The Dream State

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Image: Sean Meilak,  Purple and Orange Arrangement , oil on linen, 51 x 51 cm, image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne. 

Image: Sean Meilak, Purple and Orange Arrangement, oil on linen, 51 x 51 cm, image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne. 

In Sean Meilak's recent body of work Europe and intergenerational bonds loom large. It’s in the family history, roots that reach from Malta to Italy and the city of Tripoli in Libya.

Across the Mediterranean Sea in the city of Bologna the painter Giorgio Morandi sits in his studio arranging vases, bowls, cups, candleholders into intriguing and affecting tableaux’s, putting paintbrush to canvas. His still life paintings – modest, metaphysical works filled with quiet intensity – emerge from this soil.

Post war, emigration, from the Old World to the New.

Italy, 2013. The ruins. The ruins started something. The Forum, once the centre of Roman public life, a place where civic life unfolded, now a collection of architectural pieces, fragments sitting in the earth. In their midst, a reckoning with mortality. What do they recall? The chalkiness of bones. And the bones? The chalkiness of plaster. From the ruins, but possibly from elsewhere – who knows? – emerge architectural fantasies like metaphysical dreams. They return as fragments: elegant arches, columns tipped on their side like cogs, stairs.

The cast objects are many and varied. Their idiom – an austere formal language of rectilinear and curved shapes – is enlivened by a playful engagement with scale, the inclusion of found objects. A feather. Wire. Cork. The palette is soft: pinks, greys, sand, stone. Muted shades. These elegant assembled configurations invoke a kind of wonder. Is that the effect of the miniature, uncanniness, appeal to the unconscious, their invitation to play? 

Like dreams, they cast shadows. 

Pencil on paper. Drawings zero in on materials and render them in micro detail. Another iteration of scale. On the sheet, ripples, waves, lines, approximate a kinaesthetic energy. Movement in mono. 

Milan, 1981. Ettore Sottsass founds The Memphis Group, a design and architecture collective, that releases colourful, decorative, playful objects: furniture, fabrics, ceramics, glass and metal that alludes to previous design and art movements, the Antiquities, the Bauhaus. Some write it off as pastiche.  

The paintings. In them elegant formal investigations have come into contact with the detritus of life. The mundane and the precious assume a similar importance: a cylindrical cardboard roll wedged against marble. A crumpled plastic bag resting on a plinth.

What lessons are there in the cinema, in Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964) and Querelle (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982)? Is it the way these films utilise mis-en-scene? Their scenographic mastery? Certainly they share an understanding in which the physical world is moulded to reflect the interior psychology of the performers. In Red Desert Guiliana (Monica Vitti) lies in her bedroom, its walls, floor, every object, every feature a gradation of pink. In Querelle the desperate protagonist stands in the desert. What has Antonioni done but painted the desert, literally painted the desert, a lurid colour. Oh, the emotion of artifice.

Circle back to the New World. A funeral. Father and son face one another, a casket between them, as it is lowered into the earth. What acknowledgement passes between them? A life. One life. Vitae.

– AZ

(This essay appears in Sean Meilak's catalogue for Marble Park)

Marble Park
Sean Meilak
31 January – 25 February 2017
Niagara Galleries
245 Punt Road Richmond VIC 3121