What the centre cannot hold, 13th July – 7th Oct – Ipswich Art Gallery 2019
Window bandit 2019 oil on canvas 71 x 51 cm The Passengers 2019 oil on canvas...
What the centre cannot hold
Milani Gallery, Ipswich, QLD
2 – 23 June 2019
Madeleine Kelly’s Painterly Morphology
Now lost somewhere in the annals of art history, it is a lesser known fact that Cubism at the time of its “invention” after 1907 was considered by its exponents and defenders as a realism. Perhaps the diminishmentof this notion is because it is so hard to understand or justify. Yet it helps to explain that Cubism was not just a style, it was bothalens and a technique to define the world, to disclose the essences of forms as they existed in both time and space. It also helps to remind us that every major phase of painting has to be conceived in terms of invention, whether that be that of oil paint, one-point-perspective, down to the outlines of bison on a cave wall.
To many artists, a particular approach to painterly style is therefore not just a layer over nature but communion with its mechanisms: the workings of the picture in all its mysterious elements are a mirror to the ineffable operations of nature.Nature as not a spectacle, after all, it is the complex machine that always eludes us because we are both separate from and seamless with it. This is, I think, the best way of approaching Madeleine Kelly’s currentwork, namely as a means of exposing not just how things in the world are seen,but how it is that they work.
For that reason, it is only natural that this work turns to the vitalism of the artists,philosophersand poetsactive in the early twentieth century, ranging to the Orphist (Kupka) and Futurist (Balla and Boccioni) artists to Henri Bergson and W. B. Yeats. The title of this suite of works, What the Centre Cannot Holdderives from his poem, “The Second Coming” (1919) which is a warning against the control over the world.Bergson conceived the world and the cosmos as élan vitale, an energeticsthat emphasised the forces of animation and creation.Sound, movement, propulsion, creation and destruction, must all be seen as interconnected. Look at a cube of sugar, Berson advised, not as an isolated object, but rather conceive of it as the sugar cane before and its dissolution in your cup of coffeeafterward. Things are to be seen in terms of their methodsof mutation, as causal flow.
Window Banditmay be a coda for the exhibition, two wasps in mirror image, made after the artist witnessed one banging against a window pane. While the anecdotal starting point is a kind of absurdist, Sisyphean hopelessness, the texture and vibrancy of the work tells of something completely different. The angular and swirled layerings of opaque and diaphanous white allowus to sense the movement, the persistence of the insect, the bang on the window-pane, the interplay between different masses. The reflection of the wasp is emblematic of the act of painting itself, as a reflection of all these dynamic forces through abstractions that are resolved as a determinate aesthetic object.Knowing this makes it easier to interpret Silent Scream, a man listening intently to a fragment of a Greco-Roman sculpture, where the scream is not to be taken
literally but more as an exchange between the time past that the sculpture embodies, and what the man is imagining about it.
Kelly’s approach to painting is one that begins with a series of idetic and other sensory compulsions—an aesthetic constellation not unlike a dream, but far more patiently considered—that form the basis of what may transpireon the canvas. These elements are then laid down, with the expectation that the answer to their configuration will come in the struggle requisite to themaking. It is her intention not to start too schematically, but to discover and to resolve. There is something of an evolutionist narrative here, for Nature, too, does not always make the best or the most logical creations, yetthrough time and interaction, some form of resolution takes place.Paintings such as Stair Ghostand No Comfort in the Cityare always a balancing act between understanding what it is to be in and to see the world, and the process of painting itself.
In Axis of Dream,a figure just left of centre stands embedded within some industrial casing, which on second examination turns out to be a horse. Their bodies are not so much intertwined asbeingfused together in communion, the faces of both reserved and calm as a resultless of resignation than of care and kindness. Then, emerging from a shallow field on the right, intercalated with interlocking serpentine pipes, loomsthe ghost-like shape of another horse coming towards them. Overhead are sprays of orchid-cum-insects, their weightlessness and movement relayed through a rich play of blue graphic diamonds and circlesof beige and white. It is a mistake to call these images surreal, except insofar as anything that is vaguely outlandish or unusual can connote a dream. Instead, if there is a more overarching message to be drawn from all of this workitis that yes, we are faced with some very serious problems because of what we have done to our world. And yes, we must find some very big solutions that are logistical and scientific. But there other strategies afoot, and these are to listen, to wait, to watch, all of which will finally lead us to discover themany silent voiceswith whichthe world speaks to us. We will then respond to our world in a more considered way, and withmore sensitivity.
These works are not only to be looked at and enjoyed. Kelly’s work can also be a catalyst to an immeasurably more refined form of seeing and of living.