artists, teachers and gallery owners. He has supported the careers of many artists over the years by actively collecting their work and providing them with bespoke materials. The Chroma Collection celebrates the many ways in which paint can give physical presence to personal visions. Highlights include a shimmering Elisabeth Cummings oil, After the wet, Elcho Island, 2004 – a masterpiece in yellows and dusty greys; John R Walker’s iconic The dry dam, Bedervale which so vividly captures a searing drought in 2004; and five cascading paintings by Emily Kam Ngwarray in ranges of cadmiums, pinks and browns. Also featured are abstract paintings by Geoffrey de Groen, Dale Hickey, Rollin Schlicht, Louise Tuckwell and Dick Watkins which contrast with naturalistic renderings from Chris Fussell, Adrian Lockhart and David Rose. Psychological interpretations of landscape by Roy Jackson, Euan Macleod, Idris Murphy and John Peart offer insights into how great paintings move freely between inner and outer worlds, deepening our experience and understanding of where we find ourselves. Two whimsical and thought-provoking sculptures by Richard Byrnes provide another facet to a remarkable collection. Jim Cobb’s donation is an extraordinary gift and adds a new chapter to Orange Regional Gallery’s collection of Australian modern and contemporary painting and sculpture.

All quotes by Jim Cobb are from an interview conducted by the curator Bradley Hammond in October 2014

Following page: Elisabeth Cummings, After the wet, Elcho Island (detail), 2004, oil on canvas. © Elisabeth Cummings. Licensed by Viscopy.

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CHROMA collection highlights


ELISABETH CUMMINGS A f t er t he we t, E lcho I sland 2 0 0 4

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In 2002 Elisabeth Cummings travelled with a group of artists to Elcho Island off the coast of Arnhem Land to visit artist communities and immerse herself in the landscape. “I felt a sense of privilege when visiting the island,” says Cummings. “We met many of the Aboriginal artists and I was particularly impressed with the quality of the weavings and morning star poles.”1 After the rains, the group made their way to the northern part of the island. En route, Cummings produced a number of drawings and gouache sketches that were immediate responses to the environment. “The area was rich and dense with Pandanus and ferns and I was particularly struck by the beauty of the large ochre-coloured puddles. The light was strong and I made many studies.” On returning to her studio, Cummings began the large diptych After the wet, Elcho Island. This work is an interpretation of the landscape based on sketches and memories of Elcho Island combined with an extraordinary abstract sensibility. “Big paintings take time and they are more of a challenge,” she says. “It’s a combination of looking, remembering and tending to the internal problems that each painting presents. This painting went through some big changes in the process, and it wasn’t always as yellow, but it seemed to move in that direction as the painting progressed.” The surface of the painting is alive and energetic, as transparent and opaque layers interact. While at first glance the painting is predominantly yellow, a closer look reveals an extraordinary range of hues and discordant harmonies. Take for example the swathe of wasabi green entering from the upper left, “I just felt it needed some movement there,” says Cummings. All quotes are from a conversation with the artist in December 2014

1 Morning star poles, associated with the planet Venus, are used in mourning and memorial ceremonies on Elcho Island.


Elisabeth Cummings, After the wet, Elcho Island, 2004, oil on canvas, 175.0 x 300.0 cm (diptych). Š Elisabeth Cummings. Licensed by Viscopy. (detail on p.12)


A cknowledg E ments

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The development of this exhibition was made possible by the generous contributions of many people whom we would like to thank. Most importantly, Jim Cobb, for his remarkable gift and for his collaboration with the curator Bradley Hammond. This collaboration was greatly assisted by Jim’s wife Raquel Cobb, and his assistant Amanda Rose. We would like to pay particular thanks to the Gordon Darling Foundation for funding the publication of this catalogue. Thanks is owed to artists: Elisabeth Cummings, Geoffrey de Groen, Adrian Lockhart, Idris Murphy, John R Walker, Euan Macleod, and Louise Tuckwell for their willingness to participate in interviews, the results of which have contributed significantly to our knowledge and understanding of the works featured. We would like to thank the Friends of Orange Regional Gallery for funding conservation and framing of a selection of works from the collection, and Coburn Fine Art Conservation and Sophie Brown Framing for completing this work. Thanks also to Christopher Hodges for supporting our grant application to the Gordon Darling Foundation, and to Dana Sibera at Westlink Print for providing unparalleled expertise in colour balancing. This project was enhanced by the efforts of volunteer Hanli Uys assisting with photography, conservation and installation. Thanks also to Macquarie University students Stephanie Alvarado Romero, Bridget O’Neill and Bonnie Teece who completed research on the works. The Orange Regional Gallery would also like to thank Orange City Council and Arts NSW for their ongoing funding which makes projects like this possible.

Rollin Schlicht, The summer circus, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 182.5 x 274.0 cm. © Estate of Rollin Schlicht.


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CHROMA the Jim Cobb gift

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Richard BYRNES Elisabeth CUMMINGS Geoffrey DE GROEN Chris FUSSELL Dale HICKEY Roy JACKSON Emily Kam NGWARRAY Adrian LOCKHART Euan MACLEOD Idris MURPHY John PEART David ROSE Rollin SCHLICHT Louise TUCKWELL John R WALKER Dick WATKINS

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