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  Dennis W. Passalick

Dennis W. Passalick CV (PDF)

The past as part of the present
19 October - 12 November 2005
A biography of Dennis Passalick

‘Through animals humanity becomes aware of itself as impeded nature and of its activity as deluded natural history.’

Above my father’s desk in his house in Hawthorn – the one in which I grew up – hangs a painting by Dennis Passalick. The painting is considerably larger than the desk below; it is surrounded by numerous other works: mainly small drawings and a few paintings. For these reasons, and perhaps also because of the narrowness of the room, one is overwhelmed by the size of this painting of a barnyard scene. The painting shares space with books on economics and politics and with skulls of small birds and miscellaneous bones. This room might not allow for a full viewing of the painting: i.e. one from a range of perspectives – and certainly not the perspective from which the eye can rest and easily absorb the whole painting. In this viewing of the painting one is made aware of one’s subjective experience of the work. One sees it segment by segment: as one moves past the painting one faces the geese – angry, stirred and tense as they are – eyeball to eyeball. But the intensity of expression on these birds’ small heads is not all that one first notices. The surface of the canvas is thick with smears of dense, inch-wide brush strokes, rich in colour. The canvas has its own weight as a result of the amount of paint applied to it.

In talking about the work my father would always refer to the geese and the gaze of the others from the pond’s embankment. I could never tell which character of this work he empathised with or identified with most. I am not sure what his narrative would be, were he to apply one to this grand and assertive work. Indeed the richness of this work is its openness to all sorts of narratives. Passalick has presented the viewer with an endscene. As if in a chess problem, two players are presented only with the endgame. What has transpired to reach this point is in the hands of the Almighty: there are endless permutations, countless possibilities. And so, if one is to ‘understand’ this work by Passalick at the level of ‘what is present on the canvas’, one could do worse than attempt to map out the relationship between the geese, ducks, chooks and I think that might be all and to work out each of their characters.

It is still morning when I reach Passalick’s house. He greets me at the front gate – I almost sped past – and he then walks behind the car as I park it closer to his house. The property, consists of at least five parts: horseyard, vegetable garden, shed, living quarters and studio. The studio seems to have the proportions of his canvases. Or, maybe, Passalick’s canvases are the size they are because of the studio in which he paints. The floor is a cool concrete. The room is a relief from the mid-morning heat. A studio may be an artist’s point of refuge and deliberation; contemplation. And in this one, no natural light enters the room. It is positively claustrophobic compared to the space outside. And through experiencing the heat and witnessing the expanses of his hometown, Maryborough, Passalick’s studio also feels like a cave. The studio is an alternative environment to the space and images that he seeks to represent on these canvases which may end up in a study in suburban Melbourne. In this studio, he talks of his painting which is despairingly close to being finished. When is the exhibition? Ah, that’s right. The Wednesday before the Cox Plate. Still plenty of time. The work is titled A squadron of attributes (over Maryborough). His narration is punctuated with his pulling out of drawings of the characters which make up this intensely filled, complex and crowded composition. The characters are ‘still life objects’, which form his biography. Each item is connected to an event, or a relative, or something which marks a moment from his childhood, youth. As such, these paintings are keeping the past as a part of the present; a kind of continual awareness about who I am, what I have been, what has happened to me. A bicycle pump, an upturned bicycle seat. Bellows, a crowbar, a shoe mould. And scores of other objects, tools, saws, devices from an era when things were made at home more often than bought from a shop. These objects are relics; the products of a manual technology. The paintings have a certain comic, cartoon quality to them. It is as if they are stills in an animated movie. The animals and the objects have intensified features; they contain a dynamism and emotional force. The colours and the fun of the paintings remind me of some graffiti, some anime. Passalick turns objects into animals, animals into humans.

Driving home from Passalick’s house, I hear music from a small town in eastern Europe. Clarinets, saxophones, trumpets play rapid fire scales, the bass drum beats a frenetic pulse. This is music from a world before television and beyond luxury - it demands the listeners’ attention through its liveliness and vigour. It reminds me of Passalick’s paintings which entertain as much as stimulate reflection.

Andy Charles Starr Fuller

Dennis W. Passalick 2004 Exhibition
Dennis W. Passalick 2010 Exhibition