Andrew Antoniou is an artist with a vision, one that is distinctly his own. It is built around the idea that the world is a stage and on this stage characters, who are devoid of personal emotion, perform an enigmatic narrative. Their actions appear to be deliberate, but their purpose is not revealed to the viewer, nor is it clear the role played by the various props, symbols or rites that surround and seem to preoccupy these characters.
One large oil painting in this exhibition, Divining Rite, 2021, brings together a cast of five characters totally absorbed in their actions but collectively devoid of a common purpose. A top-hatted gentleman holds a divining rod, another examines a diagram with a telescope, a woman casts bones in an act of scapulimancy, a man wearing a paper crown is preoccupied with lithomancy, while a lad wearing what appears to be a school tie holds a giant cup and spoon oblivious of the fact that his tie seems to be caught in the cup. Playing cards, dice, a star and a feather drift in the air and a black bird flies into the scene bearing a message in its beak. The stage props are strange and include endless steps, door handles, weeping drain pipes and grand facades in the background that appear like a painted backdrop.
Antoniou provides us with this myriad of specific clues, but the overall narrative remains elusive. Are we witnessing the folly of humanity with its belief in divination and participating in the theatre of the absurd? Is there a profound ritual taking place that we are being invited to decipher? Antoniou is a superb draughtsman and manages to handle his 'tumbling out of the picture' composition with a mastery that would be beyond the ability of many artists.
Possibly the finest work in this exhibition is the large virtuoso charcoal drawing Zodiac Dance, 2019. A heightened sense of anxiety appears to have gripped the signs of the zodiac that have been whirled into some sort of ritualistic dance of death in this intensely packed, slightly claustrophobic composition. It is a drawing where the eye is unable to rest on a single spot and we are endlessly intrigued by the wit of invention. The repetition of naked light bulbs adds a disturbing note to this pictorial nightmare.
Antoniou is also a distinguished printmaker - an accomplished etcher - with a number of superb etchings included in this exhibition, amongst which is Observations, 2017. Here the pantomime with its cast of somnambulistic characters and their weird attributes makes for a disturbing composition that seems to stem directly out of the world of Hieronymus Bosch and the medieval world of the absurd and the grotesque. One is tempted to say that Antoniou makes the sort of work that it would be advisable for children not to view before they go to bed.
As an artist, Antoniou has been a slow burner in the Australian art scene, someone working on the edges of the art world, scoring a few drawing prizes and bought by a few institutional art collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Ashmolean in Oxford. Exhibitions such as this one and recent shows at the Australian Galleries demand that he be taken seriously as a significant figurative artist who with his with his theatre of life, dreams and nightmares has developed a unique voice within Australian art.
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