This review by David Hansen relates to an exhibition of works by Danny McDonald and Arthur Wicks at the Warrnambool Art Gallery in February 1983. Hansen was the director of the Warrnambool Art Gallery at that time.

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Review  by  David Hansen  Warrnambool 1983



Some investigations by Danny McDonald and Arthur Wicks

Exhibition organised by the Warrnambool Art Gallery 1983


The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If it were only cleared away"
They said, "it would be grand!'"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year
Do you suppose", the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it", said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear. 1


The coastline of Australia is 36,735 kilometres long and is littered with images of our culture: the notion of an "island continent", aboriginal middens the Coppertone girl, meteorological stations, the death of a Prime Minister, cities and unidentifiable bits of brightly-coloured plastic.

Most of this coastline is defined  by an edge of mineral grains somewhere between gravel and silt, between .6 and .06 millimetres in diameter; one of a number of scientific classifications on the entropic slide of erosion: sand.

This exhibition brings together the work of two artists who have at different times and in different places dug through the sand in order to locate, explore, select, extract, arrange and manipulate significant objects and ideas and to fix them, to halt their erosion through the construction of messages.

Considered as an abstract skill, numbering may perhaps be thought of as "pure" and unrelated to storied meaning, but psychologically it is, nonetheless, a symbolising and cognitive process.  2

Danny McDonald's photographic series "Images from the Psyche" is the product of a number of investigations conducted on Victoria's south-west coast (Killarney, Nelson, Port MacDonnell) during 1982-83.
For McDonald sand is a "primary material, old in both a geological and a cultural sense; drawing in sand is seen as an archetypical form of graphic communication.  Sand is also a state of (mineral) matter, a rock broken down, flux.  It is a smooth surface renewed with every tide.

These observations create McDonald's dialectic, which is of antiquity and modernity, of the primitive and the sophisticated, of nature and culture, of art and science, of classical poise and  romantic expressiveness, of careful preparation and spontaneous execution.

In his more recent works the natural field of sand has been replaced by an artificial one created from ash and charcoal.  Drawing into the charcoal rather than with it introduces a new paradox, but the choice of material which signifies age, decline and transmutation indicates the continuity of his intellectual concerns.

Ultimately, however, these are a framework only, not a set of constant themes.  McDonald is an archaeologist of the mind; his photographs are records of the performance of the excavation, documenting fragile, inconclusive and temporary evidence of occupation.

If I hit these stones, will it be an accident do you think?  You cannot deny that is what I  am trying to do, and I did it.  3

In contrast to these equivocal photographs, Arthur Wicks' works are more closed systems.  Like McDonald's work they contain relics of performance, but through the artist's delight in technique and his use of a sensuous colour field, they simultaneously express the poise of discrete luxury art objects.

As well as controlling his media, Wicks attempts to maintain a grip on his concepts.  In notes relating to "Against the Tide" he lists the associations of St. Andrew's cross, the "X", kiss, deletion, multiplication, ten, martyrdom and so on.  These associations provide a structure of intention rather than of response.

Wicks' response is neutral, passive; despite the importance of personal appearances in performance and documentation he is a disinterested scientist rather than an active participant.  His body is used to measure and record meteorological and geological phenomena, not to affect or alter them.

Yet this assertion of the artist's presence is autotelic. Presence is location. The feet and footprints in the San Andreas drawings, like the boots in Lyn Silverman's photographs, 4 are landmarks, geographical reference points.  This physical reference in turn implies human response, transforms landscape into metaphor, and the coastal edge becomes " a powerful sign for certain private experiences - the edge between knowing and not knowing, between being in control and in chaos, and so on."5


The final message - a few strokes on the sand:
A bird's footprints running to take off
Into the adverse wind.  6



David Hansen
February, 1983

1         Lewis Carroll, "Through the Looking Glass", London (Ward, Lock & Co.) n.d.,       p65.

2        Alexander Marshack,  The Roots of Civilisations, London (Wiedenfeld &   Nicholson), 1972, p.25

3         B.S. Johnson "Fat Man on the Beach" in Gordon, G. (ed.), "Beyond the Words",   London (Hutchinson), 1975, p.167

4         Lyn Silverman, "Collecting ground samples and locating them in relation to the     horizon from where they were photographed",
           Art and Text (Melbourne),
6, 1982, pp 61-73.

5          Arthur Wicks, "Thoughts from viewing works from 1965-1981" in Arthur Wicks,     17 years 1965-81 (exhibition catalogue),
             Wagga Wagga City Art Gallery, 1981

6          John Heath-Stubbs, "A few strokes on the sand", in Silkin, J. (ed.), Poetry of the   Committed Individual,  Harmonsworth (Peguin), 1973, p.51.





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