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13th July, 2008#

The possibility of serendipity

In the process of creating artworks Dianne Fogwell rejects the idea of pre-imagining an image or an idea, preferring to think about something; a tree, wind, drought. From the first drawn or carved line, through to the choice of forms and colour and the building of layers, her images and ideas start to emerge. For the viewer entering the world of the artworks and looking for her intended narrative, then finding another personal meaning of their own, is unexpected and pleasing. These are, for the artist and the viewer, the surprising and beautiful moments of serendipity, the making of desirable but un-sought for discoveries.

Fogwell’s terrain where serendipity occurs has been formed by her extensive personal artistic practice and teaching, and her expertise as a master printmaker. Although aspects of her practice have changed and evolved there are existing threads which connect and strengthen the new directions. In the 1996 exhibition catalogue “A Matter of Making: CSA Alumni”, Fogwell commented on how she and other artists construct or reinforce their notion of reality. “It is my perception that on the plate, in the book or on the canvas there is a momentary balance of forces: a space where I can be between realities.” This continues to be the place where she explores, questions, summons, embroiders and celebrates.

Unlike other bodies of her work, which have more literal and biographical surroundings, narratives and moods, this, her first exhibition at the Catherine Asquith Gallery, is more concerned with the process of transition. These transitions between realities are temporal, at the intersection of the natural and the manmade, are both personal and universal and have cultural reference. The works are a complex layering of ideas, images, inks and pressure; the combination of which results in unique-state linoleum and wood-relief prints. Fogwell starts with the grounds of stained colour and translucent metallic inks, applying a series of incised and drawn immersive environments, then embosses, stamps, brushes and imprints text and objects to describe the layers of meaning and metaphor.

For the past six years Fogwell has cut into blocks to create what she calls ‘an alphabet of images’. To her “…they have become a personal iconography and when I place these elements in sequences or in layers they allow space to imagine’” An alphabet only makes sense when its letters, characters or elements are combined to form a language of shared meaning. Individually they are only what they appear; a feather, a shoe or a word.

The invention of moveable type was the springboard for the printing of books. It brought ideas to an infinitely wider readership democratising the written word. Fogwell’s moveable alphabet is a myriad of birds, plants, flowers, animals, moths, buttons, shoes and fish. Whereas the English language alphabet may be confined to 26 letters, her growing lexicon of images (now numbering over 400 characters) and its articulation of ideas can be infinite.

The flora and fauna of Fogwell’s iconic alphabet are Australian species. Relying on keen observation and intuition each is drawn directly on the block often from different angles and in different scales, so when they appear together in the same picture plane, movement and relative distances are conveyed.

A residency on the island of Skopelos, Greece in 2002 sharpened Fogwell’s awareness of the natural elements and unobtrusive everyday objects. Her heightened observation and valuing of these is evident in her drawing, imbuing them with meaning and their careful arrangement. Resulting works are simplified and more pared down to allow for an interplay between objects and atmosphere. The distance of geography, history and culture is often the precursor to such shifts in an artist’s practice.

Serendipity 2007 is a large and immersive environment flowing across four paper panels. Spread across the gallery floor it invites the viewer to wander into the carpet of leaves no longer fresh and green, their colour fading and edges curling against approaching winter. This carpet is so deep it is not possible to see the ground; so densely packed, the discarded necktie, an antique iron and moths with their wings spread, must all rest gently on its surface.

In talking about intense personal connection to her works Fogwell gives us insight into the work Confirmation 2008. “…a gush of wind that has disturbed the layer of your skin. You feel warm inside but gradually getting colder towards the outer layer. Like a tree with its leaves being blown off: there is a moment when the leaves are not on the tree, but they are still in the air together.” For the viewer, by the time the eye has travelled down the opposite side of the work to its base, the negative spaces surrounding the flocking birds, have instead become the positive description of their form.

It is a branch and swirl of aerodynamically shaped leaves that bind the two sheeted work Surrender 2008. Blush coloured seed pods holding close the potential of their life tumble in the eddy of a breeze. The sense of movement at a particular point in time is also strong in the works Terrain 1 & Terrain 11 2008. The water, having just retreated, has left flotsam and jetsam. Rivulets have disturbed a smooth surface leaving it grainy. Fish and driftwood forms angled towards the centre of the activity direct the eye in expectation. Bleached shells are suspended in the moment, the lines of their chronology indicating an accumulated texture of life.

Fogwell’s work also refers to the politics of our time: to refugees, drought and the resource of water. Proclamation 2008 is part of a meditation on the ‘unthrown children’ and the 2001 Tampa crisis. Ideas were floated and formed, images purported to be real were discovered to have other less malignant meanings, and the space between the realities was divided by law, cultural prejudice and politics. The work’s silver and gold metallic pages hold two sets of important and tightly written texts running in different directions to each other in echo of Asian, Arabic and early Christian scripts of worship. Within the illegible text there is a challenge to understand, a stirring movement and the evidence of the human hand.

Just as the paper Fogwell chooses to ground her prints is of a robust composition, able tolerate the pushing of its boundaries with multiple press passes, marks and stamps, her approach to her work is explorative, demanding and multi-layered. Like life itself they are part of a continuous movement. Within this fluid nexus of artistic practice and everyday life there is always the possibility of serendipity.

Katherine Wilkinson Melbourne July 2008 1102 words