David Green

The exhibition, 'We were all young once – and other things', at Anthea Polson Art offers viewers experiences of David Green's intricate and enchanting worlds.

David Green’s works featured in We were all young once – and other things almost resemble etchings. Green uses a dip pen with Indian ink to create thousands of cross-hatched lines. The scenes that he creates transition between black and white, and faded colour, evoking a sense of memory. All the exhibited works use paper as their medium, intimating a certain fragility. The choice of medium is curious and has a multiplicity of associations. The page is a frequent metaphor for the self. After all, there has long been philosophical discussions about whether the self begins as a blank page. The paper page is also associated with writing, and thus can induce a sense of an intimate encounter. A canvas has a different set of associations.

Some of the works cram detail into a single page, while others juxtapose detailed compositions against white, minimalist backgrounds. All but one of the works were created in 2023 – Satis House – Lies And Deception, 2022, and the works gesture to childhood and memory. Visually, the works are difficult to describe, and thematically the works operate at many levels. For instance, his work It Will Look Lovely When You Finish Colouring It In, 2023, evidently has a wry or ironical title, conjuring in the artist’s words, a maternal fusion of “praise and practical demand.” Indeed, through this title, Green seems to gesture to the notion of the incomplete while also acknowledging that the works can seem unfinished. In the work, we see a fish in what appears to be a container with a gush of water. Detailed, tangled organic forms are sliced into puzzle pieces – thus rendering is a work that is at once incomplete and decontextualised, as well as a work about the incomplete. As Romantic poets understood, the finished and the complete rarely evoke mystery, and perhaps a sense of interruption haunts these works, just as it did Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Indeed, the work tells a narrative of a boy not finishing his sketch, apparently interrupted by fish for dinner as explained by Jacqueline Houghton’s perceptive catalogue essay.

In this essay, which cites an interview with the artist, we learn that some of the works recall specific memories personal, historical, and imagined, for instance, as the name suggests,  Henri Have You Fed Your Fish Today, concerns Matisse overfeeding his fish as a child. As Green has explained, “Such was his remorse, Henri was not to paint goldfish again until 1912.”

The presence of organic forms in the works, Andy Come In And Have Your Tea (an allusion to Andy Goldsworthy), Call it what you like Barbara, its still a doughnut, Repairing Albrechts Tangle, and the previously mentioned works play with organic form, but also the artificiality of the page. In such works, the natural tends to meet the geometric almost offering us a kind of improbable – though crucially, not implausible – fusion of M.C. Escher and Ernst Haeckel. It is precisely this fusion of narrative and fragment, the filled-in and the left-out, that offer us a sense of what romantic poet John Keats called negative capability, the ability to enjoy rather than be irritated by ambiguity. Indeed, amid the personal memories are also memories of artists, such as Matisse and Magritte. For instance, the titles often recall the strange literalism of Magritte’s 1929 The Treachery of Images – perhaps better known as This Is Not a Pipe– where linguistic play converges with mystery.

Yet despite the influence of Magritte, something of the interiority and emptiness of these works put me in mind of the melancholy possibilities of Andrew Wyeth. Green’s works certainly evoke wonder, humour, and reminiscence, serving both as illustrations and fragments, just as puzzles do.

We were all young once – and other things
29 July – 12 August 2023
Anthea Polson Art, Queensland

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