Bruce Reynolds: Air Percussion

Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane 3 - 26 March 2011

Air Percussion (2010) is the signature work in this latest exhibition from Bruce Reynolds. Interestingly, this 'painting' contains few elements that we have become accustomed to seeing from him. Lino and carpet are not present - and there is a strong sense of serendipity relating to its history (a crack where it broke up along the carved lines of the tree when the work flew off the car roof while Reynolds was travelling between Canberra and Brisbane). The fact that it has been physically impacted by the landscape speaks to other elements in this exhibition that - in part - trace the stark difference between the controlled environment in Canberra where he grew up, and the random nature of Brisbane and its environs where he currently lives.

Reynolds is keener than most artists to produce a workmanlike object. Working with "formally restricted possibilities" over a timber box constructed as a base has sustained him in his development of surfaces in ‘paintings’ constructed from lino, carpet, and other found materials. In recent years photography has been added to this process of surface construction, with paint as an intermediary. Depth of field in the paintings is emphasised by their box-like construction, in which he evokes the memory of his father who was a joiner. There is a sense that Reynolds resists the pretension of art – and his workmanlike approach may be vested in this family history.

His drawing together a skin of lino-like continental plates has particular resonance in early 2011 with the instability experienced in both New Zealand and Japan. It is tempting to extrapolate the tightness of surface in his most recent work as a direct reaction to these natural events – although the earthquakes postdate the production of the work and any striving for stability has to be seen as coincidental.

Reynolds said: “The first large lino work I made was acquired by the Queensland Art Gallery in 1990. Titled Continental it set a scale reference for the geographic and the urban in many subsequent works.”

At the heart of his practice is an interest in manufacturing art, a reaction against the virtuosity of the painter he was trained to be at Canberra School of Art in the eighties. There is often a humility of materials, designed to come together to transcend their ordinariness and their use in domestic interiors. His use of paint and photography to paper over the cracks is significant in the tightness of the construction of these works.

However, in Air Percussion and other works commenced or completed in winter 2009, while he was in residence at the ANU School of Art in Canberra, Reynolds has eschewed the lino altogether – using oil paint and enamel over hardboard to construct a surface that has the whiteness and powdery appearance of concrete. The deciduous tree that is carved into its surface expresses the more European landscape possibilities of our southern capital. Another standout work in this exhibition Refresh Rate is a board primed then carved. This one, too, features a stark tree – leafless and spooky. Its root system almost mirrors the tree, showing us subterranean nature.

Announcement to Self (2011) is an art historical reference to a 17th century painting Annunciation by Bernardo Cavallino (collection National Gallery of Victoria) which has been photographed and printed over a painted lino surface. While the pattern of the lino is not visible the surface appears aged, almost cracked, like the patinated blackness of paintings from earlier centuries. Other works like Fateful Rest also create depth through the reproduction of a photograph over a single skin of lino. The lino shimmers below the image but otherwise the photograph is dominant. This image, of a tyre floating on a body of water, is symptomatic of the artist’s new work. Reynolds is working the surface as one image in contrast to the more obviously married elements of previous work. He describes this interest as a “desire to reference the objects in our physical world as companions to the metaphoric and metaphysical, seeking an expression of connection and maintaining our feet on the ground”.

This exhibition draws together Reynolds’ customary imagery with a new focus. The works are evocative, luscious surfaces, drawing the viewer into their environments of connections.

Louise Martin-Chew

Support independent writing on the visual arts. Subscribe or donate here.