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Art review: The Endless Transience of Being, by Peter McLean at Megalo Print Studio and Gallery

The Endless Transience of Being by Peter McLean. Megalo Print Studio and Gallery, 21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston. Closes September 19, Tuesday to Saturday 9.30am-5pm.

There is something very beautiful about the colour black, particularly in printmaking, where it is the foundation of the whole art form.

In Peter McLean's new exhibition, The Endless Transience of Being, black is not so much a colour, but a void and the absence of light, with form struggling to emerge out of this void. The focal point of the show is a gorgeous wall of 21 predominantly black and white monotypes, displayed as a solid grid.

The monotype, or the painterly print as it is commonly known, is something of a mongrel in printmaking, where both painters and printmakers are quick to disown it. Nevertheless it has an enviable pedigree, with artists from William Blake to Picasso employing it, and it enjoys a widespread popularity among Australian artists. In its simplest form, which is the one which is predominantly used by McLean, an unmarked plate is painted with printing ink and forms can be brushed in or out of the composition until the plate is covered with a sheet of paper and is run through the press leaving an impression in reverse. Unlike most forms of printmaking, the monotype generally yields only a single impression from which it derives its name.

McLean enjoys velvety blacks which have been pushed back with a cloth and brush to release brilliant contrasts, where white forms appear with an almost hypnotic intensity and develop a ghostly presence. Within this grid of monotypes there are some stark and beautiful images including Sacred grove and Fallen feather, which have a crispness of definition, while at the same time a certain sophisticated abstraction. It is this quality of something existing and being present, but within an undetermined passage of time, that seems to be implied in the title of one continuous meditation on the "transience of being". The mood of the whole installation is slightly melancholic and sombre with rocks, water and the naked human flesh appearing as recurring elements. The whole installation could be interpreted as a young man's meditation on being and time with a considerable dose of passion, angst and high romanticism.

Some of the other pieces in this exhibition appear a little bit like an artist's pinboard where various ideas are collaged together, in part as a conscious attempt to loosen up McLean's conscious control of processes of work and in part to break up the narrative and the literary streak in his practice. Letting go is one of these pieces, where a curious self-referential image of the artist is juxtaposed with relief prints and not so successful protruding strips of colour. The strength of the piece lies in the tension created in the bringing together of the disparate elements and the seams which emerge in the process. Meaning resides not so much in any one of these elements as within the seams between them.

Peter McLean is a strong and intuitive draughtsman, a master of a number of printmaking strategies and an artist with a healthy appetite for experimentation. This is a modest exhibition, but one with a considerable and haunting power.