Stieg Pers­son Poly­phon­ic at The Ian Pot­ter Muse­um of Art

Mem Capp
ArtsHub, 8 May 2018
This exhi­bi­tion, cur­rent­ly show­ing at the Ian Pot­ter Gallery, is tes­ta­ment to an artist that con­tin­ues to resist the ready cat­e­gori­sa­tion of his work.
Review: Stieg Persson Polyphonic at The Ian Potter Museum of Art
Stieg Pers­son, Patholo­gie 2005, oil and alkyd resin on linen. Cour­tesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery. Stieg Pers­son:Poly­phon­ic, cur­rent­ly show­ing at the Ian Pot­ter Gallery, Mel­bourne Uni­ver­si­ty is tes­ta­ment to an artist that con­tin­ues to resist the ready cat­e­gori­sa­tion of his work through style, medi­um or sub­ject mat­ter. Emerg­ing as an artist in the Post­mod­ern era of the 1980s Pers­son dis­pensed with the notion of a fixed nar­ra­tive inter­pre­ta­tion of his work to explore what he calls the almost com­mu­ni­ca­tion of paint­ing’ per­haps not unlike the way a poet might chal­lenge our ways of see­ing through metaphor or alle­go­ry: using a mix of styles, tech­niques and medi­um from dec­o­ra­tion and col­lage to real­ism and abstrac­tion, paint and resin he grap­ples with the roles of artist and view­er in mak­ing mean­ing from his art. Like a poet­ic con­ceit Persson’s image-mak­ing requires time and con­tem­pla­tion on the part of the view­er; the wealth of these works is received through care­ful obser­va­tion and small real­i­sa­tions, as one might dis­cov­er in the pause between the lines of a poem. Span­ning two lev­els of the gallery, the cura­tors Direc­tor Kel­ly Gel­lat­ly and Exhi­bi­tions Coor­di­na­tor, Saman­tha Comte bring togeth­er the diver­si­ty of the artist’s work over a 30 year peri­od; draw­ing togeth­er loose threads that might reflect ideas on mor­tal­i­ty, or notions of high’ and low art’ or the way the past inter­sects with the present to pro­vide an insight into the art mak­ing of this impor­tant Aus­tralian artist and his cere­bral art-mak­ing process, wit and humour.  Stieg Pers­son, South 1998, oil on can­vas. Cour­tesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.  In the two ground floor rooms hang Persson’s dark, brood­ing ear­li­er works, large like the spaces they occu­py. To the right of the main hall hang a series of black oil paint­ings on cot­ton duck, inspired by the17th cen­tu­ry poet John Donne’s Devo­tions,(1624). Writ­ten after a peri­od of sick­ness that took the poet close to death Pers­son draws on Donne’s jour­ney from sick­ness to health to explore his own expe­ri­ence of res­i­den­cy in the Oncol­o­gy Depart­ment of Melbourne’s Repa­tri­a­tion Hos­pi­tal in1989. In works such as Our Faith Part 1: The Case For and Against Colour B , (198586) and The king sends his own physi­cian(1990) he search­es for a truth that lies below the sur­face; through rub­bing back wet black paint with tur­pen­tine soaked rags he cre­ates an x‑ray of sorts on the stretched can­vas. Accom­pa­ny­ing these works on the sur­round­ing walls are lit­er­al x‑rays, their redun­dan­cy iron­i­cal­ly exposed as much as any under­ly­ing truth; no longer in their med­ical con­text they become noth­ing more than mere two dimen­sion­al images on a page.  Stieg Pers­son, Spring thaw 1993, oil on can­vas. Cour­tesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.  Black is also a promi­nent com­po­nent in Persson’s Scan­di­na­vian death met­al pieces; a par­tic­u­lar­ly mor­bid ver­sion of heavy rock music. On the oppo­site side of the hall­way The Gothen­burg Cross­es series (199697), explores image mak­ing through a mar­gin­alised sub­cul­ture util­is­ing text and appro­pri­a­tion. Using oil on Masonite and oil on can­vas col­lage the series was begun whilst on res­i­den­cy in Gothen­burg Swe­den in 1996 and inspired by the strange imagery on the Death Met­al albums which drew from high art’ sources such as Hierony­mous Bosh and Gus­tave Dore. Through lay­ers of col­lage Pers­son plays on the conun­drum of mean­ing and con­text: as with some high art’ expos­ing how these dis­tort­ed, repur­posed images speak only to a spe­cialised group. Inspi­ra­tion behind works in the gallery’s first floor spaces come from a vari­ety of sources but Persson’s inter­est in text along with his love of Roco­co art and its excess­es, explored through the arabesque, can be seen in such works as Mid­dle Man­age­ment, oil on linen (2003): the beau­ty and super­fi­cial­i­ty of the painting’s flour­ish­es a pre­cur­sor per­haps to his its lat­er graf­fi­ti series.  Stieg Pers­son, Din­ner with the Abbotts 2014, oil on can­vas. Cour­tesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery Works such as Monarch Cakes and Din­ner with the Abbotts, (2014) both oil on linen, respond to the grow­ing mid­dle-class obses­sion with food and its place in pop­u­lar cul­ture: as ubiq­ui­tous per­haps as the graf­fi­ti that adorns the streetscapes of our inner city sub­urbs. Stieg Pers­son is not afraid to explore the extremes of image mak­ing and pop­u­lar cul­ture in his quest to find an authen­tic lan­guage through which to com­mu­ni­cate his ideas. The Potter’s well designed gallery spaces allow for com­fort­able vis­i­tor flow whilst stair­case and lift pro­vide access to the upper gal­leries. The exhi­bi­tion is sup­port­ed by didac­tic and text pan­els along with a cat­a­logue which is avail­able in the exhi­bi­tion spaces. A fine­ly curat­ed exhibition. 
Fea­tured image: Stieg Pers­son, Patholo­gie 2005, oil and alkyd resin on linen. Arti­cle link: here
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