Nanda/Hobbs Contemporary presents Anthony White: Crossing The Rubicon
Anthony White, Sanguine (Manus), 2016
Oil on linen
150 x 120 cm
Anthony Whilte: Crossing The Rubicon
at Nanda/Hobbs Contemporary, Sydney
20 - 30 September 2016
Opening: 6pm, 20 September, 2016
Nanda Hobbs Contemporary is proud to present their inaugural solo exhibition of Paris-based Australian artist Anthony White, whose work is predominantly painterly, abstract, physically large works that have a tangible quality of surface. By merging contemporary forms of urban landscape and his Australian heritage across disciplines of drawing, painting, and collage the artist creates works often characterised by an awareness of surface and a preoccupation with the engagement of physicality and the found object. In his new body of work, Crossing the Rubicon, White continues to excavate ideas sourced from defining moments in history and their intersection with current global socio-political issues, to inform his contemporary image making practice. The exhibition explores collision points of the effects of modernism, war and globalisation.
The title Crossing the Rubicon draws from an important moment in the history of Western civilization, when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river in Italy in 49AD and changed the genesis of modern Europe. Metaphorically White draws from this epoch of history in relation to the current global refugee crises, reflecting impacts in the artist’s current home, Europe, and contrasting this with the quieter crisis in his native Australia with its off-shore detention centres on the Pacific islands of Manus and Nauru.
In the work Sanguine (Manus) the Australian policy of immigration is scrutinised. Its Pacific ‘solution’ to processing of refugees is proposed as a national tragedy and international embarrassment, and an inhumane series of ongoing incidents for Australia in an international context.
In the accompanying catalogue essay the London-based writer Robert Maconachie discusses the work Constantinople I, “The protean nature of identity is also examined in White’s, Constantinople I, an ebullient network of thick chalk-white lines over a background of rich purples, blues and golds. Fundamental to the histories of both Christianity and Islam, the city of Constantinople (current day Istanbul) embodies the idea of multiplicity; the shifting, multifarious nature of identity that underlies White’s interest in geographical and cultural boundaries. Located in Eurasia at the physical limit of Europe, where West meets East, Constantinople represents the meeting place of two continents, two dominant ideologies and centuries of change. Constantinople I give us a sense of this constant state of flux, of building and rebuilding.”
In creating his new work, White has utilised non-traditional techniques such as throwing rags doused in paint to create patterning, blurring and diffusions, principally to build up transparent layers of paint. In doing so, the artist reflects on both conceptual and aesthetic ideas relating to identity and diaspora caused by war and the implications of Modernism. Combining references from historical postwar Japan and Ancient Rome the artist analyses periods of social unrest as a vehicle of breakthrough movements in civil as well as aesthetic history. Aesthetically the imagery of the exhibition draws upon the Gutai movement of 1950s, namely the Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga. During this period Japan was in a state of rebuilding its national identity after WWII. By questioning the rise of the new cultural paradigm of the West, the Gutai artists created something uniquely Japanese.
For Anthony White (1976 Born Sydney Australia Lives and works in Paris) living in France amongst different cultures has naturally led to working across various artistic disciplines. By merging contemporary forms of urban landscape and his Australian heritage across disciplines of drawing, painting, and collage the artist creates works often characterised by an awareness of surface and a preoccupation with the engagement of physicality and the found object. The artist was awarded the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship 2007 where he travelled to New York and worked at the New York Studio School and the Paris Studio Award 2009 where he was artist in residence in Paris for three months at La Cite Internationale Des Arts.(2009) Anthony White has exhibited widely over the past decade, recent exhibitions include Art Central Hong Kong with Metro gallery 2016 and final round finalist in the Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy London, 2015. Recent gallery solo exhibitions have included As The Sleeper Wakes (2016) and Pentimento both at Metro gallery (2015) a survey exhibition at Le Pave D’Orsay (2014), Informal Relations at The Cat St Gallery, Hong Kong (2013) and two solo shows with Sydney gallerist Iain Dawson: Paris Paintings (2010), and Scratching The Surface (2011). He has also been regularly curated into group exhibitions focussing on Australian Contemporary Painting in Sydney, London, Hong Kong, Paris and Brisbane The artist has been has been the recipient of the Marten Bequest for Painting 2007, the FONAS Paris Studio at La Cite Internationale Des Arts 2009, a scholarship to the LIA Programme in Leipzig Germany.
