Thursday, July 17, 2008

Long Horizons and Slow Art: Thoughts on Art & Australia as Regina Wilson's Exhibit Opens at Arena 1 Gallery in Santa Monica

Regina Wilson,
Syaw (fish-net),
acrylic on linen 62.99" x 78.74"

"You've been looking too closely at pictures. Why don't you swap them for some long horizons?"
- Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines

Recently my son asked me what my richest visual memory was. It didn't take me long to answer-
"Night in the Australian outback - somewhere on the way to Alice Springs from Perth on a desolate dirt road. Above the Southern Cross gleams in a lapis sky as it goes black and up ahead a fire glows in the shell of a burned out Holden automobile. Silhouetted figures flicker and bob like tongues of shadow in front of the orange glow. "

"Wow", my son said. "Who were they out in the middle of nowhere? But it wasn't really nowhere was it? Everywhere is somewhere."

Caught in my visual reverie, I missed the profound truth my son expressed. Today as I wandered through the exhibition of Australian artist Regina Wilson's large, glowing acrylic paintings at the Arena 1 Gallery in Santa Monica, I remembered that recent conversation with my son and my rich experiences in Australia and with Australian culture. I have crisscrossed the Australian continent in a series of journeys. And I have grown to love the deeply historic and richly vital Aboriginal culture that I first glimpsed on a crisp desert night in the middle of somewhere.

Together with her husband, Harold Wilson, Regina Wilson founded the Peppimenarti Community as a permanent settlement for the Ngangikurrungurr people. The community is located in the Daly River Aboriginal Reserve in Northern Australia and is an important dreaming site for the Ngangikurrungurr.

Bruce Chatwin in The Songlines explains that "Aboriginal Creation myths tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the Australian continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path - birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes - and so singing the world into existence."

Many of the current paintings by Australian Aboriginal artists use these songlines as inspiration for their paintings. Regina Wilson's work, though rooted in the dream sites of the Ngangikurrungurr people, instead makes use of the layering process inherit in traditional Aboriginal weavings. The Durrmu Arts site explains,"The women of Peppimenarti are traditionally weavers and have transposed their knowledge of fibre and textiles onto the canvas. The results are paintings of intricate, abstract mark-making; some clearly representing syaws (fish-nets) and wupun (basket-weavings) through their layered textures, whilst others resemble fine tapestries."

Regina Wilson at the Peppimenarti (large rock) Community.
photo- Peppimenarti Arts

Regina Wilson's paintings are lovingly brought into being over time. The fluid paint she lays on her canvases is knit, stroke by stroke, to create an all-over surface that reads as landscape, or map, or fishing net, or even a net of stars. These are paintings that take time to make and time to read. Another Australian, the writer and art critic Robert Hughes spoke to the Royal Academy in London in 2004 and bemoaned the impatience of contemporary industrialized societies:

"Drawing brings us into a different, a deeper and more fully experienced relation to the object. A good drawing says: “not so fast, buster”. We have had a gutful of fast art and fast food. What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn't merely sensational, that doesn't get its message across in 10 seconds, that isn't falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures. In a word, art that is the very opposite of mass media. For no spiritually authentic art can beat mass media at their own game."


Peppimenarti Community Open Day 2007
( Peppimenarti Open Day is held every two years - the next one will be in the dry season of 2009)
photo- Peppimenarti Arts

My friend, the chef and sommelier Nicole Christensen, currently lives in Sydney near her Australian mother and over the years we have had numerous conversations about Australian Aboriginal culture, Robert Hughes, Bruce Chatwin and the place of myth in contemporary societies. Nicole inspired my painting A Dream of Water.

Gregg Chadwick
A Dream of Water
48" x 36" Oil on Linen 2002
Private Collection
Sydney, Australia

Nicole and I agree with Robert Hughes that what we need is art and food that "holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and whose skill and doggedness" makes us think and feel. Regina Wilson's paintings hold time and make us think and feel. Robert Hughes also said that Australian Aboriginal art was the "world’s last great art movement of the 20th century." As we slide along into the 21st century, Robert Hughes' words still might ring true. But I am betting that the inspiration provided by the works of artists such as Regina Wilson will encourage all of us to live lives rich in insight and creativity that will inspire great art movements to come. For my sake at least, I have a new painting to start of a night in the Australian outback - somewhere on the way to Alice Springs from Perth on a desolate dirt road. Above the Southern Cross will gleam in a lapis sky as it goes black and up ahead a fire will glow in the shell of a burned out Holden automobile. Silhouetted figures will flicker and bob like tongues of shadow in front of the orange glow...


Regina Wison's exhibition, PULCHRITUDO VAGA, runs from July 17th through August 3rd, 2008. The opening reception will be held on Saturday, July 19th from 6:30 to 9 pm. I will be at the show and my studio (#15) will be open down the hall in the Santa Monica Art Studios complex. Please stop by for conversation and remembrances.

Exhibition dates: July 19th – August 3rd
Gallery hours: Wed-Sat from 12 noon to 6 pm
ARENA 1
A project of Santa Monica Art Studios
3026 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA. 90405

Regina Wilson at work - STUDIO: Australian Painters on the Nature of Creativity
Photography: R. Ian Lloyd



More at:
Durrmu Arts: the Peppimenarti Community Art Program
Regina Wilson Bio
Bruce Chatwin - The Songlines
Northern Territory Arts
Remotely Convinced: An Arts Manager's Blog from the Northern Territory
Durrmu Community

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