Tess Horwitz: Dusk. ANCA Gallery, 1 Rosevear Place Dickson. Until June 20, 2021.
It is interesting how many artists have seen 2020 in apocalyptic terms. The Riders of the Apocalypse have appeared in the night skies as droughts, fires, choking smoke and pestilence descended on the earth. It seemed as if the long-suffering planet had finally said enough to the climate change deniers and the flat earth advocates and had started to threaten the human species with extinction.
The artist Tess Horwitz has been resident in Canberra for about 30 years - almost long enough to be called a local. After a certain hiatus while building a new studio, Horwitz has turned to drawing to produce a series of boldly expressive charcoal and charcoal and ink drawings that explore the artist's and her family's response to the events of 2020.
She writes, "Each member of my family inhabits each day vibrantly within the material world of purposeful work, play, love and community, and each night falls through the rabbit hole into that other life, mysterious, outside rational time and space, perhaps essential for mulling on the anxieties from the outside world, perhaps symbolic, perhaps, as ancient peoples believed, auguries to be interpreted."
They are intense, concentrated drawings that attempt to bring together the different and sometimes conflicting worlds of her sitters. There is generally a recognisable portrait in the centre of either the artist or a family member and this is surrounded by images of their reality, significant dreams and the apocalyptic external realities that crowd around them.
The intensely autobiographic nature of these drawings does somewhat restrict their legibility to the outside gaze - we have little guidance to their identities and the significance of the surrounding imagery. Titles such as This is now bone of my bones...,The snail and the mermaid and Fight to Space-Warp are coded with local significance to which an outside viewer has little access. There seems to be a reliance on privileged knowledge to decode the specifics of the biographical narrative.
What Horwitz achieves is a convincing dream-like state in the large drawings - it is as if the figures are caught in some sort of trance, where we are not certain concerning the boundaries of reality. The two-metre-long drawing spread over three sheets of paper titled This is now bone of my bones... (2021), has a central figure of a woman whose face appears to morph into that of an animal. She stands at the centre of an exploding vortex from which bands of energy spread in all directions. I suspect that my interpretation that could deal with road kill and loss is no more valid than anybody else's, but there is a strong sensation of a world out of joint and in a state of collapse.
In another drawing, that stands in the centre of a complex installation of drawings, we have a clever and realistic self-portrait of the artist drawing on a mirror-like surface with the inscription Drawing again in a time of terror (2020). It is strong, introspective and, from where it is positioned within the exhibition, it is a central image that confronts the beholder. In some ways we are invited to consider who is watching whom and what exactly are we witnessing throughout the show.
Horwitz's Dusk is a deliberately confronting exhibition where, as night falls, existing realities are challenged and we enter the state of a waking dream where beyond the seen and known reality, other realities start to emerge.