John Neylon checks out two exhibitions – Jeff Mincham’s Forces of Nature and Colin Pennock’s Wayfarer – currently showing at BMG Art.
BMG Art has a new gallery. It’s a different structure, a recommissioned hall on South Road, Marleston. The exterior has chutzpa – deep charcoal gray notes with lime green accents. The interior offers a Tardis-like experience. It is far bigger than the exterior suggests. Must be three times larger than BMG’s previous North Street city space. Beyond a stylish conversation pit at the far end, a resort-style atrium with pool offers a taste of lifestyle and living area located on the western end of the complex. Post-industrial elements of floor boards, floating division walls and exposed roof trusses and insulation foil surfaces complete a sense of a gallery in tune with inner western suburban/industrial roots and a discernable trend in Adelaide rethinking about cultural hot zones. The benefits of this larger, more deployable space are apparent in the current hang, which sees two strong visual performances in the form of Jeff Mincham’s ceramic works and Colin Pennock’s paintings in parallel play without throwing sand in each other’s faces. This state of affairs is abetted by the fact that both share common ground in their referencing of nature and landscape in particular. In opening exhibition remarks I quipped that Pennock is the wayfarer and Mincham the stayfarer. Pennock’s creative odyssey has taken him from Ireland, to London, where he studied at the St Martin’s School of Art, then New York, before settling in Australia, first in the Hawkesbury area and then establishing a studio in the Noosa hinterland. Mincham has lived in and maintained a studio at Cherryville in the Adelaide Hills for over 30 years. The physical difference between these two areas is obvious. What matters is how each artist has responded not just to signifying characteristics such as light, topography, local palette and natural features such as plants and birds, but their inner sense of what it is they are seeking in making a work of art. Pennock comments, “My response to landscape is an emotional one. And the marks and colours that I make in my work are from past and present experiences.” Mincham has said, “The events of the landscape draw me towards it. My works explore my engagement with its moods, its changes, its dramas. They speak of harsh dry windswept lands, of the shimmering distance beneath brooding skies, a passing moment of mystery and wonderment, captured by the eye and embedded in memory.” Such comments are a clear indication that the process of looking has involved internalising that experience and feeding it into a kind of imaginative thermo mixer in which visual elements join forces with memory and intuition. This is clearly apparent in Pennock’s paintings where some colours may be referencing the flash of a parrot’s wing through trees or the scud-shadows of clouds on broken hillsides. Add to this the muscular gestures of paint-laden brushes and knives and the compositions are somehow translated into force fields of energy, which resolve or disperse according to the proximity of the viewer to the surface of the works. This strategy is on the whole, very successful. The attack on the image is clean and purposeful. The calibration of colour notes, harmonies and otherwise, rings true. Spatially there are a number of options with the size and placement of brush marks offering the viewer the option of seeing some images as ‘views’ complete with implied horizon line. The strongest of the images (such as 7 kms from Town) offer no such concessions and have a convincing self-assuredness. Mincham’s expression of the world he has come to know so well has long been based on his skills as a ceramic artist who sees a close connection between traditional Raku values and techniques and the experience of making contemporary art, mediated by close proximity to nature. This is a delicate balancing act which makes demands on artist and viewer. No matter how experienced as a studio artist, Mincham is always playing dice with the kiln. His grail is a quality of surface, a patination that he refers to as “firing and weathering at the same time”. Key elements of his visual grammar are embedded in the surface, and sometimes within the interiors of his vessels, which in a number of works (such as Forces of Nature 1) create senses of such works having alter egos, visible only to the more than curious. Underpinning many forms in this exhibition is a spirit of Oribe ware which helps explain the organic, ‘felt’ quality of both forms and designs as evident in hand-built shapes veering off centre, bases of tea bowls that demand to be held in both hands and the free interplay of articulated drawing and glaze flows. A feature of Mincham’s work in this exhibition is the multiple referencing to cycles of fire and regeneration defined by damp early light blooming between trees and burnt branches framing the overall designs. It has been said of art that in order to speak of larger things it is necessary to deal with the particular. In inviting the viewer to start with a twig, a branch or tree trunk, Mincham offers the possibility of entering his world. Jeff Mincham Forces of Nature Colin Pennock Wayfarer BMG Art Exhibitions continue until Saturday, March 22 bmgart.com.au Images: Jeff Mincham, Forces of Nature 1 (2014) Colin Pennock, 7 kms from Town (2013)