Here and Now: When Mark Making Embodies the World

here&now13
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Perth
27 July - 28 September 2013

Here and Now is a moment all artists experience; a moment when time and space coalesce. In the here and now of making, all sense of a world outside the immediacy of the art activity disperses. In what Barbara Bolt describes as the heat of practice, of ‘working hot’ (Bolt, 2004) intense focus is given to bringing the marks and the materials to life. At such times the brush seems to have a life of its own, the colours on the canvas sing, the form magically shapes itself and there is a just rightness in the act of creation. In the here and now of artistic practice, the artist is able to perceive the world anew. In turn the resultant art work extends the potential of that insight to the viewer.

Curated by Katherine Wilkinson, the exhibition Here&Now13 surveyed the works of eleven contemporary Western Australian artists with a disability. This particular iteration of the series, which is designed to provide ‘a snapshot of … the creative enterprise of Western Australian artists working at the cutting edge of contemporary visual arts practice’ (Snell, 2013, p.2), was the culmination of a key partnership between the Department of Culture and the Arts, the Disability Service Commission, DADAA and the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. Whilst this acknowledgement by mainstream cultural institutions is an important recognition for artists who are often located at the margins of conventional art history and its practices, for me the exhibition provided an opportunity to reflect upon the power of art to envisage the world.

Through the various approaches of these artists, in the here and now of this exhibition, I glimpsed the wonder of being in the world in both its rich vibrant splendour and its tender moments of intimate reflection. And it was the oscillation between these polarities of being that provided an undercurrent to my delight in these works.

David Guhl’s Coffee Shop (2013) is a particular example of the joyful exuberance of life. Wide eyed smiling faces dance over a clatter of brightly coloured squares and rectangles. Broad impasto brush marks add to the dynamism of the surface. Through his animated depiction of the scene, I am drawn into the chatter of cafe culture. By contrast Patrick Carter’s video work, No more cryin (2013) had an evocative intimacy. His repetitive chant touched chords between a gospel blues, a mother’s lullaby and a personal lament. However, the accompanying video imagery playfully subverted the musical narrative with its occasional glimpses of the artist chuckling or beaming at the viewer with a wry smile. Carter was not bemoaning his fate or dwelling in misery, rather his work offered a more uplifting sentiment as if suggesting ‘don’t cry everything’s going to be alright’.

Here and now is also about the immediacy of one’s surroundings. Aquinas Crowe’s film work Something Perth (2013) was an insightful exploration of his place in the world. With his camera he takes the viewer alongside as he journeys, at times with noticeably difficult mobility, through his country. For Jane Ryan, Lisa Uhl and Robin Warren, their local landscapes become a focal point of interest. On their canvases, time and place are abstracted into broad sweeps of colour, dynamic brush marks and luscious fields of paint. The resultant works had a haptic sensibility that showed an embodied knowing of the world. Here is not a cold intellectual abstraction but rather a nowness of being.

For many artists the here and now of practice involves an attention to mindfulness, a moment of contemplation that opens ideas to other worldly encounters and spiritual spheres. In Katrina Barber’s Light Series (2013), the subtle play of luminous colour washes, where edges occasionally bleed into each other, evoked a numinous temporality, a now in which a metaphysical presence can be experienced. Similarly, the world view of Robert Turpin extends beyond the immediacy of his daily surroundings, to an exploration of imagined virtual landscapes. Intriguing spatial dissonances were conceived through his skilful use of counterpoint, in which the calm classical formalism of his drawing was overlaid on fluid spontaneous washes of colour. By contrast, Julian Poon’s close focus and concentration on the minutiae of figure and form provided a pen and ink tapestry of historical and popular culture references. In so doing he visualised overarching themes of human experience, of tensions between pleasure and pain, of order over chaos, and good versus evil.

The here and now of everyday life is also known and understood by attending to its specificity. A trip to the Western Australian Museum provided inspiration for Tim Maley’s works on paper. In his Frog Series (2013), his powers of observation consort with his mark making to offer a way of seeing in which these moisture loving amphibians not only drip with charm but seem ready to frog leap off the page. His Tiger (2013), in which he ingeniously rendered the allure of the animal’s feline stealth, was a particular favourite of mine. Clive Collender’s attentiveness to his worldly experiences involves a unique combination of details, in which memory, place, surrounding life and events intersect. I was fascinated by his distinctive work which takes on an encyclopaedic quality as he itemises his life history. Collections of idiosyncratic animals fill the pages in a charming dictionary of types, each character taking a charisma of its own. In his collation of things, Collender creates a fascinating insight into his known and remembered world.

Here&Now13 allowed me the chance to see the world anew through the eyes of these artists. Their individualistic ways of seeing and approaches to practice foregrounded the importance of art as a means of communicating the delight in everyday surroundings and the pleasure of being alive. Perhaps there is nothing better than to be in the here and now of creative expression.

Katrina Barber, from the 'Light Series', 2013. Watercolour on Arches paper, 40 x 27.6cm. Photograph Acom Photo Agency, Perth. Image courtesy and © the artist. 

Patrick Carter, No more cryin, 2013. Detail, multimedia performance. Photograph Nic Montagu. Image courtesy and © the artist. 

David Guhl, Coffee Shop, 2013. Image courtesy and © the artist. 

Julian Poon, Art of War, 2013. Black pen on paper, 21 x 29.5cm. Photograph Acom Photo Agency, Perth. Image courtesy and © the artist. 

notes: 

References

Bolt, Barbara, Art Beyond Representation: The Performative Power of the Image, I.B.Tauris, London, 2004.

Snell, Ted, ‘Foreword’, Here&Now13: Eleven Contemporary Western Australian Artists, ex. cat., Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Crawley, 2013.