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Wes Placek CV (PDF)

Recent Paintings – A Painter’s Journey
7 May to 31 May 2008

Here are two new groups of paintings by Wes Placek: a group of small paintings and a group of larger ones. Each group develops from the artist’s previous paintings in different ways, and a comparison between the two groups is instructive.

The small paintings continue Placek’s interest in monumental things. Previous paintings by the artist in this vein have been abstractions of bowls, houses, fences, factories, and trees, either as objects or surfaces and details. This time, the small paintings sit somewhere between an abstraction of a thing and a pure composition of line and colour. Despite (or perhaps because of) the small size of these paintings, they can be seen as depictions of something which is small and domestic, and also something which is gigantic and urban. In the former case, the horizontal line in the lower half of the painting becomes a shelf with a shallow space behind it; in the latter case, the line becomes a horizon. At both scales, the paintings depict a monumental tableau. In spite of their similar size, spatial assumptions, and 1950s decorator colours, these small paintings are highly individualistic, and if seen in close proximity, appear to argue against each other. They come in to their own when separated, when it becomes obvious that each depicts a particular and distinctive world of ambiguous scale and spatial construction. The ambiguity is apt. Monuments transform a particular and personal fact into a universal effect, and these paintings offer strong images of this form of transcendence, which is never clear-cut and final.

The larger paintings also work with imaginary space, but as three layers: the space behind the surface, the surface itself, and the space in front of it, which is suggested by fragments of trompe l’oeil. These three layers are scale-less, at 1:1; that is, they exist just at their own size despite the occasional appearance of huge bowls or disk-shapes. As real objects, the paintings appeal to the space of the viewer standing in front of them. Some paintings appear to present objects for grasping, and through these figures, the tactility of the play about the picture plane is occasionally given some imagery, reminiscent of tools and objects placed against a wall. The combination of sharply focussed elements and emerging profiles gives the paintings a temporal aspect, one of coming and going, and suggests that emotions are being depicted: contemplative, consuming, sombre, sometimes aggressive, and in one case even bright and relatively cheerful. But generally, these paintings are images of deep introversion, of melancholia in the sense of accepting a number of contradictions, with the knowledge that these will, sooner or later, be resolved. Just as the small paintings can be read as images of abstract systems that transcend personal matters, particularly those of the outsider, hero or scapegoat, these larger ones suggest a related experience: the emotional history of Australia and its ongoing waves, from 1788 onwards, of puzzled arrivals attempting to come to grips with a strange host culture.

The larger paintings depict emotional states, while the smaller ones propose perceptual ones, yet both tend to use a horizontal line as a stabilising or initiating device. When engaged with any one of the paintings, this simple line recedes, and regardless of size, the painting becomes a special composition of elements. This effect is true for both the artist and the viewer. For the artist, these paintings are the result of constantly looking, and constantly adjusting, where the horizontal lines have been only the beginning of a longer task of creation. For the viewer, the horizontal lines are also a datum from which to begin the process of unfolding, of contemplating and absorbing these complex images.

Alex Selenitsch
April 2008

Wes Placek 2012 Exhibition
Wes Placek 2004 Exhibition