When it comes to the excellently conceived and curated group exhibitions, Canberra Museum and Gallery has outdone itself of late, demonstrating the institution’s essential role in an arts landscape that its larger cousins would like to think they dominate. This time around, it’s Mark Bayly at the curatorial helm for Word of Mouth – Encounters with Abstract Art, featuring the work of nineteen artists. Naturally, all are connected to Canberra, and furthermore to the ANU School of Art.
The prevalence of abstraction in the work of lecturers and students of the painting department at the School is an interesting occurrence I’ve noted previously, and it hasn’t escaped Bayly’s attention. He doesn’t stop at painting however, with prints, sculpture and glass works also joining the dialogue. Overall, the exhibition is far and away more vigorous than the dreary moniker ‘abstract art’ suggests, swinging between sharp austerity and joyful irreverence amongst the wild variety on show. Moving through the exhibition we encounter energy, illusion, hard edges, amorphous form, spatial antagonism, crystalline brilliance, explosions of colour and darker depths. In the final room we encounter all of these, and more, within a single work: Gregory Hodge’s ‘Magazine Mystics’
Hodge has only recently returned to Canberra to work and paint. Until this point I’ve eagerly followed the development of his practice via online snippets, intrigued by the path his work has taken since he was painting stunning atmospheric landscapes at the ANU School of Art. His preoccupation with ambiguous spaces of nature – cloud forms, the ocean – formed spiritual interpretations and sublime readings of the landscape that now seem to have fluidly evolved into abstract works to the same (I would say even greater) effect. Now, structure and motif come into play as Hodge employs a framework of rules and patterns, exploring processes of collage and layering.
‘Magazine Mystics’, as a floor to ceiling grid of separate works on paper, is art that you could easily spend the day with. The number of ideas contained within these proportions, the wealth of raw material, gives a terrifying indication of the extent of Hodge’s talents. Each sheet could stand alone as an artwork, but for now sits in harmony with the wider assembly. As a whole the work is loud, but projects a resonance and unity – perhaps like a room of meditating people chanting as one. Most appealing is Hodge’s mastery of translucence and opacity paired with luminous, fluid colour, flickering between obscurity and light.
I’m going to tell you this is not a show to miss, and then I’m going to tell you that tomorrow, Sunday August 19, is the final day. Cruel, aren’t I.
Word of Mouth: Encounters With Abstract Art is on show at Canberra Museum and Gallery.