A new exhibition by highly-regarded Melbourne artist Godwin Bradbeer blends old and new, with works exploring his career-long interest in figure drawing and its emotional impact.
Episodes: Then & Now is at the James Makin Gallery in Collingwood, which has held a number of shows of Bradbeer’s work.
“I think this show is lighter than most of my previous shows, less blunt, perhaps less masculine and less self-consciously iconic,” he says. “Several works are the antithesis of ‘gravitas’. But I should say emphasise that I do not feel entirely in control of the mood of my work. In the studio I am invariably trying to make a beautiful work of art that is credible and affirming to any viewer. The hundreds and the thousands of modifications that shift a work forward or backward, into and out of light, toward nobility or abjection are filtered through our various cultures of wonder, magnificence, and stupidity.”
Several of the works, like Apoligia – 1000 Tears, are in a vein that Bradbeer has worked in for many years, close-up examinations of the head and face, burnished and stylised to the point of abstraction. Others, like Femme 2, have a dynamic, graceful aspect.
The show includes an unusual self-portrait, in which he depicts himself a “modern Achilles”, complete with an arrow in his heel.
“This is perhaps the only drawing that I have done that made me laugh,” Bradbeer notes. “The ridiculous pose is loosely derived from a photo of Leonard Cohen doing up his shoelace.”
Bradbeer usually uses media such as chinagraph and pastel, often rubbing oxide powder into the paper to achieve a soft, deep effect. But he continues to explore different approaches, and has a strong interest in digital technologies. This brought him to reconsider a number of drawings made in his student days. Originally done on cheap paper, they are now extremely fragile, but he saw the possibility of resurrection. A number of these works are included in the show.
“The original drawings were photographed or scanned at high resolution and then enhanced in various ways. Despite the heavy tonal nature of most of my later work, when I was young I particularly liked to draw in line, sometimes on the threshold of visibility. My purpose in enhancing the images was to raise contrast and accent the damage of time, which seemed to contain its own truth,” Bradbeer says.
Episodes: Then and Now runs until 25 February. The James Makin Gallery has also announced another exhibition, Godwin Bradbeer: Stigma and Enigma, to be held at the Deakin University Art Gallery, Burwood campus, from 8 March until 13 April. This exhibition comprises over twenty large and rarely seen works including monumental drawings on paper, unique artist books, wall drawings and chalk on blackboard artworks. The exhibition spans across four decades with works sourced from private collections with a focus on the fragile nature of Bradbeer’s drawing practice and his ongoing subject of the body.