Review: Andrew Browne - Chimera

Andrew Browne  - Chimera

Tolarno  Gallery

 As I write this, the show is about to close, but these paintings will be floating around the art world in the flesh and in reproduction for a while.

I have heard criticism of this show that the paintings are perhaps repetitive. I don't agree with that, though the show might have been a tad over hung. These paintings need time to work and deliver most of their rewards with contemplation.

 This show comprises large, monochromatic paintings of densely entangled branches of trees or vines. The stark frontal lighting suggests flash photography at night was the source for these images. The branches are defoliated suggesting death, or at least winter. In any event, something dark and cold.

The paintings are dense with information. Mostly about branches. Still, it is strangely hypnotic to consider these images and to follow the interwoven boughs and twigs. Given time, an interesting thing happens - secondary images begin to emerge. Certain configurations suggest faces and figures lurking in, or perhaps formed by the twigs. This is an exploitation of a human survival trait - the tendency to interpret ambiguous imagery as potentially threatening animals - and especially as the most threatening animal, namely humans. It also calls to mind notions of spirits embedded within the trees - maybe a nod to animist religions  such as  Shinto.

The show's title 'Chimera' may be revealing here, calling to mind hybridised beasties. Are these merely hybrid plants or, part plant/part human monsters?

The use of flash-style lighting inevitably suggests a freeze-frame. It is not hard to imagine these branches thrashing in some wintery squall. This adds to the sense of threat - the branches revealed only momentarily then disappearing again into blackness. Maybe they are advancing on us like a shonky Dr Who alien monster.   Of course they might just be bare twigs at night. The latter might imply an apocalypse or just cold weather. It is all ominous.

Browne's technique is superb. The paint appears to have been layered and rubbed back with highlights added. But it is applied masterfully so that process of creating the work disappears leaving just the imagery and the seductive object-presence of skilful painting.

By Sam Leach

Sam Leach

Leach is an artist living and working in Melbourne. He was born in Adelaide in 1973 and moved to Melbourne in the early 90s. Leach completed his honours degree in painting at RMIT in 2004 and is currently doing his masters. In 2006 Leach won the Metro5 prize and the Geelong contemporary art prize. This year he was a finalist in the Archibald. Leach shows at Nellie Castan gallery in Melbourne (show coming up in June) and Sullivan and Strumpf gallery in Sydney