david serisier

towards the white buffalo
Liverpool Street Gallery, Sydney
3 May - 3 June 2010

Sounding more like Native American folk art than an exhibition of Minimal Art, the title of David Serisier’s recent exhibition, ‘Towards the White Buffalo’, is not such an obscure reference when one considers its ethereal standpoint. Serisier’s canvases offer a similarly ethereal spatial reading that calls on natural phenomena. Take the painting untitled blue square painting (Interstate-10) (2010); does it not transport the viewer through its heavenly cerulean blue hue?

Furthermore, with its title’s loose ‘interstate’ reference to America’s intercity stretches, the question posed is how we are to read these paintings in the Australian context? Standing in front of this striking blue painting one is washed with the pervading image of a distinctly Australian landscape, of our vast open skies, thin with light and yet razor sharp etching the horizon. It is impossible to separate the association. But these are paintings not meant to be read; they stem from a non-objective premise.

Our human compulsion is to find associations in the paintings we face; our brains hardwired for meaning: yellow = sun, black = night, blue = sky. In using a hue as charged as this Serisier has set himself a difficult task to lift the viewer beyond such associations and for the work to be considered in purely formal terms. However, sitting within the context of the five other similar paintings, they perform like swatches from a primary colour wheel and make sense as considered experiments that move beyond the emotive response.

For a viewer bewitched by associations, when engaging with an exhibition such as the minimal paintings of David Serisier it is equally impossible not to consider it within a lineage of artists working in the colour field tradition. Throwing Serisier back within the American context and that interstate landscape, it is an easy connection to the artist James Turrell and his preoccupation with light and space as formal elements.

Serisier finds his own articulation of light and space in these new paintings. Their reverberation between tones contradicts our ‘knowable’ definition of a hue through its subtle shifts. It is instructive in the painting untitled grey painting (Naoshima) (2010), a triptych that ushers our eye through such shifts from left to right, arming viewers with the modus operandi with which to view Serisier’s more refined experiments in colour.

This inflection is underlined, if you like, through the works’ physical division, which is primarily horizontal. Returning to untitled blue square painting (Interstate-10) (2010), one seemingly falls into its intangible divide as the eye moves over its two halves attempting to pull them into one understanding. This internal splice works in a two-fold manner: it allows the work to recede into its crevasse while pushing forward the light that pools on the surface. At certain vantage points one wonders whether it is a fine drawn line or the diffusion of edges? The shadow it creates allows the painting to sit beyond the monochrome. It is both a sensory and cerebral engagement.

Over the years texture has been increasing removed from Serisier’s colour fields. Curiously, however, the artist selects oil paint, a medium that holds thick the mark and is extremely difficult to flatten. Despite the layers that are painstakingly built up, their luminance remains weighted by the pigment and the brush. More than a flaw in the painting, the mark inevitably sits on the surface and is exposed because the eye is not immediately drawn to anything else. It seems to work counter to the premise of minimal painting and Serisier sets himself extremely difficult parameters within which to achieve a certain outcome.

While these paintings are far from our definition of painterly, their density, on the other hand, has a substance—a viscosity—so weighty that they invoke a presence, a spirit, grasped within their two-dimensional plane. That combination of a flattening and substance is best achieved in the stunning painting, untitled black painting (Interstate-10) (2010). Its surface and division of the panels is so subtle it deadens the compulsion to read the work for anything other than its physical presence and formal elements. In this writer’s opinion it is the most enigmatic and energetic work in this exhibition.

This absence of hand is further arrived at in a suite of four colour block prints. That ultimate evenness in the way the paint sits on the paper can only be achieved through the mechanical process. It is an interesting pairing with the paintings. In a way similar to the diptychs pulling the eye in a spatial conversation, these works on paper blatantly flirt with configurations whose very objective is to capture a balance between hot and cool colours that recede and push forward, frozen in a kind of stasis. It is an incredibly active and resolved spatial proposition.

David Serisier’s minimalism is a very personal one; a relentless persistence over two decades. Like all minimal art, these new works require our time to engage with the concepts they mine and, in return, reward us with the lightness of a revered space … not unlike the enduring mystic of the White Buffalo.