It was ridiculously hot the night of Shane Kent's exhibition opening at Australian Galleries. I stupidly cycled there and felt pale and clammy amongst the beautiful people, as they nibbled on their wagyu beef hors d'oeuvres and completely bewildered by the fact that I couldn't see any 'pots'. Plates, yes, on the walls, but not a plinth with a vessel to be seen.
Shane's previous exhibitions have included flat based, high sided forms, cups with fluid handles and curvaceous, bath-like shapes, all covered in his trademark, landscape-inspired markings and a spectacular, almost golden, high gloss, clear glaze. This show was different and opening night had me befuddled. I made the decision to scarper and come back another day and when I did I was fortunate enough to catch Shane and ask him a question or twenty, which he patiently answered.
Shane is interested in observation, the recording of observations and viewer recognition of what is recorded. Last Winter features a series of large scale, wall mounted compositions that record his observations of a bare Hawthorn tree in winter, over long periods of time. Rather than 'draw' the tree, he records precise imitations of what he witnesses by scratching on unfired porcelain plates.
The marks on the white surface are only revealed when black clay is washed over them and scraped back. The resulting 'drawings', while being intimate observations of the emerging shapes and spatial relationships of a single tree, come to resemble abstract, landscape pictures of fields of wheat , barbed wire fences or aerial views of pastoral land.
The glaze and colours of his previous work has been replaced by the matt black and white of vitrified porcelain and terra sigillata, so as not to distract the viewer from recognising the intimacy of the artist's observations. The compositions balance light and dark, fine and bold to become strikingly beautiful displays of chiaroscuro.
There are many other elements at play in this exhibition. Taught in Japan to create the surrounding space when making a pot, rather than the pot itself, Shane is interested in the environmental effect of objects. In mounting the plates on the wall he attempts to manipulate the atmosphere of the gallery space. These are not canvases and are not flat. The sculptural curve of each form, with it's raised central point, cushions the surrounding space, softening the square room and creating a flow of energy that would otherwise be still.
Wall mounting these mark-laden plates also conjures cave drawings. Early inspiration for this body of work came from journeys in outback Australia and Shane pointed out that, unlike painting on a canvas, his drawings are created from above, as the plate lies flat, akin to the process used in aboriginal dot painting. To this purpose four plates were set on a bench, lying flat as they were when they were created. For me this acted as a nod to the initial function of the plate form and the roots of Shane's practise and provided a required counterpoint to the wall mounted installations.
Last Winter marks the beginning of exploration into large scale, architectural ceramics. Shane cites the drawings of Richard Serra as a strong influence and an admiration for the ceramic murals of Miro. Some of the works in this show utilise physical impressions for marks, rather than scratches and painted lines, giving flashes of the sculptural scope of the medium and perhaps a sign of things to come.
I asked Shane if his purpose was to explore the multitude of ideas represented in this work for personal fulfilment or with a desire to communicate a message. He responded that his aim was to create work that could be recognised for what it is. Good answer. I look forward to seeing where it takes him next.
Australian Galleries (Smith St, Melbourne)
12 March to 7 April