Crossing the Rubicon is on at Nanda/Hobbs Contemporary, Sydney, from 20 to 30 September 2016. Nanda/Hobbs Contemporary is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, or by appointment, at Level 1, 66 King Street, Sydney.
As I write this, tens-of-thousands of refugees seeking asylum in Europe have lost their lives in the worst global displacement of people since records began. Those who are "below the visa line“ to use Sarat Maharaja’s phrase, are cast aside like waste while the spirit of internationalism in Europe collapses. As the UK steps back across the Rubicon, London’s Tate Modern unveils its new 'Switch House’ building displaying its post-2000 acquisitions guided by a more global perspective.
Amid this simultaneous breaching and building, Anthony White’s, Crossing the Rubicon, takes Julius Caesar’s illegal crossing of the River Rubicon in 49BC as its point of departure. As Suetonius recounts, according to Roman law, by leading his army across the border from Gaul into Italy, Caesar committed treason, precipitating both bloody civil war and the genesis of Modern Europe. The Rubicon elicits an obvious metaphor here: from the Latin, Rubeus, meaning red, the river is so named for its sanguine waters coloured by a muddy river bed - a blood border. Caesar knew he could not turn back; "To Cross the Rubicon” is to reach the point of no return.
Born in Sydney and now living in Paris, White’s recent paintings consider collision points, blurs, diffusions, shifts and ruptures at the site of geopolitical and cultural boundaries, particularly in relation to global immigration crises. Echoing Edward Said's identification of "the inextricable links" between Modernism, war and immigration, the problems which these moments of rupture raise for contemporary image making are rigorously worked over in White’s content-loaded gestural mark making.
White’s image making has been formally and materially driven, borne from his initial studies of Euro-American abstraction. In Crossing the Rubicon paint is, in the Greenbergian sense, both medium and subject matter, but the self-reflexive mode is engaged via a conceptual framework which foregrounds the legal as opposed to the formal. In Rubeus for example, which appears like the visual record of a physical confrontation, the composition is separated vertically by a dividing line of blueish black. The rule of law. Redolent of Caesar’s epoch-making river crossing, thick scrawls of frenzied red paint dragged on with rags advance left-to-right towards this boundary marker, issuing broad-swept black and red arcs which drive the movement across the canvas.
The physicality of these gestures recalls the work of Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008) a leading artist of the Gutai Art Association, whose work White has made reference to in recent years. In Challenging Mud 1955, Shiraga crawled through a mire of mud, cement and twigs until he was exhausted, probing the nature of war, representation and the wasting of human life through the conflation of body and material. Both White’s Rubeus and Shiraga’s Challenging Mud share analogous visual terrain with the experiences of refugees. Photographs released by the media in September 2015 of Syrian refugees on the border between Greece and Macedonia show a group confronted by armed police who look on as a man collapses in the mud at their feet. Problems of identity arise in both sets of circumstances: in post-war Japan the country’s identity was blurred between perpetrator and victim after the horror of the atomic bomb; in an opposite and very different way, refugees are identified simultaneously as victim and perpetrators of some unnamed crime.
The protean nature of identity is also examined in White’s, Constantinople I, an ebullient network of thick chalk-white lines over a background of rich purples, blues and golds. Fundamental to the histories of both Christianity and Islam, the city of Constantinople (current day Istanbul) embodies the idea of multiplicity; the shifting, multifarious nature of identity which underlies White’s interest in geographical and cultural boundaries. Located in Eurasia at the physical limit of Europe, where West meets East, Constantinople represents the meeting place of two continents, two dominant ideologies and centuries of change. Constantinople I gives us a sense of this constant state of flux, of building and rebuilding.
It is this idea of images in a state of becoming which one is left with in Crossing the Rubicon; images emerging from or disappearing into abstraction, something that reminded me of Henry Bergson’s understanding of the image. Barry Schwabsky provides a good summary: "The Bergsonian image” says Schwabsky "is not necessarily a whole “picture” but any simple or complex sensation, so that the pictorial elements – the colours, shapes and textures of which an abstract painting might be composed – are also already images […] even an abstract painting is already image.” If we consider “element” as “individual” and “picture” as “nation”, Bergson’s equalization of power and challenge to hegemony is more pertinent now than ever.
Robert Maconachie London July 2016