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On March 1 of this year four huge canvases sat in Jeremy Kibel’s studio. Some rough sketches of a mountain range had been roughly applied in Kibel’s distinctive style. His colleague, Rhys Lee, stood sipping Sapporo, eyebrow cocked. For some time they had been discussing a colla­ boration. Now was the time to get to work. But if Kibel and Lee have anything in common it is stub­bornness. The air was fraught with tension. Kibel had made some marks without Lee there. The fight was on. By April 13 there is surprisingly little blood on the studio floor. “Rhys had a tanty the other day,” says Kibel. “I almost had to thump him.” “I was being childish,” Lee admits. But the collaboration has proceeded remarkably well given the personalities behind it and the results are truly unique. There are moments when one can spy the specific mark making of each artist – Lee’s ghost-like forms and Kibel’s distinctive Picasso heads are trademark images. But suddenly, courtesy of Lee, Kibel’s Picasso sprouts a Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers tongue. The more stringent, graphic approach of Kibel is assailed by Lee’s ecto­ plasmic veils of colour. Unconsciously the four canvases have developed a thematic structure, each featuring three key figures – a triumvirate of deformed shapes. Kibel’s slightly more literal Picasso head is joined by a black cat that could be the gun-toting Behemoth from Mikail Bulgakov’s 1940 masterpiece of literary surrealism, The Master and Margarita. Snoopy has met Satan and Lee is cursing that Snoopy’s genitalia have been obliterated by Kibel. A Madonna-like figure is assailed by a coiled snake and a demonic wizard dominates the landscape. Psychologically this theme of triumvirates makes sense – the two artists have, in essence, created a third, an ‘unknown’ artist. Watching them work on the fourth and final canvas of the series is a painful affair. An element that is distinctly Rhys Lee is suddenly eviscerated by Jeremy Kibel and, as if in vengeful spite, a mountainscape by Kibel is suddenly swamped by an amorphous blob from Lee. Strangely, despite this painterly mayhem, they seem to act in tandem, like two musicians carrying out a spontaneous jam session. They even seem to relish destroying their own marks, like demented taggers on a moving train, they sweep back and forth, tackling the surface like dan­ cers or, perhaps more aptly, duelists. Suddenly they stop, stand back, and exchange guttural sounds of agreement. But no, there is still something wrong, and brushes are picked up like sabers and the painting changes all over again. A central image, that of a demonic wizard etched in black by Kibel is assailed by Lee with deep

melancholic blues. Kibel likes it, but Lee is unhappy with his own floating head in the lower part of the canvas and suddenly it is gone. On a hill in the background stands a lonely crucifix, but it is obscured. With a rag dampened with turpentine, the cross suddenly reappears, even more stark than before. It’s like watching a deranged animation. To be sure, one can spy the varied influences that have inspired the duo. Inevitably there’s a touch of Picasso, a hint of Bacon, a dollop of the anarchistic paintwork of Don Van Vliet and the abstracted narratives of Gareth Sansom. But these influences are subsumed by the already mature mark-making of Lee and Kibel. Both are artists who have carved their ‘look’ after years of painstaking effort and here those years are carved back to their primal essence, every stylistic tic suddenly reconsidered, challenged. Even their palettes are called into question. Each canvas seems to have a colour theme of its own – a deep, ponder­ ous blue or a blood-like crimson dominating the surface. Kibel’s last body of work was purely monochromatic – his black and white Picasso heads. Lee’s was abstracted colour cacop­hony. Somehow these two extremes have found an uneasy home together. They’re almost like two quarreling lovers bitching over their children, these four upstart canvases that have clearly grown up and taken on a life of their own. Collaborations are comparatively rare, successful ones practically non-existent. Unlike music, art, most especially painting, is a largely solitary pursuit. It requires the ability to be alone for long stretches of time. Put two soloists on the same stage and strange things emerge. Strange things indeed.

PUBLICATION Printed on the occasion of The Collaborative Work of Jeremy Kibel and Rhys Lee September 2 – 30 2010 Blockprojects 79 Stephenson Street Richmond Victoria AUS Tel +61 3 9429 0664 Photography Chris Penning and Yasmin Nguyen Design Warren Taylor, The Narrows Printing Newsprinters, Shepparton, Victoria Edition of 600 2010 © Jeremy Kibel, Rhys Lee and Block Projects Thanks to Ashley Crawford, Chris Penning, Warren Taylor, James Robertson, St Luke Artist Colourmen and Saki (the dog) WORKS Untitled, 2010 Jeremy Kibel and Rhys Lee 180cm x 400cm oil on canvas (details on pp. 3 and 4) (left) Untitled, 2010 Jeremy Kibel and Rhys Lee 112cm x 87cm oil on canvas


jeremy kibel and rhys lee catalogue