Rarely do you find two artists’ works that complement each other so harmoniously as in the exhibition Forgotten Spaces at Salt Contemporary Art. Terri Brooks and Alan Bates have been friends for some years but this is the first time they have exhibited together. Their abstract works share a similar aesthetic: gestural strokes, heavily textured paint, and fine marks scratched into the surface. And both artists find inspiration in the forgotten spaces of our urban and industrial landscapes: weathered surfaces, graffitied facades, and the deterioration of structures blackened, blemished and begrimed.
Brooks states her approach: “This group of works attempt to express, using abstract methods, some sense of the Australian space and light while making reference to the traces of nature and layers of history found etched upon walls and walkways, be it the beauty of weathered paint in the sunlight or glimpses of faded graffiti.”
The bareness and simplicity of the materials and the uncontrived nature of the works reflect Brooks’ interest in the concept of ‘making do’. She sees her work following in the tradition of Tony Tuckson and Ian Fairweather both of whom had a preference for everyday materials, and an unpretentious, economic aesthetic. A few months ago, Brooks completed her PhD thesis ‘Makeshift Abstraction and the Australian Patina’ in which she investigates the spirit of ‘making do’ or ‘makeshift’ in Australian art.
“My personal interest in making-do was cultivated by my maternal grandparents who lived through the Great Depression. Graffiti and ‘anyhow’ maintaining of boundaries in the laneways and industrial sites (the forgotten places), for me, are contemporary manifestations of the tradition to make-do. Unintended or random beauty can occur in these neglected spaces.”
Alan Bates has been familiar with industrial landscapes from a young age and it is the rich patina of this environment that has informed his work. He laments the decline of manufacturing in Australia and the loss of trade skills. “Security back then was virtually non-existent which allowed for weekend adventures into brickworks, bakery, ice works, tanneries and engineering works. Access into places such as these has diminished along with the skilled manual trades which drove them.”
Bates studied music before turning to painting and his love for music can be gleaned from the titles of his works. For example, the series ‘Nights at El Rocco’ refers to a jazz basement in Sydney, the oldest jazz cellar in Australia where all the cool hipsters hung out during the 50s and 60s.
Although Bates may have a nostalgic streak, his work is definitely not sentimental. A highlight of the exhibition, The 90 Day Project, is a sobering reminder of the excesses of our marketing culture. “Along with the advent of cheap imported consumables has come an onslaught of unsolicited junk mail,’ Bates declares. He has recycled this junk mail into blocks about 30 cm square and 2 cm deep and uses this as the base material on which to paint. Each block represents about one week’s advertising material delivered to one household. “I considered this to be an ideal means of creating an awareness of the volume of waste and at the same time provide supports for a body of work which is derivative of the textures of a lost manufacturing industry.”
The works of Brooks and Bates sit well together: the muted colour palette, the richly textured surfaces, and the abstraction of form and shape. The exhibition conveys an aesthetic of decay and the layering of history held within forgotten spaces. Forgotten Spaces is on at Salt Contemporary Art, Hesse St, Queenscliff until 18 November.
You can see more of Brook’s and Bate’s work on the following sites. http://www.saltcontemporaryart.com
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