The Cross Art Projects. Artist Exhibition, Debra Phillips, A talker’s echo. 2023

Vivienne Binns: Twenty First Century Paintings. Curator Merryn Gates — 1 April to 1 May 2004

Curated by Merryn Gates

Vivienne Binns’s place in Australian art is now well established. Today, critics call her paintings ‘the real thing … they walk the walk. Cut the mustard. They provide intellectual and emotional ballast’. In 1998 the Art Gallery of Western Australia saluted ‘one of the most consistent and radical women artists of the past 30 years’.

But it shouldn’t be forgotten that in 1967 Binns’s inaugural exhibition at Watters Gallery outraged Sydney. The rigid avant-garde in the 1960s couldn’t embrace her style or her subject matter. There was just no critical pigeonhole for abstract work which asserted female sexuality and addressed repression and censorship. Such labelling of Binns’s paintings as a raw take on abstract expressionism cum pop art obscured her critical intentions.

Born in 1940, Binns trained from 1958 to I962 at the National Art School, East Sydney Technical College — home of Australian abstract expressionism. Her cumulative technique often pays painterly tribute to her teachers (notably John Passmore, Godfrey Miller and John Olsen) and to pioneers of Sydney modernism (such as Grace Crowley and Ralph Balson).

Binns is a Sydney artist par excellence but she remains an iconoclast. For Twenty First Century Paintings, her first solo exhibition in Sydney in nine years, curator Merryn Gates selected the tour de force work Maelstrom, 2002, as the centerpiece. Orchestrating elements of expressionism and formalism, this grand canvas highlights Binns’s embrace of the old and the new and her unexpected sources and collaborations.


Over the past decade, Binns has explored images of colonial conquest and settlement in the Pacific. Paintings like Hodges, Termites and Landscape, 2002 and A Trace of Parkinson and Other Devices, 2003, unlikely details from topographic engravings made by the artists of James Cook’s voyages, yield unexpected metaphors for our contemporary cultural and political anxiety.

An inspirational feminist, the rebel against the academy became a major theorist of community and outsider art. For this exhibition, the legendary Mothers’ memories, others’ memories, shown at the Westpoint Shopping Centre, Blacktown and the 1982 Sydney Biennale has been generously loaned by Blacktown Art and Craft Society.
Binns is an unfailingly original and affirmative artist whose work confronts the grand themes of history, experience and art.

Quotes: Bruce James in Sydney Morning Herald, 10 July 1999; David Bromberg in the West Australian, 10 January 1998. For analysis of contemporary responses to Binns’s innovations see Bev Garlick. ‘Interview with Viv Binns’, Refractory Girl 8, 1975 and Joan Kerr, Art and Australia, v.30, n.3, 1993.

Credit: Mother’s Memories, Others Memories, 1979-81.
Vivienne Binns, Artist-in-Community Project, Blacktown
Postcard component: 54 postcards, enamel and steel, 90 x 40 (square base)

Participants: Betty Calvert, Betty Clarke, Lois Eastwood, Kathy Gibbing, Laurel Gray, Majella Hemsley, Moira Lynch, Karen McBrien, Cheryll McMullin, Ellen Manning, Grace Oldfield, Pat Parker, Joyce Reilly, Jenny Saunders, Annette Sharpe, Vicki Sultana, Clare Vine.

Courtesy of Blacktown City Council. Presented to the People of Blacktown. (The National Gallery of Australia holds its pair.)
Special thanks: Lois Eastwood and Ingrid Hoffman; Blacktown Art and Crafts Group and Blacktown Art Centre.

The Cross Art Projects, Artist Exhibition. But Is It Art? — 7 to 29 November 2003

Vivienne Binns, Maelstrom, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 132 x 231 cm

The Cross Art Projects, Artist Exhibition. But Is It Art? — 7 to 29 November 2003

Vivienne Binns, Termound, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 62.5 x 100 cm

The Cross Art Projects, Artist Exhibition. But Is It Art? — 7 to 29 November 2003

Vivienne Binns/Derek O’Connor, Barbarella, 2003. 2 parts, acrylic on canvas, 88 x 260 cm

The Cross Art Projects, Artist Exhibition. But Is It Art? — 7 to 29 November 2003

Vivienne Binns with: Mother’s Memories, Others Memories, 1979-81. Vivienne Binns, Artist-in-Community Project, Blacktown, Postcard component: 54 postcards, enamel and steel, 90 x 40 (square base) and Maelstrom, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 132 x 231 cm.

Merryn Gates, Curator

Merryn Gates is known for her thoughtful and meticulous analysis of contemporary artists. She is the inaugural artistic director of hunter art.1, a unique cultural festival linking five regional galleries as well as site-specific works. Gates has directed Canberra School of Art Gallery and curated many exhibitions for Melbourne University and Monash University Art Galleries. Late last year Merryn Gates created a stunning thirty-year retrospective of Binns’s work for Canberra Contemporary Artspace. Gates chose the title, SHIT, a pun on jazz ‘scatting’ and the improvisation between artist and curator and the artist’s fondness for scatological humour.

Merryn Gates:
Vivienne Binns:
The Canberra School of Art: 


The Cross Art + Books: SHIT, catalogue with essays and commentary by Merryn Gates, Vivienne Binns, and Lisa Byrne, Canberra Contemporary Artspace, 2003; Community and the Arts: history, theory, practice, edited by Vivienne Binns in 1991, the first (and to date only) book of critical and theoretical essays on Australian community art: