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From Union Street.
Written by Catherine Speck. Associate Professor & Reader in Art History.
University of Adelaide
Surrealism has a long Australian presence, despite popular beliefs to the contrary. ‘Its vectors’ as Bruce James observed ‘are set at a cross-cultural multi-lingual, international default. Enclosed in its gene structure, or its hard drive, ultra-democratic impulses command it to accommodate any environment’ in which it lingers. And it hovers, underpins and energises Greg Geraghty’s work all the way from Andre Breton’s dictum idea of ‘pure psychic automatism’ or automatic painting, to the dadaist practice of placing random images together to spark new ways of seeing the world.
Automatism has always been a troubled notion. How can artists steeped in the craft of art-making abandon that training to let ideas from the unconscious take over? Yet, just as this process has a rich heritage in work like Hannah Hoch’s collages and Max Ernst’s frottages, so Geraghty’s practice of placing a paint brush in an electric drill is a dada act of abandoning control. His resulting ‘objects’ which feature in his Gas birds appear to spring from pages of artist’s sketch books. Or do the pages of drawings give birth to these animated creatures? These biomorphs take on differing forms and shapes in numerous works including Cells divide where they, in their multiplied states, occupy impossible or irrational space.
Text is another element that veers in the direction of dadaism. It became performative sound poems for dadaist Raoul Hausmann, and poem-drawings for surrealist James Gleeson; whereas for Geraghty text becomes the art object. The artist, a one-time precision tool-maker, draws on the text of trade manuals belonging to a past era to adorn his objects and become his forms. In Moments of inertia pages from old trade manuals are pleated, folded, inverted, shaped and then reproduced to produce teasing forms simulating fragments of human dress, and by implication humanity. The text is a referent to corporeal presence, whereas the forms are empty shells. But are they? Each section of clothing looks as if it has been a site of struggle. The twisting and turning point to an inner self that is uncannily contained, even though garment is incomplete, and ought not be able to enclose human presence.
Beauty too sneaks into Geraghty’s work in AM (Altitude modulation) where matter in the form of human hair - tonally rich luscious manes of wavy hair - co-exists with the atmospheric mass of clouds or non matter. As Lautreamont so famously said, this unity of opposites is ‘as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella’. The motion in wavy hair defies a neat exit from this atmospheric zone.
Trompe l’oeil also abounds in these narrative constructions - with flat surfaces taking on depth, not as an illusion, but as fact. Depth subtly hovers just below the surface in a range of objects, while space is fragrantly and delightfully impossible in pieces like Union Street where trains are not only off the rails, but sail off to freedom. Office meanwhile draws on the language of automation to create an atmosphere of control, constraint, missed opportunities and failing to see the obvious.
From Transported. Written by Greg Fullerton
A Trip to the Seaside by Greg Geraghty takes us on a journey by linking three seemingly unrelated images together to form a larger narrative. This clustering of images enables the presentation of individual experience within larger systems. Alluded to within this work are those systems of transport where journey’s end is the sea. The railway, the wheel and the sewer pipe are basic to the functioning of a metropolis. They carry crowds, goods, waste and connect cities to the sea.
The title of the work suggests happy childhood memories of a day spent going to the beach. Things do not always go as planned. A train goes through the roof, a burning pram heads into the sea and we serenely watch as shit goes down. A bad trip is evident. When systems break down individuals are stopped in their tracks, left puzzling over the mechanics of the journey.
The work is in the surrealist mode, filmic in a sense and suggestive of another era. Perhaps Hitchcock, the master of suspense, or the writer Somerset Maugham are at play, puzzling us to question current events, to make sense of this constructed jigsaw configuration.
Geraghty is not the surrealist of old, his thoughts are here and not with the past as they appear. His carriage is not merely some child’s first Victorian vehicle but a re-presentation of the structures, mechanics, fears, hopes and surprises of contemporary life. His visions are earnest social commentaries. Trains do collide, bombs go off and planes fly into buildings. Transport is political.
From On Compression. Written by Greg Geraghty.
A little while ago while looking through my sketch books, I was struck by the fact that most of my ideas are recorded as single line Biro drawings. A line starts, wanders around the page, describes what it has to and returns to end where it started, having recorded an idea.
The works in this show, rather than use the line of the original notation as a guide to delineate areas to be painted: Aims to present the original line of the sketch itself, as a viable painted image. So that the events usually encountered across the painted and elaborated surface of a work are now compressed or placed back into and read along a single line.
The use of a paintbrush in a drill has allowed me to imitate on canvas the original act of recording an idea as a single line Biro drawing on paper. The line produced by brush and drill and the line produced by a Biro are analogous as they both use mechanisms of rotation to deliver pigment to a surface. Although it can produce an interesting mark, the use of the drill is not an end in itself. It can quickly and often wreck a work. Where the Biro was developed to reduce the spillage and mess of pen and ink; painting with a drill is particularly messy. The nature of the line produced using a drill is twofold and at once opposite. There is both a precise mechanical repetition evident, and an out of control natural like divergence or error. But the method does traverse the picture plane leaving fair evidence of the journey.
Why try to compress an otherwise expansive image into a line anyway? As an artist painting for me is an ongoing argument directed at finding forms of internal truth capable of sustaining the production of images. I once as a child carried home a bucket of seawater. The journey required two buses. Whatever I thought I was doing then with the bucket of seawater: I did know I carried an image because I could look at it and remember the sea. What would later become important to me about this early act and often structure my work; was the idea of representation as a function of the reduction of means.