Ron McBurnie

Etchings
Grahame Galleries, Brisbane
12 October - 13 November, 1988

Ron McBurnie's etchings in his recent showing at Grahame Galleries, have their origins in the mundaneness of everyday life in the suburbs of Northern Queensland. At the centre of each work lies a domestic anecdote. There is a man who shoots toads lured into a sprinkler in his garden at night; a bracelet which holds the secrets of a woman's life; and a dalmatian that refuses to conform at dog obedience school.

Narrative is the vital ingredient in Ron's work, something which is first perceived in the descriptive titles he gives the works, which are always in the third person. Ron sees the verbal narrative that accompanies his work as important, "as it helps people get more out of an image"; be it in the title, a story that might be passed on by word of mouth, or longer pieces of text that might accompany the work, such as the poetry by E.M. Fraser in his self-published book, Suburban Etchings.

Perhaps related to Ron's stance as storyteller is his primary concern with the image, rather than with the printmaking process. With a rambling scrawling line, Ron depicts scruffy dogs, a stubby at the foot of the Toad Shooter's folding chair, and bits of dog's bones buried in fenced-off yards. He concentrates on the action in the picture, almost caricaturing his actors, the people and the animals, and in doing so captures an element of "un-preciousness".

The etchings work at various levels, for example, the personal level: McBurnie comments, "One of my phobia's relates to my fear of losing my identity in the similarities of the suburbs." The etchings are also a means of recording things people have said or done or seen, which then become memories. When he spoke on his work at the State Library of Queensland in October, Ron quoted from Luis Bunuel: "Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling ... "

The third important aspect of the work, is that the prints touch on the fuzzy edges, the "twilight zones" as it were, of the stories they illustrate. They make one wonder a little, and look again at the dog's bottles or perhaps at the nearly extinct drive-in.

Much of the prevalent "dog imagery" in the prints underscores the idea of similarity in the suburbs. Every household has a dog, every household has a Hill's Hoist, but then every now and again one finds a household which has a collapsible Hill's Hoist, and every now and again one finds a dog that is really a person,"it seems that differences can only be noticed within the context of the repetition of the similar."

The McBurnie family pet, Delphi, and the artist, doggedly appear as observers to the events taking place in the pictures. The owner becomes the dog (rather than the pet looking like the owner) and by choosing to observe rather than to participate, perhaps retains his sanity at a time when the alternative is to go "troppo". The viewer's reward for taking their part is a chance to step back and look at what is probably one's own condition.