LIN­COLN AUSTIN

Artist Profile - - NEWS - by Louella Hayes

Lin­coln Austin’s art­works in­vite his au­di­ence to ex­pe­ri­ence a vivid world of op­ti­cal con­fu­sion. His unique sense of colour, pat­tern and form ex­cite the eye and im­pli­cate the viewer through the need for phys­i­cal nav­i­ga­tion. Through his work, Austin seeks to pro­vide an ex­pe­ri­ence of plea­sure, love and hu­mour that su­per­sedes writ­ten lan­guage.

YOUR ARTIS­TIC CA­REER STARTED IN THEATRE SET de­sign. Can you tell me about those begin­nings?

I had many in­ter­ests as a young man. I was mak­ing jew­ellery, art and fur­ni­ture, and I couldn’t de­cide where my life should go. I started vol­un­teer­ing at an art theatre in Ade­laide. I re­alised that I could do any­thing in theatre; I got to work on the mi­cro scale in model-mak­ing and on the macro scale in con­struc­tion, so it was per­fect for me, I could in­dulge all of my whims in one place. A lot of peo­ple run to the theatre, but I ran away from it. I fell in love and ran to Bris­bane, and went back to the quiet, soli­tary life of the artist. The beauty of mak­ing art is that you’re very self-re­liant. Theatre re­quires a mas­sive in­jec­tion of funds and peo­ple in or­der for it to hap­pen, whereas art, you can just make it.

It was in­flu­en­tial?

Yes, I re­belled against it. At twenty five, when I grad­u­ated, I found my­self be­ing con­scious of my own ego, and of keep­ing ego out of the work I was mak­ing. I had a the­ory that the more of my­self I kept out of my work, the more my sub­con­scious would en­ter into the work. I was try­ing not to be too di­dac­tic in my ap­proach to art-mak­ing, try­ing not to say too much, so that what I said was com­ing from my un­con­scious.

Does this back­ground feed into your use of colour?

The theatre world isn’t that colour­ful. I re­mem­ber a lot of black. I love colour, I like to shock the eye in any way that’s pos­si­ble. When some­thing hap­pens in your eye you be­come con­scious of the fact that you’re look­ing. So if I can put two colours to­gether that do some­thing to ex­cite the eye, that’s ex­cit­ing for me. Also, mov­ing to the sub­trop­ics. When I first came to Bris­bane it was a very pos­i­tive place. The theatre world is one of in­side and dark­ness, and I guess I came out of that world to the sub­trop­ics where it was bright, and I em­braced that.

In your artist state­ment for ‘Habena’ in 2013, you wrote: ‘Each of us is both in­flu­enced and in­flu­en­tial.’ There is a theme of your art­works im­pli­cat­ing the viewer.

I hope so, ab­so­lutely. And that’s part of the con­ver­sa­tion about keep­ing my­self out, it al­lows some­one else to come in. And maybe that’s the theatre side of me as well, this idea that there is an au­di­ence and that some­one is go­ing to look at this work. The largest work I’ve made to date, and it’s a new di­rec­tion for me, is a video work I made at the end of last year. Hang on to your­self (2017) was fifty-six large pro­jec­tion screens made out of fly­screens. There was a two-chan­nel video pro­ject­ing onto this ma­trix, this maze, of ver­ti­cal screens. The video bled through the lay­ers of screen. It was the most the­atri­cal work I’ve made in a long time, and es­sen­tially the au­di­ence made the work. Once you en­ter into the work, you be­come part of the video pro­jec­tion; but at the same time you are cam­ou­flaged by the pro­jec­tion, and as you move deeper and deeper into the work, even­tu­ally you dis­ap­pear be­hind these mul­ti­ple lay­ers of screen. The touch­stone, for me, of the suc­cess of a sculp­ture is that a per­son feels obliged to cir­cum­nav­i­gate it. There’s a phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence

at­tached to the process of look­ing; it’s not just a pas­sive ob­ser­va­tion. That’s how I know whether the work is suc­cess­ful or not: watch­ing peo­ple in­ter­act with it. If they’re be­ing static I’ve done some­thing wrong, I haven’t en­gaged them enough.

Can you tell me about your re­la­tion­ship with math­e­mat­ics?

