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Reviews/Visual Art

Between order and chaos

9 June 2020

The exhibitions of West Australian artists Susan Roux and Paul Uhlmann both complement and call out to one another, observes Jaimi Wright, in shades of grey that feel appropriate for these uncertain times.

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‘Marking the Vanishing’, Susan Roux and ‘Land of Smoke’, Paul Uhlmann ·
Art Collective WA ·
Review by Jaimi Wright ·

I am drifting between the land and sky during a storm, between spaces of order and chaos, embodiment and impermanence, black and white. The land below me is Susan Roux’s latest exhibition ‘Marking the Vanishing’, a surreal mix of body and geology that crackles with life. The sky above me is Paul Uhlmann’s latest exhibition ‘Land of Smoke’, an elusive blend of light, birds, atmosphere, stingrays, and soft breaths. This is the experience afforded to you by the joint exhibition currently at Art Collective WA, showing until June 20.

Roux is a South African born West Australian artist who works with an unorthodox combination of materials to create artworks representative of intense searching and change within gender and body politics. The materials she uses – ink, carbon, thread and polished steel on archival photographic print – are often indistinguishable from one another, which creates a powerful sense of chaos.

What is apparent in Roux’s works is a complex geological structure that merges delicately between black and white, but is marred by roughened edges. Roux explains that her process is to “wound” the paper in order to create its texture. In doing this, she reveals the paper’s fragile and permeable nature, which she compares to human skin and human nature itself. The result is artwork with strong and ever-changing presence; to see it again is to see it anew.

'Land of Smoke (Sea)' by Paul Uhlmann
Paul Uhlmann, ‘Land of Smoke (Sea)’, 2020, oil on canvas, 183 x 150cm.

Uhlmann’s work comes as if from a dream. Where Roux’s work has a geological rawness, Uhlman’s, drawn from oil on canvas, evoke an atmospheric ethereality. The elusive and ghostly nature of his images is inspired by ‘sfumato’, a technique employed by Leonardo da Vinci that derives from the Italian word “fumo” meaning “smoke”. According to the exhibition notes, the intent of these hazy images of birds and stingrays, skulls and ashes, is to reveal the impact of seeing these objects for the first time, and also to highlight the limitations of vision, and the ways in which Australia’s identity is often perceived/misunderstood.

On paper, Roux and Uhlmann bear similarities in their artistic purpose. Both artists deal with the nature of shifting and impermanence as expressed in shades of black, white and grey, which create haunting and ghostly forms.

But the approaches between Roux and Uhlmann could not be more different, and this is where the powerful interplay between these works takes place. Take for example two works that I find to be most striking from these exhibitions: Acid Migration (2020) by Roux (pictured top), and Land of Smoke (Sea) (2020) by Uhlmann (pictured above). Although not hung alongside one another, these pieces call to each other from down the hallway in strange echoes of form and colour. Acid Migration is mounted on a wall all of its own; its geological and skin-like body reaches out and boldly blurs the patches of white and black across its surface. And Land of Smoke (Sea) responds from the end of the hall with something like a smoky hand reaching from its flattened depths. The result is both effective and affective; between these two artworks one can’t help but feel both watched and introspective.

We need shades of grey in our perspectives now more than ever. ‘Marking the Vanishing’ and ‘Land of Smoke’ do not provide these answers, instead they remind us of the struggles of identity and perception and how these experiences help us change and grow for the better.

Marking the Vanishing’ and ‘Land of Smoke’ continue at Art Collective WA until 20 June 2020.

Pictured top is Susan Roux, ‘Acid Migration’, 2020, ink, carbon, thread and polished steel on archival photographic print, 150 x 270 x 50cm.

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Author —
Jaimi Wright

Jaimi Wright is your friendly neighbourhood art historian. She has just completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) at UWA and dabbles in curating, local arts writing, and 19th century French history. Her favourite piece of play equipment is the roundabout even though her stomach should know better.

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