It’s strange to consider the seemingly inconsequential things that make up our everyday lives. The moments we encounter, the views we see, the arrangement of objects in our kitchens, bedrooms and offices, even those brief interludes with family and friends that pass by as each new day fades into the past, all this is made up of discreet events and things that mark out the passage of time. In some ways social media records the minutiae of these kinds of encounters but they are denuded of context, and more importantly, of emotion. The works in Boat Smoke Bowl by RSJ Barker, Leonie Khoury and Dean Manning restore a sense of meaning to the passing and apparently insignificant.
Barker’s past works have been small-scale pieces that appear to have begun with figurative elements but ended up as dense, painterly abstracts. A sense of that older work is still apparent in this selection of newer pieces – the scale is still modest, and the surfaces are worked with the sure hand of an artist who has spent much energy on understanding texture and detail, but these new paintings also have a delightful element of figuration. They feature an intuitive combination of elements observed from his coastal home – ships, aircraft and birds - treated as equal elements in the painting, relative size observed with an impressionistic, personal perspective. They are works that abound with life, the vivid reality glanced out a window, or considered from a headland.
The sardonic work that Khoury presents in this show inevitably invites comparison to the work of Georgio Morandi, the great Italian painter of elegant, minimalist still lives. Khoury’s paintings gather together things that, individually, are the result of a refined design process and manufacture, objects that tend to, in my house at least, stand at odds with the ever-rolling chaos of the kitchen. The decorative teapot, the coffee plunger, glazed earthenware bowls and jugs, that little blue ramekin [the last survivor of a set of six], combined together against a black wall connect us to the universe of quiet contemplation and Zen acceptance, the Morandian ideal. But Khoury also frames these objects with subtle, humorous reminders of the world we live in – packing cardboard and barcodes. We might still find transcendence in the everyday, but it likely comes to us courtesy of Ikea.
The thread of humour in Barker and Khoury’s paintings takes flower in Manning’s work. His ceramic tiles, delicate and likely to break, yet also like the ceramics of antiquity possibly able to last centuries, record incidental thoughts and images. Manning’s texts are imaginings of unlikely scenarios extrapolated from everyday kitchen accidents, or recount unfortunate exhibition breakages or, in contrast, are a remembrance of a fallen soldier [possibly not serious]. We also find pigeons, friendly goats, games of backgammon and a giant monster, all painted with Manning’s careful but carefree style. His paintings of nudes offer a different aspect to his work, an intimate and subtle encounter, casual but nonetheless beautiful.
If one had to gather together the images that are significant in our lives, I’m sure most people would tend to include pictures of loved ones, significant birthdays and marriages, and baby’s first steps, and while all these things are indeed significant, they don't speak to the texture of the everyday, where most of us tend to spend the majority of our time. In these works, this trio of artists brings that texture into focus, a reminder that what we share is not always great events, or even significant ones, but capture the drift of things as we journey together into the future.
Dr. Andrew Frost