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cut lines: kathryn brimblecombe-fox
lt takes a certain amount of artistic grit to work with landscape painting as a contemporary idiom. Installation and new media art are much easier. They come already coded as contemporary and proto-nontraditional, and immediately orientate audiences to a largely assumed iconoclasm. Landscape painting arrives coded as almost the opposite. lt is a genre signifying art history Establishment and belongs symbolically to what is past. There is also the difficulty of the whitefel/a Aussie artist expressing a relationship to land postMabo and post-Western Desert acrylic painting. 'Settler' Australians' relationship to land is now 'unsettled' to say the least and any expression of landscape is intrinsically charged with political ambiguity.
Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox takes on this challenge nevertheless. Her exhibition at Brisbane's Soapbox Gallery comprises one large landscape painting (watercolour & gouache on paper) that wraps around two entire walls of a room, along with thirty four very small works on paper whose titles are names of rural properties in south-western Queensland. The large painting is unusual in that its entire background is very deep blue acrylic painted onto paper whilst flat on the ground and applied using a gladwrap technique borrowed from ceramic painting. Superimposed over this dense blue background there is a landscape represented figuratively in the form of contour lines and outlines painted in brightly coloured gouache. The palette has a funky seventies feel to it-not quite psychedelic but more 'electrostatic' in effect. Occasional red lightning bolts and miniaturized shower bursts reinforce this atmospheric charge.
The lines of schematic contouring encourage a perception of the artwork as not about landscape seen, but landscape sensed or felt. Geographical contours communicate as mental contours held together by an experience of place. The journey through mountains and valleys is arbitrary in terms of physical space but negotiable as spaces of the mind. Landscape registers thus as a state of mind and a perspective shaped by personal experience. The Aboriginal concept of defining self-identity within a belonging to Country seems influential here-if not directly then at least in terms of personalising place and seeing it from within the self.
The micro and macro scale of these paintings subverts traditional landscape format, but so too does the spatial scope of the work. Space, or place, is clearly being measured and creates a recurring impression that our sense of perspective is under review. One of the methods of such measuring is with 'cut lines' painted on the wall below the large painting. These 'cut lines' measure off the painting in sections with each section having a designated value ranging from $350 to $900. The artist intends that these different sections be cut and sold at the conclusion of the exhibition. The precious nature of an art object is compromised by this process, but what is most disruptive is that these 'cut lines' occur in quite arbitrary places. The lines appear to be selected at random and occasionally run through beautiful vignettes of rolling hills and create awkward divides.
This arbitrary division is an important theme for the artist. Brimblecombe-Fox says of her work, 'I am concerned with how we arbitra rily make boundaries, dividing the land and placing value on it. There is a social value of the land that gets lost, but people who live in the country understand this'. The artist spent several decades Jiving in remote rural towns such as Goondawindi (in Queensland's south-west) and says that the countless hours spent driving through a physically featureless landscape shaped her artistic vision and her fascination with distances of time, space and place. This sense of an arbitrary perspective becomes progressively overwhelming and is quite disorientating.
In this regard the work of Italian painter Paolo di Dono Uccello (1397-1475) is a strong infiuence for the artist. There is a plastic strength in Uccello's paintings that derives from his interest in geometry and his fascination with the way forms can be arranged in a pattern or scheme that is meaningful in itself. His art promotes the notion of a geometry of our environment, or more particularly, how we formulate a geometry of our environment in order to understand it. Kathryn Brimblecome-Fox's landscapes share this plasticity and sense of spatial organisation that comes from within.
A solo exhibition of landscape oil paintings by the artist will also be on show at London 's Gallery 27 from 16-21 September 2002. The exhibition is supported by Australia 's High Commission and celebrates 'Year of the Outback 2002'. The Commission's decision to represent the Outback with Brimblecombe-Fox's artwork entails a certain amount of artistic grit in itself. Her landscape paintings disavow any apparent 'Australian-ness' with their vivid synthetic colour surrounding dark unidentifiable landforms (not a gum tree in sight!), and steer audiences toward another dimension of what living in the Outback is all about. The exhibition is simply titled 'Distance' and portrays Australia's Outback as a state of mind in an engagement with place. it represents a perspective of landscape that is most contemporary in spirit.