Gippsland Art Gallery
29th March – 20th May 2018
Standing sentinel over Brett Weir’s self-built house-studio in Walkerville is a row of towering wind turbines. Engaged in a dynamic and continual transference of energy from nature to man, their presence here is incidental to Weir’s. And yet they provide some kind of insight into the way Weir’s paintings operate, in that they act as nets to catch the cosmic energy of the universe, absorbing and then slowly releasing it in a shimmering glow of pure electricity. In front of Weir’s paintings we sense the warmth of this radiation—a palpable and tangible energy that seeps through the surface of each panel.
Weir’s paintings might occasionally reference those of others—such as Gerhard Richter’s abstracts or James McNeill Whistler’s nocturnes—and recall the same quest for representation pared back to the essentials, but Weir’s vision is singular and unique. In his paintings we find a world of dreams, longing and desire, lit from an internal source. That each of Weir’s paintings is the exact proportions of a doorway is no accident. Each panel is an aperture onto another plane. For Weir, the door is not a vague philosophical concept, but an actual, physical opening into another world. The flickering lights and lunar mists that drift through these openings are but a microcosm of a larger universe. To describe the paintings simply as ‘abstract’ would miss the point entirely, for they are literal and accurate representations of a very real phenomena that just happens to be invisible to the human eye. This is phenomena perceived through the soul rather than the retina—Weir becomes the seer who guides us into and through this place.
That Weir chose Walkerville to establish his house-studio was an act of cosmological serendipity. It was here, on the wind-swept plains that protrude between Waratah and Venus Bays on the Gippsland coast, that Fred Williams reinvented the Australian landscape tradition in 1971. Having already found a common language between traditional ‘gum tree’ landscape and abstraction in the early 1960s, Williams was looking for a new way to express the experience of infinity. The same conversation between landscape and non-figurative art lies at the foundation of Weir’s recent paintings. They are ‘lunar’ in the sense that they speak of cosmic forces and energies that connect the universe. We find a sense of balance and harmony that corresponds with the earth, sun and moon, giving life to the planet. Weir speaks of his work as ‘evoking the transitory nature of personal experience, the passage of time, and the ever-changing relationship to one’s past’. In so doing the paintings draw from his own experiences to engage with a collective experience shared by all those who inhabit the planet. By removing all literal representations within the paintings they are at once doorways into another plane—and mirrors of our own soul.
Weir works intuitively, constructing each painting ‘like a piece of nature’. There is a tension, in which the relationship between the painter and the painting becomes combatative. For Weir, who established himself as a figurative artist, releasing his paintings of their recognisable imagery has required great courage. It demands a certain self-confidence, but one that is reconciled to possible failure. His recent paintings cannot be judged or measured in the way we do traditional art. Their success or failure depends on a different set of criteria, which cannot be easily articulated. It must be felt.
It requires a higher artistic consciousness both to create and to apprehend these paintings, in that we must let go of our expectations of what to expect from a painting. The easiest way to describe the sensation of looking at a Brett Weir painting might be to say we are looking at sound. Music, as a purely abstract, non-relational, self-governing organic art form, follows much the same rules as non-figurative painting. We must learn to look with our heart, not with our mind. In rewiring our own circuitry we open the door to a new universe of understanding.
The world as presented to us by Weir is composed entirely of paint—or is it? Paint is at once the means to elicit sensation and feeling, and the subject in itself. In this he emulates Whistler who drew our attention to the materiality of paint without ever failing to describe actual experiences. The longer we look into the non-representational space, the more we see. Soon, what was once a void becomes so crowded with information we have to look away. In one respect this might be a kind of white noise—the constant sound of static that accompanies our daily lives. Most of the time existing beyond the periphery, Weir brings it to the fore, blinding us with its brilliance. In so doing, his paintings accentuate phenomena at the cusp of consciousness. He is attuned to the sound of life at its most subtle frequency. The amoeba-like conglomerations of paint seem to literally correspond to the unseen electromagnetic waves that pulse through the universe. We might be looking through either a telescope or a microscope; this is the pure energy of life from an otherwise undetectable level—the matter from which we are all composed.
Weir’s paintings have a strong concern for science and metaphysics—two apparently oppositional fields. They are scientific in that they explore matter; the quality of paint as informed by the interaction of chemicals, of substance and colour. Weir works methodically according to a self-defined process in a manner recalling a scientist at work in a laboratory. At the same time, he examines phenomena outside of the real world. In reconciling the two he might be regarded as a ‘metaphysician’, in that he possesses the alchemic code to transform the ordinary into the extra-ordinary. Oil paint, applied to aluminium sheets with brushes, squeegees and other tools, becomes the medium through which we access other realms.
Richter reminds us that ‘Above all [painting has to have] something incomprehensible, something on a higher plane … Art is the ideal medium for making contact with the transcendental, or at least for getting close to it.’ Weir proves Richter’s point—perhaps to an ever-greater extent than the German ever did—for he takes us to places we’ve only imagined, yet are achingly familiar. We sense the passing of time, and the presence of time immemorial. We are caught in a permanent flux between past, present and future, not knowing which way is forward, but nevertheless in constant motion. The world we understand becomes lost in a blur, its details disappearing into tails of comets whose destinations are yet to be determined. Upon entering the field of Brett Weir’s paintings we submit to a higher consciousness. The scale is beyond computation and yet we find points of familiarity. In encountering this lunar logic we apprehend a new cosmological sensibility that illuminates both the very greatest of life’s mysteries, and it’s most elusive—namely, the human soul.
Simon Gregg, Curator, Gippsland Art Gallery