The artworks showing at the Sketch exhibition at the Smith Studio gallery look surprisingly polished given they are supposed to be ‘unfinished.’ This might be due to the fact that most are framed - aside from Rosie Mudge’s etchings and Danielle Paul’s playful line of colour blocks evoking different moods in different locations. The only artworks that come close to parading superficially tentative lines are Io Makandal’s drawings presenting layers of diverse coloured lines seemingly obeying a centrifugal force. But even in the world of handdrawn abstract art her series could be passed off as a finished work. As the title of the show might suggest the works are preparations for other future works and therefore might not be incomplete in or of themselves.
The brave premise for this exhibition was set by curator/gallerist Amy Ellenbogen. It made sense given the Smith Studio gallery supports young artists at the nascence of their careers. She wanted to create a platform where artists could be given the space to experiment and take steps towards making new works, encouraging a process-based practice. By this she means to advance a form of art making and curating where there is less emphasis on the end product - a less results driven approach, though the artworks need to sell remains the outcome. It is that old tricky balancing act; weighing artistic freedom against commercial imperatives. Ellenbogen has either found a productive loop-hole, where every part of the art making process can be displayed and admired and true experimentation can flourish despite commercialisation, or this simply signals another way of commodifying art that could further anesthetise creativity. Fact is, however, artists love to perform for an audience and a show such as this probably fires them up and allows them to dream a little and explore possibilities beyond their reach.
Take Matty Roodt’s maquettes for sculptures made from found concrete with brass ‘branches’ mirroring trees. They are studies for life size sculptures she would like to place along a highway. Dale Lawrence’s study for a ceramic sculpture could be made, but as the drawing functions as an artwork in its own right, you have to wonder when ‘art’ becomes ‘art’.
The exhibition presents different forms of incompletedness, if you will. Antonia Brown’s installation of photographs are the first manifestation of her interest in dowsing. Brown sees parallels between photography and dowsing – both activities rely on a device to reveal hidden phenomena. As a young art graduate Brown is following her intuition but she has not clearly resolved how to engage with her fixation for dowsing.
Some artists, such as Jeanne Gaigher, have found their ‘voice’ and have settled into a unique mode or language – she has enjoyed a degree of success by painting over photographs she has taken. It is via this process that she identifies the unconscious impulses that compel her to take photographs. For Sketch, she was encouraged by Ellenbogen to employ this mode with found objects – a cheap kitsch carpet she found in a second hand shop in an industrial area. As with the photographs she reworks the object – covering it in black paint. She doesn’t so much as reveal hidden aspects, but conceals the object’s origins. The result might not be as successful or as resolved as the painted photographs, but it might set her on a new exciting path beyond photography.
The premise for this exhibition might sound artist-centric but as the polished veneer of the works suggests it is designed with viewers in mind; the works are aesthetically appealing and therefore desirable, but more than that they encourage patrons to value and take an interest in an artist’s trajectory.
“People often just consume art rather than follow the careers of an artist, we would like to encourage them to take a closer interest in their developments,” says Ellenbogen. - an edited version of this article was first published in The Times.
Sketch shows at Smith Studio gallery until February 13