The Substation is a space
for presentation of a diverse arts program, it has a gallery, a
theatre, rooms for holding readings, dance classes, concerts, movies
and a multitude of art courses. The exhibiting area has been recently
refurbished and has been transformed into a bright, light space
with a peculiar elongated rectangular window which entices curious
passers-by to enter. It holds a show by Julia Robert, an Australian
artist who is the current focus for the 'Celebrate Australia 2005'
exhibition is called Eucalyptus, a title which immediately explains
the theme behind the show. The walls are lined with a series of
landscape paintings of Australian woods. All the canvases have extreme
proportions whereby the width is much bigger then the height, thus
visually creating a theatrical and cinematic landscape.
first work that confronts us upon entering the exhibition space
is Dense Voids. It depicts a close up of the trunks of
the eucalyptuses, their roots and branches have been taken out of
the composition leaving the majority of the focus on their white
barks. The painting is made up by a series of very thin and long
canvases of different widths rather than a singular one. A space
has been left between each work which creates a clever game of optical
illusions whereby the white trees and white gaps on the wall (which
are of similar width to that of the painted barks) confound each
other. It takes a few seconds to realise that what was granted to
be part of the painting is in fact the wall. The eye has been fooled
into imagining a rectangular surface where there was none, creating
a moment of confusion, uneasiness and unnerving. This stratagem
proves to be a successful one as we are forced to give the work
a much longer time of engagement and attention. It makes us look
closer at the painted surface and examine the application of the
pigment in confrontation with its lack of presence on the walls.
This sets a tone for the viewing of the show as the differences
between the various works are in the subtlety of depiction.
Stylistically it is a varied exhibition: in some works the paint
is painstakingly applied trying to depict the woods as realistically
as possible, the vegetation is dense and claustrophobic and rather
stifling. In others it becomes more abstract, the woods become the
vessel for an array of interesting fascinating brushstrokes where
the colour is the real subject. In others the brushstrokes are even
freer, more minimal and resemble Zen painting, the air is more rarefied
and the viewer finds space to breathe in between the swooping lines
which gracefully describe their subject. It is these latter ones
that I find more successful, where the preoccupation shifts from
mere depiction to a much deeper understanding of space and light.
'Bridget Riley' landscape trickery is repeated in numerous other
works in the exhibition with some slight variants, these are more
imaginative and therefore more successful then the works made on
the more traditional rectangular canvas. Vertical Voids
presents an imposing version of this optical illusion, it fills
the whole side of one of the gallery walls and by re-creating a
life-size wood, it becomes a particularly inviting and engrossing
piece. It is where the imagination is given freer reign that the
work transcends the landscape and starts to interact with the viewer.
It is when the viewer has to leap forward in unlocking and understanding
the pieces that the real communication is made.