Details: ANCA Gallery
Dates: 4th–15th June 2008
Artists: Elefteria Vlavianos & Gary Smith
Meta @ ANCA 2008
The paintings and drawings of Gary Smith and Ria Vlavianos come out of their individual responses to art history, to particular moments of human visual expression.Both explore them in quite distinct ways under the microscope of their studied – almost obsessive – methods of making art. The results are paintings and drawings of quiet, sustained, intense beauty.
The title of this two-hander exhibition, Meta, refers to the prefix’s meaning as a second order or higher level, as in ‘metalanguage’. Between Smith and Vlavianos’s works there is a dialogue about art itself, in which ideas about seeing and subjectivity are paramount.
Both artists are interested in abstraction and its meanings, and on the surface their work can be readily described as abstract. But Vlavianos’s layers of scrolling text and grids of press-studs are drawn from the patterns of family experience and Smith’s sublime tracery of light and air has its source in the history of landscape painting, in particular the romantic tradition. Indeed tradition is key to their art.
Vlavianos’s mixed cultural heritage is the context for the historical and formal influences in her paintings and drawings. She was born in Zimbabwe of Greek and Armenian parentage and subsequently lived in South Africa and now Australia. Part of the inspiration for her use of cursive text incorporating placenames in her work derives from Armenian manuscript painting, and the application of buttons and press-studs is connected with family traditions of sewing and embroidery. In working with a grid structure and employing quotidian forms and materials, Vlavianos invokes those patterns of daily life that are endlessly repeated over time: writing, stitching, telling stories, weaving family lore. The overlaid and cross-hatched script in her canvases suggests the intricate woven narratives embedded in rugs and lace and quilts from many parts of the globe.
The patterns and experience of migration is also central to Vlavianos’s art-making, and the threads that loop through her paintings and drawings seem in part to stand for the unreadable yet essential connections that bind family, place and culture over distance.
Smith’s paintings are essentially fragments borrowed from nineteenth century (and earlier) landscapes; like the detail in the photograph in Antonioni’s film Blow-up, these fragments are expanded to a degree where they resist clear reading and float between image and abstraction. The clouds and dust and atmosphere of these paintings may represent fleeting, fugitive traces from the works of Turner, Constable or Richter but the works have an emphatic internal structure built up from several hundred layers of paint. Drawing on old master techniques of glazing and thinning, Smith makes his painting surfaces gleam and glow and flicker like the silver surfaces of daguerrotypes. The artist is interested in evoking the pure and unreal space that mirrored surfaces reflect: at once infinite depth and none. Painting becomes a mirror, and in looking into the surfaces of Smith’s work the viewer finds no anchoring imagery and no distinction between inside and outside, the observed and the observing. The works are vertiginous and visceral experiences of pure painting.
The paintings and drawings in Meta are intimate expressions of human culture that stretch out to describe aspects of universal experience.