Dying from Birth
Jean Dubuffet, in a much quoted aphorism, said “Art … loves to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called.”
Steve Woodbury is a young Australian painter, still aged in his thirties, who in his work explores the accidental and unselfconscious quality in art. Although grounded in an awareness of both the Western European and American traditions of Abstract Expressionism and Asian calligraphic painting, there is an original and un-mannered lightness in his work. Blocks of textured colour, floating spreading veils of watery hues and whimsical totemic forms all combine in his art to create his own authentic language of expression. His work operates according to its own intrinsic laws of logic – it neither echoes closely the work of another artist, nor the defined forms in nature. There is a certain inevitability in his markmaking, a randomness and fugitive quality, yet also an authoritative presence.
Woodbury’s general philosophy of art making, as eloquently expressed in his extensive Dying from birth series falls within the general framework of Existentialist thought. Form appears in a void or within a nothingness and is involved in a struggle to define its existence and identity. Although he frequently exploits the gestural mark, sometimes in the form of the refined elegance of a calligraphic sweep, there is something fugitive and even tragic in its existence. It is like a study of a self-contained pocket of energy, dynamic and focussed on its core, yet conscious of its ephemeral nature.
‘Lightness is the most precious quality in Woodbury’s art. There is a floating ease in the created forms which in themselves are suggestive of a raft of possible associations, but prescriptive of none. Meaning resides in the viewing experience and the associations which each individual beholder brings to the work, rather than in a specific literary agenda spelt out by the artist. Frequently the voids and spaces carry as much meaning as do the passages of paint, as we are drawn into an exploration of a remarkably complex universe of colours, lines, shadows and echoes of being. As ltalo Calvino once expressed “the search for lightness [can be interpreted] as a reaction to the weight of living”. Lightness in art can on occasion be seen as the highest form of creation, something which raises art above the base materialism of being.
Woodbury’s Dying from birth series appears to me to be involved in a quest for this lightness – this other dimension in being. Form is suggested, almost whispered, like a sacred prayer – stains and marks on linen or paper – then allowed to fend for itself. There is no firm armature or body of theory to protect the work, rather there is an exposed vulnerability. Sometimes the created forms seem to be almost brutally blocked out by superimposed layers of paint, on other occasions, the accidentally registered mark with its flicks and dribbles of paint is allowed supreme presence in the painting arena.
Steve Woodbury has created a distinctive body of work which bas an authority and maturity.