Alister Karl draws pictures. I have known this ever since I first met him at life drawing at Brunswick Arts back in 2005, when Joel Gailer ran it. In 2006 Alister Karl and three other artists took over the running of Brunswick Arts.
Alister Karl exhibits his drawings. This is, surprisingly, not a common artistic practice in contemporary art world where a traditional media like graphite pencils are rare amongst the photography, videos and installations. And it is not that he is some conservative traditionalist hanging on to pencil drawing regardless of current trends. He does not ignore trends when it fits with his artistic practice, like wall drawings.
Alister Karl draws pictures of large back-hoes, those machines for excavating. “This machine is a tool that we use to create the places we live in and destroy the places we live.” Writes Karl. Karl, like Francis Picabia and other Dadaists, admires the machine aesthetic. It is an aesthetic of alien functionality, caterpillar tracks and hydraulics. Are these real machines or Tonka toys? The aesthetic of boy’s mechanical toys has been marginalised by mainstream art.
Alister Karl draws with precision but he is not so obsessive that has to finish every detail. His completed drawings deliberately look unfinished, like works in progress, and with such mechanical drawing it would just be a matter of time to complete it. The incomplete is a major feature of his drawings as it emphasises the human who makes the drawing. In one of the largest and most complete instantiation of Karl’s backhoe drawings, exhibited at Brunswick Street Gallery, the drawing is on 4 large MDF panels leaning up against the gallery wall. The panels do not form a rectangle, they overlap and one panel is raised up on a couple of bricks.
I have known Alister Karl as an artist and as part of the curatorial committee of Brunswick Arts for the last four years. I have seen his art develop and focus over this time, however I have only mentioned him once or twice in my blog writing. So this entry is to, in part, redress that imbalance and also to provide a bit more depth to an examination of his drawings.
‘Birds’ by Marian Drew, at Dianne Tanzer Gallery, is a small series of large-format, colour, still life photographs. Drew has become well known for her beautiful, hauntingly lite, still life images featuring dead animals. In this series it is dead birds. There is a fairy penguin with an enamel jug, a kingfisher’s blue plumage contrasts with strawberries, a beautiful multi-coloured bird lies on embroided cloth, and an emu lies next to a tiny finch smaller than a single toe of the emu. These photographs refer to the tradition of still life with objects on a table with tablecloth against a dark background. Marian Drew’s images of dead birds are not celebrations of hunting or eating in the way that traditional still life used dead animals. Drew uses animals that have died and in her photographs the dead birds symbolize our own mortality, another older tradition in still life.
The huge, empty landscape of Lake Eyre’s salt flats is the subject of “Salt” at Arc One Gallery by photographer Murry Fredericks. Fredericks’s photographs are large pigment prints on cotton rag. They could be mistaken for abstract paintings because of their abstract formal qualities. The photographs taken at sunrise or sunset show the white salt flat reflects the colour of cloudless sky, earth and sky separated by the thin line of the horizon. To document this strange inhospitable landscape and the heroic effort to take these photographs Fredericks has included a photograph of his campsite and bicycle in the exhibition.
At Shifted Terence Hogan is exhibiting a series of photographs, “(out the back)”. Hogan’s photographs are macro images of nature; images of the repetition and variation in nature are best shown in photographs. I presume that Hogan took the photograph out the back of his house but they could be out the back of beyond. I preferred Hogan’s double photograph images with subtle combination of two images to his single photograph images because they seemed more artful.
Fiona Dalwood’s “Cell” is a large series of photographs documenting of defunct prisons, from Alcatraz to Ararat. These are photographs of the architecture of despair and institutional brutality. Along with the photographs are several didactic panels about prisons, unfortunately the photographs didn’t really illustrate the didactic panels and the information on the etymology of the word ‘panopticon’ is wrong. Dalwood wants to show Michel Foucault’s argument on how the architecture of correction shapes the lives of its inmates. Dalwood’s photographs are on exhibition at 69 Smith St.
I don’t know how to conclude this short review of four photography exhibitions, so vastly different are the techniques and subjects in them, except that the photographers who understood the history of painting produced more beautiful photographs.