Review: David Ralph at Arc One Gallery
In Captivity 12 February - 8 March 2008
Arc One Gallery 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne
Dribbly, blurry, smeary, chunky, slick and rough, David Ralph makes his paint work hard. He puts it through an almost gymnastic regime, forcing it to perform in leaps and bounds on the canvas. The surface terrain is rich with diversity. A drag of abstract, followed by a moment of realist clarity, then free fall drips landing with thick brushy gestures that fade out in a blur. If his paintings could speak they would be polyglots. They seem to use a different language to describe each element they depict. For example, his sharp staccato grass is an entirely different dialect to the robust vernacular of his brickwork, and the slurred argot of his backgrounds is deliriously indecipherable.
But what are these paintings saying in their many tongues? Can we understand them or are they just fascinating to listen to? In Captivity is a caravan and camping show of sorts, but the campers in these paintings seem to have misplaced their wilderness. These leisure seekers in limbo bivouac in sterile galleries and soulless corporate interiors. In one painting a figure scans the horizon with binoculars searching for the promised land of a foreshore caravan park. Others find themselves trapped in the fantasy world of a tent brochure.
Like a perversion of Claude Lorraine’s caprices of ruins of the future overgrown and reclaimed by nature, Ralph’s unnatural world is being claimed by exiled naturalists. Why did you take their beautiful world away David Ralph? Are you suggesting that we have all lost contact with Mother Earth? Are we banished from the garden forever? Or are you proposing that these new frontiers are an expanded field of wilderness? An undiscovered cause for optimism, as the cheerful festoon lights in I’ll Create My Own Ray Of Sunshine would suggest?
This demonstration of a new spirit of adventure requires a detailed surface exploration. These paintings are palimpsests. Layers of paint scrape and tear away revealing substrata of earlier imagery. After the Rain features a blanket of impasto white and purple paint dragged over a slick photo real caravan. Are You Receiving Me has large swathes of forest green brushwork enclosing an underlying cascade of thinned down yellow. In For the Love of Birds and Bees, space seems to be in the process of metamorphosing as caravan, landscape and birdhouse are painted over and under each other, glibly disregarding the tyranny of single point perspective.
Ralph’s use of paint is wild and sometimes seems intent on upstaging its subject matter, perhaps it’s the paintings themselves that are in captivity.
© Tony Lloyd 2008