Greg Creek: Amendments

21 October - 14 November 2009

Standing in Greg Creek's studio, surrounded by his latest painted Amendments, I feel as if I'm listening to them. Its absurd, of course, and I understand that it's my eyes I'm using, not my ears. Nevertheless, listening is what I stubbornly consider myself to be doing.

Much later, away from the studio and thinking about what happened there, I recall Heidegger in On the Essence of Language: 'Sight is cold and indifferent, it remains calmly before us. The tone enlivens, -it presses closely into the soul, but does not make [it] dull. While … what is seen does not lift up, … the tone lifts us into a particular independence.' And later: '… the soul first becomes awake for the distant sensation through the sense of hearing. If the human being were all sight he could not be himself, - the sense of hearing first refines sight.'

Substitute visual for aural tones - palette for pitch - and this becomes a useful way of making sense of an encounter with Creek's new series of watercolour works on paper. There is a satisfying simplicity consequent of his intuitive colour combinations and the gut-instinct band-width of each concentric circle. The overall harmony of form, materials and technique creates a quality of lightness conducive to independent reflection. It is a gift to the viewer that feels intimately akin to that which, I imagine, is experienced by the artist in the process of making the works, as if the freedom of wandering thoughts that can be a side-effect of lovingly repeated actions has somehow found its way into the drawings themselves. And as if this is the quality, more articulate even than Creek's colour harmonies, which prepares the viewer for other, distant sensations; which, finally, lifts him up to independence and refines his sight.

It is a quality, and an effect, quite different from that to be found in Creek's other well-known body of work, his expansive narrative drawings from which these Amendments derive. These curious circles can be found in one form or another in his Parliament Desktop Drawings (2001), Melbourne Desktop Drawing (2003) and, most recently, ChatterShapes, a thirty-one meter long wall-based panoramic reverie commissioned for the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival. Removed from the broad, dream-like narrative scope of Creek's extended drawings these works on paper take on a compelling life of their own. They draw the viewer in like a hypnotist's amulet, or like a portal to another world.

So, on a second look I'm beginning to notice details: to recognise the residual birthmark prick at the centre of each painting where a pin steadied the template Creek used to pencil in each circle and to study the promising archaeology of the balsa wood trays that have been positioned to collect downward drips of colour and contain whole archives of clues with which to track the drawings in reverse. I can see the play between paper and pigment - where the fibrous grain has pulled droplets from their course - and between dry paint and wet where some drips have tripped over themselves as they crossed more precise watercolour circles in their rush to make it downstream. From taking note of these details, it's an instinctive next step to begin piecing together a picture of how these works were made. And the picture is of a journey, because each Amendment maps a progress from one thought to another.

In The Invention of Solitude, Paul Auster said of walking (another repetitious movement, another form of drawing): 'Sometimes it seems as though we are not going anywhere …; that we are only looking for a way to pass the time…[But] what we are really doing when we walk through the city is thinking, and thinking in such a way that our thoughts compose a journey, and this journey is no more or less than the steps we have taken, so that, in the end, we might safely say that we have been on a journey, and even if we do not leave our room, it has been a journey, and we might safely say that we have been somewhere, even if we don't know where it is.'

Before Creek's Amendments I can hear an invitation to wander. Even in the small movements between paintings, I feel as though I'm going somewhere.

Anna MacDonald, October 2009

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