Ever heard that cliche ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like’ ? Yep, me too. But rule number 1 in art criticism is to put your personal taste to the side, and try to really analyse what you’re looking at. OK, I’m not an art critic but I do try to approach a show critically and make some kind of reasonable judgement about things.
A friend and I had a great time at this year’s Adelaide Perry Prize for Drawing and by the time we approached Ceara Metlikovec’s winning piece, Indigo 5, we were maybe a bit over-excited. Certainly I didn’t give it the time it deserved.
Ceara Metlikovec, Indigo 5, 2018, graphite on Fabriano paper, 140 x 94.5cm
The piece is quiet; contemplative. It’s a closely positioned set of ruled verticals of various tones, carefully built up, reminiscent of a barcode or a DNA read-out. It’s also apparent how labour intensive the piece must have been, which makes it a reflection on mortality. After a while it reminded me of the transparent curtains separating the congregation from the deceased, prior to a cremation.
What I didn’t understand till later was the acres of white paper that the work didn’t cover. The drawing is reasonably substantial in size but is drawn on a huge piece of paper, and offset in the right top corner of the paper. There is more white paper than drawing. I found it unsettling, and only belatedly recognised this as a ‘masking off’ of the total reality of someone. The drawing is a kind of portrait, but as with any portrait you are seeing a mediated image; an incomplete reading of someone through the perception of the artist. I ended up deciding this was a thoughtful and worthwhile piece.
It didn’t get my Peoples’ Choice vote though! That went to another problematic work, by Robert Ewing:
Robert Ewing, Fractured Landscape number 3
coloured pencil on cotton paper, 56 x 76cm
It’s a real testament to the power of a work when you don’t exactly enjoy it, but you can’t take your eyes off it and it makes you feel unsettled. Ewing’s bioforms (I can’t really call them trees) are phallic and otherworldly. His colour choices are intriguing and shouldn’t add up but somehow they do. He’s onto something.
Of course we both loved Tom Carment’s economical drawings of family around the table at Christmas time. He has a light touch and wonderful observation of the quotidian. I don’t know how often Carment actually wins awards but every exhibition he’s in is the richer for his inclusion. There will always be more spectacular works as he’s the master of understatement, but I love his quiet virtuosity.
Tom Carment, Family in Perth
dip pen and ink on paper, three sheets each 30 x 42cm