David Serisier: Here and There

David Serisier is an artist of immanence, whereby his paintings create a space for deep and immersed contemplation. His colour paintings operate within the national and international legacy of minimalist art.  He has long been consumed by the meaning and experience of colour, which of course also means associative light and relational environments. But if colour is the object of his study, it has also been his regular subject, taking on its own agency and independence as soon as he touches palette to surface.

What has happened in Serisier’s work, with forty+ years of skilful experience under his belt, is that the object/subject divide has diminished. A compelling and weird effect has occurred over time  ̶  there is less subjectivity to the paintings  ̶  by this, I mean less spectacle and less personality, but more of the seen/sensed and more of the personal. And yet the relationship between the artist and his work is more intimate than ever, almost to a point of inter-species melding. “There have been periods where I felt stuck, where I have had to dig my way out,” says the artist. For instance, after a recent period of ill-health and faced with a sense of mortal doom, he said that he had to “consult the oracle” and was burdened by “feet of clay.”

Those darker days fuelled the current paintings, but they also lifted in time for his current major show at Orange Regional Gallery. In other words, if you have nothing to lose, you can afford to be ambitious. And he has been. Under the directorship of Bradley Hammond, the entire gallery space was opened up to create a larger scale for Serisier’s colour paintings to operate upon the viewers, changing their perception of tonality and their experience of the changeability of colour. As a result, Serisier was able to make big works. I mean, huge.

Several paintings are over six metres, dwarfing the human viewers, refusing their normative experiences of paintings as something that can be viewed in one glance of the eye. Instead, the viewers must move across the gallery floor to try to make sense of the physicality of the gestures of paint.

These are not monochromes but have a multiplicity of layering and subtle gesture. They are filtered by the adjacent paintings’ colours, by the natural and LED lighting, by the diamond shapes that converse with the ordered lines of the gallery space. With each blink of an eye, the viewer is being manipulated into seeing or sensing something new. More secret layers, more etched lines of the artist’s hand, more geological strata of the artist’s compulsions.

For this exhibition, Serisier drew on a serendipitous experience of finding a photo of himself in a Kyoto palace, in the exact same position and location as a photo of American conceptual artist James Lee Byars (1932-97). This triggered a fascination with an exhibition catalogue of work by Byars at Benrath Palace and its gardens outside Düsseldorf, Germany. These are the connections that artists and writers make that can cause an avalanche of creative imagination and exciting points of critical meaning. So, Serisier picked up on Byars’ colours in the architecture, the garden, reflections in lake, which connected to colours in his own garden in Orange during opposite seasons. This catapulted the artist into an archivally real, trans-equatorial mimesis that began to flourish in its individualised creation.

To visit these paintings, after such a curious colour interlude across time, between artists and connected places, is an epic demand. And this demand upon the viewer is matched by the paintings themselves. Like all good affective exhibitions, these paintings require some intellectual work from the viewer.

Yes, they are big. You have to approach them and move away, rather than remain fixed in place. Some are heavily textured with layers of colour emerging and diffusing as your eye moves across the surface. It’s hard to settle. The yellow and orange diamonds remind me of lantana flowers, which blur into one colour when you twirl them in your hand. They are separate entities but can also be lured into wholeness. The affective feelings of the paintings call to mind, for me, the psychological theory of Silvan Tomkins’ 1960s concept that humans are all born with a predestined, prescribed set of feelings. These are preconditions of being, that exist for all humans. Tomkins’ concept, later taken up by affect theorist Brian Massumi, is how we respond to feelings and emotions, how they can be triggered and coerced into something else: they are an emergent encounter. These are the cognitive somersaults that Serisier’s paintings require.

Serisier has been committed to these associative sensory colour experiments for his entire painting career. They evoke memory, they are inter-textual and intensely sustained. The interesting thing about immanence, its essentiality and its presence, is that it can be uncomfortable. Serisier’s paintings preserve immanence and quietly demand to be experienced. As a result, the paintings are also provocative. It’s like holding eye contact with someone for two minutes without breaking the gaze. If you try it, at first it is awkward and embarrassing, and then it shifts into something emotional and even cosmic. Serisier’s paintings are the same. Looking at his work is a physical process, and it can leap into new territory that can be disruptive but also, ultimately, clarifying.

David Serisier: Here and There
16 September – 12 November 2023 
Orange Regional Gallery, NSW

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