Carnegie Gallery, Hobart (2007); The University Gallery, University of Newcastle, NSW (14 May – 21 June 2008).
Curator: Judith Duquemin.
Artists: Elizabeth Day, Judith Duquemin, Matthys Gerber, Kate Mackay, Shaun Morrow, Giles Ryder, Justin Trendall.
Pattern is a regular or repetitive form, generally involving types of order and arrangement. Patterns are made according to certain rules; however through a making and breaking of the rules of pattern making, the conceptual realm of the artist’s intention is revealed. Pattern becomes a vehicle for expressing Variation, a principle that William Justema identified as ‘the intelligence of a pattern one could say its conscience adding that Variation and Repetition are the two most important aspects of pattern making, taking precedence over matters of Symmetry, Rhythm and Balance. Variation, the act or the result of varying something that differs slightly from the norm, is a reasoning that takes on greater complexity when it becomes an expression of individuality within multidisciplinary art practice.
Driven by vastly different interests, the artists: Elizabeth Day, Judith Duquemin, Kate Mackay, Shaun Morrow, Giles Ryder and Justin Trendall acknowledge the value of pattern making through a multiplicity of materials and models of expression. The result is not so much the representation of pattern as predictable and precise which is often the common expectation. The works in this exhibition are linked by each artist’s acknowledgement that pattern making, and pattern breaking, are important mechanisms for the development of personal, professional and cultural identity. The outcome is a mixed installation of complex art forms requiring intense contemplation and navigation on the part of the observer.
Elizabeth Day works with everyday materials and processes with amazing cleverness and humility. She acts out multiple roles as emigrant, sibling, artist and educator with disadvantaged cross-cultural groups, through combinations of sculpture, sculptural performance and installation. Influenced by Fluxus and the artist Eva Hesse, she says: “I think of my work as being closer to sculpture because of the use of actual process and materials: the growing of the grass roots, unravelling wool, the chewing of gum, the knitting and stitching” adding that “patterns, processes, poetic resonances with everyday materials and meanings were very much part of Hesse’s oeuvre”…”I especially liked the way that Hesse imbued her pattern-making with her own emotional electricity, and serious playfulness with ideas and states of mind”.
Knitting, stitching, weaving, mapping, documenting, the use of un-kerned text, compositions of gum and the attraction to unconventional geometry make up formal and informal arrangements of patterns juxtaposed within patterns. “The of the earth series, of which five are included here, are ‘cast grass’ formations containing birthplaces within steel frames. They map and give recognition to, the vast cultural diversity that describes Australian society, and refer to Day’s experience as an emigrant from the English town of Wigan. A collaboration, the works were created with the artist’s mother Margaret Day who lives in Hobart. The Assorted Spat Out Ones, are gum on hessian and are a series from larger works that consider the colonial imposition of the prison as an idea and a reality on the Australian landscape and the creation of the abject. Series: three, combines sculpture performance and video aimed at addressing the intricacies of sibling relations.
Judith Duquemin questions selfhood through memories of Modernist Design, mostly abstract geometric mid 20th century textile designs, encountered during her formative years. The properties of flat colour, shape and line peculiar to Modernist Design are symbolic of the articulation of memory and an imaginary search for a vital self, with full knowing that emotional memory is not accurate and occurs mostly through oblique associations made with past events. Further, that selfhood is not unitary or stable but adaptable according to gender, role, and class. It is through hardedge technique, palettes of tertiary colours, geometric pattern, and mixed media, that Duquemin has created non-figurative, non-representational, abstract geometric images with a subjective twist.
Painted irregular striped textile has been replicated as acrylic gouache paintings and digital prints. The Light Yellow, Magenta & Cobalt Triptych is based upon a striped Catalan textile manufactured in Perpignan in southern France. Swatches have been recreated as I Canvases involving colours that are digital substitutes. “The various colour combinations and textures provoke memories of denim, caravan parks and other features of a sun-bleached southeast Queensland beach culture during the 1960s. Through a screen made up of forty-two stripes, colours merge. Each narrow stripe responds to those adjacent providing symbolic analogy for fuzzy memories about the uniformities of country life”.
Kate Mackay resolves, in her way, the art craft dichotomy. She says: “The work of art in general enjoys a privilege of meaning that is seen to be lacking from a piece of craft. The craftwork is created from established patterns for a useful purpose; the artwork is allowed to exist as a conceptual construction. In these works the positions are equalised; the craft pieces are released from their use value, and both the paintings, wooden constructions and crocheted pieces are constructed following the same sorts of randomly manipulated rules”.
