Marian Drew: Strata

Until 1st August

Andrew Baker Art Dealer (Online)

In this new series, landscapes are modelled into the humanised space of the still life. Photographic images torn from their rectilinear boundaries are rephotographed on mountainous tabletops converging photography, sculpture and collage in the context of my own practice. The push-pull of still life and landscape, through conflated geometries, dissolves traditional boundaries.

Alongside my photographic practice I make drawings, videos, sculptures and installations. Processes, objects and images produced in one media, inform and are materially available for another. In recent years I have concentrated on making small sculptures in bronze, iron, plaster and coral. This ongoing cross-media process of transferred use and re-photography builds my vernacular practice. Working as an artist for many years has resulted in storerooms full of framed and unframed prints, drawings, shelves of sculptures, boxes of analogue material, and multiple hard drives. Revisiting this historical material through a pressing need for studio consolidation, amplified my approach to the photographic works in such a way that loosened the material from its original purpose, encouraging new perspectives and physical experimentation. Strata emerged from this ongoing process of revision and excavation.

A recent body of work titled Devonian Flesh (2018–2019), directly influenced the development of ideas and shaped my response to the production and deconstruction of material for Strata. Large scale rocks photographed on trips to West Australia’s Kalbarri National Park, the Kimberley and West Arnhem Land were photographically mapped and relocated onto tabletops. The shift in scale and orientation of the relocated rocks, found a kinship with Gongshi (Scholars rocks) and Suiseki rocks, which in Chinese and Japanese cultures, are appreciated for their evocative forms. At once, object and metaphor, positioned on stands, or as larger rocks in raked sand, gardens and pools, Gongshi and Suiseki rocks offer sites for meditation and contemplation of the natural world and the forces that shape it.1

In thinking about landscape I am predominantly guided by European art history and theory, and my amateur geological interests. Natural landforms such as rock, mountains, caves and rivers, permeated with inherited cultural perspectives and mythologies, also evoke thoughts of planetary time and the inextricable connections between biology and geology.

Devonian Flesh (2018–2019) proposed table and rock as metaphoric counterparts, micro and macro, inside and outside, public and private, human and geological time. The rocks presented were formed in the Devonian Period 350 million years ago. They were literally made of the flesh of oceanic life heated, compressed and transformed into hard stuff. Relocating rocks onto tables, framing human endeavour

  1. Botton, Alain, (2016) Eastern Philosophy: The Love of Rocks https://youtube.com/ watch?v=7kaKYer6x5A

with geobiologic, I intended to draw attention to the idea that ‘landscape’ is not another place but that which we carry with us, residing within a constructed view.

The table as a site for artistic interventions was explored in previous exhibitions Centrepiece (2014), Fresh (2014) and Conceits (2015) and in collaboration with the artist collective, BaroqueLab (2016– 2018). Baroquelab explored as art events and workshops, playful table landscapes of starched linens, nesting sweets and sculptural objects. Moving images of waterfalls and fountains were projected onto cascades of fabric.

My practice with long exposure photography and selective lighting extends the time in which the photograph formed. Multiple events are recorded in camera on one piece of film or as digital file. Extending time in the construction of a photograph is an opportunity for exchange between hand and machine, chance and deliberation. Performative processes, the phenomenal reality of the subconscious, and the surreal nature of the photographic medium motivate my art production. Linkages between interior life and the outside has been a theme of my work since my first solo exhibition of photographs (1983), where white ghost gums were light painted with images of urban life. It seems much of my work has grown from my interest to erode borders between the urban and the natural.

Throughout the history of art, the genres of still life and landscape find convergence. Implied through the evidential bounty represented in early seventeenth century European still life paintings, ‘testaments of life lived comfortably on sprawling estates’2, landscapes may also be seen through open windows or drawn aside curtains. More unusually in the work of Eugene Delacroix, Still Life with Lobster (1826–27), or later De Chirico’s Still Life with Peppers (1930) a still life arrangement is literally laid as foreground within a panoramic landscape. The traditional still life’s suggestive compositional forms hint at the epic within the banal, coupling the otherworldly and the prosaic through ethereal motifs, symbol and analogy. In Cezanne’s late still life paintings such as Still Life with Apples (1893–94) held in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, landscape is referenced in the peaks and folds of fabric, composition and chromatic devices. Landscape is no longer background to still life, but rather worked into its very forms.3

Compelled by the rich textures and forms of fabric in European paintings and carvings, that I have studied in art museums around the world, it seems to me that these draperies connect the present to another time and place. Though functional, they also conjure the incorporeal or the intangible.

  1. Liedtke, “Still-Life Painting in Northern Europe, 1600-1800.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000-. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nstl/hd_nstl.htm (October 2003)
  2. Alsdorf, Bridget (2010) ‘Interior landscapes: metaphor and meaning in Cézanne’s late still lifes’, Word &Image, 26: 4, 314 – 323

Weightlessness is achieved in the sweep of clothing propelling upward the Archangel Gabriel in Matthias Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, Colmar. A simple spread napkin frames and supports the Easter bread in Edouard Manet’s The Brioche, New York Metropolitan. Metaphor, analogy and association complement the functional role of drapery within art history.

Strata evolved as a consequence of an iterative 2D and 3D art practice, the revisiting of artwork, and an enthusiasm for rocks and details of landscape. I believe this includes what painters call muscle memory. In my case it is the memory of handling and carving forms, and the physical tracing of landscape details, through rocky outcrops and caves. These processes and memories have shaped the form of Strata, where my recurring themes of still life and landscape converge.

Scientific knowledge, contemporary imaging technologies and networked platforms of exchange and are transforming understandings of pictorial perspective. With respectful acknowledgment to Cezanne’s interiorisation of landscape, modernism, and the compressions of geometry in cubism and surrealism, these sculptural collages navigate the terrain between landscape and its internalisation through the imaginary space of still life.

Art historian Geoffrey Batchen summarizes in the foreword to my monograph, Marian Drew Photographs and Video, 2006, ‘Marian Drew has made a career out of exploring the real unreality of the photograph’.

To view the online exhibition please – CLICK HERE

Image: WOMEN WHO MOIL FOR GOLD 2020

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