Reviews/Visual Art

Out of the darkness

26 November 2020

In what has been a bleak, dark year for our artists, Mossenson Galleries’ joint exhibition, ‘SIX : 2020’, is a truly bright spot, Craig McKeough says.

‘SIX : 2020’ ·
Mossenson Galleries, Subiaco ·

“SIX : 2020” offers a satisfying mix of the thought-provoking and the quirky, some jarring clashes of colour and material, and artworks of sheer aesthetic delight.

It brings together six WA artists at varying stages of their careers in a welcome initiative by Mossenson Galleries and the associated Mossenson Foundation: a response to the covid-19 downturn and a year most artists would prefer to forget.

There is no obvious artistic connection between the six – who were supported through the exhibition after a competitive application process – but astute selection and curation have produced a coherent show that allows the viewer to move easily between each artist’s contributions while enabling each individual to shine.

Penny Bovell’s acrylic on canvas works are a pleasing exploration of colour and form based on her response to the environment around Herdsman Lake in Perth’s northern suburbs. Some display bold contrasts of colour and shape, evoking tree trunks, while perhaps the most successful paintings, such as Branch and Between, display a softer, layered effect with colours and forms blurring into a mysterious depth.

George Howlett also works in acrylic on canvas, but his offering is of a more forthright nature, with strong geometric forms and sharp edges. He also literally plays with light: neon tubes installed across some of the canvases radically alter their otherwise flat expanses of colour.

Penny Bovell: ‘Asphalt series’ and Matthew McAlpine: ‘Beneath the radiant Southern Cross’ and ‘In Strains’. Photo by Matthew McAlpine.

His playfulness peaks on That’s what you get for getting out of bed in the morning, a hastily daubed and misspelt list of things to do today, including some entirely reasonable suggestions, such as “eat yesterday’s lasagna”, as well as the more alarming “whipper snipper some tall poppies”.

Matthew McAlpine takes a political stance in his Beneath the Radiant Southern Cross series. These well-realised mixed-media works explore issues of colonialism. He combines acrylic paint with sand, fluorescent pigment and found materials to create rough, gritty, almost ugly surfaces, but with hints of the bright fluorescence peeping through, perhaps hinting at the possibilities for our nation if we can just deal with this invasion thing!

Desmond Mah also addresses cultural marginalisation, using heavily textured and luridly coloured panels to portray the menacing landscape that lurks within our ordinary neighbourhoods. He combines a sweep of found objects – some of it actual rubbish – as well as LED lighting and mechanical elements that jolt the senses but also ask some pertinent questions.

Bella Scharfenstein’s delicately rendered mixed-media works have a quiet beauty that could have been overwhelmed by their proximity to Mah’s outlandish display. But these large canvases hold their own because of their subtle colours and strikingly intricate webs of fine lines that appear to have been painstakingly drawn. However, Scharfenstein has cleverly combined digital prints on maps and overlaid them with coloured gauze to deliver some highly polished and appealing work.

Similarly, Lia McKnight takes a deliberative approach to her art with an intriguing collection of drawings in ink, pencil, graphite and pen. They are based on botanic specimens but altered just enough to jar the viewer into questioning precisely what they are looking at – some seem to imply forms of human anatomy. And the addition of jaunty stitches of gold thread to some of them moves the series further still from the realm of botanical illustration.

McKnight is also responsible for one of the standouts of the exhibition, her stunning sculptural work, In darkness, the eternal light, in which she combines ceramics, fibre, fabric and found objects to remarkable effect. This large-as-life figure casts an imposing presence in the room with its expressionless face a glazed ceramic impression of a banksia cone. With its skeletal wings and drapes of heavy fabric, it creates a compelling if unsettling vision. It’s hard to take your eyes off it. Is it a harbinger of something unpleasant or just another odd turn? We’re surely getting used to those in 2020.

Mossenson Galleries deserves credit for the “SIX : 2020” initiative, providing opportunities for local visual artists and producing a bright spot in a year with far too much darkness.

“SIX : 2020” continues until 5 December.

Pictured top: Lia McKnight’s stunning sculptural work ‘In darkness, the eternal light’. Photo by Matthew McAlpine

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

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.

Past Articles

  • But nothing is as it seems

    The startlingly realistic sculptures and installations by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah in ‘Everything Is True’ issue a challenge to apply our own versions of the truth to them, Craig McKeough writes.

  • Local artists enjoy the spotlight

    Thanks to the pandemic, a broader range of local artists have been given the opportunity to present work at Perth Festival this year, resulting in two interesting and challenging exhibitions, writes Craig McKeough.

Read Next

  • Dayana Hardy Acuna as Giselle, Oscar Valdes as Albrecht with the dancers of West Australian Ballet in Giselle (2021). Photo by Bradbury Photography In the white tutu of the a Wili, Dayana Hardy Acuna holds an arabesque en pointe, leaning on the shoulder of Oscar Valdes who kneels in front of her. To their right is a line of white tutu clad Wilis. Romantic tale transcends the centuries

    Romantic tale transcends the centuries

    14 May 2021

    West Australian Ballet’s 2021 season of Giselle demonstrates that this 180 year old ballet still has the capacity to touch audience’s hearts, says Kim Balfour.

    Reading time • 7 minutesDance
  • Sophia Forrest and Darius Williams in 'I and You' A young man and woman embrace. They are sitting on a bed, with fairy lights in the background. She has a year on her face. The arrival of something special?

    The arrival of something special?

    13 May 2021

    In the high-quality double bill The Children and I and You David Zampatti hopes we might be seeing the emergence of a worthy successor to a long-lost, legendary Perth theatre company.

    Reading time • 7 minutesTheatre
  • Grace Ware, Find a place to sit, 2020. Image courtesy Five images of artist Grace Ware, posing with an inflatable fluorsecent yellow life-jacket type object. She is dressed in black and wears a black face mask. Nurturing passion, hatching fire

    Nurturing passion, hatching fire

    13 May 2021

    The 24 graduate artists showcased in this year’s “Hatched” exhibition have created a powerful and pensive testimonial to their generation, writes Patrick Gunasekera.

    Reading time • 7 minutesVisual Art

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio