This exhibition, spanning 30 years of the work of Ruark Lewis, is fascinating. I don’t understand some of it and certainly not some of the thinking behind many of the works. Ruark is heavily influenced by Aboriginal culture, imagery and narrative and as my knowledge in this area is scant at best it is hard to connect with the reasoning and purpose within some of the pieces.
I live in the suburbs of Sydney, a moderately affluent area primarily populated by white Australians and Europeans. I, myself, was brought up in England and migrated here some years ago. Coming from abroad and living where I do means that my contact with Aboriginal people is practically non-existent and my education in their culture is limited – not having been schooled here. I have travelled, as have many others, through various regions of this beautiful country and had tours and presentations on Aboriginal life, art and tribal cultures. But even that is limited. I have listened to tour guides, locals, visitors, town folk and Aboriginal Elders and every one of them has presented a different view on these many indigenous people. I feel that, at my age, if I want to learn and understand their art and influences to any great extent the only way is through formal education.
So rather than flounder and misinterpret what Ruark is trying to project I decided to look at this exhibition from a purely visual aspect and discount much of the artist’s statements as I cannot connect with most of what he has written.
Hazelhurst Gallery has a brilliant video of Ruark Lewis in conversation here and it shows many of the works displayed. I was impressed with a display of 48 A1 size framed works, 2 rows of 24 abutted. Each frame surrounded a white paper with several graphite lines drawn roughly horizontally. Each line was about 1cm wide and they were of varying lengths. This was his response to a piece of music that had been played but never written down, so he interpreted it in his own way and recorded it on paper. Whilst each line was straight they slightly varied in direction which gave some dipped areas, some open spaces and some quite dense parts. Yes, you could sort of see a change throughout which could indicate sound or movement. Quite intriguing.
The artist is particularly keen on words and lettering in his work. The picture above is from a 2008 Toronto exhibition, held for only one night, and is a wall of 550 brightly coloured oil drums. The website says ‘it is a poetic intervention within a rapidly changing post-industrial environment. The prophetic inscription is a people’s poem that addresses our future in the planet’. A little hard to read what the words actually are but apparently there was some integrated sound work that evolved during the 12 hour dusk-dawn cycle of the night. I’m really not sure what he is actually saying but it still piques my interest.
At the Hazelhurst exhibition he has collaborated with an architect in some of his creations. His work has been scored and folded to make dimensional structures. These have been mounted on wheels with some sections open and they have been placed in the gardens. The idea is that children will play with them, push them around into new arrangements and crawl inside. They were moved several times whilst I was there.
There is much to write about this Australian as his work covers many disciplines and he obviously has a wide range of interest and expertise. I was very attracted to some of his lettering pieces as he has printed them then looked at the negative space between the letters and filled it in. Some of this type of work have several layers and the lettering becomes obscured or hidden. This is a real lesson for me because I find it hard to painstakingly create something and then obscure it with another layer. Layering is so difficult, it can clutter and destroy a piece or it can add depth, dimension and meaning. Part of my main project for this course is to be multilayered and I already find myself struggling with what should be visible and how I balance the depth of the piece and create the illusion I am looking for.
If you are interested in seeing more of Ruark Lewis’s work put his name in google images and you will see a wide range of examples – some of it really quite strange.