Statement for 2020 Exhibition at Artsite Galleries: Topography:
Most of my recent paintings have been done without looking out beyond the canvas. They are a form of practical imagination, in the sense that I ask myself what can be done with these wet and oily pigments onto this given space. An empty white wall can be an exciting place and has many visions to offer.
I enjoy the exploration of building up the artwork through layers and observing and responding to the subtleties that emerge. Often this is based on the fact that a line can be painted in two ways, this being either a painted line or everything painted but a line, with both approaches having quite different outcomes. The second approach I have found more difficult, but more interesting.
Many of these recent works are portrayed as strata and go by the name of topography. I sense that the lateral geometry of these paintings gives a settled composition and offers a number of ways to be read. These panoramic sections are to depict junctions or views through a landscape at different time periods or locations.
I find a tension between figurative and non-representative elements of the work, and I think this is what drives me to paint over the original layer with patterns, as a way of synthesising the two. The subject matter is about time, devotion, nature and connections. I use the figure in my work in the same way that punctuation marks are used to convey meaning to words.
I try to achieve a consistency and uniform weight, giving equal attention to detail in all areas of the work. My goal is to find the point where the scene appears to come together in front of me, with an energy that has a meditative harmony. It is at this point that I think the painting has been hopefully completed. I have understood that there is no magic solution to making art, there is not an approach that will simply work, there is no clear way of seeing the ramifications of decisions until they are actually made. It is this unknowing and discovery that keeps drawing me in.
Opening speech for 2018 Exhibition.
By JOHN CRUTHERS.
The first painting by David Brook I saw was in a group exhibition in Bondi in 2008. I was impressed and soon after we met and David showed me some of his Life Paintings. They were depictions of the eastern suburbs – streets and houses, parks, corners of the harbour, everyday life. I’ve always liked this kind of work, which has a long history in 20th-century Australian art. Russian émigré Danila Vassilief painted the streets of urban Fitzroy in the 1930s and 40s and influenced a generation of artists including Nolan, Tucker, and Perceval. Or the Swiss Sali Hermann, who was known as the terrace house painter for his depictions of Paddington, at that time a slum. It’s an approach that still appeals to artists like Tom Carment or Noel McKenna, or David.
There’s a kind of honesty and directness in this work. But it’s a genre of art which disguises its art in the cloak of the everyday. Flat depictions of streets or corner shops are not in themselves interesting. It takes a much closer look, a more attuned eye. David talks about this is his notes to accompany this exhibition, which are really worth reading –
I enjoy and look forward to painting from everyday life because it is experiential. The experience is not only the act of painting but the shift to looking at the world from a different perspective…. When you’re just hanging around for the sake of seeing and experiencing this, you get a richer feeling of your reality. You develop a feeling for the place, even if you’re painting your own street, and that feeling of a sense of place can sometimes last for hours.
So it’s about achieving a different vision, of selecting and combining events and visual details into a summary of the experience or view that prompted the painting. The end result is paintings that remake the everyday world, allowing us to see the familiar in a different, richer, more intense way.
Over recent years David has moved away from the straightforward painterly approach of the Life Paintings. While the subject matter may stay the same, he has introduced pattern into his work. This allows him to break up the reality he sees, for example into bands that alternate objects and patterns - linear landscapes that he calls Topographies. David’s use of pattern has given him much more control over the painted surface, which is even more pronounced when he also uses dotting. Patterning and dotting act as a kind of gauze or grid, pushing the figurative elements backward, flattening and geometricizing them, and unifying the composition. They also introduce a distinct visual hum, an optical effect that suggests an almost cosmic energy that starts from the tiniest marks and radiates out.
The newest paintings in the exhibition, made when David and Hanna visited China earlier this year, show how dotting and a low key, tonal palette can create works of unexpected visual and emotional power.
