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Trademark: Roderick Bunter; You might just forget: Sarah Ryan and Megan Keating
It is not often that you can walk into one of the gallery versions of a 'megaplex' and experience the serendipity of a group of four exhibitions which seem to have enough in common to present what appears to be an extended curatorial rationale. However, at Smith + Stoneley recently, there seemed to be a canny presentation of exhibitions by Roderick Bunter, Sarah
Ryan and Megan Keating and Tracy Cooper as well as a group show, Surface curated by Edwina Bartleme and featuring work by David Clark, Rosz Craig, Neil Degney, Ciel Fuller, Victoria Hunt, Miffy Petroleum, Mandy Ridley, Mona Ryder and Kirsti Watson.
In Trademark, Roderick Bunter presented a series of immaculately painted and collaged commercial trademarks and signs ranging from hazard warnings to the cherubic baby face on Gerber baby care products. These are recurring motifs in his work and his paintings here seemed to straddle design and advertising. His painting style was clean and liquid, like the advertising and media through which those trademarks become familiar, indeed, ubiquitous. However, there was often a glib or sardonic twist in the combinations which comprised each work, a will towards undermining the 'meta'- tendencies of capitalism. An undercurrent in Bunter's work was an awareness of communication: not so much that it flows, but that it stalls and breaks down. In this respect, some of his sharp and acerbic quips were not readily apparent, and like conundrums required some deciphering, some delving below the surface. He has engaged in a very personal way with a new 'universal' language and symbolic order, to plot not just his place in the world, but his view of it.
By contrast, Sarah Ryan and Megan Keating presented work whose image was diffused: a question arose about how the image constructs space. In Keating's still-life (oil and wax) paintings, her minimal images seemed to vanish. Scarcely discernible from the 'background' these images of ill-defined objects seemed to hover and fade. These paintings gave one the sense of trying to see in the dark, of straining to trace the outlines, layers, spaces, shadows and forms, but to no avail. The closer you got, the more diffused these fragile images became, fading to emptiness. In these subtle works, Keating drew attention to a cultural and aesthetic history of still-life painting. She manipulated the surface of the paintings to create multiple and fragmented texts, a transformation from static to dynamic.
Similarly, Sarah Ryan's three dimensional lenticular images engaged with aspects of illusion as a movement towards desire and forgetting, as a movement of image across surface. For Ryan, this work sought to examine an inherent paradox embedded within constructs of the real and the virtual : that they are both contained in the other; that each construct is simultaneously real and illusory; or that we can never really know what is real and what is not. It was across the rippled surface of Ryan's lenticular prints that the shift between the real and the illusory occurred. Like Keating's paintings, these works were subtle and their surface quivered as you moved around them. There was momentary disorientation. Their effect was seductive and alluring, inviting you to play, to immerse yourself in the illusion, to suspend belief.
Tracy Cooper's paintings in 12 Rooms ... 12 Vacancies had a story to tell. The story was two-fold, part autobiography and part social history. Cooper focused on her lifelong association with Queensland's Gold Coast, investigating the urban/beach 'belle epoch' of motel architecture and interior decoration of the '50s and '60s which faced wholesale eradication in the development and tourism boom of the '70s. In some ways, like Ryan and Bunter, Cooper brought a fantasy into play. Hers was not immediate like Bunter's nor illusory like Ryan's, but nostalgic and celebratory. Cooper revels in the retro-aesthetic of the Gold Coast's former glory and her work in this exhibition had two threads: paintings of the motels (and their details) as signature architecture and of enlarged swatches of decorator fabric from the '60s/'70s. The painted fabric patterns were thick, sugary and lurid. Their painterly surface suggested the heavy weave of old printed decor fabrics.
Curated by Edwina Bartleme, Surface seemed to explode the specific engagements with 'surface' presented in the other three exhibitions. In this show of nine local artists, Bartleme was careful to provide sufficient space in her critical treatment of the concept, to accommodate each artist's specific slant upon it. In this exhibition, particular emphasis was placed on the tactility of various materials: what was surface was not necessarily superficial or obvious. For example, Mona Ryder's fragile latex and lint dresser, And Everyday, was at once repelling and enticing, hinting at the private domain and the concealment of the feminine erotic. Ciel Fuller's untitled work of velvet and feathers, referencing feminine corporeality, were also inviting and forbidding. Intersecting the media flows which reterritorialise the surface of the planet, Neil Degney's computer generated images, Quest and They call it a Mandate were a subversive pastiche of media influence: manga, advertisement, journalism, cartoon. In Chinatown souvenirs (on not knowing) Mandy Ridley borrowed from the pattern of an embroidered souvenir table mat. She enlarged and painted the floral image to gigantic proportions, remaking this fragment in commercially available and synthetic materials.
In the walk through Smith + Stoneley 's five galleries, Surface was the last exhibition one encountered. It operated as a type of culmination or 'ending', as if the movement through the shows was teleological, forming a type of narrative. Backtracking through the other three exhibitions to the exit, it became apparent that ideas about 'surface' were significant in all the shows. Perhaps that was attributable to the multiple meanings of a concept as broad as 'surface'; or to the fact that Bunter, Keating, Ryan and Cooper were exhibiting paintings or images. Even so, Bartleme's curatorial rationale became a point of both arrival and departure, as an interesting series of exchanges, double-takes and tangents seemed to test its efficacy or verisimilitude. While the topographic provided ample ground upon which to explore and map, it also denoted something underneath, something hidden and, perhaps, warranting excavation.