Math­e­mat­ics and pat­tern are two of those things that no one can claim own­er­ship on, that we all share. There is lan­guage that crosses bor­ders and bound­aries; one of those is math­e­mat­ics, and also art and mu­sic. That’s the rea­son I do what I do. You can com­mu­ni­cate on an­other level with peo­ple and you’re not restricted by cul­ture and lan­guage.

What about your fas­ci­na­tion with op­tics?

There’s some­thing re­ally beau­ti­ful about an op­ti­cal phe­nom­e­non, that it’s not re­ally il­lu­sory, it’s a real thing that hap­pens, a prob­lem with the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the eye and the brain. It’s a lovely thing that you can con­fuse them. You can re­mind your­self that your eye is a liv­ing thing, it’s not a cam­era. It in­ter­prets. Look­ing is not ab­so­lute. Turn­ing that min­i­mal­ist Gestalt idea on its head; in­stead of say­ing that as soon as you see an ob­ject you know it, it is an ob­ject that you have to get to know, and the only way you get to know it is by phys­i­cally nav­i­gat­ing the work. It’s an ex­pe­ri­en­tial thing. And as much as there’s joy and plea­sure, I also have this fan­tasy about one day mak­ing a work that makes some­one feel a lit­tle bit nau­seous.

What chal­lenges you as an artist mo­ti­vated by scale?

I’ve tried to make works on the edge of col­lapse. I en­joy the idea of push­ing scale to the point where ma­te­rial is at its end, reach­ing a point of crit­i­cal mass, but still able to sus­tain it­self. I re­ally love that chal­lenge, of push­ing things as far as you can. Work­ing on public art is dif­fer­ent again, be­cause you’re re­liant on the ex­per­tise of man­u­fac­tur­ers and engi­neers. Some­times that’s frus­trat­ing be­cause there are re­stric­tions as far as what can be done. I en­joy learn­ing through that process; there’s some­thing to be gained from it, which will then in­form the work that fol­lows. Rec­on­cil­ing the two things, the stu­dio work and the public work, has made per­fect sense to me. The two have pushed against each other but they also in­form each other. A project might throw me off course in the stu­dio, but then you come back to the stu­dio and some­thing new hap­pens that wouldn’t have hap­pened un­less you’d had this other ex­pe­ri­ence.

You’ve said: ‘I want the work to be en­joyed and for peo­ple to take plea­sure in what I take plea­sure in.’

There has to be love. If there’s no love in the process, then you’re wast­ing your time. I also think there needs to be hu­mour. There are se­ri­ous mo­ments as well. I’m a liar if I say the process is al­ways plea­sur­able. I take plea­sure some­times in the process be­ing quite drain­ing. I speak about do­ing fac­tory work all the time, and it’s oc­ca­sion­ally in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing, but you know that at the end of the process there’ll be some­thing that you can en­joy. I try to keep those things in mind when I’m work­ing: ideas of joy and plea­sure and love and hu­mour, and let them bub­ble through.

01 Hang on to your­self, 2017, in­stal­la­tion view, An­drew Baker Art Dealer, Bris­bane, alu­minium, fi­bre­glass mesh and ny­lon and two-chan­nel HD black and white video, 16:9 for­mat, silent, edi­tion 3, di­men­sions vari­able (14 pieces), pho­to­graph Mick Richards 02 Sky hooks, 2012, ply­wood and stain­less steel, 65 x 75 x 32 cm 03 I send a mes­sage, 2017, charred Ja­panese cy­press prayer sticks and aliphatic resin glue, 28 × 31 × 24 cm 04 Knot, 2007, matt board, 54 x 54 x 54 cm 05 Tongue twister, 2010, stain­less steel, 59 x 118 x 59 cm

Cour­tesy the artist, An­drew Baker Art Dealer, Bris­bane, and Ni­cholas Thomp­son Gallery, Melbourne

06 Im­per­fect pat­tern XXXVIII, 2007, matt board, 36 x 52 x 1 cm 07 Shadow box­ing #7, 2013, acrylic, acrylic paint and alu­minium, 41 x 61 x 5 cm 08 Lin­coln Austin, 2018, pho­to­graph Mick Richards 09 Spun, 2007, con­crete, stain­less steel, 480 x 192 x 102 cm

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