Her silhouette leans and says ‘And Lo, for the Earth was empty of form, and void.
‘And Darkness was all over the Face of the Deep.
‘And We said: ‘Look at that fucker Dance.’
– David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest.
Asylum: The word evokes both refuge and confinement.
Anthropocene: Epoch of the human animal – of uncertain duration.
The ephemeral time and place of that restricted moment we call a life burns like a persistent ember in the ashen hues of James Robinson’s oeuvre. This perpetual fragment – each of us a spark caught on the breeze, what it could mean and what it should mean, hides as the singularity that is the strange attractor of his work. It is an existential cry made considered metaphysical interrogation in these recent paintings and drawings. These works are the refined fragments of an endlessly restless practice of questioning and hypotheses.
In the decade and a half that I have been following Robinson’s work a parade of gods and monsters have stalked through his canvas bound assemblages of paint and industrial-spiritual detritus, as Robinson himself has openly used the medium of painting to stalk demons, both personal and global. The paintings from this collection, however are sparsely populated, if at all by these signifiers of the unseen denizens of this world and others. The paintings are more artefact than allegory, tightly concentrated each work is self-contained and a doorway into a world of its own that is haunted only peripherally; spooky entities at a distance.
As the product of a residency at the Dunmoochin Foundation outside of Melbourne, the work of this exhibition is inexorably bound to place. These are desolate landscapes, yet filled with their own life. Aboriginal connection with and displacement from land informed the process of these works with notions of the anthropocene addressing the impact and interaction of our species with the life-cycle of the planet we inhabit. Bigger than us, older than us, sublime to our hysteria, this stage where we tread our moment will witness our exit suspends us within a plenum of meaning that we will never be privy to but will always hunger for.
The weight and depth of these paintings, all their assembled and sculpted elements do not detract from these works as paintings. They are nothing other. Utopia’s Mines, as example, with its tower of paint-tin lids above and a fathomless void of black velvet is Malevich’s square undergone annealing. It is Bruegel’s Tower of Babel made mineshaft as bottomless pit. Other works, perhaps are the nominal landscapes of an occult cartography or the magickal tribal fetishes belonging to some wasteland cargo cult. Robinson’s landscapes, however, are still Ernst’s scarred rock of Europe After the Rains.
True art carves its own space in time and uses its force to pull you into the place where you are right now. It draws a connecting thread from primordial beginning to entropic end, piercing right through that momentary flash of now, that momentary flash of you. These works achieve this with their individual gravity, the glue that holds the universe together and is experienced as falling. Here is an alchemist’s distilled and coagulated essence drawn from a prima materia of the only absolute and true struggle, the only work that truly matters: survival is the name of the game.
Brendan Jon Philip