john lendis: traffic

John Lendis
Bett Gallery, Hobart
13 February - 14 March 2002

In Tasmanian artist John Lendis's recent solo exhibition, Traffic, the work did not represent the din and clamour of a metropolis nor the subterfuge and profit of traffic in illegal substances. Rather it revolved around journeys and movements associated with war, religion, refugees, and such bodily functions as the pulse of blood behind the eyes, all influenced by personal memories and experiences. From the tradition of figurative landscape painting, fifteen large and mysterious images explore concerns with crossings, borders and secret pathways, using abstraction and a uniquely developed iconography. The interconnectedness of ideas is visualised in these works as meeting points: these are the emotional relationships in which people meet, asexual unions, sky meeting earth, the external versus the internal world, and the place where yesterday meets today. Lendis gives us soft and hard edges where traffic may occur. He allows for transformations, and for travel. Where some people make crossings, clearly others are repulsed. Perhaps the collaged canvas strips acknowledge sacrifices associated with leaving one space to move to another. Defining edges include those of adjacent canvases in a number of diptychs, as well as the separation of monochromatic greys from narratives of colour. The deliberations of Lendis and the deliberateness of his markmaking are pervasive. The overwhelming sense is one of silence and weight, a sense of ancient order, grandness and an enduring slowness. Paradoxically while these works are concerned with the present time they do not reflect the speed or noise of contemporary life. Human bodies structure the pictures using a form of non aggressive figurative expressionism. As recurrent motifs, both the floating hands attached to disembodied arms and smoke suggest powerful connections through various cultures. Graphically, they become devices to link the paintings' structure. Through the artist's various preoccupations-with early Egyptian icons where depth is apparent even in the flatness of image making, with Renaissance religious altarpieces for their decorativeness, with eastern mandalas and the wholeness of experience, with Pop art and the brilliance of its superficial humour, and with leaf camouflage configurations Lendis presents us with images layered with meanings and simultaneous associations.

The most enduring personal symbols within the exhibition are derived from the circle, halos, the moon, and helmets. Hills become the arches of Gothic cathedrals become the profile of munitions become a tube of lipstick.

In the painting Kiss Lendis adds sharp red lips (of which Andy Warhol would have been proud) as a tiny isolated graphic amidst a canvas of enigmatic icons. Familiar and accessible imagery is also juxtaposed against the unknown and unknowable in Dogline. Here humour is used to good effect. In such works a wildness reclaims connotations of 'howling at the moon' along with the more serious 'wounded forest' associated with St Sebastian. In Lendis's works such common connections lead us to new meanings.