John Vella

MFA Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania Australia 2000 BFA (Hons); Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania Australia 1996; DipFA National Art School, Sydney Australia 1993

John Vella is Head of Discipline (Art) at the Tasmanian College of the Arts.  His work is represented in private and public collections. He has developed a number of independent and collaborative art research projects across diverse national and international contexts that include the: Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart; Stockholm Independent Art Fair; Glasgow International Arts Festival, UK; MCA Sydney; Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award, Melbourne; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart. In addition to having been awarded five major public art commissions, Vella has received highly competitive grants from the Australia Council and Arts Tasmania.


I’ve used, if not abused, the mine closure form (the last form you fill in to close a mine) and reduced it to its skeletal composition. It’s left to the bare bones that frame the detail of who authorises what and why etc. (the form of the form if you will).. There is something about this particular form that strikes me in specific relation to the term ‘exhaust’… I can see the mine owners filling in this form having exhausted the earth they once worked on and in. I can see them exhausting their own resources in the process. I can feel them being aged by the process, ironically becoming closer to the earth, over the time they’ve spent mining what was once their space.

I printed the form multiple times in different colours as a form of release from the pragmatic. These colours aren’t overtly decorative or consciously contrived, more determined by a this goes with that mentality that might capture diverse emotional states and/or reference a range of natural to artificial materialities. They appear in their original states, minimal, beautiful, orchestrated, clinical…

I’ve taken the prints and brought them to my half built place. (the home I am renovating) Taking the various residue materials that have been left lying around the site (the stone, concrete, timber, steel..) I’ve worked the forms physically in an attempt to wear them out… to exhaust them of their preciousness, to provoke their minimalist poise, to challenge their inherent objectivity and drag, scrape and scratch them into a space of mine.

This process has been cathartic. A wonderful counterpoint to the manager, leader, bureaucrat space associated with my job in an art school however it’s more than that. It seems to have generated a pathos related to a material consciousness that is intimately linked to our own. I now feel for these fragments, this detritus and it’s capacity to shelter and house me and I also feel frustrated by the inevitable collapse of the organic to geometric, the transition that seems to be a compulsory part of this process… the tree to a log, to a plank of wood, the stone removed and sheared into tiles and so on ad infinitum. This frustration is matched by my hypocritical reality where as a human I consume whether it be air, food, light etc. I am in the world and I regularly use the world to my own ends.

There is another side to this work that may manifest within frames or as a performative reaction to the gallery space. The use and abuse that comes with the exhaustion of MINE placed in relation to a counterpoint determined to transcend exhaustion. These are attempts to resuscitate echoing our own often, futile attempts to extend our ‘useful’ lives through substances geared to keep us a awake, give us strength or make us more efficient if not effective. Coffee, Red Bull, Berocca, No Doz etc. are mechanisms to counter exhaustion that are used and abused here as graphic, aesthetic if not pathetic counterpoints. Splashed across the objects and prints they serve to subvert the linear configuration of the work, to return the geometric to the organic, and in so doing reference the spill, the stain, the somewhat loose gestures of ingestion, absorption and abstract expressionism. Their concocted, chemical materiality stands in stark contrast to the physical, arguably natural materials they have attempted to revive.

So the forms, the stains, the materials are combined in a pseudo talismanic cycle of relations that for me speaks about what’s mine – my stuff, my place in the world – and my responsibility to at the very least own the bigger picture MINE… the magnificent attunement of my and their exhaustion and our collective, perpetual if not inevitable cycles of destruction, relation and cohabitation…