Andrew Antoniou

The Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) showcases the work of London-born Andrew Antoniou, an artist and teacher whose drawing practice examines the theatrical incongruities, and ambiguities, of human experience.

Antoniou’s fascination with the theatre has been a life-long affair. Since first engaging with the pantomime tradition as a child, an interest in the ways in which we organise and give ritual meaning to or lives through stagecraft and storytelling has occupied the artist’s thoughts, and shaped his artistic practice.

MRAG’s exhibition conceives of the stage as a space separate to, and yet intrinsically reflective of, our everyday lives — our quotidian dreams and desires. Allowing us to see ourselves as from above, observing the tragedies, comedies, and mysteries of our lives, the visual vocabulary of the theatre — replete with open-ended symbols, tropes, and motifs taken uncannily out of context — gives us a scaffold around which to understand our lives and our conditions. What it doesn’t give us, this show proposes, is any fleshing-out of this scaffold, any sense of certainty or satisfactorily complete answers.

Props (2017), for instance, shows in bright colour some recognisable characters and tropes of the theatre. A man holds a skull: poor Yorrick! Populating the scene are a plethora of objects which gesture toward ideas bigger, but less exact, than themselves. A ladder crosses over the centre of the picture — leading where, and why? A rope dangles in the air; a bell punctuates the scene. We sense that these ritual objects are overdetermined with symbolic resonances, spinning out from their sources in all directions. It’s the combination of breezy recognisability and ineffable ambiguity in this picture that seems to be much of Antoniou’s point. Inspired by Absurdist theatre, he aims to eliminate logical modes of explanation from his picturing of the world, capturing the human condition without explaining it.

Antoniou cites Goya and Max Beckmann as formal influences. Bouncing off their engagement with the grotesque, and their use of deep shadow to dramatise narrative events, the artist’s work bears the visual and conceptual traces of these predecessors’ work. Beckmann’s drawn portraits, especially, feel present here. The choice of drawing as a medium through which to engage ideas of theatrical mystery and mortality certainly gains coherence through a consideration of these source materials. The scratching of the pencil against the paper might take on a troubled emotional valence in this context, just as the brightness of the colour pencils takes on, in light of Goya and Beckmann, an ironically unsettling feeling.

The gentle art-historical — and theatrical-historical — references that Antoniou’s pieces gesture toward hint at the artist’s background in teaching, and at his approach to creating artworks. ‘The business of inspiration of a bit overrated,’ he says, ‘it is a job after all coming into the studio.’ The MRAG’s show gives us an artist embedded in both an exploration of the tropes of visual and theatrical art, and an investigation of the human condition.

EXHIBITION
Andrew Antoniou: Props, Masks, & Magic
23 February –19 May 2019
Maitland Regional Art Gallery, NSW

 

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