Patrick Hall

Patrick Hall's work comes alive in layers. He has built an impressive forty-year practice making stories unpicked from memories. They here create intimate self-portraiture in a visual language that asks, “What remains beyond the wreckage of war? What stories gain gravitas, what stories disappear?”

“I am hoping to be a vector for empathy in a world no longer stable, where global ruins and war remind us of the way lives appear and suddenly disappear, the way a life can be made redundant in the almost imperceptible catch of a breath … all that is left is the shadow.”

Hall’s November exhibition at Despard Gallery, The Paper It’s Written On, is of wall-mounted white-on-white sculptural “paintings,” capturing that absent presence. In their distinct crafting he masters the tension of revealing self with the inexorable need to invent as an artist. Their labour intensive collage creates a visual assemblage suggestive of photogrammetry where a three-dimensional world is rendered from a two-dimensional image. The layering functions as metaphor, intensifying the underpinning narrative that speaks of love being reborn from generation to generation.

David Walsh, founder of Mona, Tasmania, an avid collector of the artist’s works, says of his practice, “Charles Babbage designed computers like the analytical engine that would have worked had they been buildable. Patrick Hall uses the same sort of steam-punk aesthetic, but he designs emotional computers (passion promoters) and, unlike Babbage, he builds them beautifully. Throughout the history of art artists have sought to be bound to their audiences, not with brains, but guts. If Patrick is documenting art history, then it is because he is documenting the history of caring.”

Hall is the son of Major Peter Hall, awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1945 for meritorious service in combat. A recording of the award ceremony is held in the UK’s Imperial War Museum. However, Patrick’s memories of his father are scant, his parents having divorced when he was six. He arrived in Australia on The Ellinis two years later with his mother and siblings. The emotional experience of listening to that recording in 2022 propelled the more expansive themes of loss and renewal that transcend time and navigate the question of what remains, and became the catalyst for The Paper It’s Written On.

“I like trying to understand myself through stories, am interested in placing time, searching this out in objects, trying to hold on to something, to understand the wartime experiences my father lived through and relived daily. My memories were frozen in time. In my mind he was a young man in black shiny boots, but the tape revealed a frail, old figure.”

While for Hall that something is intensely personal, it further embraces a global concern—that of the trauma and futility of war. It is akin to what Gail Jones, in her 2022 novel Salonika Burning, describes as the “energy in destruction,” the way “how variously men continue to murder each other.” Something meaningful can be created in the ruins of a broken world—art is salve for humanity’s grotesqueries.

Fade, 2023, a series of five works, is an elegy to the World War II generation that experienced the war. Each of the wall sculptures is accompanied by Hall’s hand-cut eloquent prose in a graphic style recalling war-time propaganda posters. The skilfully fabricated images, the grammage of the paper echoing the fibre of the memory, search out the integrity of the story, the possibility of writing a future for humanity.

“The text draws upon real and imagined individual experiences and how that filters into the larger narratives that we as communities tell ourselves,” says the artist. “While the texts are atmospheric and layered in meaning, the images are in a deliberately naïve style reminiscent of that of an eight-year-old boy obsessed with war stories—the type of drawings you might find in the margins of a maths schoolbook.”

It is that expansive story of connection, which has brought Hall inclusion in significant exhibitions overseas and Australia; most recently the Blake and Hadley prizes. It led institutions such as the National Gallery of Australia and the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, to collect his earlier work, pieces that created receptacles for private histories.

“Art changes your perception on things,” says the artist and in the white-on-white layering, privileging positive and negative spaces, shadows and fissures, the prosaic is imbued with wonder. It is not surprising that Hall admires the work of Fiona Hall (no relation) and Robert McPherson, artists who use everyday materials and text to create sophisticated statements.

In Lest We Forget, 2023, Hall’s accompanying text talks of the ravages of war in cadences that resound with the post-apocalyptic world of Cormac McCarthy, global ruins, and generational memories handed down creating a collective oneness:

“He wanted to think of his shadow as a hole to fall in. A resting place. A blackness to escape the blankness. But when he looked back over the broken ground all disturbed by his passing he saw it was a huge drawstring bag he dragged. Deforming and distorting as he hauled it over debris and ruin. Those desperate restless nameless things all writhing inside.”

Independent arts researcher Dr. Renee Joyce is captivated with Hall’s artistic practice:

“He is a key figure in an assembly of Australian contemporary artists who explore the interplay of art and paradigms of museological collecting, classification and display to examine personal and collective memory. Australia is starting to expand our recognition of the importance of this style of practice, seen as akin to such international artists as Joseph Beuys and Mark Dion, when it comes to the art market and the significance of these artists to art history. It is thrilling to think that Hall’s ability to use this style of art practice, to weave image making and text to create the most superb, intimate and poignant works of art, may soon be given the international recognition that it deserves.”

And so, from a corrugated iron studio, on the fringes of the Southernmost part of the country, Hall’s beautifully crafted objects offer a message of compassion and renewal for humankind, remind us that we have each other, we have love, and we have our stories.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, issue 65

The Paper It’s Written On
15 November – 9 December 2023 
Despard Gallery, Hobart

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