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sydney artist space

Art, Wine and Conversation
with Wayne Ashton

A critique by Dr Jan Altmann (from studio viewings January 2003).

Thomas Hardy once wrote that there is a type of distortion that reveals truths. As I sat in Wayne's studio watching the afternoon light fade and the wine bottles empty, the paintings on the walls began to take on just this kind of distortion.

In The Black Sambucca a woman sits alone at a table in a nightclub with a glass beside her. The glass is half empty and there is a whimsical, far-away look in her eyes. She is detached from her surroundings, in a world of her own, with a quizzical expression on her face. She seems uncertain whether to continue drinking or not - or are the uncertainties of much greater consequence than finishing her drink?

The light fades a little more and her skeletal hand reaches towards the glass. The shadow behind her intensifies, as also does the darkened space into which she stares. Her green face becomes more illuminated, and the shape of her legs becomes sinister. Through half closed eyes she now looks into emptiness and hopelessness.

Vauxhall Figure, London, 1996 shows a male figure in an even less comfortable space. He stands 'front and centre', almost floating off the picture plane as his defining spaces recede. He is projected forward from his dark background by a startling splash of light entering the composition from the bottom left hand corner. His spectral form is a powerful one; ghostly, but inescapably present. The paint is applied with energy, but there is play of gentle warm and cool colours which creates a translucence and a sense of otherworldliness.

Wayne Ashton's paintings are thoughtful and challenging. They are about human experience, or rather a range of human experience. They are playful, witty and poignant all at once. The human figures he presents are independent but lonely. They are in spaces of their own choosing, but not entirely of their own making. They have been observed sympathetically, but also with a degree of humour and detachment.

These ambiguities and uncertainties are played out not only through the subject matter, but also through painting techniques. Spatial and colour relationships are complex, creating a sense of mystery. The underpainting is sometimes painted out again, as if meaning is suggested by what is present, but also by what is not present. The compositions often follow traditional structures such as the golden section, but always with a 'twist', as when the leg of a table and the legs of a woman form the divisions. I found that wine and fading light evoked just the right combination of pathos and humour to appreciate these complex paintings.

J.A. February 2003

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