PAUL NEWCOMBE: 3x3x3 @ SWEET CREATIVE
4 – 6 AUGUST 2011

After almost ten years of drought, this exceptionally cold and occasionally wet Melbourne Winter is conducive to being indoors. At such times I’m sure many of us have found ourselves looking at the outside world through windows distorted by pelts of water running down their outside surfaces, especially when strong winds blow the rain almost horizontal. But as light filters through these moving translucent interfaces, so do fleeting impressions of the outside world.

Those who have taken the time to stand inside the water-wall of St Kilda Road’s National Gallery of Victoria (International, or NGVI) and “watch the world-go(ing)-by” will know what I mean. In complete contradistinction to the ever-increasing speed of vision we encounter through technology, for example, or the advertising posters/screens that fly past as we travel from one destination to another, we can just observe the outside world as a series of imprecise or indistinct colours and forms. In such moments of stillness, perhaps even silence, we can just float in front of this visually ethereal wonderworld and experience its poetic beauty.

It is the effect of light that is significant to note here. While it highlights the coloured forms that hover or move on the other side of the translucent interface it is the interface itself that becomes a thing of beauty: as light is filtered from outside in, the moving water operates a bit like a screen except that we observe the imprecise world through it instead of as an image projected upon it.

In this first of Sweet Creative’s exhibition series 3x3x3, entailing 3-day exhibitions of works on paper by three artists over three weeks, the artist Paul Newcombe has torn pages from his visual diaries within which he works towards resolving his next series of works. Preliminary sketches perhaps you could call them. And most of what he has selected are poetic abstractions resembling watery, translucent interfaces through which fleeting, indistinct impressions of the outside world are seen.

But the effect of light in Newcombe’s works resembles that which I’ve seen in paintings by the early Australian abstract artist, Roger Kemp eg. Archetype (1981) (which for years I had a poster of). While Newcombe’s forms are more ethereal and impressionistic, there seems to be something uncannily similar in the way they both use colour/light. I recently came across an interview with Kemp in a 1987 video whence he explained that while looking at works by the Old Masters at art school he said: “I switched from the visual to the unseen aspects of the (Old Masters) works.” So rather than grasping at fleeting moments of the seen world perhaps it is the unseen that Newcombe hints at through his watercolours.

And if it weren’t for the thick black lines that run through or surround Leonard French’s stained glass works (again we have to think of St Kilda Road’s NGVI and the ceiling in the Great Hall) I’d draw another parallel with Newcombe’s use of colour, form and light.

A smaller selection of a second, slightly larger series of Newcombe’s abstract watercolours also use squares of stained colour. And while these too resemble looking through a window, there is no experience of a watery translucency or any hint at coloured form. Instead the vision is one of formless clarity with a greater luminosity as the colours either vibrate in opposition or are peacefully toned in a series of vertical lines, or bars. Still contemplative, the overall effect lies closer in sensibility to a Mark Rothko painting than that of a Roger Kemp.

These words only begin to approach the experiences one may have in looking at Newcombe’s recent works on paper. Torn from the pages of his working notebooks, which have been filled to the brim over the past six months, they are an intimate extension of his working process – or perhaps “works-in-progress”. Though complete in themselves, some will be transformed into a series of brilliant canvases for future exhibition. No pun intended but may I suggest: Look Out!

© Kirsten Rann, July 2011