Roger Ackling [2006]

The sound of one hand clapping - Zen conundrum

When one first encounters the work of Roger Ackling the response is inevitably inaccurate as to method. One writer described his initial impression as ?a few bits of old furniture wood picked up at random and stuck onto the white gallery wall.? The wall label lists ?sunlight on wood? as the medium. Sunlight on wood? Now the curiosity is aroused.

Ackling's art is contemplative and the artist admits to an admiration of Eastern philosophy. Certainly, his working process is a form of meditation, as what appears to be geometric burn marks, executed perhaps with some sort of soldering iron, turn out to be the product of a magnifying glass nestled between thumb and forefinger. What we are actually seeing is thousands of individual burn marks made by directing the suns rays through the glass. For me, there is an immediate stirring from the past as I often burned marks while playing as a boy. I recall the sense of wonder and power as the tiny dot of light began to smoke on whatever surface I was using. I also recall lazy summer afternoons and the smells of favourite outdoor places.

Ackling's relationship with the open air begins with finding his driftwood supports on long walks usually by the sea near his home in Norfolk. Picking up whatever catches his eye and returning to the studio, he waits for the familiarization process to take its course and an image to suggest itself. Then outdoors again, waiting for the sun to provide him with the "pigment" with which to work his magic.

The practice has many affinities with both modern and recent contemporary art, from the found objects of Marcel Duchamp, the walks of Richard Long, the element of random chance and the intervention of the artist on sundry materials all play a part. Exploring the NSW country while in town for his 2001 Annandale solo exhibition, Ackling chanced upon a sign indicating the site of a meridian of longitude by an abandoned railway track. Feeling the place particularly appropriate he picked up an old railway tie, the equivalent of a piece of outback driftwood, and sat down next to the sign to execute a beautiful work. I still have it as a memento of his visit. He was not very forthcoming about further details but I?ll bet it took less time to make, especially in the February sun of Australia, than an equivalent work in Norfolk!

Roger Ackling is a radical artist; he made a decision long ago to choose an ever-tightening container until he found freedom of expression, unlimited by the traditional parameters of paint. The works cannot be categorized as sculpture, the images upon the wood have a close affinity to geometric painting and look a lot like drawing ? indeed the burn marks are literally a form of charcoal. The artist crosses from one medium to the next without settling on any of them. The works take a great deal of patience to execute and the making of them suggest almost a lifestyle, not just an art practice. Similar to the late Bronwyn Oliver, as John McDonald recently pointed out writing about her work in the SMH, Ackling dislikes over-intellectualising of his work. To quote McDonald; ??most artists know that a work is only as good as the feeling it engenders in the viewer, and the mere recognition of a political or theoretical position generates nothing but complacency.? Instead, once Ackling has made his work he lets go of responses, both personal and those of the viewer. The responses then take on a life of their own and where they lead is of little concern to him.

In fact, as far as Ackling is concerned words like "ideas", "philosophy" and "knowledge" are usually best avoided when experiencing an artwork as they are just as likely to shackle us with constraint as encourage any relevant freedom to experience the art. Over one thousand years ago Buddha, instead of giving his usual verbal sermon, delivered a silent address by simply holding up a flower. The message: no words could be a substitute for a living flower. With extended viewing my own sensation is one of exquisite clarity amid the contrasts. The enigmatic history of the supports, the quality of execution and the spiritual power, emanating from such a small format but monumental scale, combine to nurture and engage my senses. The works are so alive I am tempted to engage them in conversation. When people speak from the heart about ?living with art? it is this sensation I think they are often referring to, and Roger Ackling allows us this opportunity with brilliant results.

Finally, I would like to thank David Juda and Ian Parker of Annely Juda Fine Art in London for their ongoing support of the exhibition of Ackling?s work in Australia.

- Bill Gregory Sydney August 2006


Roger Ackling [2006]
In association with Annely Juda Fine Art London.

When one first encounters the work of Roger Ackling the response is inevitably inaccurate as to method. One writer described his initial impression as "a few bits of old furniture wood picked up at random and stuck onto the white gallery wall." The wall label lists "sunlight on wood" as the medium. "Sunlight on wood" Now the curiosity is aroused.
27 Sept- 4 Nov 2006

Exhibition features:

« back to previous page

Please note, works in previous exhibitions may no longer be available, please visit our stockroom for available works