gary carsley: trompe-l'oeil, a society 4 beautification project

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
29 August - 21 September 2002

Illusionism runs through Gary Carsley's exhibition 'Trompe-l'oeil', yet not in the style of the photo-realists who ostensibly set out to fool the eye by rendering the appearance of three-dimensionality. Carsley's exhibition is concerned with the art of translation, the deception of space, the erasure of time, and the democratisation of beauty, each a strategy familiar to Carsley's oeuvre. 'Trompe-l'oeil' is comprised of four moments, Trompe-l'oeil paintings, Reverse Meissen sculptural works, Balcony Seen plastic lace and Dollar Art photocopies, each part folded into the whole via coloured fragments of glass that hem the edges of the gallery fioor and walls.

The medium of each set of moments exemplifies Carsley's insistence on the collapse of the hierarchical structures that inform art and its histories. Painting is transgressed with Carsley's airbrush; sculpture is fiattened into thee planes of deception that together relocate the whole; Paddington iron lace is lifted from the foundries of Victorian society and revived via cut-out coloured plastic and photocopied A3 paper works, the later sold as Dollar Art. These multiple mediums and cross-decorative motifs at first confuse the eye and transgress the space, leaving the viewer caught in a momentary state of flux. However, from each of these moments unravels a thread suggestive of the fissure of cultural memory and its impermanent occupation.

The Trompe-/'oeil paintings and the Reverse Meissen sculptural works exist in correspondence with each other, the later the subject of the former. Each Reverse Meissen contains three fiat planes that in total revel a unique floral arrangement primed by the artist from cut fiowers originating from different regions of the globe, and including lotus, orchids, bottlebrush and grasses. Arbitrary oval shapes have been cut from each of these layers, revealing the three planes of translation , and creating a forced depth of field and subsequent shadowing within the frame. The oval shapes act as multiple apertures, pulling each layer into focus. The curves of each oval present stability of form and provide each work with an abstraction akin to the sublime 'zip paintings' of Barnett Newman. The Trompel'oeil paintings hang on the opposing wall in strict acknowledgment to their subject, and complete the fooling of the frame by the hand of Carsley who has mimicked these abstractions. The addition of the coloured glass fragments scattered across the space between the walls and fioor is an attempt to erase the line between object and subject, and act as an anchor to the actuality of space.

The historical reference to Meissen is implicit in the tilling of the series and runs analogously to the works in that it is a cross-cultural reading of society that Carsley is describing. The foundation of the Meissen manufactory in 1710 in Germany saw the beginning of European porcelain production: until then it had been produced by Chinese and Japanese artisans who created the celebrated porcelain works that adorned the homes and palaces of European aristocracy. 11 was with the discovery of kaolin, a fine white clay used in the manufacture of porcelain (and the name of a mountain in China from where it was first mined), that prompted this alchemical moment in Meissen and transformed what was ostensibly a pottery based trade into the great period of European porcelain production. The utilisation and the cross-cultural production of porcelain and its decoration exemplifies the multiple apertures of Carsley in his insistence on a cohesive portrait of the nation.

Following the genre of Dutch still-life painting that positioned flowers as the metaphorical subject used to portray the nation, Carsley has triumphed with a similar ploy. With each piece of flora arranged and imaged, rearranged and re-imaged, Carsley reveals the (a)historical mechanics of cultural production that have set out literally to 'trick the eye'. The description of Paddington lace via the hand cut-out plastic Balcony Seen and the A3 photocopies of Dollar Art completes the illusion of time, place and space, throwing linearity across the gallery and insisting on a rethinking of art and its histories as being positioned congruously with society. Trompe-l'oeil is not so much a fooling of the eye, as a rearrangement of the eye as a receptacle of the sensations of reality, the mediator of space, and the guardian of the body in time.