no longer in chemistry
but in nature
and I do believe
is about to speak
Layering, repetition and variation are the central tenets of my art practice. Since 1981 I have been working primarily on canvasboards, arranged together in grids to form larger composite images. The individual paintings, which include imagery sourced from reproductions, are also part of a larger ‘canvasboard system’, in which each part is numbered consecutively and becomes part of an ever expanding whole. A total immersion in this process over the years has allowed me to address diverse themes such as the centre/periphery debates of the 1980’s, issues of disapora and displacement, and most recently, the connection between landscape and identity. The place where I live and work in Cooma is a European sanctuary in the midst of the dry, austere and treeless landscape of the Monaro in south-east New South Wales and my recent works are influenced by aspects of this experience.
I began the ‘Nature Speaks’ series in September 1998 and have completed 159 works to dates, including the 6 works in this exhibition. Furthermore, this seminal series has spawned several offshoots such as the ‘Outback’ series and more recently the ‘Melancholy Landscapes’ which are both represented here. The ‘Nature Speaks’ series generally consists of 16 canvasboards arranged in a 4 x 4 grid and proceeds rather like an algorithm with the repetition and transformation of certain elements from work to work – like the word ‘horizon’; the Mallarmean mantra ‘A throw of the dice will never abolish chance’; and the ubiquitous cherubim of Philipp Otto Runge, from his unfinished Gesamtkunstwerk ‘The Times of Day’.
From time to time, phrases enter these works also from mundane, everyday sources – for example, I like to quote the poetry of subeditors. Occasionally words will leap out from the sheets of newspaper I use to protect my desk while I am painting: ‘hope of the world’, ‘moment of truth’, ‘nowhere to call home’ and most recently ‘clouds on a distant horizon’.
I also glean possible material for my paintings from books and magazines and every now and then I may discover something truly extraordinary. This was the case late last year when I came across Antonin Artaud’s ’50 Drawings to Murder Magic’ published in 2004 by Seagull Books.
Following his release from a mental asylum in 1946, after 9 years of incarceration, Artaud embarked on series of little exercise books which documented the internal struggle he had just survived. Eleven of the books are filled with fragments of writing and extraordinary sketches: totemic figures, pierced bodies, enigmatic machines, sometimes drawn with a trembling hand, more often built up from pencil strokes that erase form as they create another.
In January 1948, two months before his death he took a twelfth exercise book and wrote a remarkable, incantory text to accompany them, ’50 Drawings to Murder Magic’. It was the last text he wrote.
Cooma, NSW, 3 February 2009