Distant Voices. Roger Beale with Grahame Crocket. M16 Artspace, 31 Blaxland Crescent, Griffith. Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5pm. Until October 4.
This exhibition brings together the works of two close friends, Roger Beale and Grahame Crocket. It is weighed heavily in terms of number of works exhibited in Beale's favour (51 works to Crocket's 12). Beale has been showing his work for over 30 years. This is Crocket's first public exhibition. Beale works predominantly in pastel, Crocket only in pencil. Their two very separate bodies of work are connected thematically through the depiction of places visited, observed and remembered.
Beale's (mostly) small works share an introspective, meditative quality that pictorially draws on (among a range of others) the works of the 18th and 19th centuries European Romantics and particularly the German Romantics (notably Caspar David Friedrich). Although allusions to Romanticism are clear and indeed quietly celebratory of that visually diverse movement, Beale's own painterly language is never denied.
Beale is obviously an inveterate traveller. His images range through Greece, France, Denmark, Holland, Spain, Germany, China, Thailand and Australia. Much of the imagery is concerned with those times of the day (and night) that are the most atmospherically evocative and pictorially rich. In Athens 7pm (2015), the foreground residential area below the Acropolis is densely vegetated. The organic forms of the green trees and other foliage offer a very effective visual foil to the linear geometries of the white, terracotta roofed houses and other buildings. The latter are spread among the trees in a meandering line that moves the viewer through the foliage and up towards the ruins of the Acropolis. As the viewer moves around the Acropolis base the trees become denser and the loose diagonal of the right-hand mid-ground stands almost in silhouette, lit as it is by the brilliant golden bands of the setting sun beyond. This is a beautifully composed piece, a reverie of memories and place.
Beale capitalises on the varying atmospheric moods of different times of the day in others of his landscape works. These range through a number of topographies but are particularly effective in his depictions of Thailand and Denmark. Lop Buri Cane Harvest Sunset (2015) is visually rich and again characterised by a cleverly nuanced composition. Beale uses horizontals and diagonals offset by verticals and occasional composites of these to achieve layered pictorial fields that stretch back into the picture plane, moving the viewer's eye in an almost zigzag fashion through the landscape. The greens, browns and ochres of the foreground palette are balanced by the pale blue and shimmering pink-gold of the sky. The brilliant red-gold branches of the trees in the right-hand centre, so beautifully illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, stand almost as if in prayer to the power of nature.
Denmark Morning Mist and Denmark Summer Storm (both 2014) exemplify the artist's clear understanding of the aesthetic efficacy of the visualisation of cloudy skies. Constable's numerous cloud studies may provide exemplars but Beale is able to imbue the skies in these two works with the evidence of his direct personal observation. These are dramatic and, as in the previous work, speak of the beauty that lies behind the phenomena of the natural world.
Beale's interiors situate his viewers in the artist's space. We are placed vicariously with him as he depicts the rooms and (sometimes) the occupants of those rooms that he has visited. The occupants may be people known to the artist but they are shown either with their backs to us or in profile and thus reinforce the active role the viewer is given in these works. Paris 5pm (2014), and Model at the Studio Window (2014) are eloquent examples of this aspect of Beale's oeuvre.
While Beale uses pastels and oils and capitalises on the tonal possibilities these media offer, Grahame Crocket has elected to use the pencil as his preferred medium. In this choice he does not, however, limit his expressive capabilities. His charming images reflect his architectural background and hold a simple directness that is both effective and attractive. Crocket is a skilled draughtsman but does not allow objectivity to deny his pictorialisations of the bridges and other places or objects, a degree of warmth reflective of his own attraction to what is depicted in the exhibition. His sound and sensitive use of shading adds to the aesthetic resolve of his works.
Distant Voices is a visually rich exhibition that provides (for the most part) opportunities for intimate dialogue with the many works on display. I have included "for the most part" because the intrusive scale of the four floral images on the back wall of the gallery diminishes the otherwise quietly personal character that gives the exhibition much of its charm. However the range of imagery particularly as evinced in Roger Beale's substantial contribution has allowed the artist to present aspects of his oeuvre, technically, thematically, conceptually and aesthetically. The stark contrast between the two ways of viewing the world speaks of the power of the individual "voices" on display and their ability to reach each of us.