ANNANDALE GALLERIES are pleased to announce the forthcoming exhibition ‘After Nature’ (5 SEPTEMBER – 10 OCTOBER) of the work of BRETT MCMAHON. ‘After Nature’ will be Mr. McMahon’s second solo show at Annandale, and its scope will utilize both of the gallery’s main spaces.
There are not many artists who begin the story of their creative career with a surfboard. Such is the case with Brett McMahon.It was competitive surfing that led him to San Diego, California, when he was nineteen. But by the time he turned twenty, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego – La Jolla held his attention as much as the renowned breaks at Black’s Beach or La Jolla Cove.
He lives and works in Newcastle, NSW, not far from the region’s famous reefs and beaches. Now in his forties he continues to surf. And he continues to pursue the artistic practice that opened up for him when, as a young man, he stood in the San Diego gallery (between waves, as it were) and began imagining his own creative path – a direction that had, as early inspirational guides, the work of greats such as Frank Stella, Louise Bourgeois, and Gabriel Orosco.
In McMahon’s own words ‘After Nature’ is comprised of “meditations on found objects and materials and their stoic existence despite the impact of nature and time.” McMahon is a considered artist. He choses words carefully, and within the context of his work – to say nothing of the context of our own profoundly uncertain time – the notion of stoicism has a new urgency. It is not only the brave endurance of suffering. According the classical Greek philosopher, Zeno, stoicism is the wisdom to accept “what is” – be it epiphany or catastrophe – and to live justly and fairly within a universe that remains unknowable.
Interestingly, WILLIAM KENTRIDGE, an artist McMahon greatly admires, created ‘Zeno Writing’ and a series of prints ‘Zeno at 4 am’ in 2002. (Kentridge is also represented by Annandale Galleries.)
McMahon often does his works on paper outside. Using a thick and hardy Spanish paper, he allows nature to have its way with his creations. If it is sunny, they get bleached. If it is raining they get wet. He often leaves works on paper outside for days until he is satisfied with the result. He views his ideas and marks as interventions. McMahon has said that he is ‘compelled’ to have exhibitions, as the installation of the works is crucial to their realization. They have to be “detonated” in a space before he fully knows what he has done. The monumental sculpture ‘Cascade’ is a good example of how the artist works. The nature of the work makes it impossible to install the same way twice. The artist (and the work) is obliged to address the space and the conditions imposed by installation.
Of course, this is true to varying degrees of any installation but crucial to McMahon. The works are entirely fluid. Both the making of the work and the installation are a kind of performance and what the viewer is left with may be called the residue of that performance, rather than a fixed object.
The series entitled ‘Ghost’ is a good example of this process. The works are framed and therefore nominally ‘fixed.’ But these shimmering, graphite covered sheets of crumpled aluminum appear to be shifting. They appear to be growing out of their frames with each different angle of view. They seem alive and appear to be almost breathing. The residue of the performance that created them is clear yet the works are still coming into being in front of our eyes.
The renowned Spanish artist Joan Miro once said that to achieve anything universal an artist needed to have in a direct, intimate relationship with nature. This might be a local landscape, a garden or a vista. Think of Mount St.Victoire for Cezanne or the gardens of Giverney for Monet. For McMahon this connection has always been the power and the beauty of untamed ocean and wild shore. Surfing taught McMahon patience, tolerance, and imbued him with a deeply spiritual response to nature and our own relative insignificance. “There’s a coastal sanctuary just south of Newcastle where I spent time as a kid,” McMahon says. It’s an inspirational landscape. I reconnected with the area when I moved out of Sydney and it’s been a source of my nature-based work since 2010. There are fossilized trees, exposed coal seams and wind formed sandstone rent by deep cracks and fissures. It’s a place of deep time.”
McMahon is a keen and informed student of art history. He has a precise sense of his position in art’s continuum – not for reasons of ego but because claiming a position in that continuum is part of what he believes artists do. For years he has kept a book of Michelangelo’s drawings on his bedside table.
In McMahon’s work one may experience echoes of the French Affichistes such as Raymond Hains or Mimmo Rotella. The swirling lines in ‘World By Night IV’ (reproduced on the cover of Annandale’s invitation) are inspired I am told by skateboard tracks. I don’t doubt it. But in their depth and grace they evoke for me the work of Brice Marden or perhaps Ross Bleckner. The ‘Canopy’ paintings of the great WA-based artist, Brian Blanchflower, were crucial to McMahon’s thinking in his formative years. He says, “Blanchflower spoke to me in a language that I didn’t have the tools to understand, I was drawn to them but it took years to develop a deeper relationship to the work. Sometimes you just need more ‘life’ under your belt to appreciate self contained works that look minimal but contain a lot of compressed information.” The same could be said of nature itself.
Sculptures cascading down walls or set out on the floor. Mysterious found objects of indeterminate age or origin. Works on paper that have been created under the artist’s direction by the elements. An installation that will be entirely unique to the space at ANNANDALE GALLERIES. It sounds like a theatre piece as much as a visual art exhibition. And it may be that, in the hands of a gifted artist, the distinction between the two is not as clear as we imagined. Do not miss this opportunity to share in the vision of BRETT MCMAHON.
- Bill Gregory, Director Annandale Galleries
BRETT MCMAHON (born in Newcastle NSW) has had twenty-five solo exhibitions in Australia since 1992 and participated in over forty group exhibitions since 1989. His work has been acquired by numerous Regional Galleries including; Dubbo Regional Gallery, Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery and Newcastle Art Gallery. University collections include University NSW, University of Sydney Union, University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney. His work is in notable private and corporate collections in Australia, Europe and the USA.
Full biography and bibliography are available on the ANNANDALE GALLERIES website or by request. This includes an interview with the artist in 2017 by SEBASTIAN SMEE, Pulitzer Prize winning art critic now at the Washington Post.