Theatre of Bones: Essay
THEATRE OF BONES
Exhibition at Janet Clayton Gallery 7 September to 2 October 2016
Suzanne Archer is an artist of startling originality. Her creative output rarely fails to achieve a magnificent unexpectedness. She is recognised with respect, winning - amongst other accolades - the Dobell Prize for Drawing in 2010, the Kedumba Drawing Award in 2010 and the Wynne Prize in 1994. With a practice that spans more than four decades, Archer’s work shifts between painting, sculpture and installation.
The work of an artist combines, on the one hand, discipline, and, on the other, the ability to trust instinct and let go. Suzanne Archer, creator of the extraordinary and unpredictable, is no exception.
Her large studio is designed for an artist who works quickly and purposefully between different media. There is: inbuilt storage for paintings, works on paper and sculptures; a well-lit and airy studio with wall-space to work on large canvasses as well as a table top surface to construct sculptures, artist books and collages; and a second multipurpose studio space. You can picture the studio, crowded with oil paintings, drawings, sculptures, artist books and installation, with the artist moving from one to the other. The artist writes about her process:
I love to engage with ideas and to play with as many possibilities that I can in as many mediums that I can. My sketchbooks are documents that reflect this. My ideas come from many sources, externally from my everyday life, travel, internally from my current physical, emotional and psychological concerns (Self), memory, anything and everything. My energy is fed by my ideas my desire to translate those ideas into a tangible ‘thing’ - be it a painting, sculpture, installation etc. I am an optimist and prefer to think of all that I am yet to make and all the new media that I have yet to encounter and investigate. All the paintings, sculptures and installations there are to make and there is always film and sound to play with!
I make work because I am driven to do so. When I have been deeply focussed and wholly engaged in the process of making, completely absorbed to the extent that there is no conscious decision-making occurring, almost in a trance-like state I will emerge and be amazed at what has taken place. I would say this is when the work has a psychological thematic underlay. With the paintings sometimes that trance-like state occurs and my practice for a moment relies on an almost action - painting like process where I approach the canvas working very fast and then afterwards stand back and assess what changes I made. That can be very surprising and necessary for me to continue. Any pleasure derived from the activity probably occurs after the completion of the work when I am able to step back and really acknowledge what I have achieved.
For those who know Archer’s work, the final outcome is not a call to the viewer to find beauty in her work but rather an offer to find honesty. Her subjects are often taboo and her style makes little concession to notions of taste in a world where cool minimalism, precision or carefully worked design are often the bywords for good art. Yet there is no angst or judgement in her approach. She exposes herself, not us, with whimsy and bravery. The result is compelling.
This process is very much in play for The Theatre of Bones, her latest exhibition at Janet Clayton Gallery, where skeletal forms become the vehicle for her curious examination of the human condition. The artist writes:
I find the image of the skeleton both scary and ludicrous. I began to use parts of a skeleton after fracturing my pelvis in a fall on my way from my house to the studio at night. My usual curiosity led me to research my injury requesting an x-ray from the hospital and on my return home used that initially in drawing incorporated in to the work The Glass Depository an installation shown in an exhibition in Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery in 2014. This gave me lots of ideas for future works so I then naturally went on to purchase a facsimile of a pelvis, a skull and finally the whole skeleton. The full figure of the skeleton amused me standing there quietly in my studio so I then began to string it up in various ridiculous poses as the subject for a series of canvasses followed by works on paper, artist books and sculptures.
Ageing as a subject has been part of my ongoing series about my Self. As one ages one is more aware of death and dying, of loss. The skeleton plays a large part in that story but for me it is about lightening the subject sometimes and looking at the reality of the personality of my skeleton standing in the studio and laughing with it as I am sure it is amused by me and my studio obsessions as it watches grinning in the corner.