Peter Maloney, Louise ParamorCanberra Contemporary Art Space
Gorman House, 55 Ainslie Ave, Braddon.
Tuesday to Friday 11am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 4pm. Until September 28.
This is an impressive exhibition showcasing recent work by nationally significant artists – Canberra-based Peter Maloney and Melbourne-based Louise Paramor. The overall visual impact is immediate and seductive, embracing contrasts, collisions and elisions of colour, form and content. While in many ways Action Stations can be read as two exhibitions showing in the same space, it is in fact a curatorially and personally clever combination of works by two longstanding friends as well as two artists with aesthetic and thematic synchronicities. Discussions of each artist's works will (hopefully) elucidate individual practice but also open up the connections that give this exhibition aesthetic, pictorial, plastic and contextual credibility.
The exhibition celebrates colour. Both artists use electric, garish palettes that in the case of Paramor speak of advertising, glossy magazines, of surface. For Maloney his acid colours relate to, among a number of issues, contemporary music, punk culture and aspects of mass media – all branches of culture that reflect the most immediate and loudest moods of their time. Both artists see colour as both an aesthetic tool and a means of social comment. Their use of colour is ironic, subversive, witty and incisive, and their engagement with it visceral and critical.
Peter Maloney's 10 works consist of five with text and five without. It is important to note that the exclusion of text underscores the role that titles play in Maloney's work. They are never mere titular appendages. In works that include text they offer a (c)overt reinforcement to the texts incorporated into the painted surface. In text-less pieces they provide an introduction, a conceptual starting-point from which viewers may explore the artist's images. Viewers should also consider that Maloney injects his work with varying degrees of irony and (sometimes) a softly sarcastic world-view. What you read may not be what (you think) you see. An intellectual edge is an essential component of all of Maloney's art. For him the use of language proclaims possibilities for simultaneously different narratives, a sort of verbal and pictorial presentation of social behaviours.
Black Sheep - White Goat is a telling example of the above and also highlights the artist's painterly concerns. Like an "in your face" newspaper headline, this work has immediate and powerful impact. The sharp contrasts between the coloured geometries and the clarities of text give a visual eclat that is decisive and seductive. The surface is composed of a number of bands of lime green and orange/red lines. These planar bands (horizontal, vertical, diagonal) are overlaid, interspersed and pushed into and against one another to create a sort of visual cacophony that is full of movement and visual excitement. Maloney invests the planes with possibilities of movement, a movement that acts like the tectonic plates beneath the earth's surface pushing against one another in slow but inexorable gestures. The freneticism of the background is controlled by the insertion of horizontal rectangles of text, ostensibly collaged in a legibly logical manner over the highly activated lime and red surface. I say "ostensibly" because the collaged elements are in fact painted, not applied separately onto the surface. The "reality" of these is the artist's insertion of the fact that we are viewing an object of artifice, that the act of painting, the painted object itself and the ideas instilled in both activity and product, will lead us to meaning(s). It is not out of place to point to the artist's very contemporary yet purposefully sly homage to Cubist collage and its iconoclastic impact on early twentieth-century art and society. Maloney knows his art history.
Another "collaged" work, The Bottom of My Heart, further exemplifies the artist's astute understanding of the act and meaning of painting, of painting as object and image. Once again swathes of vibrant colour predominate. Text remains loudly present. There is an insistent ambivalence in the way Maloney plays with abstract and representational space. The bands of colour are deployed in a similar manner to the preceding work, but here the intersections of angles and planes allied with the additional colour combinations produce sensations of quietly vibrating and shifting movement. Text is both word and mark, performing concurrently verbally and graphically and in this foregrounding the commonalities that exist between writing and pictorial mark making. The artist imbues this work with an alluring aesthetic and intellectual complexity.
Siren Song holds a quietly insistent dynamism within its outwardly simple presentation of contrasting colours and form. Maloney conflates these in the sea of yellow and green lines that float horizontally across the surface of this painting. The purple and orange triangle of the major pictorial motif occupies an ambivalent position. It can be read as slicing into the yellow/green sea in a dynamic lateral gesture or it sits on top of the sea, floating and directionless. The ambivalence intimates spatial and temporal confluences while conversely imparting an enigmatic character to the motif.
The title - Siren Song - may prompt a reading that references the Homer's Odyssey, and the sirens who lured sailors to their death. Or the siren may be the sound of an alarm. Definitive readings play no role here. Ambiguity of meaning points to pictorial complexity and is an essential component of Maloney's aesthetic modus operandi.
Louise Paramor features work from her Supermodel series. Like Maloney she is concerned with colour, temporality and space, She presents her assembled objects as participants in a catwalk parade, that is at once both spectacle and in its merging of artificiality and authenticity, overt criticism of that spectacle and the strategies of display. Maloney's acknowledgement of Cubism is obliquely realised here in the use of assemblage, the latter composed of found objects, these in turn speaking to Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades.
Paramor has chosen vibrantly coloured parts to make up her finished objects. These are given names such as "Barbara", "Maxine", "Dick" and "Wanda". The names do not necessarily conjure up the so-called sophistication of the world of fashion but instead allude to a rather more mundane existence, an existence evidenced in the component parts that make up "Maxine", "Barbara", "Dick" et al. The artist has imbued her "models" with quasi-anthropomorphic qualities that give each a unique and fascinating presence. This quality is subverted in a sense by the very means of making. That is the quotidian role of the component parts in their previous lives imparts a sort of absurdity in to their supposed 15 minutes of fame on the catwalk. In her sharp observations of particular aspects of contemporary consumer culture configured in these loaded and ambiguous hybrid objects, Paramor exploits the boundaries between seriousness and kitsch.
The artist's wry comments as configured in her brightly coloured and idiosyncratic models of contemporary life are given further subtle expression in the paintings on (the back of) glass of pairings of the fashionista protagonists from the catwalk. The mode of presentation is an especially clever comment on the artist's part. Having the images not just behind glass but literally on glass is a quiet imposition of a dialectic between mass consumerism, artifice and art; between the art object, the making of the object and the object's role in the mass of other visual material that populates our contemporary world.
The work of the two artists in Action Stations shares an interest in broad cultural and subcultural pursuits. Each artist exploits the strategy of ambiguity and understands the internal complexities that operate within every individual work of art. The synergies between their highly individual aesthetic vocabularies and conceptual concerns have combined to mark this exhibition as an important showcase for two major Australian artists (together in Canberra for the first time), and one not to be missed.