Part & Particle: Denise Ava Robinson

Part and particle Denise Ava Robinson Burnie Regional Art Gallery 2 February  11 March 2007

Denise Ava Robinson Part and particle (detail Panel 2) 2006, Coralline algae on paint on handmade paper, 40 x 110cm. Photo: Philip Kuravita.

Denise Ava Robinson's solo exhibition 'Part and particle' comprises monochromatic, subtle works that make strong reference to the northern Tasmanian coastline. Each work in the exhibition is constructed from thick layers of white oil paint, applied with a palette knife in movements that mimic the form of both hills and tide lines. The paint bleeds to the edge of each support, transforming the usually fragile paper into a substantial material. Nine panels float a small distance from the wall, their raw edge suggestive of fossilised tableaux.

The paint is embedded with tiny pieces of coralline algae meticulously placed in path-like lines that travel across the paper. Several of these tracks appear in each panel. As linear forms they allude to many different phenomena – human and animal tracks, contours, and tide lines. As individual pieces they suggest bones, fragments in time, and archaeology.

The algae is gathered on the beaches near Robinson's home in Tasmania's north east. The fastidious, time-consuming process of collecting, sorting, drying and placing each piece is an integral part of the work. This process draws from her Aboriginal heritage and is aligned with the historic collecting practices of the Tasmanian Aboriginal shell-necklace makers.

However the nature of collecting from the land is also crucial to one's reading of the art work. The exhibition title is a quote from American philosopher and naturalist Ralph Waldo Emerson's collection of essays Nature, 1836, writings which encourage the reader to abandon egotism and become one with the natural and elemental forces. The concept of being 'part and particle' of the universe has guided Robinson's work for the past four years. The exhibition at the Burnie Regional Art Gallery is her first solo show and here she has brought together ideas that have surfaced consistently in her work throughout this period: the landscape, its natural currents, and traditional Aboriginal practices.

'Part and Particle' is a very beautiful, contemporary document. The wall works are exhibited as an installation – wrapping the viewer within the small exhibition space to emphasise the theme of one-ness underpinning the show. Robinson's reference to traditional cultural practices of gathering and threading, combined with her highly personal interpretation of the moods and idiosyncrasies of the Tasmanian environment, creates unique imagery and demonstrates a strong connection to country.

Although demanding of labour, these collages do not appear laboured. Rather, the repetitive patterns are transformed into meditations of a particular place – its history, future, movement and spirit.

Robinson is emerging as one of Tasmania's more interesting landscape artists. 'Part and Particle' conveys a profound connection to the land and one senses that this is what drives her. However the impact is not immediate. The subtlety and whiteness of the work requires that the viewer observe each panel intimately and unhurriedly. The forms, shadows, and textures of the paintings trigger a chain of responses and associations in the viewer that last for days after. Like the techniques Robinson has engaged to create the works, the meanings underpinning the exhibition are timeless and universal and there is the strong suggestion that this artist will continue developing these ideas and processes to contribute a unique perspective to contemporary landscape painting.

Jane Stewart

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