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27 June, 2017 - 8 July, 2017

John Beaton, Here, 2011, photographic print

John Beaton

27 June – 8 July 2017

Tuesday – Friday 11am to 5pm,
Saturday 12pm to 4pm
admission: Free

question what perfection means to us. Embrace the ephemerality of all things. Revel in the beauty of transience.” John Beaton

John Beaton’s photographs celebrate transience by freezing humans in motion, exploring the effects of light and mist on land and cityscapes, and drawing nature into close focus. While the photos capture ephemeral moments, they also come together to reflect the world panoramically. Borders between individual and communal dissolve; boundaries of identity break down as statues assume human qualities and people’s fleeting actions become permanent art.

Elements of wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic of imperfect beauty characterised by asymmetry, intimacy, impermanence and natural processes, run through the photographs presented in this exhibition. Beaton’s artistic style of capturing a fleeting moment invites comparison with the wabi-sabi Japanese calligraphic motif of the enso – an asymmetrical circle drawn in a single stroke to reflect the moment of drawing rather than geometrical perfection. The enso visually manifests one’s true and innermost self.

In one of his prose pieces, featured in the exhibition, Beaton described the benefits he saw in the philosophy behind wabi-sabi. He encouraged others to “question what perfection means to us. Embrace the ephemerality of all things. Revel in the beauty of transience.”

These words reflect Beaton’s life, as well as his art. Remembered as a man who thought deeply and lived out his philosophy, finding beauty in unexpected places and taking joy in the present moment, Beaton helped and inspired his friends, family and colleagues. His last act, before his death in a car accident, was to photograph the sunrise over Yosemite National Park. A selection of these Yosemite photos is displayed in a room in the exhibition. Visitors can listen to a recording of the piece Last Sunrise, written in Beaton’s memory by his friend, pianist and composer Anthony Williams, while viewing the photographs. This multifaceted exhibition presents for the first time the work of a young Australian who united art and technical skill, depth and simplicity – John Beaton invites us all to question and to revel.

John Beaton (artist)

John Beaton was a world-leading software engineer, and a photographer and writer who travelled widely. During his stellar career he became one of Amazon’s software developers in Silicon Valley, yet his training in Art History and his immersion in literary and philosophical texts also saw him produce a significant body of art and writing. His death in 2014, at the age of 27, sent shockwaves through the wide network of people who knew him. Prizes were established in his name at the institutions where he studied: the University of Melbourne, Melbourne High School and Frankston Heights Primary School. His colleagues at Amazon’s research and development lab left his desk unused for over a year. Friends regularly gather to celebrate and commemorate Beaton’s life, and his impact continues to be felt. This exhibition presents Beaton’s photography to the public for the first time, along with selected text.

The photographs featured in this exhibition span Asia, Europe, America and Australia, and were taken mostly between 2010 and 2014. While some of the shots were planned, the majority were taken “in the moment”, reflecting the strong links between elements of zen philosophy in Beaton’s art and life. The written piece showcased at length in the exhibition, Wabi/Sabi, was originally published by Beaton on a blog he experimented with, Critical Failing. Its exploration of the importance of celebrating transience would come to eloquently capture Beaton’s life.

Anthony Williams (musician), Elizabeth Beaton (curator), Elyse De Valle (installation/arts consultation)

Anthony Williams, composer of the piece Last Sunrise featured in the exhibition, studied at Melbourne High School with John Beaton and was a close friend of the artist. He performed Last Sunrise at Beaton’s funeral. A musician and linguist, he is currently completing his PhD at Monash University in computational linguistics, and has an Honours degree in music composition. Anthony has much experience composing, performing and arranging, both for large ensembles and bands. His music has been performed by the by the Monash University stage band. Anthony also ran a stage band himself – the Apollo Health Music Society ‘Fusion Band’ – and has created string and horn arrangements for local Melbourne bands such as ‘Falloe’, orchestral arrangements for Malaysian Idol singing coach Juwita Suwito as part of her Australian tour, scores for high school speech nights and orchestra and band scores for legendary rock band Deep Purple for a tour they had planned.

Dr. Elizabeth Beaton is the curator of the exhibition and John Beaton’s sister. The two enjoyed a close friendship, and were travelling together when some of the exhibited photographs were taken. Elizabeth recently completed her PhD in English at the Australian National University, writing fiction. Some of her poetry, developed from notes taken in Japan shortly after Beaton’s death, was featured in the Japanese journal Poetry Kanto in 2015. Her poems have been read at the Wheeler Centre, the University of Melbourne, and The Frames That Remain exhibition at Bus Projects (2017). She has also published a chapter on fantasy literature in Women of Ice and Fire (Bloomsbury, 2016), and is the president of the Speculative Fiction Academic Association.

Elyse de Valle is the art and installation consultant for the exhibition. Elyse is an emerging artist who utilises materials and site to express the conceptual concerns of her practice. Her work explores little known narratives that permit her contemplation of creative labour, memories, loss and experience. Elyse completed a Bachelor of Fine Art with First Class Honors in 2012 and a Masters of Fine Art in 2015 at Monash University. She worked at the National Gallery of Victoria and currently works at Museums Victoria and from her studio at Artery Cooperative. De Valle has held numerous shows around Melbourne as well as undertaking residencies in Carrara and Noepoli, Italy and San Francisco, USA. Elyse was also a schoolmate of John Beaton, and recently collaborated with Elizabeth Beaton in her exhibition The Frames That Remain (Bus Projects, 2017).

Join us for a poetry reading by Dr. Elizabeth Beaton at fortyfivedownstairs on Saturday July 1 at 1pm.

Elizabeth recently completed a PhD in fiction. Her first poetry chapbook will be published by the Melbourne Poets Union in 2017, and she is co-director of a new festival celebrating Japanese poetic influences in Australia.

In this reading, Elizabeth will share poems of place, emotion and ephemerality that tie closely to the artworks by her brother John Beaton displayed in the gallery. The poetic landscapes here range from Australia to Japan, America, Denmark and Croatia. Varying from short and medium length to suites of haiku, these poems explore love, grief and transcendence through journeys.

Elizabeth is the curator of John Beaton – Wabi/Sabi, running from June 27-July 8 at fortyfivedownstairs, a series of photographs and writing by the late John Beaton that celebrates transience. Elizabeth’s poetry explores her deep friendship with John and related travels since his death. Her poems were recently published in the Japanese journals World Haiku and Poetry Kanto, and have been previously published in a range of journals such as The Balkan Literary Herald, Burley, Voiceworks, and an ACT Writers’ Centre anthology. She is also president of the Speculative Fiction Academic Association.

The reading will take place at 1pm, with an introduction by Dr. Grant Caldwell of the University of Melbourne’s Creative Writing Program. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy the exhibition before and after the reading.

Event: Poetry reading
Date: Saturday 1 July 2017
Time: 1pm
Admission: FREE


27 June, 2017
8 July, 2017
Event Category:


fortyfivedownstairs gallery
45 Flinders Lane
Melbourne, Victoria 3000 Australia
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