I’d like to finish with a brief comment on the role of people in David’s paintings. You notice pretty quickly that David’s human subjects nearly always have their eyes closed. When I asked about this, he said he was more interested in depicting people looking within that staring out at the viewer. He is interested in inner worlds, but evoked using the outer world as a scaffold on which to build a sense of experience, feeling, and emotion into the painting.
So these paintings of landscapes, cities, and people are also about something entirely different. They are about states of mind, about energy, about the ecstatic experience, about a universe humming and buzzing with life force. They offer something unique, and I urge you to take it up, to do as Robert MacPherson implored at the end of his series Little pictures for the poor: “Enquire within”.
John Cruthers is a Sydney-based art consultant, curator, writer and collector. He is a curator of the Grundy Collection of Australian art and curatorial adviser of the Cruthers Collection of Women's Art at the University of Western Australia.
Street painting in Bejing 2018:
Hole in the fence.
Making art is about searching,
about looking for a translative moment
about being able to stand so close to the fastest and dirtiest train
the world has ever known.
It is not obvious, what it is to be perfect.
That the spider will not jump down your throat,
and implant you with a thousand hatchlings,
and use your body as the base to take over
your kid's bedroom, as you try to take her gently outside.
Or that your wife can grab the tail of the snake
without spilling coffee all over the piano.
Art: living with the choices you made.
When your awake in the middle of the night,
go to your window and listen,
most night you can hear very softly the sound of sirens.
You will get to know your painting, if you sleep with it in your room.
When you lie down and wake up, see it in ways that you can’t see
when your walking about your everyday life.
I spend equal time in the past and future in my time machine.
All music is about death.
I spend a lot of time staring at the painting and painting it in my mind to avoid mistakes, trying this and that.
It can involve any aspect of the image, the dots or the lines that could be, which direction should they go, in which area, what size, how I’m going to hide this part and bring this forward etc. Sectioning parts off in the mind by putting a blind eye on certain aspects. There are so many variables, sometimes it was the right approach and others times I can’t imagine it that well so I have to paint it and see what it really looks like. It’s hard to hold so many moves in your head and that it’s not so unlike chess. Once you make the right move the next step becomes clearer, some times you can make the wrong move, or many of them. Sometimes your opponent lets you take your move back, sometimes they don’t.
Bring on the provenience
Shake the can until it turns cold then press very slowly
and little specks shoot out to create for yourself a global cluster.
I went to journey outside to paint but when I got there,
I realised that I forgot to bring brushes
I chewed on sticks to paint with but it didn’t go so good.
I bite my tongue and then my tongue tastes itself.
We are paying for the packaging.
She stood me up,
cause I stood her up,
because I thought she stood me up.
My friend says..
“an art exhibition is like a book launch but where everyone reads the book in front of you”
What is light.
When I look at a star, I know that my eyes could see that star anywhere, say 10 hours drive from here, if so what is it that is making its way to my eye, wether I'm standing here,10 hours away and every cm in between. I don’t see how something could make its way approximately everywhere at once. Someone explained it to me, but I don’t understand it.
When I was young I used to get this feeling a lot,
and only sometimes I have it now but rarely.
It is having a feeling for the place you are in,
it feels good, it is like magic when you got it.
Works best when it happens without you trying.
I remember being in primary school looking out the window
of my class room and seeing the top of a hill,
or was it the tops of pine trees on a sunny day,
It was a park and I would feel what it was like to be there,
without being there, maybe it felt better than being there.
At night in my house I could sense it in the empty back streets around my
neighbourhood. I could feel what it was like out there -
i didn’t need to be there just to know that it was there.
I felt it in many places I’d go, I felt it in Jerusalem.
It gave me a sense of comfort and made me feel alive.
Looking for the hole in the fence. And a swimming pool under a fireplace.
A corridor under my chair, a stair case in my bedroom.
Waiting for the day I catch the thief and my reaction.
We become ourselves by quietly rejecting the things we are NOT.
There is something complicated
but simple and beautiful about knots.
– - .
