The first point to make is that any exhibition worth its salt begins not with reason, but with feeling: a feeling not only for certain objects or practices and how they might interact in space, but how they might suggest something that is larger than the sum of their individual parts.
The second point follows on from the first: Two practices together may achieve something entirely different than either practice achieves alone. More ground features the work of two artists. They work in different ways, and from vastly different places, but each draws their thread from photography, and makes with it something new.
One, Robert Fielding, is a man from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) community of Mimili. He’s of Yankunytjatjara, Afghan and Arrernte descent, a lineage that speaks directly to the desert’s cosmopolitan past. Born in 1969, Fielding is a family man, a father to nine children named with such distinctive flair that I can’t help but recount them here in full: Zaachariah, Zaavan, Zibeon, Zeldon, Payrozza, Partimah, Peshwah, Priayangka and Zedekiaha.
The second artist, a painter, is Matt Arbuckle. He was born in Auckland and after a time in Berlin now lives and works in Melbourne.
There are connections between the two but they are left open, or at least open enough for us to think in the spaces that lie between. There’s a clear sense of why we are looking at these artists together, but one simultaneously feels a more inchoate underlying architecture, something more uncertain, more compelling in its cast.
Arbuckle’s paintings slump, their surfaces clouded with erasures and re-workings. They begin with photographs, randomly taken, and are incrementally pushed away from the certainty of these sources. A sense of urban entropy often shadows them: a vacant lot, perhaps a portion of crumbling brickwork. But that’s only because we know where each painting began. If we were ignorant of their basis in photography, we’d see painting alone: marks made by hand on a flat surface, a series of decisions that draw each work towards one of its many possible conclusions. This is photography as armature, nothing more.
Fielding also reworks photographic images – an abandoned vehicle sinking in desert sands, family members posed against dark backgrounds, urban refuse hanging in a desert tree. Unlike Arbuckle he keeps his photographic source legible. When he paints back into them he does so not to erase them, but to relocate their power in the moment of production; to push against photography’s endless reproducibility by way of unique mark-making, by way, that is, of painting. Fielding’s images are pierced by dotting, the lingua franca of the desert art movement. In this way the light gets through, each image becomes invested with an icon-like aura that the photograph alone fails to capture.
More ground revels in the provisionality of these connections. It articulates them, but leaves them hanging. Two artists who have never met, each of whom make their art on opposite sides of Australia’s cultural divide. Photography provides a common frame but there’s also something else: there’s a link, but a clear distance. We are reminded that photographs give us dead images. Painters, driven by the tactile logic of touch, can’t help but re-engage them, to reinvest them with life.
There’s a feeling there, a place that each of these artists begins that is hard to articulate yet central to each.
Any decent exhibition – just like any decent practice – must begin here.
- Quentin Sprague