Exhibition review: Sieve See: Ann Debono

The world as seen by the artist through 'grids, grilles, apertures, detritus, reflections and shadows.'

Down a laneway around the corner from several prominent not-for-profits, Getrude Glasshouse, a site of Gertrude Contemporary, brings Melbourne to the cutting edge of contemporary art, and through the work of Ann Debono, shares the precision and the sense of place evoked by masterful figurative painting.

Sieve See, Debono’s fifth solo show showcases a precise intelligence aware of the expectations we place on the act of painting, as well as a photographic eye that captures the naturalistic quality of urban ivy without ever sacrificing the freshness of the act of looking. 

Historically Debono has worked on a larger scale, but these small paintings have the quality of jewelled nests of detail. Combining scenes from Melbourne construction sites with shop windows seen during a residency in The British School at Rome as part of an inaugural Cranbourne Fellowship, Debono captures the curiosity of the flaneur as well as the loving-kindness of the attention to detail that comes with belonging to a place and time.

A series rendering Italian shop windows meditates on the founding principles of the philosophy of art. Rich in Italian creams and burgundies, these paintings depict photographs of cake shop windows, but serve up more than something sweet. In the painting Dolce, a cake in the form of the Colosseum evokes the fading lustre of a Western civilisation besieged by the flight from the rational, while in Sieve See a depiction of a concave celestial globe comes to represent the way we try to rationalise the visual while also participating with all the senses in a sumptuous visual scape. 

From the high Renaissance of Rome to the contemporary streets of Melbourne, a sequence of paintings of construction sites show beauty in unlikely places. A recurring motif of grids and frames, as in Proscenium thematises the act of framing we participate in as viewers, and the artist engages in as they articulate their process. Meanwhile, paintings like Fennel juxtapose the concrete and bollards of industrial construction that creeps like ivy with the wild fennel and assorted detritus of the natural pushing back against the artificial. 

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This exhibition features the rootless wandering of the cosmopolitan side by side with the drama of belonging. It casts an eye back to the tradition of Western painting while remaining firmly placed in the present. Its thematic range shows an artist self-reflectively situating herself in relation to a tradition that takes in the eternal as well as the ephemeral. It is a love letter to modern Melbourne with a signature twist back to Rome.

Ann Debono: Sieve See
Gertrude Glasshouse Melbourne

Ann Debono is in conversation with Tim Riley Walsh on 3 September at 4pm. Sieve See runs until 3 September 2022. 

Vanessa Francesca is a writer who has worked in independent theatre. Her work has appeared in The Age, The Australian and Meanjin