IAN FRIEND

Artist Profile - - CONTENTS - by Lucy Stranger

Queens­land-based artist Ian Friend is not your typ­i­cal Aus­tralian artist. Born and raised in East Sus­sex, Eng­land, his works on pa­per hark back to the soft light and chalky land­scape that washes across time, space and place. Fluid and tonal, they in­vite you to look from the mi­cro of ge­ol­ogy to the macro of meta­physics. ARTIST PRO­FILE spoke to him in his Ip­swich stu­dio.

WHAT PROMPTED YOUR MOVE TO AUS­TRALIA?

I was work­ing as a cu­ra­tor at the Tate Gallery, and John Walker was ex­hibit­ing at the Tate and the Hay­ward Gallery. He was the Dean of the School of Fine Art at the Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts in Mel­bourne at the time, and I asked if there was any chance of com­ing to Aus­tralia, as I would like the op­por­tu­nity. I re­ceived a phone call a few months later of­fer­ing a year in res­i­dence and teach­ing. I could have taken a year’s leave of ab­sence from the Tate, but I had a feel­ing and just re­signed. I was ready for a change.

What was the ef­fect of mov­ing from the soft light and land­scape of East Sus­sex to the wide ex­panses of Aus­tralia?

I tried too hard to fit in to be­gin with, and it didn’t work. I am now Aus­tralian but I grew up as a land­scape artist in Eng­land. East Sus­sex is rolling hills; it’s a Cre­ta­ceous land­scape, and it’s built up over mil­len­nia. It is a coast­line that is be­ing con­stantly eroded; the South Downs is chalk, ba­si­cally soft-shelled an­i­mals. Where it reaches the sea is where I lived near Beachy Head. I used to go out with my back­pack and wa­ter­colour sheets and sit and paint the land­scape. That was be­fore I went to art school; then I later be­came in­ter­ested in con­cep­tual and ab­stract art.

Who in­tro­duced you to art?

Miss John­stone, and it took me years to pluck up the courage and call her Phyl­lis, as she was very aus­tere. She moved into the farm­house cot­tage next to us. I al­ways drew, and she looked at what I did and said that if I wanted to come and work with her that was fine. I walked into her stu­dio and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I was eight and she took me un­der her wing and nur­tured my ca­reer.

You ini­tially trained as a sculp­tor; what drew you back to draw­ing?

I made sculp­ture but I think the thing that has al­ways driven the work is draw­ing. I’d draw for a sculp­ture, and I’d think I don’t re­ally want to make it. The ac­tual phys­i­cal work I did not mind, but it was dif­fer­ent. With draw­ing you can imag­ine an ob­ject and put it into an imag­i­nary space. This was at a time when con­cep­tual art was very strong. I was very drawn to Arte Povera, to the con­cep­tual, and just work­ing with pa­per and it all seemed to fit. The de­sire to make ob­jects faded.

Do you al­ways move from small to large scale?

One of the rea­sons I like work­ing from a small size to a larger size like this is that it con­stantly chal­lenges me. You don’t get into a com­fort zone, the cross-ref­er­enc­ing is a chal­lenge. Once you work up to the larger size, things start to hap­pen with ma­nip­u­la­tion of flows of gouache or ink that is quite dif­fi­cult to con­trol. Chance comes in a lot more with the big­ger works.

Works on pa­per tend to be seen quite of­ten as stud­ies to­wards some­thing else but I see the works on pa­per as fin­ished works in their own right. Michelan­gelo used to do stud­ies but would also do pre­sen­ta­tion draw­ings, very finely de­tailed for a client.

What is the im­por­tance of the ma­te­ri­al­ity of your pa­per?

I love pa­per. I like to work with dif­fer­ent pa­pers as each pa­per has its own qual­ity. And how pig­ments and a drawn line re­act to a sheet of pa­per can be re­ally quite dif­fer­ent at times. There are some works that are on vin­tage What­man pa­per. I have al­ways been fas­ci­nated with the hand­made sheet, the ar­ti­sanal qual­ity of it. The pa­per is as much a part of the work as what be­comes man­i­fest on it. I am very par­tic­u­lar about the tech­ni­cal side of things; they have to be con­structed prop­erly. There is noth­ing hap­haz­ard about the method­ol­ogy, but what can hap­pen can be quite sur­pris­ing some­times.

Work­ing within set rules opens up po­ten­tial for greater pos­si­bil­i­ties?

Ex­actly. I like the idea of art be­ing a rule-gov­erned ac­tiv­ity. I set up cer­tain divi­sions on the sheet and de­cide how to op­er­ate within those. But within that you can see there is so much vari­a­tion within tone with the washes, I wash it back and put on an­other layer re­peat­edly. Af­ter that I start to im­pose ge­om­e­try through the drawn line.

There is a lovely cycli­cal process of ad­ding and tak­ing away.

Yes, it is all about ad­di­tion and sub­trac­tion, and then grad­u­ally mov­ing to­wards some sort of res­o­lu­tion through the ge­om­e­try and lin­ear struc­ture.

When do you know when a work is fin­ished?

