Once again it is Fine Art Friday (although it is fine art pretty much every day of the week at Castledine and Castledine!) and I want to chat about Nigel Hewitt’s exhibition Recinder at Gallery Central in Aberdeen Street Northbridge.
Anyone who has followed Nigel Hewitt’s work over the decades will know he is drawn to a particularly muted palette and it seems, looking at this work almost inevitable that he would eventually fall into ash. Such a concentration of carbon it ranges from all colours white to no colour black and every grey shading in between and in Hewitt’s skilled hands seems to be all you would need to express yourself.
Hewitt has been working with ash since the ember of the idea came to him while viewing the bushfire landscapes of Tasmania He uses the ash in two ways, mixing it and applying it as you would any paint or colour medium and then finding mechanical ways to precisely pour tiny heaps to produce pixelated images that close up resemble the slag hills and waste dumps of some tiny but relentless industry. The pixelated works are astonishing in their preciseness and fragility but the resulting matrix of canvases felt to me a little soulless. From afar, and the gallery is well chosen to allow you to step far enough back from the work to make sense of the image, the mechanical nature of the process seems more apparent rather than less, they become somehow more textile than anything else, like a photograph rendered in wool. Not that this made them any less interesting and in an exhibition purely of these works, where you are not distracted by the other techniques you would give in to the idea and enthusiastically follow along on this exploration.
Most of the other works fall into two categories, the first being landscapes rendered entirely in ash and secondly those where Hewitt has given in to an impulse to add paint to the piece. Of these two I was completely seduced by the pure ash paintings, they are sombre and deep and captivating. Of the others I was only drawn to one where the colour was integrated subtly into the plants in the foreground. The others, which feature easels holding representations of famous Australian landscape paintings, I found less successful. The idea seemed too twee, too obvious and the coloured sections while not exactly dominating the composition were more like a smudge on your glasses, something that stopped you from really seeing the work clearly. I would have preferred the artist left the easel holding the Heysen or McCubbin in the text of a didactic panel and let the viewer imagine the relationship between the subject, the style and the medium while being wholly absorbed by the monochrome panels. That said, his painted works and sections in wax and oils are skillful and while still using his trademark muted colours manage to sing like a bright new leaf in a burnt forest.
This is an important exhibition, impressive in its scale, mastery of technique and its heart and I recommend you get in to see it before it concludes on the 19thof May.