Sunday, June 10, 2007

Illumination and Catharsis

Along side the arabesque drawings for sculpture from the early fifties are another group of compositions which differ markedly in feeling and appearance. They are drawings of sudden angles and bright illuminations, as opposed to wistful and dream-like arcs. What they share with the Bosbelli group is the formal dissembling of the figure and the growth towards a pure abstraction. Two line drawings from 1953 featured on the page fifteen reveal the architect of form within the artist; they are perhaps the most naked example of the drifting posts of change within the artist’s language. Gone is the emotional narrative of the Bosbelli studies; present is an awareness of the spirit of space and line themselves.
Sorcerer, composed in 1953 in coloured pencil, reveals the artist in a true state of transformation; indeed it reveals the artist as transformation. Following the narrative of the title one may discern a figure of light on the right stretching out a cape also of light. Emerging from the cape against a shadow-like void , is a multifaceted, multi coloured figure. The lines maintain the most tenuous hold on figuration: from within the ‘cape’ a new aesthetic is emerging, is always emerging; a purely abstract breath blows from within, visual references and codes are disappearing. One might call this ‘surrealist’, however the artist was never attatched to movements, and the ‘surreal’ element in Sorcerer is only a brief moment in Martich-Severi’s ever evolving language.

Sorcerer certainly has very little in common with the expressively surrealist paintings of James Gleeson and The Angry Penguins, active in Melbourne at the time. Their paintings convulsed with the social tremours afflicting post war Australia; whereas Martich-Severi trembled in the light of an inner path. His surrealist element was always the passage way, never the destination.
Sorcerer owes its allegiance to a body of works, executed mostly in pastel and conte, the first of which appear in 1950. These are explosive works, generated through sharp, cutting lines. The energy is revelatory and is the result of a ‘profound psychic acceleration’, to paraphrase Joseph Brodsky. There are two seminal works, along side Sorcerer which belong to this group. They are The Immaculate Conception of 1953, and St. Sebastian of 1949. The latter is the most discernably figurative of the three, and heralds the other two. It is marked by an incredible intensity of feeling. St. Sebastian emanates profound suffering and an aching sense of surrender. The Immaculate Conception is fully charged with one electrifying moment; there is a great sense of apprehension and embodiment, communicated through the hyperstasistic energy of its line.
I would like to dwell here on the idea of the work of art as a passage way. A charcoal work of 1950 entitled Portal provides us with a clue to the artist’s consciousness of this aspect of creativity. St Sebastian through the ultimate renunciation of a martyr stands head bowed at the passage way to the next life. The Immaculate Conception becomes a portal into the world of the divine, whilst Sorcerer conjures out of itself the figure of a new reality. Conception, birth, and death are the states of realization behind this group of works. There is something of the pagan rite, which breathes through Sorcerer and recalls Paul Gauguin’s The Magician of Hivaoa of 1902.
The work of art allows the spirit to breathe, and the mind to cognize a further step into its own true, as yet unrealized nature. Each composition is a stepping stone in the river, in the interminable night of our blindness. There is no knowledge of destination, only the miracle of the new stone.
If we go beyond the metaphoric offerings of these works we begin to see the conflagration of form taking place; the early to mid fifties can be seen in this light as the major furnace of Martich-Severi’s oeuvre. From this furnace a new aesthetic understanding begins to emerge.
Text: copyright: James Waller 2007 Image: Sorcerer, 1953 copyright: Serge Martich Osterman.