It can go on for weeks un­til I feel a res­o­nance. It’s a kind of lay­er­ing that of­fers more than what you can see im­me­di­ately. I think what also is im­por­tant is when macro and mi­cro ele­ments are syn­chro­nised. You are look­ing through a mag­ni­fy­ing glass, and you are also look­ing out through the uni­verse.

What in­forms that ce­les­tial out­look?

I am re­ally in­ter­ested in the cul­ture of mid-17th-cen­tury Hol­land; it is the be­gin­ning of the Age of Rea­son, the Age of En­light­en­ment. A philoso­pher I am re-read­ing at the mo­ment is Baruch Spinoza, who was ex­com­mu­ni­cated from his syn­a­gogue in Am­s­ter­dam for ques­tion­ing the Bi­ble as the word solely of God and ques­tion­ing the no­tion of mir­a­cles as they can­not be explained as nat­u­ral oc­cur­rences. Schol­ar­ship in­di­cates that Jo­hannes Ver­meer painted An­tonie van Leeuwen­hoek as the ge­og­ra­pher and the as­tronomer, and the em­pha­sis here was that we are si­mul­ta­ne­ously look­ing at the earth and also look­ing out at the ce­les­tial spheres. This was the be­gin­ning of a more so­phis­ti­cated sci­ence, look­ing into the finer ele­ments of the mi­cro­cosm of our world. All this con­denses into an in­tense cul­tural brew in the con­text of 17th-cen­tury Hol­land. The kind of thing I am do­ing now re­lates more to that rather than any­thing par­tic­u­larly con­tem­po­rary.

With your works you can get lost in that sense of the ex­panse and the in­fi­nite.

Yes, even on a small size it can have a sense of scale that ex­tends be­yond the phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions of the sheet.

What role does mu­sic play in your work?

I have al­ways been in­ter­ested in mu­sic; we had a pi­ano in the house and my mother was quite a good pi­anist. Some­times you just sit and lis­ten, or you sit and look and let that per­me­ate your con­scious­ness. That big box be­hind you is full of Mozart. I al­ways felt Bach was the greatest com­poser, then I thought I should re­ally lis­ten to Mozart, and I have this box set of the com­plete works of Mozart – 225 CDs – and I’m half-way through it.

Do you see your works as mark­ing points in time in your life?

Yes they re­fer to things I’ve read. ‘Joy At Death It­self’ refers to The Oval Win­dow by JH Prynne, a poet who has been a real touch­stone for me. Some of the ti­tles are taken from what I have read or have lis­tened to a par­tic­u­lar mu­si­cal piece. ‘An­gel Song’ is from a jazz CD by Lee Konitz and Kenny Wheeler – the way that it flowed was like washes mov­ing through space.

In your re­cent sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion at An­drew Baker, Musæum– Frag­mentsofFormerWorlds(Works­from1983–2016), what was the sig­nif­i­cance of the ti­tle?

It was a la­bel in the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in the dis­play of me­te­orites that re­ferred to for­mer worlds as told by Jac­quetta Hawkes in her 1951 pub­li­ca­tion A Land. It’s like dig­ging back into the past, which is what ge­ol­ogy and ar­chae­ol­ogy are. The work that I am do­ing now is re­ally some sort of res­o­lu­tion of younger ex­pe­ri­ences trans­formed by the dis­lo­ca­tion of time and geo­graph­i­cal dis­tance.

How con­scious are you of time in your work?

I am a slow worker. I don’t want to sound mor­bid but this year I have had so many friends and two close rel­a­tives die that I don’t know if I am sub­con­sciously speed­ing up. You be­come more aware of your mor­tal­ity. I am com­ing up to 67 and I still don’t re­ally know any­thing, I just know a bit. I am read­ing a lot more, I get up in the morn­ing at about five o’clock, and I just start work­ing and read­ing and I might be go­ing un­til night. I have elim­i­nated the protes­tant guilt of tak­ing time off to read. I’ve just read a re­ally good bi­og­ra­phy by James Stour­ton of Sir Ken­neth Clark, and one of the things that Clark says about older artists is that some of them “live in a state of iso­la­tion, holy rage and tran­scen­den­tal pes­simism” (laughs) and I thought that’s me …

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01 For JHP, 1996-2016, In­dian ink, gouache and crayon on Twin­rocker pa­per, 48 x 48cm 02 Sospiri, 2017, gouache and crayon, 56 x 76cm (im­age) 03 Art With­out At­ti­tude #32, 1996-2014, In­dian ink, gouache and crayon on Twin­rocker pa­per, 54 × 156cm (pen­tap­tych) 04 Meta­physics Set 2, #7, 1997, In­dian ink, gouache and crayon on Arches pa­per, 152 × 102cm

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Cour­tesy the artist, An­drew Baker Art Dealer and Gallery­smith

06 05 An­gel Song #1, 2016-17, In­dian ink, gouache, ca­sein and crayon, 56 x 152cm (im­age) 06 Royal Jelly (For Matt Hall) Set 1, #1, 2012, In­dian ink, koka ink, crayon and wa­ter­colour on Hah­nemühle pa­per, 75 × 55cm

Ian Friend is rep­re­sented by Gallery­smith, Mel­bourne, and An­drew Baker Art Dealer, Bris­bane

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