267 Church Street, Richmond 3121

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— Introduction by Kate Nodrum

Noel Hutchison was born in Sydney in 1940 - the same year his parents were married and his father left for service in WWII, not to return till 1946. At age 15, Noel left home and school and began an apprenticeship in plumbing. After considering a career in the Anglican church, in 1961 he began a Bachelor of Arts at Sydney University which he completed, part time, in 1969 with honours, and then going on to teach at East Sydney Technical College, Randwick Technical College and Sydney University in his final years.

Zed 1970 Small2

Noel Hutchison, Thrust I "Up! Up! And away!", 1970 (with the artist photographing in the background).


In 1970 he exhibited his first major public sculpture at Sculpture 1970 in Mildura, and in 1971 he held his first exhibition at Watters Gallery in Sydney, where he would continue to exhibit regularly for the rest of his life. The solo show consisted of four, what he called, “multi compositional” sculptures: piles of shaped steel, painted in multicolours, which visitors were encouraged to pick up and rearrange as they desired. 

multicompositional

Noel Hutchison, Multicompositional sculpture: Alpha, 1970-71, steel painted deep bronze green and oriental red, 7 units: 4 units 8cm. square x 182cm. long (as welded); 3 units 8cm. diameter x 91cm long. Owned by Stephen Earle. Image sourced from Robin Wallace-Crabbe, 'Noel Hutchison', Art & Australia, Vol 12 No. 4, 1975, p 355.

It also included Aesthetic Noughts and Crosses consisting of a room-sized tubular steel grid laid on the floor alongside piles of large multicoloured tubular steel circles and crosses with which visitors could play the familiar game, ticking the colours they selected to play with on a chart he provided. In his exhibition catalogue note the artist wrote:

Aesthetic Noughts and Crosses

Aesthetic Noughts and Crosses being played at Watters Gallery, 1971. Image sourced from Su Baker, Ed., Apostrophe Duchamp, Art and Australia Publishing, 2018, p 151 (included in Donald Brook's article 'Post-Object Art' published in the Current Affairs Bulletin, 1 February, 1973).

This - and his subsequent exhibition at Watters in 1974 of multicoloured tubular steel semi circles arranged on the floor alongside, probably, smaller works including Progression with a plane II, 1973-4 - were discussed in the following years in the context of the growing movement of ‘post-object art’. The whereabouts of the components of Aesthetic noughts and crosses is unknown, but the instructions printed on canvas will be included in this exhibition, uncatalogued. A number of the Progressive memories of a semi-circle works are extant, though in need of restoration having lived outdoors for many years.

1970s semi circular bar works

Installation image of the 1974 Watters Exhibition.

Alongside his art practice, Noel Hutchison wrote extensively on his own and others’ work, publishing exhibition reviews, essays on the Mildura Sculpture Triennials and on contemporary art polemics in general, in publications including Art & Australia, Art Network, Nation Review and the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1973, while teaching at the Power Institute, he published a monograph on Bertram Mackennel and in 1977 he wrote the exhibition essay for the Ballarat Art Gallery's exhibition 'Early Australian Sculpture, From its Beginnings up to circa 1920'. His review of Dick Watkins’ 1969 exhibition at Watters Gallery was probably the impetus to acquire Westfront, 1964, which is included in this exhibition, and in 1989 he wrote a catalogue essay of Clifford Last’s retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, having already known him for 20 years.

From 1970-75 Noel was a member of the artist collective The Tin Sheds, and it was there that many friendships with fellow artists began - and whose work we see in this exhibition. Joan and Marr Grounds, Guy Warren and Donald Brook were also members and Noel acquired works by each of them, probably through swaps, some of which are included in the present exhibition. Aleks Danko remembers Noel’s support being instrumental in his formative years as a young artist. Works by fellow Watters Gallery artists Richard Larter and Mike Brown are also included in this exhibition (though Mike Brown’s major painting Art, beautiful art (Hallelujah) for which he was prosecuted and nearly jailed in 1964 is not included in this show as it was donated to the National Gallery of Victoria).

In early 1974, Noel and his young family moved to Launceston for Noel to take up the position of Senior Lecturer in the Art Department at the Tasmania College of Education - where he later became Head of the School of Art. Tasmania was heavily invested in Bauxite mining, logging and the building of hydro dams to power aluminium refineries, and conservationist groups were increasingly opposing the damage caused to the natural environment. The issues of Aboriginal history and land rights were also growing in visibility. Hutchison found the debates over these issues deeply disturbing and began a series of sculptures made of raw timber, often sharpened to a point, and wrapped in aluminium-painted ribbons. These were shown in Melbourne in 1980. The artist’s work would be politically charged for the rest of his life. His Kennettised Series, exhibited at Watters in 2004, was an indictment of what the artist perceived was the then Victorian State government’s exploitation of the environment and sale of public assets for corporate profit. It consisted of small-scale timber constructions painted green (the natural world) and black (the man-made world), with a large seed pod installed at the front of the exhibition and a bitumen-covered construction at the back to symbolise the beginning and potential end of our collective human life. His 2008 exhibition focused on the Howard Government’s Intervention in the Northern Territory: his exhibition note read, “This body of work is dedicated to the storekeeper at Wallace Waterhole, N.T., who at least tried to keep things progressing for the betterment of all when I was there in 2001”. His final exhibition, in 2012, was inspired by media images of the destruction caused by natural disasters including floods in Thailand and Taiwan, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, and the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand. His exhibition note talks of the human race’s responsibility for the catastrophes (both in terms of poor building regulations but also, implicitly, human-induced climate change): “‘Shit happens’, to quote our illustrious dolt in Canberra, but it is we, as humans, who produce it.”

In 1980 Hutchison moved to Melbourne, settled in Hampton, and took up the position of Principal Lecturer and Head of Art History at the Victoria College of Art's School of Art and Design in Prahran - where he was Acting Dean from 1982 to 1989, and then Associate Professor in 1991. In 1992, Victoria College and the Victorian College of the Arts amalgamated and Hutchison took charge of Art History. After his retirement from teaching in 2001, he practiced sculpture full time - chiefly in his warehouse-cum-workshop-cum-studio which he had built on a block of land named Tillabudgery near Mansfield in North East Victoria.

Kate Nodrum, 2023-2024

 

We’d like to thank the following for their assistance: Kirsten Hutchison & Neridda Hutchison-Fleischer, the artist’s daughters; Bruce Hutchison, the artist’s brother; Aleks Danko, artist and friend; Bill Perrin, Perrin Sculpture Foundry; Steven Miller, former librarian and archivist at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


Since its establishment in 1984, the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s exhibition program embraces a diversity of media and styles - from painting, sculpture & works on paper to graphics and photography; from figurative, geometric, gestural, surrealist & social comment to installation & conceptually based work.