Penny Contemporary, Hobart 

187 Liverpool Street

nipaluna / Hobart

May 27  – June 11 2022 

Opening Speech by Dr. Wayne Brookes

Fear not these pages, for they are my harness – a script represents restraint, for I can be rampant and out of respect for Paul and the 43 years I have known him – I will be fast, but I will be gentle. I begin with a moment of reflection.

“I have worked to free shape from its ground, and then to work the shape so that it has a definite relationship to the space around it; so that it has a clarity and a measure within itself of its parts (angles, curves, edges and mass); and so that, with colour and tonality, the shape finds its own space and always demands its freedom and separateness.”

These were reverberatingly relevant words from Ellsworth Kelly that I used as the conclusion to the opening of Paul’s show ‘Above and Below’. I have acknowledged many things about Paul over the years, I have called him Saviour with his ‘Do what you wanna do, be what you wanna be, yeah!’ philosophy in The Painting Dept in 1979, after years of an autocratic regime. More recently I have referred to him as a ceiling celebrant, an articulator of artifice, a purveyor of ocular conclusion, a disciple of Theatrum Sacrum.

I have understood where his geometric gymnastics, his ornamental orifices, his Fierenzie facades and his Cornucopian Rococoesque Nouveauness germinated from. But foremost, we share an enormous passion for perforating frames, inconclusive slippage and the dichotomous, dysfunctional co-dependent romance of the firm and the flaccid, the reductive and the hysterical that is both Abstraction and The Baroque.

Paul’s practice is Darwinian, a lineage of evolutionary intersections that have a volatile and seductive code linking decades of both speculation and the spectacular. We are enticed and immersed in his ambiguous structural uncertainty. They are deliberately disorienting, a suspended paradox, shifting between chaos and elegance. While we have previously bathed in open rather than complex space which maintained the horizontal, the vertical and the isometric these works contain shutters or facets of closure. Take a moment to ponder the implication of facet and what that conjures.

Paul lingers on the periphery of association as he engages in a geometry that is molecularly asymmetrical, deserting Frank Stella for cumbersome constellations. Here the golden and bronze neon tracers sometimes shut down before they reach the point. Stella is not lost, Stellar as a reference to the cosmos, abounds in his hovering hallucinations, but what was previously a transformation of optical law resonating behind paranormal linear portals, the multi-directional ‘infills’ forces the audience beyond static witness to that of an active scanner as light itself modulates the experience of the surface as you reflect on the deliberate use of metallic based complimentary colour, all the while the walls reflect a little ray of sunshine.

But I wonder, is not a galactic allusion actually a deliberate, seductive distraction, The Big Lie? Totally ironic? Let’s just see where this takes us, join me for a little wander, but let’s just hope it’s not just up the garden path. Okay, yes, there is evidence, we can forensically peel the layer of Frank Gehrey’s collapsing architectural leggo mangles, the Rubik’s cube roadkill whispers and the vehement quotation of Frank Stella’s Irregular Polygons and Ellsworth

Kelly’s hard-edgery and the show is entitled ‘Starlight’, but look again, these are more obviously collapsing constellations not necessarily clumbsy constellations. It’s not a gravitational implosion resulting in a Black Hole, but metaphorically more like the exertion on common carbon that results in a diamond. Starlight is more accurately a reference to crystalline forms, the jewel, but not the Family Jewels. This revelation gives further providence to the reading of the ‘infills’ as a facet on a cut gemstone, and that’s the swagger, that’s the twinkle, that’s the star.

Paul’s hybrid objects are an interlocking vernacular of intuition. He enforces the visual law of colour with empirical precision: Of course yellow has to be on top, every fibre of being says so. But he is also fearless in his choices of spectrum. What may be rudimentary primary paste to some, can be absolutely terrifying to others. I admit freely, yellow intimidates me, it just always screams at me, whereas gold is my best friend, and it just might be becoming Paul’s as well.

I really enjoy these opportunities to speak to or annoy a larger group of people. In retirement I think it’s the theatre of teaching I actually miss and I am humble in my gratitude to my gorgeous but incredibly tolerant wife who endures daily rants and an eternity of lists. But I also want to thank artists, like Paul, who provide me with access to their vision which helps me to grow a little further. Congratulations on your show Paul, I adore our little talks and our little drinks, I’m finished and you are open.

List of Works

Stellar 15  2020, 100 x 85 x 5.5
Stellar 16  2020, 85 x 100 x 5.5
Stellar 17  2020, 100 x 85 x 5.5
Stellar 18  2020, 100 x 85 x 5.5
Stellar 19  2020, 85 x 100 x 6
Stellar 20  2020, 100 x 85 x 6
Stellar 21  2020, 100 x 85 x 6
Stellar 22  2021, 100 x 85 x 6
Stellar 23  2021, 100 x 85 x 6
Stellar 24  2021, 85 x 100 x 6
Stellar 25  2021, 100 x 85 x 6
Stellar 26  2022, 100 x 85 x 6

All works acrylic on wood; height then width and depth in centimetres. 

These paintings continue the pursuit of a pictorial space that remains both volatile and seductive; one that entices and overwhelms; one that we become totally immersed in, and we surrender to that capture! The later works in the Stellar series have moved beyond the purely linear in construction, with the introduction of more complex multidirectional ‘in-fills’. They still owe a great debt to the paintings of Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella and to the architecture of Frank Gehry.

This project has been assisted by the University of Tasmania

Photography: Simon Cuthbert