Concerned with process and random difference within uniformity, outcomes are not realized until the last colour has been included whether it be oil paint applied through actual stencils onto canvas, oil paint applied directly on to an assemblage of glued MDF blocks, or, coloured yarn introduced into patterns for crocheting. Squares come alive through painting and crochet to become three-dimensional forms that express Mackay’s concerns about relationships between painting and sculpture, as well as between art and craft. She has created Red Square Painting, Yellow Square Painting, both made up of four non-identical square canvases, Wooden Cubes Yellow, and a conglomeration of crocheted geometric forms titled: Crocheted Cubes and Crocheted Cube 2.
Formations of irregular spray painted pearlescent stripes on hand rolled metal make up Giles Ryder’s aluminium ‘canvases’, imaginatively titled: Divine Transporters and Spectral Magenta. The artist says: “Part of my practice explores the idea of the readymade, in my choice of materials and utilizing industrial spray painting techniques to mixing my own Auto Lacquers. In contrast to the ‘readymade’ these techniques give an effect of the ‘Custom Paint Job’. His use of pearlescent paint is perceptually challenging, as the appearance of the work changes with the fall of light, the position of the viewer and the amount of clear pearlescent coats applied. The surface shimmers and glows with light through flat, reflective planes of colour.
Like the idea of the ‘Art Car’, Ryder’s technique is a reaction to mass production and uniformity, the transformation of the ordinary to the aesthetic. The Art Car has a rich history whereby a vehicle has had its appearance modified as an act of personal artistic expression. It is an artistic experience in which the creator identifies and defines his own uniqueness. Art Cars borrow from a range of genres for example street art, advertising, the automobile industry, folk art, outsider art, trends, politics, sex, architecture, design, and photography. On this occasion Ryder’s concern is fine art ‘furthering the concepts of reduction (of form; space; line and material), the effect of colour (visual; as signature; and psychological effects) and the experiential qualities of painting’.
Justin Trendall has utilized digital design software and print making to produce Parthenon, a design for a section of a building. It is part of his Monuments project, a body of work based around a series of imaginary edifices that memorialize cultural modernity. Intricate patterns on three horizontal lengths of gold and deep red silk mimic the wall of a building like construction, while appearing to map a continuous coastline and hinterland complete with place names.
Trendall’s technique challenges our understanding of the functions of pattern, He combines ‘patterns of rational thought’ within cultural history with ‘patterns of information’ that are digital constructions. Repetitions of text and web like formations on silk give the appearance of pattern that is decorative, except that on closer inspection the lines are broken by folds and folding, by the unevenly dispersed light on the luminous silk surface, and the digitalized web like formations that lack clear proportion. The text is a mixture of historical references and place names of personal and geographical significance and each time the work is exhibited, it acquires new meaning depending on context. Ironically one does not have to be an architect, historian, or cartographer to appreciate how pattern is playfully upstaged in this work.
Shaun Morrow rearranges pattern using his knowledge of painting, screen-printing, digital animation and digital imaging, and, his subject base is as diverse as his knowledge of multidisciplinary practice. He likes to reference a range of issues that are ‘germane to abstract painting for example Australian indigenous culture, and the exploration of metaphysical links between a broad range of topics from religious belief systems to quantum physics and microbiology’.
Labyrinth is an interactive digital animation of vertical black and white bars on a brilliant yellow luminous field. It is modest, yet, mesmerizing illustration of animated art that began as painting. Click the fuzzy cursor on the right bar and patterns break up and begin to dance. The trick is to negotiate the maze of moving particles to find the right bar to click to create a new sequence! KInesin # 1-4 are large digital prints of ‘a screen-printing process’. Paint instead of photographic opaque medium is applied to acetate to create layers of colour, in this case for digital photographs as opposed to conventional photo-stencils. Morrow spent ten years in the ‘top end’ teaching screen-printing to notable indigenous artists such as England Bangalla from Cadel River, Kitty Kantila of the Tiwi Islands, and the Queenie MacKenzie late of Turkey Creek.
Linking all of the works in the exhibition is the use of schema. Schema are organizational and conceptual patterns of the mind and provide opportunities for experimentation and conceptualization during the creative process. E. H. Gombrich said ‘Without some starting point, some initial schema we could never get hold of the flux of experience, Without categories we could not sort out our impressions…it matters little what these first impressions are. We can always adjust them according to need. Indeterminate factors enter into the schema influencing the outcome of the work, such as the choice of material (whether it be aluminium, bubble gum, or silk), the mixing of genres (such as digital media and printmaking, painting and crocheting, sculpture and performance) and the freedom to expand and express individual thought within a cultural discourse that allows artists to do so. Variations of a kind that explain the making and breaking of pattern as an important psychological characteristic of contemporary visual art practice.
© Dr. Judith Duquemin 2007