The Harvesting of Chance
Brett Weir’s most recent body of work, Sonic Variations, presented at Michael Reid Sydney during Art Month, embodies the unexpected. Characteristically spontaneous and bold, Weir’s 22 paintings, all mixed media on aluminium, map an unscripted response to music across a range of genres. Improvisation is a given part of the human condition, but it is the Artist – be it musicians or painters alike – who dares to openly reject the known to embrace the unexpected; to bear the consequences of unanticipated action and nakedly illustrate the new.
Working in isolation from his studio in a remote coastal area of Victoria, Weir crafts and recrafts his technique. First working on small scale studies, he gradually builds up to substantial pieces with a commanding vertical scale. Mixing base compounds, pigments and binders, Weir presents us with an array of unexpected colours and textures, that he describes as “manifestations of studied chaos”. By studying and refining the technical and chemical elements of his craft, Weir unlocks a capacity to “riff,” with each experimentation grounded in expertise.
Artistic practice unfolds by harvesting on this chance. Repetition in a new context creates new meaning, so much so that the new variation is defined on its own. William Burrows, author and primary figure of the Beat Generation made his cut-ups, absurd poetic stories, by dissecting articles and joining them randomly. Francis Bacon, one of the twentieth century’s most important painters, described his paintings as “a series of accidents mounting on top of each other. If anything does ever work in my case”, said Bacon, “it works from that moment when consciously I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Jazz legend Miles Davis recorded his seminal album Bitches Brew over the course of three days in 1969. Davis called the musicians to the recording studio at very short notice. A few pieces on Bitches Brew were rehearsed before the recording sessions, but at other times the musicians had little or no idea what was to be recorded. Once in the recording studio, the players were typically given only a few instructions: a tempo count, a few chords or a hint of melody, and suggestions as to mood or tone. Davis liked to work this way; he thought it forced musicians to pay close attention to one another, to their own performances, or to Davis’s cues, which could change at any moment and he harvested at will.
Creation within the artistic realm requires awareness of aims and parameters, but willingly invites new expression of the unknown. As the American realist painter Edward Hopper famously said: “if I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint”.