Friday, October 31, 2014

Of Forking Paths

Mixed media on paper.

The Kingdom of Heaven

Mixed media on paper.

Solve et Coagula

Mixed media on paper.

Gomi no Sensei

Acrylic on paper.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Ink on paper.


As a collective exhibition unpainted presents an intersection and cross-section of the practices of four contemporary painters notionally pushing at the edges of the medium. While the title of the show is a negation, aiming at a renegotiation of the terms of the form, any stepping away from the parameters of painting here come across as hesitant self-consciousness more than any kind of serious d├ętournement. Each artist in the show, even the two posited as emerging has a distinct practice to bring to the table and each does the thing that they do well. However, that is all they do; sending dispatches from their individual established aesthetic territories. Perhaps territories at the fringes of the popular account of painting but established territories all the same.

The immediate presence the first gallery is Helen Calder’s prosaically titled red,red, Unabashedly all about the paint in and of itself, Calder’s work consists of four long sheathes of acrylic paint, three suspended from the ceiling and one collapsed upon the floor, each a distinct hue of the titular colour. Slick, plastic extrusions of pure acrylic colour, these skins of paint hang like the rendered hides of some bright, synthetic animal. The work is an immediate presentation of painting attempting to leave the canvas and seek an unsupported autonomous existence as colour and material unto itself. The collapsed element on the floor speaks to the inherent difficulties of this undertaking.

Anticlockwise from here, Fu On Chung is represented by four small works of brightly coloured ambiguous abstraction. In form and presentation, these works are the closest in the show to traditional conceptions of painting: brush-worked acrylic on stretched linen supports, composed images of field and form, hung flat upon the wall. Transparent plastic wrapping loosely wrapped around two of the works provide a veil of visual disruption between viewer and painted surface reflecting the lights of the room. This tactic of disruption, whilst challenging the viewer’s approach to the work and making the pieces respond to the space in which they are displayed, when laid against Chung’s lurid colours gives the paintings an aura of poorly-packaged, cheap commodities. Despite showing a definite aptitude towards the manipulation of his medium, Chung seems to be frustratingly working against himself with these pieces. Their jarring palette, deliberately unresolved technique, and the gimmick with the plastic wrap not so much speak to “the potential redundancy of painting” as invoking a reticence that wavers between providing a space for contemplation and being merely mute, tending to the latter. 

Across the gallery from Chung, James Bellaney’s diptych, Reading Room is leant casually against the wall, touching upon the idea of painting-as-object occupying space within the room rather than merely as a flat picture plane of no integral material substance. It is a presentation that emphasises the solid physical presence of Bellaney’s work where layers of house paint have been determinedly splashed and let to flow, mingle and interact across the face of these two large plywood panels. In technique drawing almost exclusively on the masculine modalities of modernist action painting Bellaney’s practice by its nature requires surfaces of sufficient size to find space for the nuances of interaction he coaxes from the procedurally applied applications of his medium. This bold diptych is representative of the high end of Bellaney’s practice and is a strong piece of expression, but is ultimately unremarkable as a departure from his ourvre.

Whereas Bellaney’s work is the frozen movement of the painters frenetic action the moving images of Kim Pieters’ video piece, flame, reflects a steadiness, almost absolute stillness at the edge of potential. This is underscored by the final line/word of Jeanne Bernhardt’s poem that has been inserted into the filmic image, “provocation”. A dynamic call to action but one that exists before action, liminal and open to possibilities and curiosities. The diffuse, monochromatic image of flame insists on evoking that annoying adjective “painterly”, though it is in the movement of the image that I find the closest links to the process of painting. The subtle yet steady changes of the piece parallel the constant slow negotiation and refinement of image and the investigation into what can be made whilst making it that are core to those of us address painting first and foremost as a verb.

As a video piece incorporating sound (music by Eye and Expansion Bay), Pieters' work is situated in the separate second gallery by necessity, which unfortunately breaks the immediate visual dialogue between the artists of unpainted. This visual break, while disrupting the overall visual flow of the show as a collection, still allows conceptual links to be drawn between the artists and their work. Calder’s treatment of paint as pure materiality is an excellent counterpoint to Pieters' film work as painting removed from all materiality. The wild energy of Bellaney’s action painting, treating the liquid medium as an instrument of release finds echoes in Calder’s paint liberated materially from the canvas. The intensity of colour in Bellaney and Chung’s work together as a counterpoint to the reduced palettes of the more established practitioners Calder and Pieters. The interplay of formal elements within Chung’s abstractions loosely brings to mind aspects of Pieters' actual painted works, compositional traces of which are found in flame. These things are all there, granted, but the associations are unnecessarily forced through the show’s hermeneutic confusion.

There is an evident enthusiasm in Briar Holt’s curatorial intent to draw parallels and conversations between these artists, but the final show refuses to congeal as a synergistic whole. There is space for conversation here, it just seems the attending parties arrived all having very little to say that they haven’t already said before. It’s a dinner party where the guests are all intently discussing news from last month. I feel there was an opportunity missed here. While all the work on show is certainly representative of the individual cannon of these four artists, all pushing at the edges of painting in their own ways, the work of each just seems like stock pulled from the archives. This is particularly so in Pieters case with her film work dating from 2007. Perhaps there was not enough pre-show engagement between artists themselves to bring the whole together as something fully cohesive.

Certainly unpainted is a snapshot rather than a survey, however in that it is still somewhat indistinct and unfocussed. Intention and ability are abundant but affect is absent.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Mixed media on board.

Sunday, October 19, 2014