Does it not feel good to have scars?
When your painting outside it means not so much what people say,
but what kids say is meaningful, because kids say what they feel, and can make good judges for art. When they say wow or nothing they mean wow or nothing.
When you want the paradigm shift - dunk your head fast inside the cold water.
I think the most powerful thing is fear.
Over the bridge.
I have a dream:
That a Chinese emperor came crying to me.
They say there are 100 billion galaxies with 100 billion stars in each one.
And I’m feeling annoyed because I can’t find the headstone that needs repairing
in the forgotten corner of the cemetery of a deadman.
I'm taking the water to the horse and he just keeps on drinking.
No doubt that the primary reason for tiredness and drowsiness is boredom.
An early memory of being in an art class was the teacher telling us that artists like to go to deep into the country so they can paint with no sounds to distract themselves from their painting, now I know she was lying.
Seeing is so entwined with knowledge,
what you see is what you understand.
If you don’t understand you don’t see.
Aldous Huxley understood this and he explains it well.
Some people saw it.
We are expected to be:
I'm trying to imagine the composition for:
A sunset on a moon, which are both setting on another sun,
stars above and a walking figure below on the surface,
and it’s not easy, and I liked to try.
The realisation that I’d rather be with you sober,
That I'm nothing more than somebody
that likes to lose himself because I'm hopelessly
devoted to something that I don’t understand it myself.
Painting is about not being stingy to yourself.
Never lose sight of
the vision of your
blood in the bath
Like the apple core in the middle of the road and the moonshine by day.
And the paint that makes its way from my hand to my shirt and then onto yours.
I will be here for you.
Love is a feeling that nothing lasts forever.
All we got to do is figure out the how and the what or the what and the how
then follow through and the rest is history.
I’m living consistently, based on juxtaposition.
Feel like sighing a thousand times to the cats and the moon,
because I'm foolish. Living in a world of words and people,
going faster than they have ever been before.
If you paint>
If you paint the trees before the skies
or the sky before the trees, there is a huge difference.
Making art is about the actions of ideas becoming the ideas of actions
and a play or a march is the other way around.
Urgency is death, patience is dead.
Longevity’s in denial, virtue will be forgotten.
Unless love loves you it doesn’t feel like love.
The feeling of what the night will be is more important than what the night will become.
This world like the night before.
The next, like the morning after.
The landscape existed first, people come into the landscape and they can walk out of it. People come at the end of a painting, they are placed above the previous paint. Like a tribe coming into the existing land.
We have become people of a moving image.
History is speeding up.
We are satiated by the speed.
But painting may be the staple diet
of someone who would want to create something.
How do I look at the art of somebody, u cant stand.
This person could be a murderer, who has made a great piece of art,
how do I feel about it? there are numerous gradations of this example,
but the point is clear, how do you feel…..about it.
If you know the answer, you may already be wrong.
“An amateur is someone who supports himself with outside jobs which enable him to paint. A professional is someone whose wife works to enable him to paint.” (Ben Shahn)
The Bougainvillea is out, Jacaranda is out.
The yachts are out, the clouds have gone.
Amateur guitar players are out.
Tap dancing is out. Donkeys are out.
One dollar is out. The Bakersfield font is out.
The coach is out. The dream time is gone.
Money is rolling to me and back on to you.
The sunflowers are out. Fire is out.
Midday is out. Scrapbooks are out.
Karoshi has begun.
Art is many things. But when I was recently in a hospital I was reminded of how the function of art there is a good one. A hospital is a place of mixed emotions and seeing all the art up there lining the walls. It says to you, you are here and there is a world, try to remember that we are able to choose the way we see, try to see things differently and make things different out of our selves and the world.
We all stand alone
with nothing other than the rocks and a dripping tap,
and the moon setting fast and hard over this city
we all live in, we stand alone.
