RM Schuurmans-Medek

Bellas Gallery, Brisbane

It is beyond the scope of a review to retrace the arguments of paintings' worth, and become argumentative, to unravel abstraction as if it were the only painted child of modernity, or to make the case for 'truth and beauty' over 'power and authority'. To state it simply, Brisbane artist RM Schuurmans-Medek (hereafter named RM, the artist's preferred designation), errs on the side of truthfulness. There is an elegiac quality to RM's paintings, unencumbered by overwrought devices or theoretical intrusions. Colour ventures no further than a tripart blue monochrome, Cobalt, Prussian Blue and Ultramarine (their scientific notations and historical developments are posted as evidence of external narrations). Each work has a structural element but does not follow a systemic or geometric determinism. Oil is the preferred medium because of its fluidity, chromatic depth and luminosity- it is not used merely to historicise. The project, titled 'Blueprint, from drawing to projection', is not a treatise on blue, to go where no blue has gone before, or an alternative to Yves Klein 's IKI Blue, but operates within the realm of possibilities of what painting is. To cite Jean-Francois Lyotard, painting ' ... demands that the visible be sacrificed so that ... human eyes (be granted) the grace of seeing what they do not see' .1

Far from being evasive, Lyotard's poeticism acknowledges the holy mysteries, that which is beyond the analytical probe. Likewise, there is no way to prove RM's objectives, 'to explore how some of our responses (to painting) could be framed as 'romantic' if contextualised in the language of art history. (How they could be described as 'erotic' if they were not)'. The same can be said of fiction; to separate character and scrutinise a life beyond the author's invention is to lose the essence and unity of a total work. In the 'tradition' of compelling modernism, RM's paintings reconcile divergent streams with an essentialism rather than deferring to the 'look' of precursors, or competing versions of abstracted history. The triptych Ultramarine/Netherlands Painting is composed of horizontal 'zips' of alternating density. The panoramic proportions-dominating one of the gallery spaces-suggests the banding of cloud and sky at dammerung, when it is neither day nor night (hence, the extraordinary). The 'Netherlands' subtitle also summons up a juncture and seamless vista of the two sovereign blues, sky and sea. The paradox of seeing art in life-nature made visible by art-was wryly summarised by a New Yorker cartoon: a character observes a 'rectilinear apparition' and remarks, 'Look .. . a Rothko sunset'. The truth of the joke is that it was a Rothko, not the setting sun. But one needs to know both in order to make the mistake.

Similarly, if Cobalt/In Saturation is only examined for its conventions of the 'overall' and the 'edge', by default we may overlook the painterly vision. Here, there is an event and horizon of indeterminate proportions and moment in time. Although not an epic, scale reinforces a 'picture window' experience. This may well be what author Andrew Benjamin refers to when he asks, 'How does painting work to remember?' 2 In turn, the question echoes painter Waiter Sickert who, in 1924, asserted that 'paintings should not be regarded as signs of culture, but as utensils of memory and vicarious experience.'3

RM's three the 'doors' paintings, which form a loosely bound triptych, resonate with the structural elements of the artist's studio and the qualities of light as it passes through windows and reflects off surfaces, an exercise of memory, insight and cognition. In addition to earthly reminders, there is sign value. A small oil on oil paper work, Large Blue Cross, is the beginning of the 'blueprint'; a cruciform which embodies all its symbolic properties and drips with narration. It shares an embodied abstraction with the larger works and paintings. 4 Above all else, RM is a naturalist and a realist.


1. 'Abstraction', journal of Philosophy and the Visual Arts, No. 5 (Academy Editions, London, 1995) p. 52.

2. Benjamin's subJect is the work of Therese Outlon, paintings titled Abstract with Memories. 'Abstraction', op. cit. p. 9

3. Cited in The Life and Opinions of Walter Richard Sickert, Robert Emmons, London, 194 I.

4. The phrase is borrowed from curator joseph R. Wolin-his Embodied Abstraction exhibition title, Americas Society Art Gallery, NYC, 1997.