06/03/2013 - 28/03/2013

James Smeaton

James Smeaton


ink on paper

100.00 x 70.00 cm (each)

installation image


James Smeaton’s highly charged ink works on paper literally and metaphorically leave the West in their wake.

The connection to the sea which infuses so much of his work is still there but gone are the obvious references to empty vessels, maritime flags and structures, colonial mapping and the journeys of ancient seafarers as they made their way by stealth across the seas.

Smeaton substitutes this knowledge and passion for the distinct island cultures of Java, Bali, Lombok and Sumba. These are places he now knows intimately through regular residencies and has been immersed in the colour and diversity of Indonesian art and culture.

Of critical importance to this process of familiarisation is Smeaton’s direct experience of Balinese ceremony. In particular, the Barong and Rangda mythological dance which finishes with a battle then a Kris (knife) dance where (mostly) men go into a trance and push the knives into themselves and by being protected from the spirit remain unhurt.

In this sense ‘Ceremony’ is Smeaton’s way of developing an expressive language which acts as an equivalent to dance – a deliberate letting go in which the act of making the work parallels the rising crescendo and ultimate experience of a kind of hypnotic ecstasy, of finding something new and exciting in something ancient and traditional. There is a dynamic exchange in which the practiced movement of the body finds a visual equivalent in fresh and freely invented visual forms.

The current works commenced as a series of rapid-fire night sessions in which the artist’s intention was to work intuitively and in quick succession until his energy/experienced literally burnt out. Settling on two sets of works with singlecoloured bases, Smeaton worked wet on wet, adding black or white over the top and scraping back the forms to expose the colour below - figurative elements emerging. At first destroyed in dismay these references were ultimately embraced by the artist as a welcome extension of this deliberately free-form and ‘unthinking’ approach. The one controlling factor was the black and white (corresponding to the forces of bad and good magic embraced across the Indonesian archipelago).

Raised into a visual tour de force. Smeaton’s body centred art is apparent in his being set free, of being out of control in a controlled environment. A dynamic tension is created between figure and ground, character and base, calligraphic mark-making and all-over sweeps of colour. All painted from above, working on the ground, Smeaton pays respect to ancient traditions as well as to more contemporary aesthetic forms and methodologies which while drawn from East and West ultimately forge something uniquely his own.

Rodney James, Senior Curator, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, January 2013

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