Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

New Eyes

by Adrian Clement

01 Dec 2012

Gilbert Grace once took my girlfriend and I on a 'Rolling Sketch' bicycle tour. Armed with pen and paper and many other implements, we met in Tempe, rode in the direction of the airport, and finally along the Cooks River towards Canterbury. This path has been frequently travelled by the wheels of my ride, but in vastly different contexts: from infancy when my parents took my brother and I aboard on adventures, through to my teenage-hood, when I found solace and thrill in riding towards the airport, even if I seldom made it there.

On a trip to Melbourne a few years ago, I had the chance to board the plane from the tarmac, and it became apparent that solitude and emptiness are qualities that I am particularly attracted to in this site of industrial spaciousness. That same year, I had designed a wearable apparatus for the purpose of listening to the sounds of our everyday environments called an Acoustic Listening Device, and when Mr Grace invited me to take part in the Sydney Green Ring (a project to map and promote this overlooked bicycle route) I proposed to station these devices alongside the airport to provide people a new set of ears and an opportunity to be open towards the sounds we often treat with aversion.

I was inspired by Mr Grace’s tour to embark on a ‘Rolling Sketch’ adventure of my own, armed with a 35mm SLR and an iPod full of beats by Rustie, venturing into locations I knew I shouldn’t. The closer I arrived to the airport, the more apparent it became that this site I’ve become so fascinated by is considered by many people to be an industrial eyesore (and earache). So too the river I rode along to arrive here, which has been devastatingly polluted for as long as I can remember. Despite strong community efforts to restore the environment, the image of Blinky the three-eyed fish swimming underneath bongs and Coke bottles pervades my mind. It takes Mr Grace’s tour, his knowledge of historical artefacts and points of geographical interest, his personal relationship to the space and his ability to see its beauty to make me see beyond my short-sightedness.

As I entered his current exhibition at Sheffer Gallery, Luminous, I felt that his paintings were pairs of fresh new eyes that gave me a further opportunity to share his vision. His method of photographing locations on a low-end digital camera and painting from this material results in images that seem to echo my memory of the sights I saw last month or last year, slightly disoriented and dislocated from their original reality. But more gripping than that, they establish a geographical ambiguity, which successfully ties a thread between all of these spaces. This is as essential to the exhibition as the beautiful and intense amber glow of sunsets depicted in many of the paintings. To me, they reinforce Mr Grace's ability to show the inherent beauty in nature, and the preciousness of Grandfather Sun who shines over all with no prejudice, even if we pollute or disrespect these sacred spaces.