After spending a few days in London you will notice bricks – everywhere and in all colours, it became an obsession to me and I took a lot of photos and made a video about it. Not sure why there are so many bricks there but I know the great fire of London had something to do with it. You can see that there is beauty in every brick – in some, it just takes longer to see. They are all set in a pattern known as the English Bond.
I never have seen so much art in my life.
There is something mysterious about Gauguin colours.
I don’t think any has been overrated about Van Gogh.
Barcelona is Gaudi. Felt 13 looking at Dali.
Miro’s green is good. My shoes remind me of Miro
I really like the Bruegel paintings
Francis Bacon made me feel quite young.
Loved Rousseau and Renoir.
Not sure yet about Oscar Kokoschka
There was something that blew me away about Cezanne’s card players.
But I can’t remember what that was now.
Walking the busy streets of London, and it keeps reminding me, of a Leon Kossoff painting of the muted colours and the people walking in London. It sometimes seems as somebody has gone a turned the contrast down here. But then you notice how the colour does come out, look at the English back garden, honestly there is something greener about the grass, and the fences are a warmer , and it’s all because it’s so dull. It's because it’s so dull that the hues appear deeper to me.
From The Inside.
Something creepy about being a tourist. Meaning it does not feel right to look, walk and look some more. It is so indulgent and mindless to stare like a tourist, you have to give back a bit…trying to blend in and see things from the inside. Once I came really close to getting paint all over the carpet of a UNESCO world heritage site. If I did, who pays? Like the time when my kids nearly broke a bunch of Perceval and Boyd potteries displayed waist high and haphazardly.
There are 2 ways to see things when drawing from life, from the outside in, meaning turning things into outlines, a line is a personal thing. The other way is from the inside, which is less personal but more interesting, you need to stare and you see what you thought was black is not black and what you see as white is not white. You see the way you see things.
Suddenly in an English garden.
Hard in an English toilet.
Under pressure in a British airport
and on the plane.
In a Spanish airport.
In the lobby of the hotel Condado,
and in the hotel room.
I’m finding it hard to sleep in Barcelona,
and I don’t speak Spanish anymore.
A hangover is the cells from the edge of your nose to the tip of your feet telling you, that you may could be better off dead, that you never appreciated being alive, to simply wash the dishes and do work, as if that wasn’t good enough. If only we felt the joys of just being alive and what a pleasure it but then we forget. And forget this over and over again.
Thinking about how somebody can live or spend years of their life comfortably in a small location as we all do. We spend chunks of our lives in certain spaces ie our bedrooms. A little space has so much to offer an individual that they could spend major parts of their life in this particular space.
Yet when we move through space, as we travel in our car we travel through the distance of properties, we traverse space so quickly, it totally defies the importance and preciousness of space that it’s almost meaningless.
A while back when there was a Sidney Nolan exhibition on at the Art Gallery of NSW. There was a small brochure printed, I had one from somewhere. On the cover was a photograph of him in the studio and far in the background was painting leaning against something it was very insignificant in the image. However when I saw this painting in the background of this photo I was inspired about something in terms of shape and how the paint was going down. I went to the exhibit and I really liked the show but I was more inspired from this image that was about 2cm or less.
I find this happens often, another example was when I was pulled over on the side of the road (I'm not sure why) and I was looking through the window of a restaurant, quite far at the back of a side wall I saw an image which was intriguing to me. From the blurriness of distance I saw a smallish painting of a woman standing on a beach the dark blue ocean intersecting her and a sky above, from the top of the sky was a huge dog leaping down from the sky with its paws outstretched above her, what a strange image, lady and dog from the sky. I told my wife in the car that I needed to take a closer look at this and I quickly went inside to see it for myself, as I approached the image, it started to disassemble itself and suddenly I was looking at a generic print of a rose...
Out working thinking about my grandfather who is buried say 400 meters away, I’ve only visited once the stone that bears his name- I’m so busy and there is do much to do again today, as I speed away from the gates of the cemetery.
