But protecting us from what?
But protecting us from what? I’m driving along Inglewood’s Beaufort
Street on a Monday afternoon in April, heading towards Lisa Wolfgramm’s
studio in suburban Perth. It rained this morning for the first time
in almost 6 months. Lisa greets me at the door; she has asked me to
write something for her Sydney catalogue but neither of us is very sure
about what I should or even could write. As we sit in her garage studio,
right at the very back of the modest brick villa she rents on the main
street that snakes its way endlessly through the suburb, I ask her directly
what she want me to write for the catalogue introduction. She says:
‘I’m interested in your slant on it, nothing more.’
It starts raining again outside. What is my slant on it? I haven’t known Lisa for very long. She teaches Painting at the School of Contemporary Arts at Edith Cowan University, and over the last two years I’ve come to know her through this connection. It’s apparent to me that she’s intensely forthright with her painting students, and has scant patience with the ones that don’t burn with the love of the material and the ‘doing’ of painting in the way she does. I can see why as I look around at the canvases she’s leaned up against the wall. Each is made up of a number of entwined skins, layers of impossibly delicate single brush marks that mass together in a microcosm of what I imagine might be cells, stars, petals, lidless eyes…
Lisa lives alone in this house, and walks under a pergola to the garage studio past long unkempt grass each evening after work, or each morning on her days off. She tells me that the paintings themselves are irrelevant; it’s all over, ‘finished’ by the time action has crystallized into the specificity of material. Rather it’s the process that engages her, standing in front of the canvas leaning against the wall, delicately touching its surface thousands of times with a brush, building up a resonance, a sound that might pierce the membrane that seems to envelop the house, maybe the suburb, perhaps even the city.
Perth is a little like that; there’s a strange relationship with time that unfolds here; it’s palpable, we all acknowledge it and still we try and get on with living our lives pretending that the crack in time and space, in the continuum of so many lives that aspire to engage with each other, is not actually manifesting right in front of our eyes.
Lisa’s paintings confront this unsettling contradiction more directly
that most artists here in Perth care to attempt. Most of us cannot even
acknowledge the constant baying in the distance that can occasionally
be deciphered as the sound of isolation, and the strange melancholy
beauty with which at times this sounds envelops everything here in the
west; city buildings silhouetted at dawn or sunset against still violet
skies, green swells that move in silence from unimaginably far away
until their seemingly sudden spending on endless shorelines, low escarpments
that fringe the city and its suburbs like ancient city walls.
Lisa’s paintings are made of endless layers of this inexplicable anxiety, focused relentlessly on a simple act, a repeated single touching as a way through to the next day. Perhaps those that feel this anxiety most are the ones that have made their way here from elsewhere. Lisa is one of those. Though she’s been exhibiting for almost 20 years in Perth her approach to her practice is that of the outsider, redemptively marking time by making a space (perhaps a negative space; perhaps even a void) in which the ever-present perthian silence may be heard. These paintings could be seen to constitute the diary of a mathematician-artist, of a musical alchemist who commits herself to entering the nether space pervading the gridded micro-expanses of suburban streets trapped between twin macro-expanses of ocean and desert. Once inside this space she dares to look at timelessness in the eyes without blinking, and then returns to this side with a portrait of what none of us desires to imagine.
Domenico de Clario is an artist and Head of the School of Contemporary Arts at Edith Cowan University, Perth.
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