Isobel Johnston makes a welcome return to The Art Life with an account of the patterns, repetitions and colours of Poalarity…
SNO’s 92nd exhibition Polarity brings together the work of local Sydney artist Susan Andrews, Riki Mijling from Amsterdam and Arpad Forgo from Budapest.
It is not unusual for this gallery to be showcasing work of international and local (well, Australian really) artists as it has done on and off since its inception in 2005. Rather than shipping in work by overseas artists, this has instead been largely facilitated by an ongoing residency program where invited or selected artists spend time living and making work in Marrickville for exhibition.
Susan Andrews, Untitled.
Polarity is an apt title for the show, suggesting the differing yet shared affinities of these artists working with non-objective concerns. If you’ve ever wondered what is meant by the terms such as ‘concrete art’, ‘geometric abstraction’ and ‘minimalism’, or pondered the traditions of European abstraction and American colour field and hard edge painting, then this show offers the opportunity to look at some of the historical legacies of these terms in contemporary practice through the work of these three artists.
Andrews’s bright and colourful works echo the interests of Geometric Abstraction of the late 1950s with more than a nod to South American abstraction where colour, shape and space are of central concern. But Andrews’s paintings move beyond the constraints of the canvas — that flat and neatly definite space — literally and metaphorically leaping off the wall, and even onto the floor. These works engage the viewer with real space: a physical engagement from above and below, and around her paintings. Stacked, packed and dismantled, these works remain painting but painting presented in compressed forms. This takes her work outside a representational notion of space into an engagement with architectural as well as corporeal space.
Susan Andrews, Elbow.
Repetition of pattern and monochrome paint in Untitled 2012 conceals the shape of the sections of this work. They are wedges — those pieces of wood tapped into the corners of the canvas’s stretcher bars to hold its surface taut — whose original form is hinted at by the unpainted wooden sections within the work. They could be read as a reference to other paintings and perhaps they also reveal the secret of the painting’s structure. In her use of materials and a certain light-heartedness of touch, Andrews seems to play off the critical and esoteric arguments that surround much of this area of practice to open up other forms of engagement with abstract painting.
Arpad Fogo, Twins.
In the adjoining room Arpad Forgo’s work explores linked but differing concerns. His works sit more comfortably within concrete art while still involving aspects of geometric abstraction. Forgo’s double-ended curved rectangular forms belong to a series he has been working with for a while in various incarnations. Here, Forgo uses local materials; Tasmanian oak and cedar are incorporated into the work locating them to Marrickville and even more specifically with ribbon and balsa wood sourced from Reverse Garbage (a local recycling co-op that over the past two decades has become a local landmark and treasure trove). The optical pull of the monochrome stripes in the diptych Sydney Twins 2013 share a formal link to Andrews’ works yet Forgo’s structures do not reference existing forms, instead making material something that refers to its own form. Their surfaces become both the painting and the painted object made concrete.
The architectural site has been used or referenced in the work of all three artists to varying degrees. For Andrews it is the wall/floor axis that is crucial to reading Elbow 2013, for Forgo the manhole in the gallery space becomes part of the site-specific work with Black Bipolar Installation 2013. Dangling from the black void is a ribbed and ribbon work made specifically for this space. Black Bipolar seems to unravel literally as well as metaphorically the term ‘concrete art’. Here we are presented with an object anchored to its site but having no direct reference to anything that exists beyond itself, much as we might seek to locate it within various known forms. For both Andrews and Forgo the horizontal white bars of across the windows echo the stripes within their works, offering an extra coda to the work/site relationship.
Riki Mijling, IHCW Installation.
Riki Mijling presents three discrete works in the next space. Two of them belong to her sculptural works made in welded steel and the other is a site-specific piece. The wall/floor mural, IHCW Installation 2013, extends out into the space and connects to both the site and her residency in its specificity. It is a work that was ‘sparked’ by the ‘find’ of a curved glass structure that both brings another dimension physically as well as on an optical level to this work. The curved glass was found on the street between the studio and Petersham Town Hall, which has been the home to both these visiting artists during their residency.
Mijling employs the walls and floor in this painted site-specific work that merges both time and space, as it seems to extend into the empty as well as actual space of the room. For the viewer to experience this work, the viewer must also to be in the work and this seems to reflect the artist’s own ongoing concerns with the use of volume and void.
This work and the steel pieces ICHW–Wall and The Wind 2013 with its video component all sit comfortably with the underlying philosophy of Mijling’s work that brings a meditation on minimalist/abstract concerns through the flow of work that connects to where she happens to be ‘standing’ at that particular moment in her life. In the SNO exhibition, Mijiling also continues her current focus on the materials of steel, glass and ink that have been a feature of her recent work as well as the interplay of drawing and sculpture reflected here in a delight of working across dimensions, ‘2, 3, 4 and ‘more’.
For SNO it has not just been a one-way traffic in artists and art works but the gallery has built connections to numerous international galleries and artists and art communities who share similar artistic concerns. As local audiences, we are being offered a broader context for viewing Australian art and might be at last able to shake our parochial blinkers to see local work in the context of a global picture. It also brings with it the opportunity to acquire international works and have local works acquired by international audiences.
SNO is not alone in this, as we witnesses a shift throughout the art scene, from high-end commercial spaces, not just showing but representing an increasing number of international artists on their books, the increased participation in art fairs by a wide range of commercial galleries but also by an increasing number of artist run initiatives where it is no longer a national but a global art context that is sought.
So here, in this small suburban gallery space in Sydney’s inner west, comes an exhibition that would sit comfortable in at any international arena. It is a dialogue of shared but differing concerns that link these non-objective artists not limited to the confines of Marrickville but part of the much wider world. Size and location are not the determining factors in this ongoing international dialogue. This exchange like with term SNO itself can be seen as a ‘portmanteau word’: double sided. Sydney /Non Objective: two sides of the suitcase that here seems to genuinely encourage travel/return offering foreign exchange here and abroad.
Polarity at SNO, until April 28.