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Reviews/Visual Art

Terrible beauty in exhibition trifecta

17 September 2020

Craig McKeough steps into a series of unsettling and chilling worlds in neighbouring exhibitions by Merrick Belyea and Brad Rimmer at Art Collective WA, and Jacobus Capone at Moore Contemporary.

“Even in Arcadia, There Am I”, Merrick Belyea and “Nocturne”, Brad Rimmer ·
Art Collective WA ·
“Piteraq”, Jacobus Capone ·
Moore Contemporary ·

Merrick Belyea’s dramatic landscapes of locations around Perth possess a terrible beauty that is as unsettling as it is compelling.

These oil on board paintings in the Perth artist’s latest show “Even in Arcadia, There Am I” suggest something of the classic rugged grandeur of the Australian bush, but at the same time there is an overriding sense that all is not well. 

The darkness of most of the landscapes and the stark red hues that dominate them combine to evoke a sense of heat, fire and looming destruction. It seems that Arcadia — the ancient Greek ideal of a wilderness unspoilt by humans — is not safe. In fact it is in peril.

Environmental issues have long driven Belyea’s work, and this collection brings those concerns closer to home. Images of local landscapes — Nanga Brook, Clontarf Hill, Ashfield Flats, Woodman Point, Gabbadah and Moore River among them — all carry an unmistakable signature of alarm.

Merrick Belyea, ‘Serpentine Hills’, 2019, oil on board, 30 x 91cm

At first glance there is a sameness about the works — the repetition of theme, colour and mark is hard to miss. But they reward much closer inspection as the distinct identity of each emerges. Belyea’s strong physical intervention on the surface of the board during the painting process, and his confident, vigorous mark making, give each work a unique stamp.

Belyea is sharing what he has learnt about these landscapes and what that means for our place within them. The message is delivered powerfully and eloquently.

Belyea shares the Art Collective space with “Nocturne”, a small collection of Brad Rimmer photographs which also carry a strong sense of landscape. In this case they show a place far from home — perhaps somewhere even further away than the European mountain scenes they depict. 

The photographs are the result of Rimmer’s residency in Basel, Switzerland, and the Swiss Alps are the stars.

There’s no doubting the striking nature of these alien-like images, with their strong contrasting lines and sheer planes juxtaposed with the ethereal tangles of trees. The altered colours in these near monotone photographs, taken by moonlight as the exhibition title suggests, just add to their otherworldliness. But it also seems to distance them from the viewer. They are technically brilliant and fascinating to look at, but the images are ice cold, much like their subject matter.

The photos feature in Rimmer’s latest book, Don’t Look Down, available through Art Collective WA.

Jacobus Capone, ‘Piteraq’, 2017, C-type print, 80 x 125cm framed, Image courtesy the Artist and MOORE CONTEMPORARY

The current exhibition at Art Collective’s Cathedral Square neighbour Moore Contemporary has a pleasing synergy with the Belyea and Rimmer shows.

“Piteraq”, a combination of a video presentation and small paintings by Perth artist Jacobus Capone, had its genesis during a month in residence in winter on the island of Upernavik, above the Arctic Circle in Greenland. You can almost feel the chill from the flurries of snow in the video which features a lone figure traversing the pure white landscape in a slowly mesmerising, but ultimately pointless, promenade.

Capone’s paintings, produced during extended periods when conditions were too bleak to venture outside, were created on black sugar paper using black gouache mixed with melted sea ice. Yes, they’re dark — a fitting representation of the landscape closing in on the artist. The intricate images depict the string games he was trying to teach himself during the long, cold periods confined to his small cabin.

It was something of a relief to step outside into the relative warmth of a Djilba day in Perth.

“Even in Arcadia, There Am I” and “Nocturne” run until 10 October at Art Collective WA. “Piteraq” is on view until 19 September at Moore Contemporary.

Pictured top is Brad Rimmer’s ‘Nocturne Eiger Glacier 1’, 2017-2020, archival digital print, 75 x 100cm, ed. 3

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Author —
Craig McKeough

Craig McKeough is a writer and visual artist, with a lifetime’s experience in journalism, covering everything from the arts to horse racing, politics and agriculture. Craig has always been drawn to the swing; an egalitarian, grounding piece of equipment where you can go as high and wild as you want, but you’ll always return to where you started.

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