PAUL NEWCOMBE: NEW PAINTINGS
JACKMAN GALLERY
14 NOV – 2 DEC 2007

After attaining a Fine Arts degree at the Tasmanian School of Art in the late 1970s, Newcombe went on to build a terrific career in the theatre, set-designing for companies such as Anthill, Chamber Made Opera, Handspan and later writing, developing and travelling with his own shows – nationally and internationally.

Exhibiting professionally since 1981, he has somehow managed to simultaneously build a successful career in the visual arts. Yet, while his works appear to lean towards a kind of lyrical abstraction, the fact that he produces each body of work under strict parameters – such as his 100 paintings in 100 hours, performed in a shopfront in the 1990s – suggests that he is interested in something other than the simple aim of making ‘pictures’.

Like the process artists of the mid 1960s – especially Robert Morris, Richard Serra and Robert Smithson – Newcombe explores issues relating to the body, random occurrences and improvisation in the production of his works. However, where the 60s artists focussed on using the liberating qualities of non-traditional materials such as wax, felt, and latex to produce eccentric forms in erratic or irregular arrangements, Newcombe uses traditional materials such as brush, paint and canvas.

Stemming from his interest in the Abstract Expressionists and their use of unconventional methods such as dripping and staining, Newcombe sets himself a specific set of actions and material limitations for each body of work until he exhausts the “process”, at which point he stops, and his next series develops out of another never-to-be-repeated process.

Where previous works have evolved out of his repeated use of specific symbols and/or marks, the chosen action for the series featured in this exhibition involves the repeated painting of vertical lines – though in an upward motion, from the bottom to the top of the canvas, rather than the reverse – and his material constraints revolve around a palette of seven colours (3 reds, a blue, yellow, black and white) and a limited range of brush-sizes.

Similar to the aforementioned 100 paintings in 100 hours project, time is also used as a constraint in the production of these works: in fifteen-minute brackets, a single colour is applied to the canvas as a series of lines, after which he stops for another fifteen minutes to contemplate which colour to use next and where to apply it. However, slight changes mark his progression from canvas to canvas; where the paint is originally confined within white (unpainted) borders, it gradually extends into and diminishes these borders – first at the sides, and then at the top – until the final few works are completely covered and operate as ‘all-over’ paintings.

Rather than recognising his works by a particular visual style, it is his mentally and physically demanding parameters that predominate. In turn, this highlights an experimental approach towards production and composition, which is largely driven by improvisation and intuition until he ‘feels’ that the end point of a work has been reached.

This is Newcombe’s third exhibition at Jackman Gallery featuring works generated out of experiments with specific parameters. Using only seven colours and vertical layering, the outcome is simultaneously simple and complex; as the eye constantly seeks recognizable forms, regularized units or symmetrical intervals – which it never finds – the canvases fracture into an infinitely rich continuity of detail.

© Kirsten Rann, October 2007