Review: ANALOGUE SHIFT-JUSTIN ANDREWS
CHARLES NODRUM GALLERY, MELBOURNE, AUGUST 2009
I’ll start at the beginning. This is a beautiful looking exhibition. There’s a shift from some of the more overtly architectural works of some of Andrews’ past shows and a move to a fascination with abstraction and painting for its own sake. I’m talking in increments here. Part of this may be in the analogue source. The fragmented shards of geometry that populate Andrews’ deep flat spaces exist as real objects inhabiting an easily rattled shaker box rather than the virtual realms of a 3D modelling programme. And while there is necessarily some transformation within Photoshop to get these arrangements to work on canvas as representations of objects, a new sense of space pervades the work. The perfection of these shattered geometries, edges so sharp and planes of flat colour so opaque and free of brush marks, is that they somehow avoid becoming purely graphic. But at the same time they just are so …flat.
These lines draw you in then; following the razor like ridges, the overlaps which become like the shallowest relief possible. So there is the slightest of sculptural qualities occurring alongside this absolute flatness. A blurring of boundaries, ever so slight. But it’s there. And you almost wish upon these works an error. Not for the old arguments that such work is cold and lifeless against the grand gesture of the brush, but because the eye needs a rest in the face of these razor blades of paint.
And then there are the actual reliefs. Small, elongated, mostly rectangular elements glued to the canvas. Less successful possibly for their literalness. Or maybe that is their success? I mean it’s their role. They demonstrate or elucidate the source of the paintings, they lay out the game, remove the mystery and any possible Malevich like mysticism. They re-present the show as a material as well as pictorial fact. Constructivist materialism wins over Suprematist transcendentalism. And thinking through the reliefs some more, what’s important here is that they show us how to look. They play with us and draw us back to the real physical world of making, where strange things are allowed to happen.
What about colour? Black and white, grey. Ok we get that. But brown? Beige. Tan. No one can accuse Andrews of going too Pop on us. These are though the tones of wood, earth, and industry. Things that keep us grounded. Neutral colours. So no matter how violently the structures of these paintings might shatter we’re not let off the hook by escape into hysterical colour. No risk of abstraction falling for the decorative medusa here. (Sure, there are fragments of yellow, orange, almost blue, but not so much that they hold ground. Instead they simply activate the clusters.)
As for the explosions at the core of these paintings…I don’t know but I’d say there’s something more utopian than dystopian about them. I mean these feel like events, moments of energy. Yes they’re created in a shaker box, but the agreed upon arrangement of forms is still contingent upon inclusion and rejection, the purposeful or sub conscious elevation of one kind of structure over another. Duchamp didn’t just stumble into his urinal. The Arps didn’t let those pieces of paper fall just any old way.
I also like that there is nothing remotely jokey about this work. It’s not a remaking of one strain of an historicized reductive abstraction ala the1980s Postmodern strategies of anyone from Sherrie Levine to Peter Halley. The analogue source isn’t some kind of ironic take, a purposeful dumbing down. It’s not even anti technology. Instead it reads as a line of inquiry into how we can go about abstract painting, how we can keep it connected in the present, and reclaim it too from an over-encroachment by the worlds of design. This is abstraction that relies on real world events and objects in real time and space to come into being. The place these paintings hold in the world is to a point dictated by that highly restricted arena of the shaker box. But like the alphabet with its 26 letters it’s amazing what can be achieved with just a few elements to play with. In a world where we have never had so much choice, so much access to the visual, at what point does a maximalist approach to art making max itself out? Andrews, by his preparedness to narrow his field, isn’t giving anything up. On the contrary you sense he’s thinking like some kind of scientist here.
Nothing is proved or disproved in any normal scientific sense but there is inquiry nevertheless. The finished works are proof of this. And whether or not the research ‘makes sense’ in any rational scientific way doesn’t matter so long as an outcome is generated in the form of an artwork. This is half the battle isn’t it? To find the method by which you keep on making in the face of so much that would rationally suggest you do otherwise.
Ultimately, Andrews’ ‘analogue shift’ is more than an escape from the virtual land of the digital, away also from the transcendent, and to the place where abstraction belongs. Not a language of the other, but of here and now. A place of unlikely research and testing.
Can a shaker box and its resulting compositions change our world? Well it can change a painted world – the composition of elements on a canvas. That’s a world for some.