A couple of weeks back we gave Dominique Angeloro a hard time for rewriting press releases in the guise of journalism in the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Metro lift out. Sure, people like Victoria Hynes and Bruce James had taken that thankless gig and turned it into a bona fide alternative to the rest of the paper’s art coverage, but maybe we were too harsh on her, after all, we could easily imagine ourselves doing the same thing, running out the end of the week with a few press releases chucked in and who would care?
Then we read her piece of the Sam Smith show at Gitte Weise Gallery and she made some perceptive comments. We really began to think we had been too hard and when we read her write up on artist Joseph Marr’s show, we were intrigued:
“It’s possible to imagine that Joseph Marr’s painted galaxies might be motivated by serious astrological study, or the kitsch co-opting of outer space by pre-teen doona covers. Either way, the paintings are impressive.”
Oooh! Outer space! We had all sorts of images going through our heads and we discussed the possibilities – Hubble style images? Malin Space pictures? The surface of Mars? Consider us hooked. According to Angeloro:
“Marr duplicates the visual distortion produced by looking through a telescopic lens, his paintings morphing into different focuses as you alter your proximity to the work.”
We got our walking shoes on and headed off to Glenmore Road and to the hitherto unvisited Harris Courtin Gallery. As soon as we walked through the door we knew two things: one was that Dominique Angeloro was off her head and two, we were in deep, deep trouble.
Space may be the place, but it’s got nothing to do with Marr’s work, except in the most generalised sense. With Angeloro’s description we thought we were in for some art that was a combination of space imagery, perhaps with some element of perceptual, perspective playfulness – but what we got were big canvases, thickly applied paint, and horrible semi illustrative pictures of plants. In fact, it’s all there in the handout where the artist discusses the fact that “nature is sculpted by its existence, the passing of life, the coming into being and everything in between.”
What was Angeloro thinking? When she says that the paintings are “impressive” was she being sarcastic or ironic? There are plenty of arts writers out there who have concocted an entire vocabulary of non-descriptive adjectives that, in one context, can be quite flattering. So in that style, we can only say that Marr’s work is unique, extraordinary, outstanding, different, special, exceptional, unprecedented and unparalleled.
By the time we got out of the gallery and down to Five Ways and a cup of coffee, we had calmed down enough to think that Marr was on to something. Knowingly or not, his work is reminiscent of an entire body of abstraction from the 60s and 70s, and his thick, eye watering surfaces conjour up a lost world of suburban civic centres with their chunky wall sculptures, mosaic murals, indoor fountains and plush carpet. There’s also an uncanny resemblance in some of the pieces to Czech science fiction art found in films like Fantastic Planet and the Soviet era comic strips of Pravda that showed the future of proletarian communism on other planets. Although art is sometimes just bad and there’s no getting around it, you can still see how the artist has stumbled on to something special.