Surface Tension features the work of high-profile Australian painters Sally Gabori, Michael Zavros, and Jonny Niesche alongside leading NZ and international artists. The exhibition presents works that interrogate surfaces, how they’re formed and the power they hold. Some artists in the exhibition explore the materiality of paint on canvas, transforming a means of representation into a vehicle for building unexpected texture, depth, and sensation. Others flip this approach. Exploring the medium of painting in an expanded sense, several works intentionally trouble the traditional understanding of painting and instead explore the dynamic potential of painting.
The exhibition draws on ideas expressed by American artist David Reed who articulated the problem – or, perhaps, the advantage – of painting’s position: ‘Painting is the most impure and the most debased of the art forms because its greatest virtue is its ease at absorbing outside influences. It has a symbiotic relationship with various belief systems, religious and political. Now, it can have just as rich a relationship with technologies of mechanical reproduction like photography and film, as well as performance, dance, architecture, sculpture and installation.’
Known for his extraordinary technical prowess, Michael Zavros has captivated audiences with his sumptuous realist renderings and surreal juxtapositions. Frequently engrossed in notions of quality and luxury, fashion and appearance, Zavros’s idealised imagery has developed alongside Australia’s pronounced turn to conspicuous consumption and aspirational individualism. A major survey exhibition of Zavros’ work titled ‘The Favourite’ is currently on exhibition at Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art. This exhibition profiles significant thematic explorations of the artist, including fashion magazines, European palaces, luxury cars, his children, Narcissus, and still life, in addition to his self-portraits and reflections upon his heritage.
Aboriginal artist Sally Gabori (c.1924–2015) is one of the most important Australian painters. Gabori began painting in her 80s and her immediate love of paint and the full spectrum of colour triggered an outpouring of energy, her confident paintings of country quickly gaining her the recognition of the art world. While her works are largely seen as abstraction they are highly idiosyncratic mind mapped landscapes, in which layers of understanding of place and country are loosely transcribed. A closer look reveals how country, colour and the mind’s eye combine. The focus of many of her paintings is Gabori’s favourite location, and the land, songs and narratives associated with Dibirdibi (the Rock Cod ancestor) that Gabori maintained along with her husband Dibirdibi (Pat Gabori).
Jonny Niesche’s succulent and seductive surfaces are abstract compositions that ooze from the centre outwards in swathes of carefully rendered hues that dissolve from one to the next. Avante Art describes how “Instead of seeing his works as painting or sculpture, the artist sees them as ‘image-objects,’ shifting between the two disciplines. The works utilise a variety of techniques and materials including metal stretchers, voile, digital colour selection and dye sublimation – a process that uses heat to transfer dye. Neither opaque nor see-through, they appear to float and pulsate, changing from fixed images to dynamic events.”
Joining the traditional painters in Surface Tension is Petra Cortright (US), a painter who has never picked up a paint brush. Often referred to as a leading figure in the Post-Internet Art movement, Cortright collates information from the internet and her everyday surrounds, densely layering hundreds of found images and custom digital brush strokes into captivating digital paintings and video works.
Like Petra Cortright, Richard Maloy (NZ) takes a hunter/gatherer approach to his compositions, drawing on found objects. Maloy is a multi disciplinary artist whose practice has continually investigated the making of art, drawing on performativity and process. His new body of work explores different moments of the creative act, now focusing on the working process of his students. Presenting selected segments of painting palettes used by art school students that he treats as source material Maloy creates work that sits between mediums and destabilises the viewer’s understanding.
In the second part of exhibition two paintings by Australian artist Paul Davies will join the exhibition. Building upon the iconic mid-century aesthetic Davies’ painting seems rooted in an optimistic post-World War II suburban dream. Across a body of work that combines painting, stencilling, photography, and sculpture Davies prompts us to ask what lies beneath his depiction of highly desirable homes and pool-side glamour.