Matthys Gerber makes a splash at the MCA

You can’t put your finger on Matthys Gerber. There is something impressively undefinable about the artist and his practice, which is probably why the exhibition statement has resorted to listing the multitude of influences to guide you before being encompassed by the survey of his work.

The first major museum exhibition for the Sydney artist, it is not just a chronological timeline of Matthys Gerber’s thirty-year career. Just as energetic as the artist himself, the exhibition focuses on the pull and push of his ideas within the medium of painting. Ranging from psychedelic subject matter to landscape realism, the scattered nature of the exhibition is enticing in its constant shift between different time and cultural contexts. It as elusive, and enticing as the painter’s practice itself.

A person that has gotten to know Gerber’s work very well to say the least, is curator Natasha Bullock who succinctly and aptly surmises, “An adventurous genre-hopper, Matthys Gerber’s works entwine, repeat, mirror, hide and transform their sources.”

The end result? High impact. The large scale works displayed unconventionally from the top corners of the room and winding down into the spatial surround, permeate the room with a wash of bright pop colours, and bold range of subject matters.

The exhibition space responds to Gerber’s lively practice. Architecturally designed to articulate a Rorschach ink blot in geometric form – a constant motif in Gerber’s works – the interior walls parallel the outer walls, creating a doubling effect to translate the ink blot of Gerber’s practice in three-dimensional form.

Creating a visual splash with the layout of the paintings, this hybrid fluctuating salon-style exhibition is successfully intense, highlighting the changing moods, styles and provocative energies of Gerber’s paintings. The interior walls to bring works from different periods of Gerber’s practice to meet and bounce off each other.

When asked whether he can label his varied practice as contemporary art, Gerber states, “I don’t see myself as a contemporary artist in that sense, because I think that being a painter you sort of belong to another category. I’m aware of what happened in 17th century Dutch painting, as much as in Indigenous painting and all those things come through as possible dovetailing within an aesthetic practice.”

Interestingly Bullock has included two works from the MCA collection; a painting by renowned Pupunya Tula artist George Tjungurrayi, and another by conceptual artist Tim Johnson in collaboration with Tommy Stevens Tjakamarra. Alongside this is an original photograph of an Yves Klein performance, and an original print by Georges Mathieu from the artist’s personal collection. The inclusion of these pieces only adds to understanding the influences underlying Gerber’s practice, from the shimmering line work of Tjungurrayi to the promiscuous expression of bodily painting in Klein’s evocative performance. For the viewer it is an insightful revealing of the motifs that Gerber has extended or transformed in his own practice.

Describe the state of his dynamic painting styles, he outlines its ambiguity, “It’s not so much about developing a style or a particular technique…the continuum of painting crosses backwards and forwards in time and in space. I see myself painting those relationships between.”

Making a splash, both Gerber and the exhibition format are a challenge to the casual observer, head on in and try for yourself to define a most excitingly, elusive artist.

26 September – 6 December
Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia

Courtesy the artist and MCA, Australia

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