The painting photography allows

Diana Klaosen

Christiana Edwards, Wet, 2003

Christiana Edwards, Wet, 2003

Christiana Edwards, Wet, 2003

There is surely no need to ask, these days, if photography has killed painting. While both are strong and successful artforms, the hybrid of the 2 has created, if not a new medium, then, in many cases new ways of working with and viewing these popular expressive forms.

A good example is the group exhibition Real Space at Hobart’s newest non-commercial gallery and sole artist-run space, Inflight. The initiative supports the work of young and emerging artists and in just one year has become a vital part of the city’s art scene. It is an accessible, central venue contributing greatly to the arts in Hobart with strong solo and group shows. In the latest exhibition, Real Space there are some intriguing flaws and a certain lack of resolution in some pieces, but this only makes the show more interesting.

As the artists in Real Space acknowledge, “digital photography and image manipulation has profoundly affected the way many contemporary painters construct their paintings” (media release). The camera can be used as a device to create a mood, narrative or environment. The 5 participating painters have integrated photography and digital imaging into the evolution of their images. Using these techniques they contend that it’s possible to reinvent and modify our perception of reality.

The artists take different approaches and use different subject matter while addressing “…what space to put into a picture. It is a mediated space”—layered, digital or photographic. “It may not be the space of the real world or the virtual world, but it is the real and palpable space of painting” (media release).

The paintings here range from photorealism to abstraction and quasi-abstraction. Artists have used computer-generated images to create working studies for paintings and to conceptualise space within their 2-dimensional works. While photography has lent itself to such art making for decades, the effects achievable with computer imaging—the layering of digital images and mixing pixels—are especially appropriate to painting.

Among the most interesting works are David Salter’s vividly figurative What, where and A Place to Go, the former featuring a Munchian screaming child against a sinisterly enveloping background of a stark brick wall and writhing vines. The latter work depicts a bikini-clad figure in a strikingly-rendered swimming pool and both paintings “…are collaged, layered images from various digital sources, …portraits constructed [by] placing the figure in digitally manipulated unreal space [to] visually capture a state of mind” (artist’s statement).

Andrea Warren’s digitally constructed works, Zoom 1, 2 & 3, explore the world of bureaucracy and in their realism, use of light, cropping, skewed perspective and monotonal colour, strongly reflect the influence of photography. They feature large-scale close-ups of subjects such as office furniture and a reclining cropped figure, feet in the foreground and hands folded on his torso, again referencing the photographic. Warren explains, “Issues such as voyeurism, power struggles, identity within bureaucracy and the politics of the office environment are pivotal focuses within this investigation.”

Abbey MacDonald’s paintings explore the rather odd idea of flesh as fabric; somewhat unreadable works in carnal pinks and browns depict cushion-like forms that recall body parts. “The use of photography is vital for my work when searching for source material and digital imaging has been necessary when trying to create a flesh/fabric hybrid and make visual these specific points of tension,” says MacDonald. These are technically competent works, but not always visually seductive, except in their strangeness, and their premise is tenuous.

Julie Jacobs’ patterned canvases are inspired by the landscape, specifically the Tasmanian midlands. Some of her untitled oils seem overworked to the point where colours have become muddied and they seem to owe rather a lot to the landscape work of Richard Wastell, one of Hobart’s most significant young painters. Her use of repetitive design and texturing nevertheless shows potential.

Christiana Edwards’ explorations of the visual conceits of film noir and contemporary scary movies—referencing beauty, fear, sexuality and violence—transfer well to the canvas and add another dimension to an engaging show.

Real Space, Christiana Edwards, Julie Jacobs, Abbey MacDonald, David Salter, Andrea Warren; Inflight Gallery, North Hobart, Nov 28-Dec 19

RealTime issue #59 Feb-March 2004 pg. 37

© Diana Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2004