People are funny, someone can paint 1000 paintings, pour himself into each of them, and she or he can win a little art prize and it means more to most people most of the time.
Wedding under a green sky.
Wedding after seeing a quote from hitler: ”Anyone who sees and paints a sky green and fields blue ought to be sterilized”.
No squeezing outside.
Here is a photo of my paintbox and palette, I'm always trying to make myself lighter when outside, so no tubes and no squeezing takes place.
I received the Art Spectrum prize, good feeling to be able to open all these boxes of paint, thank you Art Spectrum. Opening the 500ml buckets removing the lid smelling the saffron oil. I just stuck my thumb in the Naples yellow. This seems to be the colour that the sun turns things into. There’s dark green which would be the colour of grass in the shade, mixed with Naples Yellow the grass is now in the sun. The black tar road often seems to me to be a kind of black Naples Yellow when’s it suns.
Having these weird sensations while driving and I will actually feel it, that in the deeper part of my upper thigh, all of a sudden a large spider appears in a sort of spontaneous way as if from nowhere until I push the feeling idea away of these dammed thoughts.
I found a drawing on the floor in my house, (because the kids go through things when we sleep and bring things out), that I haven’t seen for years. Interesting process on a clear plastic sheet, I used a needle to scratch lines into it, then I rubbed black ink or something and it stained the scratched lines, like a tattoo.
Found a stop - called Johnson’s lookout, looking down over all those trees, seeing pale yellow-greens, yellow-greens, warm yellow-greens, copper yellow-greens, off yellow-greens, neon yellow-greens, suicide bomber greens, blood greens, bright red greens, light blue-greens, purple greens, warm purple greens, cobalt greens, Turquoise greens, purply blue-greens, ultramarine greens, party greens, warm brown greens, dark brown greens and black greens…
Hansel and Gretel.
Some times you can be somewhere where everything seems so paintable and it can make you sick. Reminds me of the story of Hansel and Gretel when they came to the house that was entirely edible, but how much did they eat.
When in the streets the main thing that grabs me to paint something are colours. I was in a park one day walking around in a circle for quite a while and then I saw a parked bright yellow bus, it was a warm yellow. I got excited that I ran to get my things frantically, just to paint the yellow. I started painting and after a few minutes the engine made that roar and it drove off. I watched it swing around, leave the park and fade away. A black dog, a football team in blue and white stripes, a pink building…a few of my favourite things.
Won a bid on ebay for a heater, but we only realised much later, the heater was in the Northern Beaches which was a long drive, so we made a trip out from it. We got the heater and found a beach called Dee Why (a beautiful beach) and started painting there.
I found that Phthalo blue has to be the most saturated paint around, so don’t forget to put the lid on it when you go out unless you want black and blue hands. I kept getting this feeling because of where I was standing that there was always someone standing behind me and watching me and I’d turn around and there was no one there, it must of been from shadows that lingered after the people walked away. Also its funny to see that when one person does stand and watch you, it makes more people stand and watch and so forth until it gets creepy and you have to break it up to introduce yourself.
At Westfield shopping centre Bondi Junction. Painted on the top floor. Looking down. I always loved this idea of painting around such an environment because of the advertisements of giant people in sunglasses, and women in poses. After about 25 mins was approached by the security guards, it was so obvious to them that I wasn’t permitted to paint there, “unless you have a special permit” so I had to pack up and leave. A few days later a guy committed suicide from that top level.
Only White Water
It was a rainy day and a windy day and I was feeling resistance to go out. I ended up at Bondi Beach. The place was empty and the water was only white from the wind. It was the type of wind that you can’t hear yourself speak in. I turned the car around opened the back door and painted facing out the back with legs getting wet. After a while the water was getting into the car, so painting had to be done through the windows. It was getting dark and the car wasn’t starting because it died on me. The NRMA came about 1/1/2 hours later. This was one of the first times finishing the painting there and then. When I got home the dinner was cold, the kids where asleep, but the night was young.