Anthony Galbraith

Macquarie Galleries, Sydney

The Sydney-based artist Anthony Galbraith works in mixed media, making shallow constructions of primed paper, balsa wood and canvas. He usually works on a number of these constructions simultaneously. Although his work has some historical references in Australian Modernism (Godfrey Miller, Eric Wilson, Grace Crowley, Ralph Balson, Frank Hinder), it is better understood outside the parenthesis.

For Poussin (1593/4-1665) "painting is nothing but an image of incorporeal things, despite the fact that it exhibits bodies, for it represents only the arrangement, proportions and forms of things and is more intent on the idea of beauty than any other". Regarded as the greatest French painter of the 17th century, of Baroque classicism, Poussin imposed a geometric way of thought, derived from logical reasoning upon his surface. The figure, landscape and architectural forms, the representation of human emotion were arranged in pictorial proportion in order that Poussin 's theoretical notions could find visual articulation. He was a maker of picture windows.

The rationalisation of space is the subject matter of Anthony Galbraith's constructions. Painting and drawing combine surface and structure, creating a box-like picture window. All these works are titled Untitled, suggesting that the viewer enter the window without preconception, without prerequisite, embracing the works of other artists within contemporary history who have subscribed to a similar system of naming. The objects in the picture are the same objects used to make the pictures- the tools of the artist's trade-triangles, rulers, set squares and T-squares. Together they create an autobiography of the artist's domestic life.

It is an artistic approach to the current historical method, rearranging lists of objects from daily existence in order to document the times we live in, keeping records in order that a time beyond may reconstruct us through the traces we leave behind. These are fictions without narrative, each being an investigation about process. Although the pictorial space is the two-dimensionality of their surface these are three-dimensional objects. Each construction has a life of its own. The process depends partly upon the manner of construction, as no two works are built identically. For the artist, problem solving is seen as an intuitive process whilst for the reader, the result seems to have been arrived at through an idiosyncratic system of logic. For this writer, it is that the results reflect logic, intuition, concerns for colour and space relationships, that give the work its appeal.
It may look cubistic (synthetic rather than analytic), but the work is more about itself than any outside reference. Each construction begins with a triangle, sometimes two, a compositional device for creating divisions in the two-dimensional space. The shape of the surface determines the location of the triangle's placement. Sometimes the triangle is contained within the shape, other times it extends, crossing boundaries. A square taken off the edge of the triangle, diagonals placed through the square, the square then rotated provide an angle across the picture, not parallel to the edge of the triangle. With the addition of right angles the possibilities extend to include four angles for interacting. When lines become parallel to the picture plane the pictorial space is more penetrable. An area, representing the floor, no longer sits behind a table but comes up parallel to it and the space becomes less penetrable. With the addition of the architrave to the frame the viewer is totally excluded, as if on the other side of the window looking in, with the frame determining the distance between viewer and object. As still lifes these works move away from 'the vase on the table' to include sections of nearby furniture and the tools of the artist's domesticity.

While the window appears as an ongoing motif throughout the history of art, it is in the early writings of Lean Battista Alberti (1404-72), before he devoted himself to architectural practice, that seminal notes on the window appear, around 1435. It was perceived that the painting would function as a window for the viewer to look through to an outside. The picture surface contained the three dimensions of the painted surface, the space beyond, and the space in which the artist stood. It was also Alberti who would begin by drawing a rectangle upon the surface to be covered, the rectangle being an open window (transparent glass was rare at the time). With abstract painting, the tangibility of objects turned the preoccupation with the window into the possibility of the mirror, whereby a painted object became a surface for reflection, affording the viewer the luxury of looking inwards.

In these works of Anthony Galbraith, these painted constructions, the drawing lines record the process of calculation as well as becoming part of the painted surface. The history of the work is noted from within, as a series of illicit meeting places. The colour surrounding these conjunctions is murky, tonal, suggestive of a coupling relationship between transparency and obstruction.

The viewer tends to read a spatiality, based on ground and picture plane, into these windows but there are tricks that curve the eye into unforeseeable spaces and lines which meet outside the frame. They are fictive images. The paint application, surface and texture, are part of the problem solving process. The lines in themselves are a finished drawing containing their accumulated history. It is a subjective geometrical system. Earlier influences include Juan Gris who in 1921, in a response to a questionnaire on his art, stated that he worked with elements of the intellect, with the imagination, making concrete that which is abstract. Another influence is the Californian painter Richard Diebenkorn, whose process is also based on a subjective, geometrical system. And of course, Matisse, the painter of windows, of colour and light.

The act of seeing the Galbraithian constructions eventually takes one back to one's intuition, reminding us that the language of problem and the language of solution need not be the same. The graphic representation of this difference adds to how we understand understanding. An end quote from Braque: "one day I saw something amazing: a cyclist stopped at a dustbin. He took from it the handle of an umbrella. He pushed it into his pump, forcing it slightly. That gave him a pump with a handle. Painting is more than that. It removes objects from their usual setting."