Saturday, August 29, 2009

John Peart

Shadowgrille - 2009
oil and acrylic on canvas
Image: Watters Gallery, Sydney

Just the other day I had the opportunity to meet with Sydney abstract painter, John Peart, at Watters Gallery where we had a rambling conversation about his latest show Mainly Painting. Comprised mainly of large canvases made from smaller panels, the work is full of intrigue; amorphous forms, spidery lines and surfaces ranging from roughly textured to lightly stained. These are the kind of abstract paintings that keep me looking, guessing and wondering.

Talking to Peart was a refreshing experience given that it was quickly obvious that he was open to my interpretations. Indeed, when I asked him if he liked talking about his work he reflected 'not so much talking about it but I do like being prompted by questions from others, it makes me think about possibilities'. This flexibility; being open to questions and possibilities, is key and it's clearly evident in the way he treats each panel separately and then unifies or assembles them later, into larger canvases. Doing so welcomes a sense of surprise and play that provides a freedom from being entirely preoccupied with picture making as an end product. It's more about engaging with the paint and its myraid possibilities. On a smaller scale the collages in the show echo this process and, to my mind, represent a playfully direct way of juxtaposing bright amorphous forms with web like grounds.

Space is a major element in Peart's work. In a painting such as 'Pour Favour' (please?) there is a distinct feeling that one can fall into or through spaces or holes, as if there is another world behind the prevailing layers.

In 'Shadowgrille' (featured here) space is suggested by playful lines: some scrathy, as an overlay, some flat and inky and some fuzzy/blurry on top. It's as if a paint soaked grub took a wander along the surface leaving a trail like the marks one might find on a scribbly gum. I'm naturally drawn to the tensions set up by multiple edges in this painting, an effect resulting from the joining of the four separate panels post-painting. To add further to its complexity, Peart concocts a subtle shift in the character of the line so that it changes from deep dark to grey blurred. The overall effect is intensely dynamic; the viewer is not passively gazing but rather actively moving in and out of the picture space.

Echoing Shadowgrille is a wall sculpture. Made from eucalyptus branches, 'E camaldulensis' first comes across as a random scattering of bush debris on a forest floor but further investigation reveals a series of driving lines that splinter off from the base, weaving in and out to make a support of wooden webs or grids. It's a form that is beautifully resolved and as it hovers airily on the wall the branches cast shadows affecting a second dimension on to the blank space behind so that the entire piece takes on a kind of physical reflection of the concerns embodied by the paintings surrounding it.

The idea of endless choices in painting is such a delicious one. And, dare I say it - pursuing substance over style - is what a painting by John Peart is all about. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next! So if you're in town, I highly recommend that you go and see this show. Also, you can read a really great interview from 2007 with John Peart here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sabine Tress

Living Room Creatures, Grey eats Red - 2007 - Acrylic on canvas - 100 x 100 cm
Image: Galerie Proarta

German painter Sabine Tress knows how to apply paint and she does it playfully, boldly and sensuously. In every picture she makes there is a freshness that allows the shapes to settle without them becoming stodgy or obvious. I'm intrigued by what lies beneath the great swathes of colour - what goes before in these paintings are just as much a part of the final result and the layers never feel heavy or over worked. This painting is part of a series called Living Room Creatures. Go and have a look at the whole set - they make me laugh out loud! Her earlier graffitiesque works are also a treat.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ian Fairweather

I was in Darwin recently where I photographed this lone, weathered chair. The negative spaces and the lines reminded me of the work of Australian artist Ian Fairweather who, in 1952, made a raft and launched himself into the Timor sea from the very beach where I took this shot. Most people who know anything about Fairweather are familiar with this journey in which he drifted dangerously for weeks before landing in Indonesia. He is known for his style that, while blending influences from cubism, aboriginal art and chinese calligraphy, offered us something so wonderfully unique especially considering that most of his best work was completed in isolation from the art establishment of the day. Fairweather was a restless traveler and later a recluse painter, choosing to paint out the rest of his days on Bribie Island, off the Queensland coast. But, putting myth making matters aside, a Fairweather painting is, to any painter, a treat to behold. It's all about those restless marks that dart and weave all over the support (which is most often cheap cardboard). These are works that truly make one want to dive in. Fairweather creates densely layered and disrupted surfaces that, when one casts ones eye across the picture, has the sensation of settling for a moment in quiet spaces or anchor points of line, shape or colour before being propelled onward - like a kite, I suppose. I love that feeling of delicious movement in every rapid fire stroke or wandering line. I'm never far from the idea that I'm witnessing a language, a very personal communication system containing fragmented memories of far off places or conversations with vines, undergrowth, strange animals or landforms. These paintings reveal a rich, personal world of a very great and brave painter.

In his own words: Painting is a personal thing. It gives me the same kind of satisfaction that religion, I imagine, gives to some people.

Well, amen to that!

House by the Sea 1968

Flying Kite 1958
Sytnthetic polymer paint and gouche on cardboard

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