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' event.

The 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.

The 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.

The '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.

Gaia Persico



Top: Dense Voids, 2005, 23 oil on plywood panels, 130 x 380 cm (extended).

Above left: detail of Heat Haze, 2005, oil on plywood, 40 x 120 cm. Above centre: Ochre Sapling Panorama, 2005, oil on plywood, 50 x 200 cm. Above right:detail of Vertical Voids, 2005, 21 oil on plywood panels, 220 x 440 cm (extended).

Images courtesy of The Substation
images Julia Roberts.

The Substation, 45 Armenian Street, Singapore.