The Canberra Grammar School Gallery (a challenging, plush red carpeted space) is currently showing Multiple – a selection of new work by local lad-about-town Richard Blackwell. Blackwell has popped up frequently since graduating from the Printmedia department of the ANU School of Art, in both solo and group exhibitions, enjoying early commercial success. He trades predominantly in two-dimensional wall based cut-outs of his own design – preoccupied with geometrical nerdery, space and surface. The fabrication of the works is outsourced, MDF and laminate being cut to the artist’s specifications and finished with a professional finesse.
It’s eye catching stuff, graphic and monochromatic, sleek and stylised. It is also undeniably cold and calculated. The duality of Blackwell’s work is interesting – how can artwork so visually pleasing (uniform, dynamic) be so unstimulating, and does it even matter? Must an artwork elicit an emotional response to count as artwork at all?
This is not to say that Blackwell anticipates his work to be about anything other than surface and illusion – he freely references these aspects of his works, rarely, if ever, suggesting there is any further meaning lurking beneath the immaculate veneer. As his commercial viability proves, this absence of depth gears Blackwell’s work to a wider audience, being art that demands little of a viewer – it just looks good.
While I too enjoy these works aesthetically, I struggle to separate the experience from that of looking at any other visually pleasing object, be it art or otherwise. How is looking at this work any different to looking at the form of, say, a fine granite bench top or parquetry floor? Is that Blackwell’s point? Perhaps, but it leaves me struggling to engage.
I also find myself longing for some evidence of the hand of the maker. There are no traces here to indicate the artist’s presence as the creator of these forms – no markers of time or place. This leads me to latch on to Blackwell’s Flatscape series – the works I enjoy the most of those presented for Multiple. These mounted photographs document Blackwell’s interventions into urban landscapes – his MDF cut-outs blanketing the scene like remnants of a strange visitation. These tessellations draw endless conceptual and visual parallels with the constructed environments in which they appear, while the evidence of physical arrangement offers a welcome human dimension to an otherwise largely sterile body of work.
Multiple is on show at the Canberra Grammar School Gallery until May 22nd