Double takes: Aldo Iacobelli, Piel. Frank Bauer, Lichtbilder

The Iberian Peninsula (aka Spain) is sometimes referred to as “the old bull hide”. “Pareidolia perfect” as Dennis Cometti might have said.

Twenty years ago, the artist Aldo Iacobelli left Adelaide with his family to live in Spain. They settled in a small town, Chiva, in the province of Valencia. There they entered into the life of a small community with its social routines and traditions, in which bullfighting figured prominently. Chiva is the home of one of Spain’s most famous bullfighters, Enrique Ponce. The town also has its bull fiesta known as El Torico de la Cuerda. No bull dies in its enactment. There are usually two races (carreras) involving one or two bulls being let out into the street. Holding a long rope attached to the bull’s horns, local athletes attempt to lead the bull through a course that’s been established through the town. Over time Iacobelli came to observe the full cycle of bullfighting from visiting the breeding ranches and going to bullfights. Iacobelli made a series of 12 paintings (first exhibited in Spain in 1996 as the Piel series) around the idea of bull hides. By sheer chance, one image looks like a map of Spain. Then, they all do. Look like maps that is. It’s to do with the distinctive markings on the hide (piel) of bulls bred for fighting. The designs of each painting reference colour plates the artist found in industry publications on the subject of fighting bulls. These photographic illustrations captured the living beasts in their prime. The painting are extrapolations of a truth, or rather, alternative moments of truth which anticipate the final act of stripping beasts of their identity and reducing them to a bar code of classification. The titles of the works exhibited are another act of displacement. The texts were originally captions for the photographs and constituted an audit of each bull’s primary coloration and weight (living and gutted). Iacobelli’s decision to fix the canvas to the stretcher with exposed upholstery nails pushes the reading of these works into wider cultural territory, which references the ‘culture of the bull’ as a faint echo of hunter-gatherer sympathetic magic. Apart from such contexts, these six paintings from the Piel series have a muscular presence and and internal topographies which deny simplistic interpretation. But command sensory response. That’s Iacobelli’s talent, to destabilize the ‘matter-of-factness’ of things by posing them as reliable effigies. The trademark building of surfaces with undulating form-flow lines of thick oil paint actively conspires to catch the light, just so, and imply for a brief moment the play of light across rippling muscles and sinews. This is painting at its simplest and most complex. That Iacobelli and Frank Bauer have been happy to co-exhibit says a deal about mutual respect for each other’s craftsman-like approach to materials and processes. There is also the light factor. Each artist embeds the play of light into his respective structures. This may seem particularly obvious in Bauer’s architectonic lighting structures that go beyond themselves by throwing light onto their surrounds. But this factor is also present in the domestic ware, such as the Teapot with Cream Jug and Sugar Bowl, in this exhibition in which the light falling on these objects is ‘harvested’ by the granulated surfaces and the proximity of one item to another creates subtle exchanges of reflected light. Bauer’s practice creates for local as well as the wider community audiences a point of anchorage with a philosophy of art making that lies at the heart of the modernist project – particularly the notion of making a new art for a new society. Bauer’s extensive background in craft and design training and in linked fields of jewellery making, industrial design, and architecture broadly explains his attraction to architectonic styles, media and processes. But it doesn’t fully explain the distinctively inventive aspect of his practice as shown in his techno-jewellery of the 1970s and his kinetic wind sculptures. At some point, and certainly around 1970, his imagination was caught by the idea of designed objects having lives of their own. The deliberate irony is that his light works (or ‘light pictures’ as the German ‘lichtbilder’ has it), as well as his hollow ware (kettles, teapots and jugs) mimic industrial modes while enticing the viewer to kinetically and conceptually engage.   Aldo Iacobelli, Piel Frank Bauer, Lichtbilder BMG Art Until Saturday, September 12 bmgart.com.au      

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