Entering the Subconscious: The COVID Works
31 August - 11 September
Entering the Subconscious: The COVID Works
31 August – 11 September 2021
Tuesday – Friday 11am to 5pm,
Saturday 11am to 3pm
…sit on the edge of formlessness, stirring the viewer’s mind with a relentless and niggling ambiguity.
Entering the Subconscious is a series of ink paintings that began at the beginning of COVID-19 in March 2020 and continued during the ongoing lockdowns in Melbourne in the intervening months.
These works in sequence chart a journey into both levels of artist Michael Wedd’s mental health, as well as new evolving techniques as his time in lockdown progressed.
A medium new to Wedd; inks, was chosen over traditional oils and prints, allowing for spontaneous, gestural and tightly controlled brush techniques. The subject matter shifts from abstract and organic to landscape, figurative and conceptual.
Recurring themes move between microscopic scientific and biological environments towards overviews of constructed worlds, while matter emerges from the immaterial, governed by whatever cognitive state is present on the day, in this current climate of stasis and uncontrollable flux.
Michael Wedd is a Melbourne-based visual artist, primarily working as a painter. He has exhibited extensively throughout Australia and internationally, and is represented in collections worldwide including in Australia, UK, Italy, Germany, USA.
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Real art is never poorly composed. Where curatorial talk often orbits around representing, studio banter invariably fixes upon composing. Visiting Michael Wedd’s studio I am reminded how for painters this never-ending pursuit seems to guzzle their studio hours. Be prepared for a sermon on what dense issues are being signified if you ask a curator about contemporary painting or sculpture; but ask artists themselves what honestly absorbs their creative energies when working (the driven artists, like Michael), and you will hear how they strive to stimulate the viewer visually.
Wedd’s latest work confronts this impulse. This extended suite of works was painted over the Melbourne ‘Lockdown’ of 2020. Those months in a drawn-out medical quarantine became for Wedd a deepening period of creative contemplation and sustained self-reflection. Turning his back upon isms and style trends while ignoring obligatory subjects and ‘correct’ political themes, the artist set himself to enticing the inquisitive eye, of stirring the seasoned imagination, of composing afresh.
His process was basic. Concentrating on one piece at a time, Wedd took a sheet of fine artist’s paper which he fixed to a watercolour board, then he set to improvising with runny inks. He poured on black ink, tilting the surface and allowing this dark medium to flood over the paper, then working from each side he dripped on water to thin certain sections, at points steering his ink into veins of marbled tone with fine brushes. This wasn’t done in one rushed session, but slowly over days, the paper being redampened so forms were worked further, and touches of primary colours added.
Improvisation was the guiding rule, Wedd only ceasing to manipulate when satisfied a work was complete. Then he assigned a number to it (the sequence of the compositions is easily traced) and turned to the next piece.
This approach is indebted to the surrealists, especially Max Ernst, Paul Klee and Andre Masson—artists Wedd deeply values. In using their improvisational methods he did not intend to use free association to tap his unconscious, being interested more in this as a means of creative play. Much of his conversation is about savouring the range of visual effects he can get with such basic pigments, while how he allows the unfettered imagination to take flight.
After a lifetime painting, he tried to remove suggestions of purposeful control. There was no tinkering to insert images, or impose suggestions of structure, least of all to resort to tidy order. Linear grids or shapes were not layered on top. The work had to sit on the edge of formlessness, stirring the viewer’s mind with a relentless and niggling ambiguity.
Chatting in his studio, Wedd insists he has no weighty message to press, and rejects political meanings. Instead by their very fluid nature he wants his abstractions more to suggest those tiny protoplasmic forms that underpin life. Pointing to certain works, he tells me how with them he especially wants to evoke that miniature world of our internal biology, an intricate myriad of tiny organisms and essential bacteria and delicate membranes and cell clusters and enzyme threads all within us, such intricate inner multitudes which are revealed via electron microscopes.
As he talks of these things, I am thinking how—as a virus threatens—it appears Michael Wedd has quite unconsciously taken our vulnerable human biology at his subtle theme. ‘We don’t catch hold of an idea,’ the poet Heine once said, ‘rather the idea catches hold of us.’ These works are surely exemplars of that artistic truth. In withdrawing from that hurdy-gurdy media chatter about viral contagions, trying to escape a spreading public hysteria, Wedd’s imagination has circled right around and indirectly confronted the wondrous mysteries of the human organism.