Patrick Hall: Made of Broken Pieces

Patrick Hall's 'Made of Broken Pieces' opens September 22 at Despard Gallery. In Artist Profile 56, Lucy Hawthorne visited the artist’s Hobart studio for a preview of his sculptures, cabinets and reliefs that explore notions of truth, storytelling, memory, and the nature of his own family history

He’s known for intricately detailed sculptures and furniture, but Patrick Hall’s recent work, The Torn Whole, 2020, features crudely-sketched beasties with beady eyes, toothy mouths and fabulous eyelashes. Hall calls it an “exercise in trying to get me to draw more freely.” He hasn’t completely let go. Countering the free drawing and folds of backlit fabric – in Hall’s words, the “unexplained underneath” – is a strict grid of transparency mounts and and fine-lined diagram overlay – an aesthetic common to many of his works. Each creature is strictly framed, numbered and captioned. However, we are left to imagine the connection between the beasts and the cryptic captions like “petrified in quarried stone,” or “the unearthed secrets,” which suggest the monsters are both ancient and of this earth. 

Hall trained in furniture design and printmaking at the Tasmanian School of Art in the 1980s, and has shown regularly both locally and abroad, including at the American art fair, Sculpture, Objects, Functional Art. He was the subject of a survey exhibition at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in 2015. His work is enthusiastically collected by Mona owner David Walsh, featuring in both the museum and affiliated festivals.

First shown at Dark Mofo, The Bare Witness, 2019, is one of a series of haunting human forms assembled from found materials. The wall-mounted work features two figures in near embrace, or perhaps a dance, their faces stretched over illuminated glass spirit bottles. The face on the right is Wendy Torrence in The Shining, whose body comprises a skeletal array of old film and magnifying lenses. The work is not simply an homage to the horror genre, however. As Hall notes, “we are a witness to everybody’s horror.”

In this age of online digital media, Hall’s obsession with obsolete technology is more than just nostalgia. It plays to our fascination with tangible objects that hold the unknown. Analogue technology – such as 35 mm slide mounts and coated electrical wire – are paired with nails, feathers and even twigs. Each material is chosen strategically for its connotations and form, which adds to the layers of meaning embedded in Hall’s detailed works. Sometimes, it’s also convenience: when he needed an elbow for his fossil-like creature with clawed limbs, he snapped off a twig from a tree near his studio.

Another hybrid creature features in the kinetic Of Fallen Angels, 2020, inspired by the fossil Archaeopteryxes that demonstrated a link between dinosaurs and birds. Hall’s interest lies in the impact the 1861 discovery had on the scientific knowledge and religious teachings of the nineteenth century, and the work was a fitting finalist in this year’s Blake Prize – an award for artworks exploring religion and spirituality. Like The Torn Whole, 2020, the grid of magic lantern-like slides that form the creature’s protective casing appears at odds with the ghost-like form moving behind the glass. To Hall, the literal physical shifts in his feathered “fossil” represents the “weird shifting of belief and knowledge over time.”

Hall’s art is known for its storytelling elements, as well as his clever use of material, aesthetic allure, and text. Also notable is Hall’s blurring of the line between furniture and art. While his cabinets, like Made of Broken Pieces, 2021, are functional as regular pieces of furniture, they are also conceptually complex. Made of Broken Pieces features a grid of archival black and white portraits, each square of glass broken into pieces and missing segments, such as an eye, a chin, a forehead. Hall comments that they’re noticeably “colonial” faces (apart from a sneaky portrait of himself). The people’s dress and hairstyles are typical of an era passed, and we’re left to fill in the cracks based on the portraits and snippets of cryptic text.

Hall’s exhibition also includes works of a more personal nature. A series of five paper works called ‘Flow’ are described as “an elegy to the World War II generation.” They draw on his relationship with his war hero father, Peter Hall, who remained in the UK after eight-year-old Patrick emigrated to Australia with his mother. While Hall describes his memory of his father as “sketchy,” the military man became an ‘absent presence’ in the house through the wartime stories told by his mother. The hand-cut paper works are entirely white, relying on light and shadow to reveal the relief drawing and text. In The Lightness of Clouds, 2021, the deep tracks of a crudely-drawn tank snake their way up the page – a style that the artist used deliberately to emulate the doodles of a “boy obsessed with war stories.” But this is no glorification of war. In Bitter Reign, 2021, weapons fall from a swarm of propeller planes onto a city of iconic buildings famously lost to bombings. 

‘Made of Broken Pieces’ is ultimately about “making sense of disparate things,” of drawing links between images and objects, pattern making and storytelling. It’s up to the viewer to finish the story. 

This essay was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 56, 2021.

Patrick Hall: Made of Broken Pieces
22 September – 16 October 2021
Despard Gallery, Hobart

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