Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney, Australia
October 17 – November 10 2013
The thirteen works in Reuben Paterson’s Thanks Darkness signal their intentions through the simple rainbow code that defines their structure and sequence, echoing the ROYGBIV colour system that evolves from red to orange, traditionally ending with violet but also here including black and white. Thanks Darkness is based on the visible colour spectrum defined by Isaac Newton but perhaps better known in pop culture through Storm Thorgerson’s iconic design for the 1973 Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon (released the same year the artist was born). Thorgerson’s image could be read in two ways – that the coloured beams of light have combined to create a pure white projection, or that the white light has been broken down into component parts. It suggests that a reduction or division of light can reveal hidden qualities, activated by the darkness rather than obscured by the glare of excess information or illumination.
Like the dark side of the moon, which has become a fertile location of imagined existences, a lack of light creates a void of information in which there are infinite possibilities. Darkness becomes a space of mystery and potential. Paterson’s new monochromatic works operate within a similar negative space, projecting only a single colour where once there was an image, and refracting the light that is projected at it. There is a symbiotic relationship between light and dark, defined in relationship to each other and activating the works in equal measure. Light derives power from darkness, just as death needs time for what it kills to grow in (to paraphrase a line from William S.Burroughs).
The monochromes each contain manipulations of texture and scale, making them a sculptural proposition, defined only through the casting of shadows, which are revealed through light and time as we explore them with bodily motion. Although Paterson’s work has always invited viewers to activate the prismatic light effects of his glittered work through movement and engagement, with the concealed designs of his new works he forces the issue. These are reluctant performers that offer little more than a space for the viewer to find themselves, offering just fleeting glimpses of its own make-up.
Key to the deployment of pure colour, activated by light, is the inclusion of a white monochrome, suggesting a further reduction but also a maximum of potential, not least because white is the result of all colours being present in an RGB (additive) colour system. Similarly, black is created by the presence of all colours in a CMYK (subtractive) colour system, depicted here as a kaleidoscopic tondo painting centred on a black void. In New Zealand art history, black is also synonymous with preeminent modernist painter, Ralph Hotere, whose work speaks of spiritual origins through the Maori creation story of Te Kore (the void), Te Po (the night), and the subsequent phases of darkness that lead to the first dawn and Te Ao Marama – the world of light. From darkness, the emergence of light reveals a new day. But whereas Hotere’s black is heightened by strategic deployment of colour, Paterson works with the whole spectrum, activated by shadows to reveal and define details. For Paterson, whose paintings gain their effect from the synthetic material of mylar plastic glitter, light is also the result of technology, which has allowed cities to overcome the power of the night.
Anchored by the five monochromes (red, yellow, blue, purple and white), the remaining works are interspersed to create a progression as an exploration of flux, not so much merging from one to the next as a homogenised blend but acknowledging what has gone before and what comes next, retaining elements of the past and future to create the present. Paterson’s flamboyant, fabric designs are still embedded in every work but their suggestion of a rainbow world of high camp is more layered than ever, having always been melancholic in tone as a reflection on mortality. Their celebratory motifs are an
acknowledgment of who has passed through the land before us, represented by the mothballed party frocks, shirts or ties of yesteryear, once owned by friends and family and now a symbol of former festivities. Through the passing of light, Paterson presents us with the flow and flux of creativity and mortality, and a reminder of the impossibility of capturing the present as it emerges from and returns to darkness.
Andrew Clifford, September 2013