Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son Ter­ence Maloon

Gre­gory Hodge, Golden Boy (2015). Col­lec­tion Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity, Can­berra. On dis­play in 10 Years of Col­lect­ing at the ANU, Drill Hall Gallery, ANU, Can­berra, un­til May 28. In early 2015, while Gre­gory Hodge was liv­ing in Rome, he of­ten vis­ited a nearby church where he spent hours look­ing up at the ceil­ing. He was en­tranced by the the­atri­cal ex­trav­a­ganza of a 17th-cen­tury fresco with its ce­les­tial fig­ures seem­ingly tum­bling out of a hole in the ceil­ing, swirling stucco an­gels in­ter­wo­ven with clouds and drap­ery, ex­plo­sive colours, gold ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails and clever il­lu­sion­is­tic tricks of dis­tance and light.

This large fresco, Tri­umph of the Holy Name of Je­sus, by Gio­vanni Bat­tista Gaulli in the Church of the Gesu, is one of the most fa­mous ceil­ings in Rome. Not far from the Fo­rum and the Pan­theon, it is a mas­ter­piece of il­lu­sion­ism and shows how suc­cess­fully the baroque used dra­matic spe­cial ef­fects to wow the faith­ful.

Af­ter Hodge’s re­search into Gaulli’s fresco, he re­turned to Aus­tralia and used it as a start­ing point for his paint­ing Golden Boy, in which he aims to trans­form some of the el­e­ments of the fresco into an ab­stract com­po­si­tion.

“The ceil­ings are pretty wild and at times quite gar­ish and over the top,” Hodge says about his work, “but the one I kept com­ing back to, and the one this paint­ing re­lates more di­rectly to, is the Church of the Gesu, which had this re­ally amaz­ing cen­tral vault. It is very out­ra­geous in some ways, and the com­po­si­tion of Golden Boy comes di­rectly from some of the as­pects of the cen­tral nave of this Je­suit church.”

Dur­ing his re­search at the church, Hodge made many notes and took pho­to­graphs. He also vis­ited at dif­fer­ent times of day to see how the light changed. Hodge wasn’t so con­cerned with the sub­ject mat­ter of the fresco but more the com­po­si­tion and the play­ful il­lu­sion­is­tic de­vices. “I wasn’t in­ter­ested in di­rectly tak­ing mo­tifs out of the paint­ing,” he says. “I wasn’t mak­ing fig­u­ra­tive paint­ings but I wanted to de­velop an ab­stract lan­guage which some­how en­cap­su­lated the essence of those things.”

Golden Boy is a re­cent ac­qui­si­tion of the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity. It is on show in an ex­hi­bi­tion, 10 Years of Col­lect­ing at the ANU, at the univer­sity’s Drill Hall Gallery.

Cu­ra­tor Tony Oates says the univer­sity bought Golden Boy be­cause Hodge is a grad­u­ate of ANU’s school of art and taught there, but also be­cause “he is a bit of a star”.

“You can see from his han­dling of the ma­te­ri­als ex­actly how skil­ful he is, his dex­ter­ity with this medium,” Oates says. “His work is very in­ter­est­ing be­cause he is look­ing at these in­te­ri­ors in Rome and is in­ter­pret­ing the colour, the move­ment and the dif­fer­ent il­lu­sion­ary ef­fects from vi­sions of cherubs and an­gels and clouds from the ceil­ings. He has turned that into a very ab­stract mode that rep­re­sents the emo­tive force of those ceil­ings.

“Peo­ple think ab­strac­tion is some­thing that is fresh and new, pretty much as­so­ci­ated with mod­ernism and the 20th cen­tury, but Greg is lo­cat­ing that within 17th-cen­tury ceil­ings and then re­veal­ing it in a very mod­ern, cur­rent and con­tem­po­rary way.”

Oates says it is a “mag­i­cal mo­ment” when you en­counter Golden Boy. “There is a sense of try­ing to un­ravel the dis­tance in the paint­ing and try­ing to work out the depth. At one mo­ment you are en­cap­su­lated by these swirls of paint and you are pushed both for­ward and back­ward. And then the mo­ment of en­gage­ment is pro­longed through the mech­a­nisms that he em­ploys to make these lovely move­ments within the paint.” Drill Hall Gallery di­rec­tor will give a free talk on the ANU col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing Golden Boy, on May 12 at noon in the gallery.

Acrylic on pa­per mounted on PVC; 201cm x 154cm

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