Russell Craig

Works on Paper
Space Plentitude, Brisbane

Russell Craig's recent exhibition of Works on Paper explored, primarily, the construction and the dissolution of the hand-made mark. The theme of dissolution was particularly evident in Space Plentitude's large inner room which Craig transformed into a tomb-like space exhibiting his own drawings along with ceramic forms built in collaboration with Brisbane ceramicist Scott Avery, and Craig's four year old son, Eugene.

The visual path the viewer was asked to follow to and from this internal tomb reinforced the metaphors of life and death which arose out of the artist's play with the mark-making process. As one moved towards the installation room one passed through colour laser copy images. This seemed indicative of the liveliness of new media, as opposed to the older, even ancient, crafts evident in the inner room. However, it is not that Craig wished to praise the new possibilities of technological media, but rather to foreground the omnipresence of the primitive human mark in all stages of the evolution of Western visual discourse.

In the inner, 'tomb-like' room, the installation set in opposition the visual discourses of the Western classical and the non-Western cultures. Two series of drawings, in black conté on off-white paper, were placed directly opposite each other along the long walls of the room. One series used expressionistic gestures to depict stylised masks of African culture whilst the other used the conventions of the Western Classical style to present the commonly known visual forms of our own culture, particularly the classical bust. Although Craig used a variety of marks to build the illusion of form and volume in these drawings, I found that they gained strength through his use of the mark within a rhetoric of erasure. In Visage IV, for example, a female bust drawn using the conventions of the classical style gained significant by Craig's dissolving of the illusion of form with layered conté marks, and scratches on the surface of the paper. These negative gestures encroach on the form like a mould.

The ceramic vase-forms, also included in the exhibition, were of key importance to the references to the making and dissolution of the handmade mark. Reversing the tonal arrangement of the drawings, these off-white vase-forms made by Scott Avery from unfired clay, rested upon black pedestals which ran parallel to the drawings down the length of the room. The vase-form is common to both Western and non-Western cultures, and it created a visual and conceptual link between the works. They also provided a three dimensional translation of the illusion of volume evident in the mask and bust drawings. Like the drawings these forms had also been incised, however this time by the 'primitive' hand of artist's four year old son.

The ceramic vessel carried the paradox of the mark as both life and death. The boy's incision revealed the spontaneous quality of the four year olds' markmaking in contrast to the more deliberative style of the artist-craftsperson. As in the drawings, the incision was integral to the erasure of the form. The presence of any incision immediately represents that which is past, a point amplified here by the dust from these cuts which was left on the black pedestals, like ashes-the ashes of life (creativity) as well as death.

This process of creation and decay was summed up in two drawings presented at the end of this installation space. Both revealed the inside of an adult's mouth showing the tooth formations. One of these drawings presented the teeth in their strong solid form, whereas the other showed them after the process of decay. This image of decay, despite the continual references to the emergence of new forms, was representative of the overwhelming sense of the past experienced within the installation space, a sense which was only reinforced by the newer media of laser copy in the outer room.