‘I paint the ground that is beneath my feet’
by Helen Johnson
Racing ahead of a truck, Wile E. Coyote runs at top speed over a cliff as the vehicle swerves around a bend and out of sight. Just before he goes over he blows an ironic raspberry at the truck, before realising that he is now running on air. He pokes his tongue back in with a finger, turns to camera and points down to acknowledge his impending fall, to share his realisation with us.
This continuation along a trajectory, no longer supported by a ground, and gesturing reflexively towards its own impending demise, echoes a vestigial telos of painting, one that was forged in late modernity. Painting drifted for a time along the trajectory of modernism, whilst gesturing towards its anticipated demise – only the end never came. And this is perhaps an image for where painting is today: a coyote (maybe even Beuys’s coyote), floating in the air, gesturing beyond itself. The temporal mode of this space is not Chronos but Kairos, no longer a trajectory, but a moment of indeterminate time in which everything can happen: painting is again filled with possibility.
Ann Debono’s paintings at once inhabit and enact this space. Debono deploys occultation in the service of openness: inviting the possibility of, whilst at the same time actively obscuring anything that might constitute the painting’s reception as a ‘message’. Thus we are asked into an aesthetic space devoid of a punchline. This obscurity arises from a fiercely intellectual position. It should not be understood as a softening or coaxing of the representational register; rather, as an aggressive refiguring. The painting’s insertion into the gallery space reinforces this: hard up against the limits of a false wall, it is posited as an agitator on a presentational edge. And what does it show us? Signifiers of urbanity cast adrift in a space of gesture; deteriorating fragments of civic infrastructure overlaid on a dusky sunset-pink ground, in stasis. The ground we walk upon is understood here as a space of aesthetic potentiality. A ground on a ground, an attenuated space. This is not a space in which something is happening. It is more like one of foreplay, talking dirty about an idea of apocalypse that’s not how it’s really going to happen. As Ann has said, ‘imageness is the adumbration of a field I can’t have a totalised regard of.’ Adumbrate – to at once outline and obscure, from the Latin umbra, meaning shade, or ghost – an interchangeability between being haunted and sheltered. There is a simultaneity in Debono’s work between speculative and real space, that perhaps gives us a glimpse into her outlook upon the everyday: falling open to meet the metaphysical, not at random, but with a sense of responsibility.
Photos by Taryn Ellis.
For Ann Debono, representational paintings are uniquely paradoxical objects. Her paintings meld realism with abstraction to explore the condition of an image as it stands in relation to the visible world. For Debono, visible phenomena around her seem to fluctuate between two poles: of latency and potency, silence and speech, illegibility and legibility, without ever touching and fusing with either extreme. Her choice of imagery exemplifies this fluctuation: a shattered window-pane, photos from a book or marks on a concrete footpath, all vying for precedence. As the viewer’s eye navigates these compositions the artist questions their reflections on what is significant in the world. Debono’s paintings also provide a glimpse into the artists process of viewing, and the aesthetic potentiality of imagery she observes in her everyday environment. These paintings attempt to transmit an image of the world as a field of infinite regression of images behind images through which some spectral ‘real’ is evacuating.
Select solo exhibitions: Crease and Increase, Melbourne Art Fair, represented by Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2018; Awled, Sutton Projects, Melbourne, 2017; Dehiscence, KINGS ARI, Melbourne, 2016; Upaithric, CAVES Gallery, Melbourne, 2015.
Select group exhibitions: Geelong Contemporary Art Prize, Geelong Art Gallery, Geelong, 2018; Crocodility, Bundoora Homestead, Melbourne, 2018; Bayside Art Prize Bayside Community Arts Centre, Melbourne, 2017; Painting Revealed, Sutton Projects, Melbourne, 2015; VCA Graduation Show, VCA Southbank Campus, Melbourne, 2015; VCA Graduation Show, VCA Southbank Campus, Melbourne, 2014; Majilis Travelling Prize Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne, 2014; Work, Slopes Gallery, Melbourne, 2014.