John Barnes, ASW, until March 14
The past year, with its demands for individual isolation, has had some surprising outcomes.
For artists the opportunity of spending more time in the studio has often been a boon for amassing a body of work, as well as the chance for an uninterrupted progression of ideas and motifs from one work to the next. Yet it has also allowed time to explore whole new areas of subject and practice.
For a serious painter such as John Barnes, the extra time in the studio has been exceptionally rich. His exhibition at Art Systems Wickham until March 14 is full of visual excitement, building on the concerns evident in his previous show two years earlier, but also full of lateral thinking into completely unexpected ideas of subject and treatment.
Who would have anticipated resonant references to the dynastic Egypt of the pyramids, with the sands of time also supplying references to Australia's early explorers?
There is even a wall of tiny realistic landscapes, impressionistic treatments of simple subjects, completely free of expressionist flourishes.
All these small, even miniature, paintings are also explorations of colour, brilliantly immersive, built up in cunning gradations, with heart-stopping juxtapositions, bouncing from primaries to a range of tertiaries.
I felt that the works pairing reds and blues in intense bands of contrast were more resolved than the paler compositions. Colour itself becomes a genuinely exciting experience, setting up an emotional response augmented by the paintings' emotive, even rhapsodic titles.
There are painters who study colour theory, whose works are exercises in painstakingly worked out relationships, who are deliberately manipulating our emotional response. But it does not appear that John Barnes is concerned with intellectual games so much as an instinctual joy in creating vivid experiences.
He is also interested in pattern for its own sake, but for this extremely varied body of work pattern hardly exists as a flat plane. There are inky depths, receding forms and perspective reminiscence of landscape, all achieved by manipulations of colour.
These small investigations of virtual space are certainly the strongest work in the show. With their complex, hard-edge geometrical clarity they have great presence. Some are compact and inward looking. Others seem to burst from their frames.
Are they the final culmination of a year of experiment?
They will surely provide a springboard for the next body of work by this prolific and always interesting painter.
TRIPPING WITH NEW MEDIA
Such strange virtual perspective paintings set up a curious parallel with the extraordinary virtual visual journeys at Maitland Regional Art Gallery. One of the recently opened individual exhibitions, on view until May, is Terminus, a series of works on tour from the Australian National Gallery, evidence of a renewed desire to share the national collections with communities far from Canberra. They also provide an example of its recently emphasised focus on new media and novel art experiences. These immersive filmic works are truly exciting.
Jess Johnson is the visual artist who has created an exotic world of grandiose architecture and vast spaces, sometimes densely patterned, sometimes inhabited by tumbling troops of impassive humanoids.
Her collaborator Simon Ward has transformed these drawings from analogue to digital and animated them into a filmic experience. Wearing supplied headsets, we glide through endless vistas of imposing buildings of an imaginary city or through the art deco opulence of constantly receding interiors. Vertiginously we swerve and dive through an ever-expanding civilisation.
I first experienced these strange and exhilarating works a year ago at Heide in Melbourne. They have been touring regional galleries ever since. I intend to get to Maitland to take the psychedelic road trip once more.
It is splendid to find so many galleries and other exhibition spaces opening again. There are many things to see, including work by the nation's most eminent photographer, Bill Henson, at Newcastle Art Gallery, on tour from Victoria's specialist gallery for photography at Wheelers Hill in outer suburban Melbourne. I
t is a feature of the art scene there that many of the most interesting exhibitions take place well beyond the centre of the city.
Two weeks ago I caught the last days at Heide of the long-awaited survey of Joy Hester's celebrated drawings.
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