The waterhole

  • Peter John Adsett

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    The project to be undertaken for the Master of Fine Arts by Research investigates the relationship between abstraction and meaning. It does this within a contemporary view which incorrectly assumes that abstraction cannot carry narrative even when it demands artists to address cultural and political realities in their art. 

    I recognise the apparent dilemma, but remain firmly committed to abstraction as a fully relevant medium for my artistic expression as it has always been a vehicle for meaning. 

    The focus of my research shifts from the formal parameters of the work, to process and performance. That is to say, I understand the mark in terms of its materialisation through process rather than the representation of a prior, external, and projected image. Although my paintings develop slowly, over many months of thinking, reading and drawing, nevertheless, the final outcome is always a revelation, since my self-critical working process tends to undermine and redefine any preplanned ideas. 

    In other words, whilst I work within a given central theme (eg. Stations of the Cross), together with its permutations (Pastoral Stations, Aboriginal Land Leases etc.) the works retain a strongly experiential element, ie. will develop in the act of painting. 

    It cannot be too strongly stressed that I believe it to be impossible to split form and content in my art, and that my working process is a demonstration of the simple fact that the form IS the content. I begin each of my series with a restriction of means - of colours, forms - in order that I can explore subtle variations to the full, and thereby extract the maximum of meaning from each slight change of colour or line. In this way I am constantly re-evaluating the conventions of paintings. I ask, for example, what line IS (whether line can be non-line); what composition IS (when does a work become non-composed, as in I'informe); can black and white be regarded as colour? can I obliterate the figure/ground opposition by working the surface to create formlessness? In so doing, I am posing the problem of cultural relations between black and white Australia. 

    The theme of the Stations of the cross implies notions of past, present and future. It is within this context that I can multiply the layers of meaning which I am trying to express (through composition/non-composition, line/non-line; colour/non-colour). For instance, the Stations are about walking the line (both in the narrow theological sense and in the broader liturgical one). This ancient idea forms, I believe, an appropriate analogy for the current relations between black and white cultures in Australia. The paintings will, in their struggle between form and formlessness, express this tense and difficult journey. 

    The challenge that the work poses to the viewer is, as ever with abstraction, how one enters the work. By adopting a strongly illusory technique, I aim to make the viewer's engagement an act of commitment, and thus provoke a particular awareness of the issues at stake in Aboriginal Australia today - an awareness that goes beyond conventional problems such as reconciliation, and ventures into those fraught areas of racism, dispossession and genocide. 

    The first series of work is to be titled "Black and White and Red All Over - Pastoral Stations Series". It will be shown at: William Mora Galleries in October 1997, Melbourne 
    Drill Hall Gallery in July 1998, the Australian National Gallery - Canberra 
    The second series will be exhibited at William Mora Galleries in 1998.
    Date of Award21 Jun 1999
    Original languageEnglish

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