LAUNCH – opening exhibition
by Marian Maguire
On March 9th of this year we re-opened the gallery, relaunched as PG gallery192, post earthquake repairs, renovations and upheavals. It was fabulous to finally hammer into fresh white walls and install LAUNCH, our opening show. We have made a new start.
One of the first works we hung was ‘Lyttelton Harbour – diptych’ by Euan Macleod. It is Macleod’s response to the quakes. The painting is riven by the join between the two canvasses; the horizon shunted upwards as it crosses the breach. Although Macleod has lived in Sydney for decades he was born here and his connection to the landscape is palpable. Figures stride naked through terrain slashed ochre, blue, green. They are of the same substance as the ground, the air, the water. One figure, the largest, is split across the two canvasses and seems to shudder over and under paintwork. However, this is no captured moment. To me the scene has no temporal reality but rather is part of a continuum. One senses that the land has always been in upheaval, that to heave is in its very nature. Weather squalls in from the south, nor’westers power over the bluffs to the left. Easterlies pick a chop through the water on one canvas, while dawn coolness leaves it still on the other. The seasons roll around, the tide flows in, ebbs out; the rhythm of mornings and nights seems echoed by footfalls. Somehow Macleod has achieved timelessness and immediacy simultaneously.
On the adjacent wall is ‘And the Seven Seas’ by Bill Hammond. He lives in the harbour and felt the full force of the February jolt in his Lyttelton studio. I worked with him on four lithographs, the ‘Proto’ series, later that year. The imagery was semi-abstract, hinting through fragments. Morphing shapes floated through unmodelled black; disjointed, like stray memories that had lost location. In those lithographs Hammond purposefully anchored nothing and that was the way it was during the quakes – uncertainty pushed its way into our lives. By contrast, this new work is an assertion of luxurious calm. A carmine sea is overlayed with gold mist. There are robes, wings, decrees in ancient foreign tongues. Floating islands suggest distant shores, figures support landscapes, the seven seas are layered through the image atmospherically. There appear multiple horizons. To my eye Hammond is reclaiming his environment and with it the landscape of his imagination. The action is lateral and complex, connected yet separated through spatial depth. If I could reach my arm into the painting it would come out dewy. The tonal range is narrow, there is no black/white melodrama, no strident line or sharp angle. Arabesques rule, and the film of gold wash, which catches in the heavy weave of the canvas, deflects a quick view. I look at the painting in sections, then from the side. It changes on me with the light. I find my gaze doesn’t jump, it meanders from scene to scene. The figures hover securely, they are not set adrift, for the painting has solid compositional bones. However, Hammond has clothed them. In making the architecture less obvious he has invited the viewer into a sphere of unhurried and deeply satisfying viewing experience. This is the kind of painting that keeps coming.
‘Big Blue’, a sculpture by Nicole Bourke. Polystyrene, flock, lacquer. This list of synthetic materials belies the works impression for ‘Big Blue’ appears alive. I imagine it nibbles; it might reach out and engulf me. Perhaps it is an ecosystem or a mutant colony. It sprouts like a reef, balloons, collapses, secretes and grows upon itself. Or maybe it conceals some dark shy creature that emerges when my back is turned. Slithery blood-red holes open amidst the velvet blue, its shadows are so deep they are almost black. The scale makes a difference. It’s bigger than me and the relationship of each bulbous shape relates to the scale of Bourke’s own hands and therefore my own. Her fingers have traveled across all those surfaces, smoothing them, encouraging life out of them. ‘Big Blue’ is unnervingly intimate.
Andy Leleisi’uao’s works on paper are both gentle and noisy, populated. The figures are boldly silhouetted and minimally featured, yet not without character; in fact, each figure is individualised. Leleisi’uao’s narratives emerge from his Pacific heritage, from mythology, from colonial interaction, from his own investigation of self and society. Sometimes the stories are raw but he tells them with a politeness that coaxes an empathetic response. Figures appear questioning, curious. They make offerings. Some watch, others are oblivious. They co-exist with jigsaw pieces as if we are all part of a larger puzzle. Although these works are small, barely fifteen centimetres high, some figures appear colossal, towering above the picture’s other inhabitants. Or they may be weighty, welded to the base line by gravity and their own leaden mass. In contrast, origami birds fly across sunsets or are held aloft on sticks like large ritual puppets. I am struck by the absorption of era, as if these narratives don’t exist in any particular timeframe but are set in a place where past, present and future are all bound together.
