Ash Keating > Duality
In December of 2020 I went to Ash Keating’s studio to view the series of works presented in Duality > Aerial. The studio space is very large with natural light pouring in from the ceiling. After many months of lockdown in Melbourne and not seeing any art in real life, these works completely transported me, breath-taken, into another place, outside of time. This kind of transcendence is only made possible by the strongest manifestations of artistic vision and creative energy. After less than a minute, tears ran down my face as I communed with these works. A cushion to sit on and a cup of tea were supplied by the artist whose capacity to understand the physicality of emotion is second to none.
The longer I looked, the more I became absorbed by the luminous complexity of the works’ surfaces. In an alchemical furore, the works seem at once hot and cold, natural and unnatural, calm and fiery. They breathe and change, and yet they are monumental in their stillness. It felt as if the works could absorb my own emotions and reflect them back with an intensified clarity. These works are compelling at a primal level, they speak the language of time, erosion and longing. They are deeply meditative and peaceful.
That the works emit an intense energy is hardly surprising when considering the processes involved in their making. Keating worked on the larger canvases simultaneously, applying and manipulating countless layers of media, including pigments, perlite, mica flakes, paint and water, across the surfaces. As each layer is applied, there is also removal, in a process of building and paring back that involves seed sprayers, leaf blowers, wire brush, electric sanders, vacuums, and Stanley knives.
As the layers dry and set, the surface is hosed with water and dry pigments and binders are separately added. Keating stretches the canvases on the floor of his studio to work on them. The floor is slightly sloped which allows the pigments to swim and set, like silt or sediment, using gravity and the natural movement of the water through the various textured channels of the work, to form ripples and waves.
This liquidity characterises much of the works’ surface, emphasised by the sweeping silver paint that highlights the oranges and pinks. The shimmering rivulets and flowing undulations on the works’ surfaces, contrast with areas of cracked, dry, earthy substance, highlighted with matte white. The works intentionally conjure the image of a salt lake environment at sunset. They have an iridescent glow, in equal measure wet and fluid, crystalline and parched.
Importantly, these works change depending on where you stand in relation to them. You have to interact with them physically in order to experience their intricate surfaces that shimmer and shift depending on how they catch the light at different angles. Making the work over the course of one month during Melbourne’s second lock-down period, at the end of 2020, Keating intentionally created work that was designed to be experienced in real life. After so many months of viewing everything and everyone via a screen, these works celebrate the power of physical presence.
The scale of the works can also only be appreciated as they tower over you. To work at this scale is challenging, requiring physical endurance as well as specially designed mechanisations to allow the works, which weigh up to 70KG, to be constructed and moved around. Keating relishes this challenge and always seeks to push the limits of what is possible in terms of size and materiality. He has looked to artists such as Anselm Kiefer, in terms of the scale and scope of his practice, as well as Mary Corse and Jack Whitten who have also inspired him to work with new textures and materials.
As a teenager, Keating trained as a student pilot, able to fly solo in a light aircraft, as his grandmother Elva Rush and mother, Pam Keating, had done before him. Keating though, was drawn more to the visual experience of viewing and capturing the landscape than the experience of flying the plane itself. Some of his very first studio paintings, from over twenty years ago, were textured abstract aerial landscapes, based on photographs taken from these flights.
Duality > Aerial shows a return to Keating’s early fascination with representing the world from above. The visual resemblance to aerial photography is clear, with the surface of the canvases emulating large natural phenomena, such as rivers, lakes or desert planes as if seen from a great height. It is interesting to note that gravity has been a constant force at play in Keating’s work, either defying its pull, or harnessing it.
The smaller works act as a counterpoint to the larger ones. They provide a sense of closeness whilst the larger works represent distance. It is as if they are magnified sections of the larger works, providing a more intimate viewing experience. To think about distance and closeness is particularly poignant following the events of the global pandemic. So many of us felt the intensity of living in close quarters, whilst also feeling a terrible distance from many of the things and people we love. These works, created sensitively and purposefully as an antidote to isolation and anxiety, encourage reconnection, reflection and solace.
I am positioning a body of work as a means to reflect change, like the seasons, like the way we as a society have endured significant change over the course of this past year and equally as individuals. I hope these works will be able to provide a space for the viewer to connect with themselves, physically and metaphysically.
Ash Keating, 2020
Text courtesy of Linden New Art