Quartet 8, 1994, synthetic polymer paint on flax and lead, 34 x 102 cms, 4 pieces, The University of Western Australia Art Collection, University Senate Grant 1994, © Brian Blanchflower
space-matter-colour concentrates on Brian Blanchflower’s intense, monochromatic paintings of the last decade, but also includes a broad selection, very largely from the artist’s collection, of works going back as far as 1970. The recent works are set in context, and his conjoining of colour, space and matter in deep, compelling paintings can be seen throughout. Brian Blanchflower lives near Perth and is one of Australia’s most important living artists.
Blanchflower’s paintings are intense visual experiences and the surface of the paintings function like a screen on which existence and time is questioned. Unlike many artists his paintings are not about issues of the current moment or daily experience—rather they take on the big questions of existence and of the spirit. The intensely coloured monochromes Blanchflower has been working on for the last decade are luminous, intense and deep. It is almost as though the colour has become a form of condensed matter—with light, atoms and particles compressed down into a super-dense solid object. This is especially evident in the recent series of Concretion paintings.
Blanchflower has also long been interested in space and the universe, and human attempts to understand experiences and spaces larger than ourselves. He is very aware that to look into the night sky is to see into the long past, the light of millions of years ago as it arrives from far distant stars and times. Looking into it is also a reminder that the same forces which create galaxies and stars are at work in the atoms and sub-atomic particles of which all things are made. Blanchflower is on a quest for meaning and an attempt to understand the human desire for transcendence.
John Barrett-Lennard, Director of the Gallery and Curator of space-matter-colour, says that from Blanchflower’s earliest paintings in this exhibition, dating from 1970 and 1971, Blanchflower’s interest in space and how we capture the energies of the universe can be clearly seen.
“His focus on the sweep of vision, from things out there through to the micro world within the smallest particles that we are aware of, stretches across the full exhibition and all four decades of paintings in it,” Barrett-Lennard said. “While the recent monochrome paintings are a summation, looking back it is possible to clearly trace the pathway that has led to them."
The paintings of the early 1980s, are full of wild energy, depicting a world that is erupting, in which all is surging, exploding outwards, multi-layered and cacophonous. The process of making marks, where each mark functions like a particle was very important for Blanchflower. He spent months adding individual marks to create intense fields of motion. Starting in the mid 1980s Blanchflower’s long series of Canopy paintings are like screens, which one looks both at and through, and which capture a residue of multiple dimensions. Derived in part from the experience of looking up through a hessian sun shade while camping in the desert, with flashes of light or glimpses of stars seen through the interstices, the Canopy paintings have been receptors for images for distant things and images cast up from the past.
Music also—particularly that of 20th century composers—and sound have always been of crucial importance for Blanchflower. In the 1990s he produced a series of Quartet pieces that borrowed compositional form from music. Quartet 8 combines four small paintings, including a flat piece of canvas pinned to the wall, a smaller stretched canvas, a strip of crudely cut lead and another stretched canvas that are linked thematically by the red colour used on each of them.
In the last decade or so Blanchflower’s paintings have become increasingly monochrome, minimal and spare. The wild energies of the Canopy paintings or other earlier works, with their marks/particles echoing both the macro, the field of stars, comets and stellar formation, and the micro, the energies of atoms and electrons in their constant dance, have seemed to disappear. The surfaces have become increasingly dense, refined down to a single colour and worked over for months. The painting Small density (2003) is an early example of this—yet it continues his concerns with the invisible and the unnameable. The work appears as a black hole in the wall, absorbing all light and emitting nothing.
Space—Brian Blanchflower has always focused on the territories or gaps where the unseen or unknown may become evident. Matter—the stuff of paint, but much more importantly the stuff of existence, the whirling particles that condense into humans, rocks, planets, stars and every other object is absolutely central to what he does. Colour—the ephemeral quality which gives matter form and which is the country of the spirit, is likewise essential.
Brian Blanchflower was born in Brighton, England, in 1939. After migrating to Western Australia in 1972, Brian took up a teaching position at the Western Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT, now Curtin University of Technology), where he taught in the School of Art and Design from 1972–84. Blanchflower began exhibiting his work in Western Australian galleries shortly after his arrival,and since then, he has continued to exhibit locally, nationally, and internationally, and his works are held in major collections throughout the world, including most of the state galleries in Australia. Many curators regard him as one of the most important contemporary painters in Australia. The University of Western Australia has nine of Blanchflower’s works in the collection (the first acquired in 1976 and most recently in 2006).