What remains from a glance, that random, unexpected eye grab that can change everything? Perhaps we are simply left with a memory slice of a moment in time, a short inventory of the things contained in a seconds-long look. In art, much can come of those few moments that linger in our memory cortex. The work of Ham Darroch in this exhibition is evidence of just how much may be extracted from a fleeting glance in the right direction. The four paintings shown emanated from one such moment. In 2016 Darroch was awarded the Jean Bellette studio in Hill End, a former ghost town north west of Sydney, which was once a thriving gold mining centre in the 19th century. In the 1940s a group of artists led by Russell Drysdale and Donald Friend went there on painting expeditions to the deserted town and founded the Hill End Group. Jean Bellette, known for her still life and classical figurative paintings had a cottage there, which is now a studio in the Hill End Artists in Residence Program.
One day, Darroch was walking out of the cottage and from the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of a humble blue glaze bowl sitting on the table. He saw into its shallow, round shape and the refracted light bouncing off the glaze. The image lingered, a floating disk of blue now embedded in his memory on its way to becoming source material for a series of paintings regarded as refractions. In the artist’s own words, ‘they are about the peripheral but also about remembering an object’. A still life of an otherwise over-looked object, once belonging to Bellette, now a ready-made iconographic element for a painting destined to be shown far away from Hill End in Berlin, Germany. The image is thus still floating out there, ready to be ‘activated’ by its yet unknown audience.
At first glance, the paintings fall within the canon of abstraction, that century-long tendency born of the European avant-garde movements, which wended its way through much of 20th century painting. While abstract painting plays a significant role in Darroch’s practice, its home paddock is that of Duchamp’s legacy. He typically takes everyday implements such as farm equipment, rusted shovels from the Thames River, or the humble ping pong bat and repurposes them into playgrounds for abstract painting devices. The serious preoccupations of abstraction are repurposed in whimsical ways breathing new life into an otherwise forgotten or discarded object. What was once relegated to scrap is now observed as another thing all together. Rust and decay are ennobled and transformed into objects of beauty and conjecture. In this series of refractions the surface happens to be canvas, a painted object that is now the source of a new wave of looking and glancing.
Lara Nicholls, 2017
Assistant Curator of Australian Art, National Gallery of Australia