White, red, black. By Chris Denton. Beaver Galleries, 81 Denison Street, Deakin. Until October 29.
Chris Denton is a curious character in Australian art and an obsessive printmaker who, on settling on a motif, will continue to work on it until he feels that he has exhausted all of its possibilities.
In an exhibition at this gallery four years ago, Denton revealed his obsession with the dahlia flower, to which he has returned in the present show. The dahlia, a native flower of Mexico, was cultivated in Europe for several centuries and the popular blood-red dahlia emerged late in the 19th century when it received the nickname, Stars of the Devil. The tubers of the dahlia produce a substance used in the treatment of diabetes, before the development of modern insulin, and it was also employed in Latin American cuisine. Something of this history and metaphysics of this flower is an element in this exhibition.
Denton for quite a few years has been playing with the dahlia flower in his meticulous drypoints and drawings. If in the 2013 exhibition his main obsession was with the shape of the flower and the endless geometry of its petals, in this exhibition, the focus has moved to colour, especially the primary colour red and the absence of colour – black, and the presence of all colours – white. This simple focus produces a meditative context and, as we contemplate the flower and its wonderful sense of complex geometry, we are drawn into a complex repetition of forms. The superb drypoint, Background noise 9-2, abstracts the petal designs to create a vortex that draws you into the composition.
This is an exhibition that celebrates "slow art", in contrast to a world of sound bites and things that are measured in nanoseconds designed to produce an instant "wow factor". An encounter with a Denton drypoint, such as White, red, black 12, is an encounter with a slow release artwork, where we are invited to contemplate the individual elements of the beautiful dahlia with its broken stem and the squares of colour. It is a work that evokes a slightly melancholy mood with a reference to the passing of time and the transience of nature, but the triumph of beauty is constant and remains.
Transitions 1-1, an exquisite drypoint, is a highlight of the exhibition. The drypoint is one of the most exacting and rewarding intaglio techniques where a design is scratched into the surface of the metal plate and the ink is caught by the displaced metal to create quite a sensuous burr. In this print, Denton works from the dark areas of the surrounding field to the luminous and glowing gem-like centre. In contrast to the density of the left-hand part of the diptych, on the right is the white field with light fleeting markings. It is a beautifully self-contained image quite perfect in its own right.
Denton is not an artist whose work is punctuated by radical stylistic shifts or major changes in subject matter, but over the years there is a slowly gathering intensity and purity of vision.