Together - Painting Informed by Photography. A Review by Gavin Blake
I have seen a lot of exhibitions in my time and no doubt a lot are excellent, most are very good at least and of course there are the “mehs” but doubtless all of them have added to my collective experience with art. I’d like to write a little about something excellent that is currently showing at the Light Gallery at the CCP and place my idea of excellent into perspective after this qualification.
For an exhibition to be considered excellent of course it is something that engages and affects you not only visually but intellectually as well. This happens on many levels and it goes about doing so usually in a unique way; it can be the work itself obviously, but as with the work of Marcel Duchamp for instance, I’ve never considered his work to be that visually arresting, however the intellectual engagement of his ideas about art I pretty much draw from on a daily basis which is why he is the most important artist of the 20th Century in my opinion.
An excellent exhibition need not be as challenging but certainly will engage the viewer to the extent that the exhibition or the work in the exhibition is remembered by you and goes into what I call “The 3% of all the art which you remember” from what you have seen in your lifetime. This 3% is always added to and grows as you experience more and more art and so a novice’s experience a smaller unit of memory than someone who has lived and breathed art for an eternity. The point is that the 3% of art you remember though malleable, stays with you and nourishes you every day which is not to say the other 97% of art is not memorable, but everyone has a different collective memory of the art they have experienced which is what make art such a wonderful thing to engage with…and it can be a free experience!
An otherwise excellent exhibition could also be relegated to very good because of the consistency of the images or even “meh” simply because there is no technical or conceptual or curatorial rigour (choose any one) evident in the show in question. For instance, I cannot stand “best of” compilations where the work seems to be essentially most of the work being the padding for a couple of choice works. An exhibition can be a disappointment for no other reason than its curatorial bent, which is to say that the intrinsic qualities of the work has not been considered enough when paced out either on walls or within the space it is showing. In other words the works appear to be squabbling between themselves rather than informing its audience about each piece and building a foundation from which the viewer can establish an informed opinion of their experience with the work.
Technique no doubt is a consideration as well as the skill, intellect, humour, gravitas, appreciation of materials, or interpretation which the artist or artists concerned bring to the table, however this can still be undermined if the curatorial nature of laying out an exhibition has not been considered by anyone involved with the display of the work and therefore should always.
That said “Together – Painting Informed by Photography” by Belinda Broughton and Ervin Janek showing at the Light Gallery is excellent on many levels. Belinda’s position is to illustrate just how her photography has served to inform her paintings, whereas Ervin’s position is to show how painting has served to inform his photographs. I have known Belinda and Ervin for some time now and I have always been impressed with the integrity of materials, image building and interpretive inspiration they both bring to their art making and this exhibition goes a long way to explaining their approach.
As a bonus, this exhibition is intelligently supported by the curatorial bent by Aaron Blake who drew this exhibition together and his pacing of the work shows this in spades. From the moment you enter the Gallery you are engaged with Belinda’s Scrubby Tea Tree which shows not only her skill and appreciation of the materials she has used but the fact that her canvas forms an intrinsic underpinning of the painting with a rich and deep canvas of a rich palette supported by confident mark making. But where does this inspiration come from? The answer is obvious in the next “piece” on the wall where Aaron has masterfully juxtaposed Belinda’s details of nature in photographs which he has surrounded with another painting “Ochre Country”. The conjunction of textures both visually and physically is fabulous and totally engaging and with “Tea Tree” just absorbed it is clear just where Belinda’s inspiration was drawn. As Belinda says of her photography
“I take photographs as a means of training my eye to see, to put myself in a visual frame of mind, and to notice things…
I rarely paint directly from photographs though I may draw colour reference or use them to remember the feeling of a place, or a sense of shape in growth patterns, or just look through them because I find them beautiful.”
Scrubby Tea Tree juxtaposed with Nature Details and Ochre Country
This is wonderfully illustrated by this second conjunction of images for which Aaron has clearly shown his understanding of Belinda’s work; but wait, there’s more. “Shell Hill” by Belinda has been juxtaposed with a delightfully textured image by Ervin called “Penny Whistle” and the resonance between the palette and texture of both works is just sublime. Again both pieces speak to each other and again represent a logical explanation for their creation so much so that despite the pieces being made some 10 years apart, they could well have been made at the same time bravo.
Working my way through the next wall with some 7 recent images by Ervin (2017), again Aaron has selected these images based on a similar analogous palette to the previous works and every image resonates with textures and layers not at all dissimilar to Belinda’s three paintings and again inform you of a collective knowledge. Completing this observation, Aaron again has placed the images so as both walls face each other the juxtaposition is clear.
Shell Hill and Penny Whistle
Belinda and Ervin have been together for quite some time and together spend as much time “noodling around the bush” making site-specific work together and drawing inspiration as well as textures, images and ephemera from their extended stays camping with their van as a home base. This inspiration is clear in this exhibition and has been confidently elucidated by Aaron’s confident pacing of the works he has selected from the myriad of pieces made by the artists he has drawn from.
The next piece this time by Belinda “Habitat Blackwood Scrub” again reflects a collective memory of the other works and is masterfully juxtaposed with another suite of images by Ervin on the following wall. The final wall I see as a synopsis of the exhibition and contains one final painting by Belinda ”Place of Last Salt and Water” bookended by some 24 more of Belinda’s “Nature Details” photographs which in turn are bookended by 4 of Ervin’s images and once you have surveyed everything collectively you are compelled to move in for the details and it is certainly worth the effort. There is no squabbling between these works, in fact there is an elemental harmony with everything. There is a vastness of space represented as well as an attention to minutia which is enthralling and a delight to finish (or to start) with; some of it immediately obvious and other “bits” becoming clearer upon further scrutiny.
“Together - Paintings Informed by Photography” is a gem of an exhibition from start to finish and worth the effort to attend and the time it takes you to absorb everything. Intelligently curated, this is the sort of show worth a revisit and I currently am enjoying this show everyday I come to work. Closing on Friday May 3rd, this is an exhibition not to be missed and certainly is embedded into my 3% of collective art experience I will remember.