Only Flowers. By Roger Beale. Form Studio and Gallery. 1/30 Aurora Avenue, Queanbeyan. Until September 24.
The immediate impact on walking into Roger Beale's latest exhibition is one of lushness, fecundity and abundance. This is achieved through a combination of commanding use of scale (in both large and smaller images) and a celebratory infusion of sensuous colour overlaid with a more than cursory nod to the moody landscapes of 19th-century Romanticism.
As the exhibition title states, the theme is "flowers". The images, although certainly florally dominated, are concerned with more than surface appearance. As in 17th-century Dutch "flower pictures" Beale's flowers are replete with subtle metaphoric allusions and implied symbols embracing the macrocosm and microcosm of the natural world (and beyond?). Beale's pictures are also about the act of painting and his obvious joy in the bravura application of paint and the assured efficacy of his painterly gestures.
Beale employs a number of pictorial devices throughout his paintings. Chief among these is the placement of his floral protagonists. These are placed right at the front of the picture plane pushing into the viewer's space in ways that demand interaction between image and viewer. The flowers (mostly single but sometimes in small groups) are positioned to the extreme right- or left-hand edge of the paintings. Their position allows them to usher us into the background landscapes. The introductory role is both attractive and meaningful and adds to the spatial depth that provides visual and thematic contrast between motif (the flower) and habitat. Allied to the role of "usher" the flowers are also spectators, as much considering the landscape they inhabit as viewers consider the totality of each image.
The backgrounds are contrasted with the flowers in (mostly) subtle ways but there are nevertheless clear demarcations between the dark moodiness of the former and the assertive vitality of the latter. Beale achieves this through his astute understanding of the way things on the surface are physically painted. His contrasts are evinced through such means as direction and depth of brush strokes as much as they are by marked tonal and chromatic placement. I see the artist's vigorous painterly activity as pictorial equivalent of the the energies of the natural world.
The exhibition is an admixture of large and small(er) works. The larger works are both physically and aesthetically impressive. The quiet grandeur implicit in these is still held by the smaller examples and both reveal Beale's control of scale and ability not to diminish visual impact through diminution of size.
While most of the exhibition is celebratory there is present in some works (eg, Catalogue 2 Magenta Perlagonium) a hint at the possibility of something darker. In these a quietly insinuative malevolence is intimated rather than stated and is evoked by dark and stormy backgrounds (Catalogues 4, 6, 7, 15 for example) or the insertion of a declarative black edge to an otherwise essentially white palette (Catalogue 2 ).
A charming inclusion is Catalogue 12 (White Tulips) a beautifully gradated tonal exercise, a paean to the simplicity of the quotidian and perhaps an acknowledgement to the joy that flowers carry with them. This is a strong exhibition that gives immediate pleasure but that also offers more to those that take the time to look beyond the surface.