Installed in McMahon’s white-walled living room and consisting of five small paintings each, these two bodies of work were produced over months of working in adjacent studios during COVID-19 restrictions. With a lack of immediate deadlines on the one hand and extra studio time on the other, both artists felt freed to take risks, and the works in Melodic Living Room lean towards gesture and spontaneity within different registers of abstraction.
McMahon’s paintings here are minimal, using oils to produce layered geometries in deep tones. While remaining controlled and subtle, these sit in contrast with the clean flatness of previous works, in which masking tape was heavily employed to ensure crisp acrylic edges. George, too, has moved away from a more repetitive and methodical process in favour of loose marks. Rendered fluidly on paper in washes of acrylic, his works are energetic and joyful against the stillness and depth of McMahon’s paintings. Together the composition is polyphonic, two distinct voices intermingling within the domestic space.
– Anna Dunnill
(Installation images below. Click images for full screen)
All documentation by Christo Crocker.
|Install 01 of 04|
|Install 02 of 04|
|Install 03 of 04|
|Install 04 of 04|
Marlee McMahon and Martin George make smart, sly, complex images derived in part from appropriation, action and free-association, and in part from mundane & heightened encounters with the ‘real’. Theirs has been some of the most enjoyable and pertinent abstraction of their generation - graphically meandering, off-balanced and often humorous in the case of Martin, a more streamlined, concise and precise illusionism in Marlee’s.
Yet this recent period has seen a somewhat startling rupture in what we might have assumed to be a steady elaboration of the pictorial challenges of their individual practices.
Whilst the grind of the lockdown itself has imposed specific constraints on day-to-day activity for us all, in the psychological and technical realms of studio experimentation it appears to have given both artists licence to strip much of their manner and image back to a kinda ground zero. As timelines expand, deadlines evaporate, horizon-lines recede they have embraced an opportunity to deconstruct their respective styles. That they are prepared to set aside much their previous hard won innovation (for at least the moment) indicates an appealing openness, flirting with that perennial risk of endeavour - failure. In freeing their work from its established boundaries, they are taking the chance to pause and test, much in the way a band facing a “difficult third album” might very sensibly head to the studio to simply jam.
The pristine grids and gradients in Marlee’s earlier paintings, drawn from encounters with the real worlds of fabrication and signage and unreal worlds of airbrush and marketing, have taken leave. These new paintings are chunky and petite as objects - their non-objective imagery initially appearing to be cropped details drawn from her previous more complex compositions. But where the earlier seemed as sleek graphic machines carefully contrived through elaborate planning, fugue-like iteration and laborious masking manufacture, this new imagery is stripped down to a bare minimum, each ineffable in a carefully built, layered, evidently handmade and just barely associative cryptic form. As such they feel entirely intuitive and curiously absorbing in their modest self-containment. Their titles suggest the downbeat mood of the minor key: ‘heavy’, ‘slow’, ‘raining’ just a few of the words parlayed. But much as we scan the pared images for any narrative they mostly resist us: despite curvaceous forms evoking the corporeal and allusions toward various geometries, they remain hermetic, holding their secrets close in a reductive hard-edge intensity. Though tiny, these paintings signal a possible monumental shift in her work, where the seeking and the finding coalesce in an organic co-dependence.
Similarly, Martin’s entertaining, often chaotic repertoires of off-centre grids, self-referential initials and checkerboard patterns have all but disappeared. But as a counterpoint to Marlee’s weightier tone, he has replaced his previous all-over approach with a much more breezy, even decorative touch that privileges the paper ground as much as the sweeping and stuttering calligraphic workouts of each. Glancingly alluding to still-life subjects in some, landscape in others, Martin also keeps any overt narratives to his titles, in benefit of a modernist flattened space where the airy painterly gestures stay open to broad interpretation. Precursors, and their economic techniques, come to mind – from painterly Ab-Ex to the irony and satire of recent ‘zombie’ formalism - but beyond any debt to particular histories a playful “what the hell” attitude shines forth from these modest works, akin to the pleasures of spontaneous musical improvisation. And like the inflections of that idiom - giving an appearance of doodling ease when in fact much crafty care and temperament has been excavated - the radiating colour performs lightly, ducking and weaving with the appearance of a structural abandon.
Alternately uplifting and oscillating, hushed and enigmatic, Martin and Marlee’s small ensemble of images, pictures formed under the curious circumstances of this epoch, seem as personally apt antidotes to current conditions, and as prescriptions for future ones. Rather than telling us what we already knew, they give us a sneaking suspicion of the artist’s future verdant fields, beyond boundaries.
– Andrew Browne
(Scroll for individual artworks, listed clockwise from entrance. Click images for full screen.)
|01. Marlee McMahon, Slow Response, 2020, Oil on linen, 20 x 25.5cm|
|02. Marlee McMahon, Heavy Kite, 2020, Oil on linen, 25.5 x 20cm|
|03. Martin George, Running around a well, 2020, Acrylic on paper, framed, 30.5 x 43cm sheet; 38 x 50.5cm frame|
|04f Martin George, Two Flying Figures (Archway), 2020, Acrylic on paper, framed, 30.5 x 43cm sheet; 38 x 50.5cm frame|
|05. Marlee McMahon, Raining, 2020, Oil on cotton canvas, 20 x 25.5cm|
|06. Marlee McMahon, Difficulty of punctuation, Oil on cotton canvas, 25.5 x 20cm|
|07. Martin George, Figure & a comet, 2020, Acrylic on paper, framed, 21.5 x 30.5cm sheet; 29 x 38cm frame|
|08. Martin George, Orange vase & other objects on a table, 2020, Acrylic on paper, framed, 30.5 x 43cm sheet; 38 x 50.5cm frame|
|09. Marlee McMahon, Uniform, Oil on linen, 20 x 25.5cm|
|10. Martin George, Boat in the sky, 2020, Acrylic on paper, framed, 30.5 x 43cm sheet; 38 x 50.5cm frame|
To request a catalogue or to give feedback on the exhibition, please contact the artists directly:
Anna Dunnill is an artist and writer based in Naarm (Melbourne), and is an editor of Art Guide Australia.
Andrew Browne is an artist and occasional writer based in Melbourne.
Martin George (b.1993, Sydney) is a Melbourne based artist with a BFA (Hons.) from RMIT University (2016). Recent exhibitions include 'Box of Stamps', Haydens, Melbourne, 2019 (Solo); 'Sounds of Pacing', Conners Conners, Melbourne, 2020 (Group). He has been shortlisted for Australian art prizes including the Churchie Emerging Art Prize (2020), Bayside Acquisitive Art Prize (2020 & 2019), Redland Art Awards (2018), and the Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize (2017). He undertook a studio residency in 2017 at Otis College of Art & Design, Los Angeles, CA.
Marlee McMahon (b.1996, Sale) is a Melbourne based artist who received a BFA (Hons.) from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2017. Her recent solo exhibitions include ‘Digestif’, STATION, Melbourne, 2020, and ’Carbonated’, Bowerbank Ninow, Auckland, 2019. Marlee was awarded the Cranbourne Fellowship for the British School at Rome in 2019, and has recently received the Samstag Scholarship to study a MFA program at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam in 2021. Marlee is represented in New Zealand by Visions (formerly Bowerbank Ninow).
Marlee's work in this exhibition has been supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants.
(Melodic Living Room; Private address, Fitzroy North, Melbourne; Published online July 17, 2020)