Luke Roberts

The veto of reason
Bellas Gallery, Brisbane

For Luke Roberts, The Veto of Reason effects an exorcism of all held dear in love and hate. Since his return from Amsterdam in the late eighties, a great many walls have come tumbling down for Roberts. But in their wake, heralded by the coming of Goss, do the shards of Humpty Dumpty in the rubble signify the hope of rebirth, even with all the king's horses and all the king's men? The remains of domesticity and culture, which rise in the dust and mud of tar and cement and PVC glue, mimic in their sardonic grimace our pathetic desire for love and alleviation. On ascending the Bellas Gallery stairs, we confront our mirror image in Inseminating the Marvellous. For one brief moment, this cool, clean work, with its accretion of clear glass roses, returns our own banality back to us. Thereafter one admits a Veto of Reason.

For Roberts, all that is sacred and profane does not vanish into air, but rather is objectified as reified mementos in Wunderkammern on canvas. This is the terrain of the collector and the raconteur extraordinaire, of pagan rites and reliquaries. And was it all done with mirrors in a ritual presided over by the legendary, yet long absent, Pope Alice?

The literalness of this cacophony of kitsch returns the literalness of Duchamp and Surrealist forbears, with reverie subsumed in the suspension of the object as fetish as it aspires to forget its nightmare. That is the purpose of exorcism. The resplendence of coagulated 'junk', as interred by Roberts, ruptures the near sublimity of Inseminating the Marvellous, its offspring now profoundly of the earth. Indeed the earth of Australia's desert heartland (soil from Alice, rocks from Alpha in WOUNDED PAINTING/Not Saint Anthony in The Desert) finds a place in this Cabinet of Curiosities. Yet the reliquary only carries the true sign, never its promise fulfilled. Here, the actuality of the object resides on the canvas or is situated to accommodate the canvas, though once it lodged directly on the wall in kitsch formation, as in Things from Home, part of his 1982 installation at the Institute of Modern Art. In many ways this is a revisitation of 'things from home', their garish particularity diminished in Without Closure, Roberts' 1989 Bellas Gallery exhibition.

"History", quotes Roberts, "is fable agreed upon" , a view aptly applied to the intricate constructing of this artist's mythic 'identity' and past, shearing off as it does into 'its' adopted personas- Pope Alice, Alice Jitterbug, Ned Kelly, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, local folk 'hero'. 11 is also most apt when applied to their generative context, namely the era of Bjelke-Peterson repressiveness in Queensland, and its patriarchal strictures. The Veto Of Reason is a reappraisal not only of 'things from home', but also of 'things at home'. 

Of the ten major Exorcism works, six were included in the Bellas exhibition, amongst sundry smaller works and artist books. The dominating motif in the larger room is Frida Kahlo, as in CANONIZED PAINTING/ Standing On The Border Between Mexico And US and HINGED PAINTING/THE GOLDEN SECTION AND DONORS/Praying To The Hilt. In the latter, Kahlo's amorphic forms ("La bailarina" as Donor) are randomly poured blobs cast in golden Fridadust in a celebration of Kahlo's famous accident, while in the adjacent panel the sp layed fox fur stands parallel to a similarly blob-like "Vincent". Freestanding to one side is a child's hobby horse in unlikely combination with a New Guinea carved figure. Roberts brings together his loved ones: Frida, the 'primitive', the child , the American Indians even with his reference to the Coyote trickster god, or heyeohkah, the rupture of the rational system (the Golden Section) by chaos and chance, all liberally sprinkled with an absurd irreverence and a punning satire. However, the artist does not explicate his concerns in any literal sense, simply imprisoning their validity in the coagulated literalness of surface. This is the substance for his (re)negotiation of sexuality and gender, patriarchies and the Catholic Church, home 'town' origins, and those forms (including the means of art) which are not one. It is a profusion of substance which threatens to fracture and disintegrate in its welcoming of a chaotic systemic, despite its squared and seemingly rational containment. It is an exorcism which may expunge demons, but its residue leaves much unanswered. We retreat back through the mirror to our own banal civility.