Left Behind - Handmark Gallery - September 2011

Dr Wayne Brookes, artist educator and all-round raconteur, opening remarks - Friday 2 September 2011

Charcoal is an ancient material – it provides fuel for metallurgy – it is genius in a forge; when compressed as a briquette it pleasures us constantly in the belly of Webbers; a fabulous smelter, adaptable: in 1931 the Chinese developed an automobile powered by charcoal, and it operates as a filter to absorb poisons – metaphors abound. But more importantly, if you embrace these carbon markers of the great, black, velvet abyss, you touch antediluvian dust, beyond blood; it is the oldest material in art practice and expression. Forget anthropological evidence; let’s explore a more whimsical anecdote.

I constantly chronicle the achingly romantic story of Gaius Plinius Secundus (Plinny the Elder) who, while compiling his Naturalis Historia around AD 78, tells the story about a Corinthian maiden who on the eve of the Peloponnesian war wishing for a memento of her lover, traced his silhouette from a shadow on the wall – thus preserving his memory and initiating within art history, the birth of drawing, the birth of art. Such a shame things got all Vesuvial for poor old Plinny a year later!

For a material so often associated with tragedy, or post-combustive trauma, David brandishes his charcoal rather triumphantly, much like that critical cycle of nature, here re-juvinated life returns from the ash. It is with understated humility that he describes his fascination with this material, his interest in drawing and the intersection between self and a sense of place. That decade of his volunteer visitation where the island slowly surrenders the infinity of time, his and humanity’s relationship has remained clandestine. There have not been a great many people who have stepped foot on this land. Here David lubricates his fixation with reflective notation and a topographical mapping of the terrain. His journal, his camera and sketch-book document isolation, imprisonment, entrapment and obsession.

Within the studio, from the macro to the monstrous, transmogrification is initiated as he exorcises this methodology. But the interactive outcomes are not merely drawings, or the gantry for another medium, these are major physical encounters, wrenching gymnastic in their process – in fact you get the feeling that he has actually kidnapped nature and dragged it kicking and screaming into his studio where he wrings the very marrow from it. Do not be alarmed, this is not wilder-terrorism, this is not a hostile interaction, his passion, his obsession for Tasman Island means that the rock symbiotically merges with his soul, it’s within him, so his return to the studio to conjure his extremities-is likened to that of the Corinthian maiden’s deed, it is an act of love, of devotion, only his devotion is a discharging of surface, a eulogy to the cliff-face, the outcrop – and with this most humble of materials he manages to replicate the essence, the physical enormity of this timeless propulsion of geology.

For me, the memory of his Masters lingers. What ocular alchemy was this; he installed the great outdoors, indoors. By filling the entire Plimsoll Gallery with incredibly vast charcoal appliances, he literally flayed the island’s dolerite epidermis and amassed the hides within the Plimsoll cavity. Here, you actually felt the roaring rapture of the Sublime –the sense of the divine in the face of Nature – and that fear, that fear of insignificance evoked by artists like Anselm Keefer or Richard Serra who make physical work that appears poised to annihilate you – remarkably, David Edgar manages to do this, convincingly, with charcoal and paper.

Here tonight we bear witness to a rationalization of massive ambition, a compression, but never a compromise, this show is merely a taming of scale for domestic insertion. Engage with his emersion within the craggy fissures; celebrate the dancing surfaces of carbon lace and the acclamation of the organically tactile, where diabase protrusions stand as sentinels and the vista is compacted to human scale. I seize the opportunity to congratulate the maestro for his gift to us – his ability to take an unassumingly modest material and elevate it to a heightened pinnacle of visual virtuosity and technical ecstasy. So before I explode with adjectival overload, from the pit of my-coal black heart, congratulations – this is absolutely damned fine colouring in.

(Reprinted courtesy Wayne Brookes)

Left Behind 1, 110 cm x 110 cm, charcoal on paper (finalist, Marie Ellis OAM Prize for Drawing 2011) Left Behind 3, 110 cm x 110 cm, charcoal on paper Left Behind 4, 105 cm x 105 cm, charcoal on paper Left Behind 6, 105 cm x 105 cm, charcoal on paper
Left Behind 7, 110 cm x 110 cm, charcoal on paper Left Behind 8, 45 cm x 135 cm, charcoal on paper (sold) Leftbehind_9 Left Behind 10, 105 cm x 35 cm, charcoal on paper
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