BLAZE THIRTEEN, various artists. Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman House Arts Centre, 55 Ainslie Avenue, Braddon. Until April 13. Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 5pm.
BLAZE is Canberra Contemporary Art Space's annual exhibition of emerging artists from the ACT and surrounds. In the words of its curator David Broker, it is “always eagerly awaited and draws our largest audiences. It’s an intro. To the most thrilling work happening and key to the depth of Canberra’s formidable artistic talents in the early stages of their careers”. The five artists in this iteration of BLAZE go a long way to making Broker’s bold assertions a reality.
Dean Cross has four works, three of which continue themes of Indigenous ownership and dispossession of the land seen in his Fringe Dwellings (2016) and They blew up the hospital I was born in (2017), both at PhotoAccess.
Cross’s formal approach is pictorial and sculptural and is characterised by an aesthetic of suggestion rather than
one of imposition. White Dogs occupies Cube Space. In the darkened gallery a wire animal trap is surmounted by the white dog of the title. The dog stands proudly over the cage (perhaps destined originally for him). The cage is attached by a rope to a concrete-filled bucket, standing next to which is a rudely constructed skeletal human figure loosely reminiscent of a Christian cross. To the right of the figure a drawing of a black cow with an outlined human head speaks of the rural location of the artist’s mise-en-scene.
In the Middle Space Cross has two works. Untitled Landscape (Bogong Moths) is a large pigment print (84.1 x 118.9cm). The lush, rural pastoral landscape that forms the body of the image is divided centrally by a thin thorned branch pushing upwards and splitting the image into two, each side with an overlaid image of a moth.
The polarities evident in the split image cue the viewer into Cross’s theme of the ongoing damage to our environment and the loss of that environment to its original inhabitants. I was thinking of you too is an idiosyncratic collection of personal objects surmounted by a painting that cites art historical precedents and in particular icons of 20th-century Australian landscape painting such as Nolan, Boyd and Williams.
A further equally idiosyncratic inclusion by this artist is L’Origine du monde (1986). This wall piece comprises a found tent draped to fall into folds that I presume are meant to echo the 1866 painting by Gustave Courbet that supplies Cross’s title.
That artist’s L’Origine du monde is a provocatively explicit image of a naked woman’s genitals and belly. Totally absent are her arms, lower legs and head, an absence that emphasises the erotic impulse of the painting. The draped folds of Cross’s L’Origine could be said to reference female genitalia and this reading is supported by his use of Courbet’s title.
In the context of the rest of his work it is a confusing inclusion. Cross’s work is in a sense autobiographical (although it certainly alludes to issues outside himself) and his aesthetic is resolutely personal. The combination results in work that is at once intriguing and elusive.
Skye Jamieson has eight works on display. These are all canvas with a variety of media on each. These range through China clay, pigment, oil paint, oil pastel, plaster and olive oil. The canvas in these works is decidedly more than surface. Its relationship to the media placed into and onto it is a reciprocal one with each adding to the overall concept and effect of each “painting”.
The immediate impact of these works alludes to a Minimalist aesthetic but close examination introduces the painterly activity that populates each work. This admixture produces implied vestiges of subject-matter, intimated rather than defined. Visual tension between the real and the abstract is exploited by the artist with particular poise in these finely tuned and balanced works.
Threshold by Shags occupies one wall of the Main Space. Using an alphabet designed by herself the artist posits the theorem that we need to keep asking questions about those things that lie outside our normal comfort zones. The lines of font (named by the artist Alphabet for Modernity) are presented in an elegant and visually absorbing format. As in text one reads them from left to right and in attempting to do this one adopts a (forced) staccato movement across the wall.
The ensuing combination of stasis and kinesis “allows” viewers to interpret the hidden(?) meanings of the black fonts (if indeed there is any meaning?). Shags exploits in a conceptually clever way our need for understanding. The ideogram-like character of each font pushes our “need to know” in an embracingly graphic way.
Alex Lundy’s Sequence is a majestic (228 x 540cm) drawing in soft pastel on paper. Its theme is the sequential movement of a female figure through both space and time captured on 28 sheets of paper that form the abstract grid through which the vehemently organic figure does her stuff.
As the figure moves through the spatial configuration as created by the artist the depth of black and shade is altered to reflect those differentiations in movement.
The scale in this work is monumental. The actual graphic activity of making the drawing is both monumental and intimate. The constant visual shifts and alterations in light and dark (chiaroscuro) are beautifully achieved.
Joshua Sleeman-Taylor’s three prints present images simultaneously perplexing and attractive. A figure (or evolving figures) appears to be morphing in front of our eyes. The morphing is seen as a sort of inevitable happenstance, an event that we witness as it is being experienced by the figure.
The latter is presented on a chair much like a life model in an artist’s studio. Something to be viewed and examined through a range of poses and situations. The use of line here is skilled and underscores the seeming inevitability of change that the figure (and vicariously) the viewer undergo.
The artists in BLAZE THIRTEEN provide a taste of the edginess of much contemporary art. While the comfort of Matisse’s armchair may perhaps be missing, the interrogative stance of much that is in the exhibition offers challenging and dynamic ways of viewing our world. Congratulations to all of the artists and to CCAS for “keeping up” the standards.