2012 marked the fourth annual installment of ‘Test Pattern – New Art by New Queensland Artists’ at Ryan Renshaw Gallery. The exhibition showcased the work of six emerging artists chosen by gallery owners Ryan Renshaw and Danielle Harrigan from the 2011 graduate shows at the Queensland University of Technology and Queensland College of Art. This year the line up included Dana Lawrie, Caitlin Franzmann, Yavuz Erkan, Hannah Piper, Jared Worthington and Dord Burrough. For the majority of these artists, Test Pattern provided a rare initiation into the commercial art industry in a city which, despite the existence of a plethora of artist run initiatives, still finds itself wanting in the area of commercial industry support. For the commitment Test Pattern has made to filling part of this vacuum, Ryan Renshaw Gallery has been commended by industry and commercial media alike.
For collectors, the exhibition provided some new faces to register and, for the particularly confident, some early investment opportunities. For the art-going public who forgot their wallets, it provided a small but succinct survey of recent art-making trends from the latest batch of art school graduates. As a member of the latter rather than the former demographic, my interest was in the gallery’s choices from these 2011 classes, and what conclusions regarding emerging art-making trends could be drawn from them.
Although the exhibition contained a few choice picks from the diminishing group of graduate painters, inter-media work dominated the selection which certainly reflected the heavy influence of international contemporary trends (made even more fashionable by the 2011 Venice Biennale) of working in immersive and interactive installation. This international influence, which has become the norm within art school research and practice, has lead exhibitions of emerging art to challenge the argument that particular aesthetic trends still spring out of a locality shared between artists (in this instance, the locality being Brisbane). But the rejection of locality as a concern for the artists of Test Pattern did not equate to a disinterest in exploring the notion of self in dialogue with more cerebral environments. Renshaw identified this more abstract exploration through the curatorial theme of ‘anxiety’, which linked the works through artistic approaches coloured by humour, or cynicism, or simple resignation.
Anxiety cannot be negotiated without a pronounced sense of self-awareness, and each artist demonstrated such awareness within their respective approaches. Lawrie’s dedication to anxiety is demonstrated in her obsessive self-portraiture whose technical skill increases with each study; Erkan’s elegantly simple photographs explore notions of masculinity in tension with the domestic and the abject; Burrough evokes anxiety in the technicoloured renderings of the human form that are simultaneously evocative and confusingly traumatic in their painterly surrealism; and Worthington’s experience of art college provides the lens through which he reviews the path of his middle class upbringing to his current eccentric and unlikely point of being. The experimental playfulness of Franzmann’s interactive installation seems to take an opposite stance to Piper’s cynical post-pop This is not a Rainbow, yet the two complement each other seamlessly which, to me, validated Renshaw’s theme of anxiety within the selection. Test Pattern highlighted how the self-consciousness and self-obsession of youth has become more topical than ever before, and has surely surfaced as a concern for young artists through the institution of social networking, the political servicing of the needs of the individual over the collective, and the yearning for genuine experience and being within the self-centric state of late capitalism, where image is tantamount.
The decision to curate Test Pattern around this concept of anxiety enabled the gallery to dodge the large number of students emulating the Frankie magazine school of whimsical illustration, as well as the large amount of Facebook-esque style photographic portraiture that was also popular at the 2011 graduate shows. Although both of these trends could be, I imagine, quite salable, their rejection of critical dialogue seemed directionless and, consequently, pretty uninspiring. By linking the best of art school graduates to this overarching theme, the Gallery demonstrated that it was serious about informing, rather than simply showcasing, Brisbane emerging art. Established artists, collectors and art workers attend such exhibitions to assess the calibre of upcoming hopefuls. Student artists attend to support their colleagues and to find inspiration and encouragement to take back into their own practices. For both groups, Test Pattern provided a lucid, exciting and reassuring vision for the future; a vision which admittedly did much to assuage the wavering confidence I had after viewing last year’s graduate shows.
Yavuz Erkan, Bubble Gum, 2011. Archival pigment print, 50 x 50cm. Courtesy Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane.
Hannah Piper, This Is Not a Rainbow, 2011 and In the Clouds, 2011. Courtesy Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane.
Dana Lawrie, Bare Down, 2012. 120 x 360cm, Oil on board, 4 panels. Courtesy Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane.
Dord Burrough, Woman with Veil, 2012. Oil on canvas, 45 x 51cm. Courtesy Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane.