presence and jazz in the moon viewing room

rm schuurmans-medek
Bellas Gallery, Brisbane

There seemed to be at least two options as to how a viewer might experience the paintings by Robyn Schuurmans-Medek (RM). Their abstract appearance and traditional format suggested that they were non-representational gestures, through which some un-representable object in the mind could be acquired.1 This approach would perhaps require a traditional formal analysis of abstract painting. However, this beholder prefers a different approach to perception, one that does not necessarily favour the eyes. An alternative might be to consider the paintings as surfaces across which the viewer engages in a more bodily, social experience, 'not as one reads a book, but as one reads the weather or the body language of a friend' or listens when a house frame creaks in the wind.2

Collectively, the works seem to represent various interior aspects of architectural dwellings. But rather than describing an empty space within architectural structures, each painting articulates a sensually veiled enclosure, which has been imbued with bodily presence. lt seems as if the squarish blocks of colour in the paintings reflect on at least two layers of housing. Colour is applied in soft, lush fields that presume a housing of flesh, which frequently overlaps with impressions of harder walled surfaces, aspects of a house that threatens to enclose a body. Through the application of a deeply layered painting technique, the works are saturated with a sense of physical attention. The limited palette of the works, which focuses on muted green, yellow and orange hues, introduces the viewer to fields or blocks of paint that are well infused with the colours in RM's house and surrounding Australian native bushland.

The room titled Presence differs from the room of works titled Jazz ... In The Moon Viewing Room, in that the viewer is quite intentionally choreographed into the space. In Presence three large paintings are hung on three walls, leaving the fourth bare. lt is in front of this bare wall that the viewer is initially positioned, not as audience but as an actor. This perhaps suggests a third kind of 'housing' in RM's work, where the paintings set up a 'scene' into which the viewer enters. This entrance may also be an imagined one, as some of the works such as Portals allude to open screens, windows and doorways. These works seem to represent private physical memories of a particular place, but they are also detached enough from their origins to allow the viewer to introduce another presence across the surfaces. The heavy, slow, column-like structures and dense, green murkiness of the paintings in Presence assign physicality to space, a physicality which might be compared to the way in which humidity seems to give weight to air. The works in Presence do not seem to express the hardness and distanced perspective of visually experienced architecture. Rather, at times, in works such as Field, they appear to represent indoor sites as being out of focus photographically. Perhaps this visual blurring gives way to an almost audible interpretation of architectural enclosure, whereby walls and surfaces merge to occupy or embody spaces that we might otherwise interpret as absent.

The smaller paintings in the adjoining room jointly titled Jazz ... In the Moon Viewing Room, are much lighter in hue and many are smaller in scale than the paintings in the Presence series. Along with the framed works in the stairway area that joins the two rooms, these works seem to be more about a light-filled space that imbues the darkened green and orange hues in the other room with a more bleached appearance. They are about daylight falling across surfaces, rather than leaching dimly out of voids, as in Presence. The one large-scale work titled The Moon Viewing Room, describes a linear area within the frame of the canvas. Its green scuffed background appears to lie beneath a lighter hued wiry frame of a rectangular plane that (intentionally) does not make complete perspectival sense, but which vaguely alludes to three walls of a room as if echoing in daylight the three walls in the other room.

The paintings in Jazz ... In the Moon Viewing Room exude a sense of highly sensitive visual tactility. They vary from referring to the folds and creases of fabric, such as in Kimono, to the paneled squaring and screening of interior structures, which are both literal and imagined. The subtle shift from the surface and flatness of fabric, to the openness of large spaces in other works, suggests that space can be interpreted as a kind of fabric or clothing that touches the body, and keeps it private. Even though these works are about looking, they suggest that it is a tactile act, related to the sense of touch. They suggest that architectural spaces such as domestic sites, engage the body in a relationship that is an extension of the skin. Perhaps the surface of eyes are like a skin, which feels the touch of light. Architecture, like painting and clothing, can be performed as an extension of the body that operates both as a surface exposed to the external world and an encasing that veils the internal. RM's paintings seem to be extracted from a private site screened from the viewer, but simultaneously, the works offer an 'outside' painterly derma to which the receiver is invited to graft his or her own more familiar and well traversed architectural skin-memories.

notes: 

1. Dave Hickey, David Reed Paintings: Motion Pictures, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sep. 20, 1998 – Jan 3, 1999, San Diego, USA, 1998, p. 29.

2. ibid.