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LIYEN CHONG, TJALLING DE VRIES, TRENTON GARRATT, EILEEN LEUNG, OLIVER PERKINS, RUTH THOMAS-EDMOND, STACEY TURNER
MOTEL: SEVEN PAINTERS , 8 SEPTEMBER - 2 OCTOBER 2009
MOTEL curated by André Hemer
Painting is many things at any given moment.
The beauty of painting is that it's always changing yet it's also always staying the same. A painting is still a painting, and it doesn't matter if it utilises hair instead of pigment, or whether it sheds its supports and sits on the floor. Painting is important because it provides a meeting point where histories can collide.
The problem with painting is that within the moment it can be hard to pin down and figure out exactly where it might be heading. Initially this exhibition was about covering as much as possible in the gamut of painting - probing every corner to take in every approach. Of course that's a plan that's bound to fail but what emerges is a statement of the vitality and diversity of painting practice.
These painters (all of whom graduated this century) are not afraid to be makers. Not makers of a singular kind of craft, but painters with an investment in what happens when a material can be pushed as far as it can go, and beyond where it would normally settle. This would seem like a simple premise yet in a time when Arte Povera throwbacks seems to be the favoured mode of young art practitioners this is in fact an important and distinguishing point. The artists in this show transform and make in a way that might be classed as attentive- sometimes even to the point of obsession. Yet all of the artists find solace in embracing the complexity of simple materials- manipulating substances in order to speak through them.
The works are small by the standard of the present. But they play big and their intimacy is rewarding and revealing. [Chong']s tiny embroidered works implore a very personal kind of viewing, while the heavy black lacquered frames are a reminder of the immensity in the subject at hand. These works made with human hair lay bare a precise and laboured technique, yet they also play games with the perception of their material nature. Likewise [Turner ]transforms the surfaces of his wooden panels into something that invites an intimate viewing. Turner juxtaposes carefully rendered pen drawings on top of his casual and ad-hoc brushstrokes- creating paintings that seem both effortless yet expressly choreographed. Similarly in [Thomas-Edmond's] works the trace of the artists hand remains visible yet the works seem to take on their own authority. Against the relative delicateness of the white paper surface, the painted forms have a robustness that belies the tenderness of their making.
[Leung and Perkins] both use their idiosyncratic material sensibilities to create object's that seem to throw back criticality to the viewer. The child-like buoyancy inherent in Leung's works will take you in, but the path out is of your own making. Perkins' works reveal a personal narrative through paintings which move intriguingly between different kinds of materiality. They are strangely recognizable and familiar, and yet as painted artefacts they seem to drift between the found or constructed. These are works with side-doors to alternative avenues of contemplation where relational and formal criteria seem to apply equally.
[DeVries and Garratt] both shadow conventional painting genres- portraiture and still-life respectively. They do so with an awareness that seeks to reinvent by subversively following the line. Importantly, both artists paint like it matters. [Garratt] plays on sentimentality of something familiar. Found book covers are used together with a mode of oil painting and subject matter that feels antiquated yet knowingly manipulative. Do we take these at face-value or are these acts of sabotage in the guise of oil painting convention? Conversely, [deVries] approaches his self-portraiture with a detachment that allows him to take the genre somewhere else. Neither wholly an abstract painting nor a portrait- the works sit uncomfortably somewhere in between. DeVries's photographic images are intervened with intrusive digital distortion and paint splatters and yet the deliberate tightness of the work seems to maintain a belief in the process itself.
For a few weeks the gallery will act like a kind of painting motel. Works made through the ethos of trusting in individual enquiry coming together to meet ever so briefly. The affecting impression should be the intrinsic worth that can come from working against the grain and embracing a way of making that has compassion, longevity and risk. It's an exhibition that I hope will provoke some questions and conversation about painting at this moment. More importantly it's an exhibition in which looking can be rewarded.