Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Here We Are Then

In cinema, activity contained by narrative framing can hint at a universe beyond the local narrative as an ellipse often occurring at The End. In Chekhov (the Russian writer to whom Maeve tells me she has formed an attachment) characters inhabit clearly defined places, situated in a kind of pre-cinematic spatial mise en scene, place is key to their narrative form. There is this same tension in these paintings as their contained form and arrested energy fixes the temporal activity of painting in dimensions inside and outside the boxes.

Here we are then, first with 43 small polyglottous paintings. Small strokes inscribe
stories, a number of occasions coexist in one pictorial space just as a place that can be described or named exists only when a number of temporalities have occupied it. In these paintings multiple, sometimes repetitive, actions and movements describe a spatial index, the body and movement both within and beyond the frame: activity is occupation within borders colonised by haptic abstraction.

There are qualities here that I remember from Maeve’s films in the nineties when we were both active in the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group. Films like Tawdry Sass (1996), incised and painted skinny film, in effect not unlike some of these paintings. A voice on its soundtrack offers a clue describing “… a symbolic conquest of some kind of room’s regular boundaries”. Scrammy and the Blowflies (1995), made for the Bush Studies project of super 8 film based on Barbara Baynton’s short stories, is perhaps the closest Maeve comes to conventional ‘narrative’, expressing claustrophobia born out of containment, wherein, given a voice, Scrammy plots escape from his imprisoning hut. Then the film Out of Place (1991) is alive with non-human subjectivity occupying a carefully defined macro world. At 52 minutes the film is long by most super 8 standards, but doesn’t conform to the familiar avant-garde durational mode of the heroic internalised temporal subjectivity; rather it presents spatially related subjectivities, coexisting in some interstitial place ‘out there’.

And now we are here, larger paintings with cinematic titles like Rear Window and Andalusian Slit (recalling Hitchcock and Buñuel, both of course occasional collaborators with Salvador Dali); feature-length with bold shapes and dissected space, like a floor plan of wheelchair-imprisoned voyeur James Stewart’s apartment, but the window here seems less suited to voyeurism, more a sinister opaque dark barrier threatening to block the view. In Maeve’s ‘Andalusian’ painting the cinematic icon of the dissected eye has been transformed into something like a danger sign through an abstraction of composition, or a diagram in which the razor has become a stake or a rod. I am reminded that surrealism thrives in that most dangerously mundane zone of the uncanny in the quotidian.

The relationship between titles with quite specific references and formally quite abstract paintings, is deliberate and carefully considered, not an after thought but as a way of complementing the works. The title of Firs on Stage, with Locked Doors comes from Maeve’s interest in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard: the central round ‘stage’ of the painting seems deserted and deforested, a bleak greyness hemmed in, taunted perhaps, by the bustling world beyond its boundary. The titles suggest that abstract painting is not just some kind of ineffable expression, but part of a complex visual vocabulary, a spatial narrative extending in many directions.

Here We Are Then recent paintings and works on paper by Maeve Woods is at Watters Gallery, Sydney, Australia, 5 February to 1 March, 2008

images top to bottom:
Andalusian Slit
- 2006, oil on cotton duck, 122 x 122cm
Rear Window - 2006, oil on cotton duck, 152 x 122cm
Firs On Stage, With Doors Locked
- 2007, oil on cotton duck, 122 x 122cm

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