Paintings and watercolours by Charlie Sheard. ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley Street, Acton. Until November 6.
At 56, the Sydney-based painter Charlie Sheard is something of a Sydney institution and has been running his own art school, The Charlie Sheard Studio School, for more than 20 years. His paintings are theatrical, non-figurative, often employing a brilliant palette and the full range of alchemy of paints with spills, fluid flows and bleedings into the raw linen. He frequently appears eager to experiment with new paints, including metallic and pearlescent pigments, to create striking and unusual surfaces.
Speaking recently to the curator of this exhibition, Terence Maloon, Sheard discussed his thinking on art. "One of my ideals is what the great composers did – you know, what Haydn and Mozart did, which was that they took popular melodies, they took songs and popular things that were sung in the streets, and they turned them into high art … the art of the common experience, is very vital. It has vitality but it dies quickly. The old idea that you take elements from popular forms but develop them into something of more lasting quality, I genuinely believe in that."
It is quite a large exhibition consisting of more than 20 paintings, many measuring 215 by 198 centimetres, a number of which are not particularly successful. Some that do succeed are quite spectacular. White poem, 2015-16, one of the larger canvases, is one of the most successful and has a more minimal palette than some of the baroque colour exuberance of the other work. There is an organic flow of paint into which have been embedded pebbles of texture (marble chips?) conveying the appearance of a windswept passage of wet sand, which shows the passing of time like a temporal glimpse into eternity. There is a boldness and simplicity based on intuitive responses that have been distilled through years of practice and application. It is a contemplative, spiritually engaging painting that evokes a powerful emotional response.
Sheard employs a combination of colours, a play with markedly different textures and heavily articulated shapes as a way to seduce the eye and to confuse the senses.
The large painting, Tableau #2, 2015-16, executed with acrylic on polyester, has something of the feel of a Byzantine icon, where there is a shimmering delicate layer of gold suspended over a deep lapis lazurite blue that is in turn floating in a sky of eternity. It is a painting with a sense of dramatic lyricism, which calls for parallels with music and verse. For me, it evokes Yeats's immortal words: "O sages standing in God's holy fire /As in the gold mosaic of a wall".
Another gem in the exhibition is Poem #8 (Karen – Muses), 2012-13, albeit a smaller painting, it has running swirls of paint, like molten lava, with a range of vivid and dramatic contrasts.
Charlie Sheard is an unusual artist for whom art involves the transformation of something from the common world into a beautiful and esoteric object that can become, what Yeats has called, "the singing-masters of my soul".