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Danny McDonald's recent series of unique state prints can best be described as a form of forensic romanticism; a testimony to the artist's ongoing quest for pictorial sublimation through investigative play. Rather than proffering clear meaning, their primarily abstract imagery invokes the inscrutability of coded messages via a beguiling sequence of letters, numbers, partial shapes and barely visible backdrops. Their apparent three-dimensional depth, created by an unusual combination of computer-derived and traditional printing techniques, invites slow contemplation. Layers of scientific formulae – DNA, genetic sequencing, the patterns of micro-technology – are placed over close details of grass, sky, gravel and other natural textures so as to embody the residual energy of the artist's latest creative experiment: a voyage into the world of medical science.
Environment has always provided the substance of McDonald's practice and this exhibition is no exception. These images represent the debris of his foray into medical science's image-making techniques and demonstrate his hypothesis that art and science are intimately linked in their 'objective' outlook on the world. Products of an inaugural artistic residency in the Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, they trace his discovery of medical technology's cryptic and microscopic visual lexicon. Their dual imagery appears to parallel the artist's feelings of intrigue and anxiety about working within a hospital environment – a place where nature continually battles nurture. Although a stranger in this context, McDonald would have been familiar with many of the processes used by medical professionals around him: experimentation and information manipulation; recording and documenting: analysing and theorising from found 'evidence'. These techniques relate to both 'artistic' and 'scientific' methodologies, as the artist's work suggests.
Despite their obvious connection with his past silkscreen images, these new prints differ in one key respect: they include a corporeal presence. No longer is humanity realised solely through metaphoric fragments and materials, as it is in many of his earlier serigraph prints. With these large scale works, McDonald moves closer to the organic substance of the body, to its complex matrix of organic systems and fleshy machinery. He admits mortality into his repertoire and allows himself to play with the fact by enlarging biological reality to a gross super-scale, something akin to the distorted internal spaces experienced by Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, McDonald's encounters with alternately enormous and minute scales reveal the fallible security offered by life in its transient nature.
One of the most intriguing aspects of these curiously obscure images is their ability to transcend the perceived gap between modernist formalism and contemporary social pastiche. Works such as Taxonomer's Vision and Warp and Weft are eye-catching abstract compositions, resembling older traditions of Op and colour field painting, appreciable for their aesthetic construction alone. However, McDonald's carefully chosen and often witty titles allude to more specific and literal meanings: Great Sod presents a virtual 'field' of numerical flowers on a diffuse green backdrop, suggesting parodic connections with Albrecht Durer's similarly titled study but also hinting at the systematic structure underlying nature's anatomy. Likewise, Genus Sox invites a variety of references: does the artist think genetic engineering 'sucks', or is he presenting a tongue-in-cheek gene sequence for domestic foot attire? The manipulation of actual medical coding and micro-imaging in works such as Sex Drive or Beyond, Beneath, Behind and Beyond demonstrates just how far McDonald is willing to rework scientific truths for the sake of a good pictorial yarn. He appears to forgo the factual origins of his medical sources, through distortion and layering, in an effort to make 'objective' science speak as 'subjective' art. An inverse relationship is obviously also of interest: in abstracting medical terminology and visual references from their 'native' habitat, he sets up a hypothetically 'new' arena for art. Science offers McDonald a fresh specialist knowledge base with which to experiment and to play with the formalities of printmaking. He depicts material evidence of human beings' unique genetic structure their individual 'warp and weft' visualised through numbers, letters and amorphous chromosomes – to dispute the traditional repetition of the printed image. From this, we can interpret his deliberate creation of unique state prints as a willful critique of printmaking's method of 'cloning' an original through reproduction.
Although some recent scientific theories, like chaos theory, are akin to aspects of art's postmodern conceptualism, the foundations of scientific language are generally more applied, and are intolerant of ideas which figure only in the intellectual ether. Perhaps this is why McDonald chooses the vocabulary of medical research and analysis as the medium of this current work; he wants to 'earth' his art and make it speak for something living and organic (if indefinable) in the physical experience of being. In many ways, his cross-fertilisation of art with medicine resembles strategies used in contemporary popular science writing, like that of Paul Davies. Like Davies, McDonald reinvests empirical thinking with romantic imagination. While his alternately 'cool ' and 'warm' images do not give much in the way of concrete meaning or access to the artist's persona, they successfully erode the artificial formalities of science and art in a way that argues for the humanising of both arenas.