5 Exhibition at 45 Downstairs

When I went to the gallery, 45 Downstairs, with a couple of my fellow graduates, I did not expect any of the artists to be present: Philip Faulkes, Bill Hay, Cathy Drummond, Richard Stringer and Kristin Headlam.

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The first two had been our teachers at Chisholm and we had heard the others give artist talks. As we examined the techniques and narratives within the exhibition, in walked two of the five artists, Bill Hay and Cathy Drummond.

We were delighted to reunite with them. Bill told us the exhibition represents recent and some older work by the group, and that the artists had developed their friendship in the 70s and 80s at Art School.

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All have made strong contributions to the domestic and international art scene. Their work appears in both public and private collections and Richard Stringer’s bees can be found on a grand scale adorning the side of Eureka – the tall, gold-clad building looking out over the Melbourne landscape.

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We were thrilled that both artists took the time to speak with us about the works in the exhibition. And I asked Cathy to tell us the story of Le Passage. I had heard it before and it really appealed to me. I wonder if I liked this one of Cathy’s paintings the most because of the story attached to it? Hmm… That’s something to consider. People love a story.

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When Cathy Drummond and Bill Hay went to Paris they had had a mission. And, as with any self-respecting quest, it wasn’t too easy to accomplish.

They went there to find the setting of the painting, Le Passage du Commerce Saint Andre, made by Balthus in 1952-54. Cathy had the idea of making a painting of how it looks now.

The idea sat comfortably in her oeuvre of colourful streetscapes, each documenting a moment in time before changes would inevitably occur. With perseverance they eventually found the site, but it was no longer a T intersection.

Cathy pointed out differences and similarities between Balthus’ painting from the 1950s and what she and Bill saw once they had located the street.

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The passage has been blocked and a cafe sets up there, behind a barrier that defines the space and shelters diners from street traffic.

“These chairs weren’t all over the place,” Cathy told me. She had put them in instead of the figures that Balthus had in his painting. But the rungs rising up the tiled roof can still be seen. They form a ladder that the artist used to access his studio after entering at street level.

Cathy traced his route showing me where he would have climbed out a window walked along the ledge then scaled the roof to his studio above.

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Coincidentally, in the same trip Bill and Cathy happened to go to an exhibition in Florence that had Le Passage du Commerce Saint Andre in it. This was unexpected because the painting was in a private collection.

You will have to be quick if you want to see the 5 exhibition at 45 Downstairs (45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne). The show ends Saturday 14 February.

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