Review: Kristian Pithie Gallery: Same, same but different

kristian Pithie Gallery
Tuesday 10 March -Saturday 4 April

I applaud Kristian Pithie’s efforts in starting a new space at this time. It is a welcome note of optimism in a relentlessly gloomy period. There are some very nice works in this show, which is essentially an introduction to Pithie’s stable of artists. This type of show is a common enough occurrence in commercial galleries and is something which is almost essential for a newly opening gallery. Given that these shows are for all intents and purposes uncurated, Kristian has shown admirable restraint and come up with a hang that is not lost in a comparatively large space, but also not overcrowded.

I asked Kristian Pithie about his plans for the new gallery, “ideally I'd love to be the leading gallery in exhibiting art from the asia/pacific including Australia and NZ,” he says, adding that “As I don't have any artists currently from Asia or NZ it might be a little premature to make this announcement but it's great to have aims and aspirations for the space.” Pithie also has plans to establish a
dedicated space for digital work, a first for Melbourne commercial galleries

To digress and talk about the art, for just a moment, I will pick out a couple of works of artists new (comparatively) to Melbourne. Giles Alexander’s cathedral interior has great presence and authority. In a black shadow box of exceptionally deep profile. it calls to mind the cabinetry of panelled alterpieces. The distortions of the image strangely add to the illusion of reality, as if we are looking at an imperfect mirror. Or perhaps more apt, given the painting’s finish of thick, high-gloss resin, it seems that we are peering through some viscous but agitated fluid. Truth, distortion – distortion seeming to increase truth – much like religion itself.

Guy Maestri’s painting seems a long way from his Archibald wining portrait. This abstract canvas is covered with thick paint and intuitive gestures. Text is evoked, but not defined, a grid is hinted at, but only in    shorthand. There seems to be only the loosest formalism. The painting all but requires us to believe in the shamanic abilities of an artist to summon up beauty and meaning in the absence of text and order. I am not a subscriber to the shamanic theory of art - it makes me uncomfortable. However this painting does work whether Maestri is a shaman or not.

Heather Swann’s fascinating sculptures are always a pleasure. It has been some years since she had a solo show in Melbourne and this will be something to look forward to. Her leather and wood sculptures of stylised animals recall nursery toys on one hand, but the construction technique and materials seem to relate to the artisan’s workmanship of bespoke shoes, saddlery or antique furniture – something quite adult anyway. These are toys for adults – but without the tawdry associations that normally come with that phrase. In the end, I suppose that is what all artworks are.

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