Angular, hard-edged, tense and gleaming, Darryn George’s panels, all titled ‘Register’, approximate the size of a human torso. Long lines run up and down, short ones dart across. They vein their way through the surface diagrammatically creating parameters, separating deep-lustre from matt black, vivid red from metallic graininess. These paintings, automotive paint on melamine, have a motor-body finish and acute attention to detail. At first glance they are fast paced. White lines sear across the surface but those lines aren’t uniform when looked at close. They are ridged, show a glimmer of hand, and this creates incident and tension. These paintings are cleverly composed within tight constraints, yet also throw the image back at us, for there is another thing. If we relax our focal length we can let the lines go, see into the works. The partially lacquered surface creates an incomplete mirror and our own shadowed form becomes part of the viewing experience.
When we were putting together the show we knew that the hallway space would supply a special challenge. At one point during the build the walls were defined only by studs and dwangs, yet even then it was clear the space was going to be different. The two doorways on the left were to be replaced by a single opening and the original plaster archway had collapsed as a result of the jacking process. This completely changed the sense of entrance into the whole gallery and has provided a sub-gallery, an encounter space, in which art can bounce from wall to wall. We were absolutely delighted when John Reynolds agreed to make a wall drawing in that space for the opening show. He arrived on Sunday morning (we opened Monday evening) and we let him loose with a box of crayons. A web grew, splintering its way across pristine walls.
Fractured structure is a phrase Reynolds likes – the idea of building and breaking in one. Reynolds built his drawing as a series of dashed lines that stretch from epicentre to architrave, from cornice to plug box, seeking purchase, supplying bracing. There is a playfulness to its logic – it grew in a systematic yet organic way. The hyphenated lines lightly embrace the wall, like an idea that is suggested not shouted. The wall still comes through isn’t pushed back spatially. To me the web, the fracture, is no illusion – it is a thought.
Structures, fractures, webs. Useful words in the current context.
It has been no mean feat getting the gallery to this stage. Even conceiving the place afresh, amidst aftershock fatigue, was a huge effort. There is no need to describe that to anyone local or to explain how I, like many others, feel guiltily relieved that we have reached light at the end of the tunnel when so many are still picking up the pieces. In a small way I hope that PG gallery192, by being a structure, contributes to an infrastructure, is part of a bigger interaction, this achieved by sparking many smaller interactions. It was not until our city was devastated that I realized how important buildings are for social cohesion. We need places to meet up.
Art requires walls. A computer screen, a phone, is not the same as one gets no sense of the scale, of texture. No account is taken of changing light levels and angles of approach, which make a difference to the way a work is digested. In a gallery one can stand close up or step further away get the impact of several works at once. This encourages us to use our brains in many different ways when we view. One way in is to pick up the references and translate the symbology so as to decipher the artist’s intention. Another is to respond to the visual dynamic within the work and allow the artwork to lead us through it, let it wash over us. Almost always, though, we also draw on our own memory banks and art can be a springboard into completely different thought lines which are personal to each viewer. It’s all valid.
I’ve been slow to get this piece of writing out and no wonder really. I was absolutely exhausted by the time we opened and it has taken a while for the work to really filter in. But what a gift! One doesn’t realise how much interacting with art offers life until it is not easily had. Nigel and I have often remarked how much we have missed it. Being artists ourselves, we have been able to keep contact with art through our own studio practice, but we are also avid viewers and, as such, are thrilled to finally have art to stimulate our own eyes and minds. We look forward, hugely, to the rollover of exhibitions at PG gallery192 and hope you do too.
Thank you very much to Nicole Bourke, Darryn George, Bill Hammond, Andy Leleisi’uao, Euan Macleod and John Reynolds for creating LAUNCH. Thanks also to our staff – Amanda Greenfield, Jane Bowman and Tessa Warburton – for their continuing contribution.
And, from me, thank you Nigel Buxton.