For the Ross Laurie exhibition, New Paintings and Works on Paper 2012, we commissioned journalist and writer James Compton to contribute this essay:
"In the electric action of Ross Laurie’s painting you can see the marks of progress. These steps are important to the artist in documenting the creative journey, while also giving the wider audience clues to the structure and sequence behind the total view. Laurie likes to examine, or read, a painting – whether one of his own making or that of another painter. He looks closely at the combination of gesture, abrasion, colour, form and flow. Through the textures of the paint’s physical application, the artwork becomes a landscape in itself. These contours have to hang together in a composite tension, or it simply isn’t working.
Laurie sits outside the mainstream. A whitefella painter schooled in the European tradition, yet intensely drawn to the lexicon of indigenous artists, particularly the desert painters, that has emerged from Australia into the global consciousness since the 1970s. In this context, he is a vital representative of Australian art’s contemporary collision between old and new – and it is fair to say that many see the close affinity with indigenous painting in some of Laurie’s works before they get fixated by any abstraction. He takes on, whether subconsciously or overtly, the exploration of where the DNA of an ancient but very much alive Aboriginal culture recombines with a transplanted Western art sensibility.
He is not afraid to acknowledge his antecedents. Laurie’s painting is clearly informed by the great leaps made in the 1940s and 50s through the abstract expressionism of De Kooning and Pollock, while not ignoring their Australian contemporaries such as Tony Tuckson and Ian Fairweather. This era of experimentation is the starting point, a lineage and context to which Laurie often returns; in essence he is competing with himself to produce something he would value as much as a great work done by one of his artistic influences. He calls himself an ‘old artist’, but what he is forging should be regarded as an emergent push into new territory, boldly venturing further into the unknown.
From his bush-bound isolation on the New England plateau, he often buries himself in art tomes, absorbing ideas, spaces, and experiences that will be turned into riffs played out on canvas, paper or board in the studio. He paints from the inside out, and the outside in: landscapes as much of the soul as of the physical reality that makes up the country around him. His output resonates with an often brutal honesty; rather than a precise delineation, it is nomadic, cycling through fertile ground in a meandering songline. As abstract as they may appear at first blush, Laurie’s works are ultimately rooted in the trees, the hills, the clouds and the quality of light that makes up his milieu.
A single work might involve a stretch of 7-8 hours until he is finished, content that the act has reached some sort of resolution. Picture the crucible of creation: it is a cold winter’s night, wind scouring from the south-west, rain sleeting across the corrugated iron roof. A rusted pot belly stove gives off a good heat, chock full of brushbox and ironbark harvested from deadfall around the studio, warm enough to take the chill out of the air but not quite enough to melt the oilstick debris piled up around the workbench. His collection of CDs lies scattered, a range of aural cues ready to assist in shutting out the chattering of conscious thought and loose forth his own dreamtime.
The studio resounds to a newly found live recording of Miles Davis in his prime of electric experimentation, trumpet at full blow as he gets his Bitches Brew band into the groove. A kettle steams in the foreground, seemingly on continuous reboil as the session unfolds. Fuelled by endless cups of tea, straight black (no chaser), Laurie flares into action as he attacks the canvas. He deftly manipulates brush and paint, a trance-like series of movements focused on capturing that definitive pulse of inspiration. It is an outpouring, a process of envisioning that persists into the wee hours, striving to keep up the momentum as he backs himself from one step to the next, wary of too much of a pause lest he interrupt that precariously dancing muse.
Each painting is wrought from elements intermingled in that particular time and space. He feels the subject matter through a series of filters, devising colour combinations that make the works sing in a way that expresses his unique feel for the expanses in front of (and behind) his eyes. Random routines are introduced into the process as he tries to break the mould. If he reaches a blockage, he might rotate the canvas through 180 degrees, or paint with eyes wide shut, in order to see new permutations within a complex algebra. His urgency is driven by trepidation that if he stops, he might not be able to get back ‘out there’ again into the same headspace. At the same time, he is not scared to scrape back and start again if a particular passage is not working. It is a wild ride, holding on bare-knuckled until the right combination reveals itself and points the direction of the painting.
This collection – in its synthesis of oils, oilstick on paper and charcoal drawings – is one of consolidation. Ross Laurie has taken his technique, his composition, his style to a new place. He articulates his experience in a conglomerate tongue that takes some time to get your head around. Not that it is impossible but perhaps it is beyond rational thought. It is fundamentally spiritual, and therefore difficult to articulate. There is an emotional resonance from each of these works that speaks to your inner being and asks: ‘do you feel me’?
The works are also inspired, much like his passionate verbal discourse, by a quest to cut through the mundane and extract a kernel of truth. There is no deliberately grand theme, save that of a further investigation of the human condition. With every completed work comes a new discovery, and as Laurie says upon reflection: “I can then look back and find out what I was doing, and that knowledge enables me to move on.”
James Compton, August, 2012
New Paintings + Works on Paper 2012
Tuesday 4th - Saturday 29th September, 2012
Wednesday - Saturday, 11-6
View a selection of the work here