I've been wanting to do a post on the Australian artist Frank Mesaric's paintings whilst his exhibition was still hanging at the Latrobe Regional Gallery late last year. Unfortunately, I was unable to do so, hence I have started a new category of post to feature artists outside of their exhibition time framework.
Furthermore I am pleased Eugene Barilo Von Reisberg has allowed his catalogue essay to be also printed here. Eugene also has his own art blog Arts Diary 365
Frank Mesaric: The Weight of Stone
We are used to absorbing the world around us at a single glance. We accept the incongruity of split images rushing past our eyes as we flick through glossy magazines, surf the ever-increasing number of television channels, or wade through the multitude of still and moving images on our computer screens. They compete with each other for our attention, and through the process of ocular attrition, we have learned to ignore this rapidly changing visual cacophony.
However, the new body of work by Frank Mesaric demands time and concentration. We need to leave the extraneous noise of the world at the gallery’s door, enter without rushing, take a deep breath, and abandon ourselves to contemplation. For it is only after a careful consideration and inquisitive examination that semantic links between the seemingly disparate sets of images on the artist’s canvases begin to reveal themselves.
Mesaric’s immediate environment in Myrtlebank and the surrounding environs of Gippsland provide the artist with a continuous source of inspiration. Townships and power stations, hospitals, outhouses and derelict buildings are all drawn from the artist’s surroundings. Even the fighter jet and the burning oil field were witnessed by the artists not in the Middle East but from the comfort of his living room couch, which also makes its appearance in one of the paintings in this exhibition.
The Old Masters are another important source of Mesaric’s inspiration. Their ghosts were ubiquitous in the artist’s earlier subject paintings and portraits, whether through a gesture, symbol, or connotative presence. However, for the first time this influence is being emphatically brought to the fore. Quotations from Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Velazquez, and others appear almost ephemerally, traced in a delicate shimmer of a white chinagraph.
Aesthetically and psychologically citizen of the world, yet physically and inextricably connected to Gippsland, Mersaric points out with these paintings that in our global egalitarian contemporaneity everyone is as close to the renowned masterpieces of the world as they to the nearest art book or computer screen. They posit Mesaric’s works somewhere between the celestial visions of saints in Old Master paintings and collaged social commentaries of James Rosenquist. They are metaphors for the higher aspirations of the artist and the universal exemplars of achievement for his art students. More importantly, they are visual ‘thought bubbles’, providing running commentaries on Mesaric’s vignettes of contemporary life.
For example, the juxtaposition of the landscape with Loy Yang power station and Velazquez’s The Triumph of Bacchus could be read simultaneously as the celebration of earth’s bounty through his allegories of mining and viticulture; the critique of our culture of consumption through the depiction of the billowing power station and Bacchus’s feast; and the warning against the abuse of the natural resources through his allusions to the prognosed environmental and climatic changes and the later depictions of the God of Wine as a dissipated and obese old man.
Multiple meanings similarly intertwine in Bridge at Tarraville and ‘The Virgin Mourning Christ’. Both images are those of quite contemplation. At the same time, the sunset heralds the end of one day and foreshadows the beginning of another just like the death of Christ foreshadowed his resurrection. The empty road is lined with telegraph poles which are eerily reminiscent of crucifixes; and if we read the road as the site of fatalities, the image of the Virgin becomes a universal symbol of loss and mourning, and the overall message of the painting as that of rebirth, impermanence, and transcendence.
It is tempting to think that the painting Entry Door and ‘The Inspiration of Saint Matthew’ is self-referential. Opening your mind to inspiration is likened by the artist to leaving the door ajar and inviting that next step to the great unknown, the leap of faith, the feeling that Mesaric has experienced no doubt on numerous occasions when physically opening the door to his own studio or making that first brush mark on an empty canvas.
One can continue analysing these paintings ad infinitum. The Anatomy Lesson above a hospital bed is perhaps a simultaneous reference to the faith in the progress of science and the acceptance of the inevitability of death. Velazquez’s older gentleman next to the young boy in The Waterseller acquires menacing overtones placed beside the snapshot of a toilet with the imprints of sickness or blood. The eternal gender battle for domestic dominance is expressed subtly in phallic and vulvic indentations in the couch, and much more graphically in the quotation from Judith and Holofernes above.
At times the correlation between the corresponding images may appear to be tenuous, but the artist always leaves enough visual clues to engage the viewer in unlocking their hidden meanings, create the parables of their own, and enrich their viewing experience in the process.
Frank Mesaric’s exhibition, The Weight of Stone, shows that his art is impossible to pigeon-hole. It does not slot easily into a convenient art movement, and cannot be branded with a fashionable ‘ism’. Yet it participates actively in the plurality of postmodernist vision which constitutes one of the cornerstones of Australian art, and engages the viewer in a discourse about the authorship, sense of place, and the universal aesthetic identity.
But in order to engage in this visual discourse with the artist, we need to leave the extraneous noise of the world at the gallery’s door, enter without rushing, take a deep breath and abandon ourselves to contemplation. I promise the experience will be a rewarding one, for we stand to learn infinitely more about these paintings, and, by osmosis, about ourselves.
by Eugene Barilo Von Reisberg
To go to Frank Mesaric's website click here