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I like light, colour, luminosity. I like things full of colour and vibrant. – Oscar de la Renta
I’m with Oscar…and so too are each of the artists included in this exhibition. For each of them colour and luminosity are fundamental to their approach to material choices and their subsequent manipulations. Each depend on luminosity to act as an agent for colours’ delivery, or perhaps it’s the other way round – that colour is the broker for incandescence. Whatever the case, there is something about the collaboration between light and colour that excites these artists, something symbolic, something perceptual, perhaps even transcendent.

In 2014 German painter Imi Knoebel was asked by the German government to make a group of stained glass windows for Chatres Cathedral in Rheims – a contemporary intervention into a Romanesque and High Gothic landmark, in what might be regarded as the most extraordinary marriage of colour and light of his career. The same warm French light that animated the impressionists activates the shards of coloured glass, projecting it across the vaulted arches, out across the pews and the floor, touching everything in its path including the congregation. In a pre-literate world such a sublime collusion must’ve appeared otherworldly. In a post literate world it still feels that way. All the megapixels and LED screens simply don’t rival this complicity between colour, material and solar power.

In Knoebel’s much admired Anima Mundi series the artist takes his now familiar portrait format, a likely development from his Grace Kelly portraits, and collages groups of small chromatic portraits, each one with a different character – some bolshie and insistent, others shy and furtive, but it is colour and the way that light hits the mix of flat and iridescent pigments that determines this character. Though Knoebel’s geometry is clearly rectilinear in these Anima Mundi works I am nonetheless reminded of Matisse’s The Green Stripe. The painting is of Matisse’s wife Amelie, and has distinct areas of voluble colour which describe as much, if not more about the sitter’s character than any other feature. 

On my first visit to Winston Roeth’s NY studio in 1995 I viewed a light performance that Winston was making for his wife, dancer and choreographer, Susan Osberg. Dealing with subtle shifts in perception Roeth was combining his own paintings with changing light intensities projected into the body of the painting. The effect was James Turrell-like as the surface of the painting lifted off the support, vaporizing in real space and though Roeth’s paintings are, in terms of scale, less enveloping than Turrell, their discreet scale is capable of wrapping your eyes in a cloak of atomized colour and light that without wanting to approach the mystical head on, feels at least therapeutic.
Winston is currently having a major survey exhibition in Wiesbaden, Germany titled The Speed of Light. Seeing this major assembly of works together reminds us just how much Roeth has been able to encourage light from pigment, to allow us to try and perceive the unquantifiable beauty that their union creates with his attention.

Jan Albers often uses hyperbolic pigments across diverse surfaces shaped by casting, razor-sharp blades and the occasional chainsaw. Light uncovers the undulations throwing the angular, disrupted topography into dramatic relief. In mightyhighOnlight Jan’s use of cast bronze makes colour and light truly symbiotic. Looking at it in low light the sculpture loses its weighty metallic mass and takes on the seductive charms of firelight – a dance in warm light between shadow and fluorescence. Roeth and Knoebel’s iridescent pigments depend on light passing through them tangentially. Albers sculpture is all about the tangents as the shapes turn abruptly but regularly upon itself to create a maze-like structure that diverts lights’ progress across the form, so as to animate it more.

Jane Bustin’s paintings embrace a range of attendant materials, most often with an organic heritage. Her use of elemental materials such as pure copper and aluminium, are combined with orthodox pigments but also with a collection of materials gleaned from nature, including shells and the like; materials that often were synonymous with attraction or allure. Bustin assembles her smallish reliefs in the most considered fashion – hinting at formality but always making space for a little organic meddling. It is often at these points that we see colour and material at its most open and sensitive. Staining, iridescence, porcelain and ceramics all carry the traces of light and heats’ effect on colour. These fragile works speak to a gentler form of luminosity, one that without her bringing our attention to it may’ve even gone unnoticed.
Bill Culbert gets his light directly from the socket. A flick of a switch animates his “almost” ready-mades, works that demonstrate his shrewd awareness of painting as much as they do his Kosuthian play on language and object. In Luminosity we are presenting one of his glorious post-industrial “Still Life” pieces. Plugged in and switched on these works have a seductive intensity that belies their prosaic materials. A quintet of plastic oil bottles skewered on a flurescent tube illume, transforming into a bas relief sculpture that is at once beautiful and fabulously ordinary. Culbert’s capacity to draw a magical impulse from the discarded is partly Duchampian and his use of the ubiquitous fluorescent tube inevitably recalls Flavin. However, the manner in which Culbert adds Morandi to the cocktail lends the works a curious domestic familiarity and speaks to their occasional witty character, a quality that levels his otherwise poignant conceptualism.

Tomislav Nikolic is a devotee of colour, a disciple of esoteric chromatic theories. When I speak with Tomislav the conversation is often about colour, but as with Winston Roeth the subtext is luminosity. Is colour doing its job? When will the painting be complete? Not when Nikolic’s grand idiosyncratic architecture is fully assembled, but when the colour has delivered the sought after luminosity.
The umbilical link between specific paintings from art history and Nikolic’s chromatic abstractions, made as respectful rejoinders to them, seem to have increasingly focused on painters – Manet, Seurat, Pisarro for example – where light has provided the stimuli to respond.
Curiously in this work Nikolic has turned to Max Beckman, a painter whose work is suffused with narrative symbolism rather than soft European light. Beckman’s portrait of mother and daughter is modelled in a high-contrast chiaroscuro, the figures not so much revealed in light but interrogated by it. In this sense luminosity might not always be kind…but in fact it is here too in a way. The brutality of the light across each woman’s face reveals their character, their maturity and youth, their melancholy and optimism. It doesn’t hide the implications of time or the anguish of loss, its lays it bare, particularly in the face of the mother. In this one painting there are colours that relate to Roeth’s painting, there is a prosaic yet beautiful spirit that Knoebel understands I’m sure, but Nikolic’s personal acknowledgement of it may be less about the pigment, the chiaroscuro but rather it is the luminosity of the relationship between the sitters – light waning and growing in direct relationship.

Hanns Kunitzberger’s paintings shoulder some of the burdens of a northern European romantic. His profoundly subtle paintings coalesce the grains of the last light of day. Colour is insinuated rather than stated, luminosity is measured by its retreat. The painting ANFANG 2015 FRÜHER shares a similar scale and format to Nikolic’s painting and announces itself as a full body portrait of sorts. Kunitzberger is less likely than Nikolic to trace a line back to a specific stimulus. Rather, everything Kunitzberger makes feels like an acknowledgment of northern European light and all that it symbolises, all that it has sought to communicate about the human condition, about loss and endeavor, about the fugitive status of existence itself.

We are delighted that this work forms such a potent element in Luminosity whilst the Sydney gallery has Kunitzberger’s first major solo show on in Australasia.

– Andrew Jensen 2020