Art - Sasha Grishin
John Scurry: Paintings
Nancy Sever Gallery, 4/6 Kennedy Street, Kingston
Closes July 2, Wed-Sun, 11am-6pm
A few weeks shy of his 70th birthday, the Melbourne-based artist John Scurry returns to Canberra with a solo exhibition of paintings, having previously exhibited paintings at the Chapman Gallery in 2012 and an exhibition of drawings in 2009. Scurry has an established national reputation as a printmaker and was the head of that discipline for many years at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Scurry is a very consistent painter working largely in a figurative, tonal manner and echoes in his practice many of the greats of the "Melbourne school" from John Brack to Kevin Lincoln and Rick Amor. When I reviewed his work some five years ago, I experienced some reservations, which in this exhibition have largely evaporated. What I particularly admire in his present exhibition, consisting largely of paintings of interiors, is their ability to create a peculiar space that is corporeal and tangible, but at the same time somewhat metaphysical. I associate the imagery in his paintings with that slippery concept of the uncanny, something that is strangely familiar, rather than simply mysterious.
Scurry gives us privileged access to a strange secret narrative, one for which we are provided with only a few clues. A pill lies on a table; a quince on the floor; a blue shirt is partially concealed within a yellow shopping bag; a light bulb lies on a table; there is a curious corner in an artist's studio or we catch a glimpse, through a window, a room where something disruptive appears to have occurred at a meeting. None of the objects or figures in themselves is cause for alarm, but their juxtapositioning is a little strange and possibly threatening.
Take, for example, the painting Mirror, where, as requested by the title, a mirror obediently appears on the back wall, while in the foreground, underneath the mirror lies a hammer on a table. Next to the mirror there is a double window, one side concealed by a blind, the other revealing a garden scene. In front of the window stands a chair with a garment flung over one of its arms. Is the scene simply an observation of a room in the artist's house or does it relate to some greater narrative? The shining mirror reflects a sparse interior that does not quite correspond with that of the rest of the room depicted in the painting. What saves the painting from being dull and banal is the glorious luminosity that permeates the space – an inner radiance that is carefully and beautifully observed.
Some of the bigger paintings, Points of Departure and Echoes of Silence, both executed in 2017, set into train a whole host of associations and conversations between objects, some curious, some humorous, others autobiographic, reminding us that the artist in another life is also a musician. Jacques Lacan's famous pronouncement on the uncanny that it places us in a mindset where we are unable to "know how to distinguish bad and good, pleasure from displeasure" may be an apt starting point in entering Scurry's paintings. All of the objects are real and recognisable, but the meeting between a guitar, an old-fashioned suitcase and a dressing gown slung over an armchair evokes a conversation the meaning of which is far from clear.
In Points of Departure, the gown and the hammer now encounter a wide paintbrush and a series of postcards that would even make John Brack smile.
Scurry is technically a very accomplished painter working in the traditional medium of oil on canvas and through the depiction of everyday objects hints at a transfigured reality where we seem to be absorbed by narratives of disguised meaning.