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INTRODUCTION

Part of what makes these works so compelling is that they activate our instinctual orientation towards light and space. Yet darkness has its own subtle influence on the subconscious. In a recent photograph by Bill Henson, an island on which no evidence of life is discernible is illuminated in the dusk against a darkened merging of sky and ocean. What is represented in collective imagination by the concept of island will

the threshold of a void that appears absolute. On

inevitably inflect our response to such an image.

the edge of dissolution between ocean and land,

In this work the island is an eruption of eroded,

day and night, the island assumes a metaphoric

fractured rock, a primordial form embodying

dimension that suggests something of the

something of the immense age and mass of the

impossibility of certainty in an uncertain world.

earth. We might think of the mythic island –that of Calypso or Circe –or the desolate funerary

As far as it is possible to distance ourselves from

dreamscape of Arnold Böcklin’s symbolist Isle

the implied realism of photography, Dale Hickey’s

of the dead. Indeed, there is a quality of unease

uncompromising 1969 Black painting brings us

that emanates from the still emptiness of the

to a confrontation with a material darkness so

scene that could suggest solitude, death, journey

profound it might seem impenetrable. Painted

into afterlife. But it is our perception of the light

in a flat, matt black with subliminal traces of an

that shapes our response at the most intuitive

underlying grid, Hickey’s monochrome square is

level. This island occupies a half-light zone on

blackness at its most unyielding. Devoid of image and perspective, neither emitting nor reflecting light, it is timeless and spaceless in a way that takes abstraction to its limits. This is the point at which we, as viewers, must step into the creative space occupied by the artist. In the intimacy of the encounter with a work that resists interpretation, that contains true enigma, we are paradoxically brought back to our own capacity for imagination. It is a capacity for wonder that makes us human. Helen Carroll Curator of The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

1 David Stephenson, quoted in Sublime space: photographs by David Stephenson 1989–1998, National Gallery of Victoria, np.

Dale Hickey Black painting 1969 (detail) 20

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Luminous World Exhibition Catalogue Sampler  

Luminous World Contemporary Australian Art from the Wesfarmers Collection catalogue with new writing by John Kinsella, Bill Henson and Richa...

Luminous World Exhibition Catalogue Sampler  

Luminous World Contemporary Australian Art from the Wesfarmers Collection catalogue with new writing by John Kinsella, Bill Henson and Richa...

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