Exhibitions review: Sea and Sky by Mostyn Bramley-Moore and Look Out by John Smith

Two artist showcasing work that highlight the resonance of nature and past ephemeral connections.

As we continue to live with some of the uncertainty of recent years, it is great to see Rogue Pop-Up Gallery showing the work of iconic contemporary Australian artists formerly represented by Watters Gallery – sadly closed just prior to shutdowns. Rogue Pop-up Gallery is directed by Diane Larter. The gallery is part of a strip with a rich, working class and Aboriginal history, now experiencing gentrification. The gallery has no pretension and the stairs to the upstairs gallery spaces are pretty steep.

Mostyn Bramley-Moore and John Smith are two of the icons currently showing new work.

The artists both studied at Sydney University and became painters who actively engages with the picture plane through mark and erasure, the figurative, place and language. Both have taught in tertiary visual arts institutions and spent time in the northern regions of NSW. Bramley-Moore now lives in a semi-rural district of Brisbane and Tenterfield. Smith lives close to Lismore and Byron Bay. Both artists’ homes have felt direct climate impacts – fire and water. Global infection has added more layers and distortions of time to their work.

Always gestural and with layered insights, both artists bring a playful and light touch to their current exhibition in works that perform a kind of call and response in the gallery space.

Sea and Sky by Mostyn Bramley-Moore

While seemingly abstract, Bramley-Moore’s works reveal a curiosity about the world, a connection to specific places, narratives and memories. His observations, or his fragmented recollections, are distilled onto the canvas. They embody softness and whimsy but there is focus within a loose structure.

His subject matter is wide ranging and moves along several paths. He invokes a lost memory; captures a fleeting moment or brings focus to a rumination.

Largo (with deliberation) and Marcato (with emphasis) are a response to the music that fills his home. Bramley-Moore has processed what painting with emphasis or deliberation might look like, noting that ‘deliberation or emphasis’ are only possible if we consider their opposites.

Signs of Lying is a painting sparked by the dubious ‘science’ of lying – white lies, black lies and yellow as the ultimate lie. Various shades of yellow float in a sea of graphite gray.

Persa speaks of a forgotten colour.

Clarity under Mist draws on a poem by Sylvia Plath.

Bramley-Moore intuitively calls on his deep knowledge of international art. One can envision that the likes of Cy Twombly, Philip Gunston, William Scott and Willem De Kooning might’ve been sitting on his shoulders and having a conversation while the artist himself moves in his own direction.

The last two years have provided the time and the opportunity for Bramley-Moore to play on multiple pathways rather than having to focus on a single idea for a massive show. He is also mindful – like we all need to be – about our use of materials. This has implications: the works in this show are smaller. They are more intimate and each locates a piece of intrigue that draws in the viewer for a closer look.

Look Out by John Smith

Smith’s acrylic works on paper have the lightness of watercolour. They are like haiku implying the artist’s interest in landscape, gesture, ‘essentialism’, and script.

These small paintings embody a new and fresh perspective relative to his material world. They manifest his shift away from the vertical, layered figuration and erasure of previous works. People familiar with John’s layered paintings can see that he has had a dense crowded picture plane – somewhat like living in his sub-tropical property. Similarly, he has removed the edgy figurative playfulness and celebrated the single, more subtle brush stroke. His now coastal location has brought a new touch.

He retains his love of the scribbled drawings by children as they negotiate mark-making and speaking. This body of work has that whimsical energy that works so well with the watery elements of his current circumstances (and the DNA of his family of fishers).

These pieces are panoramic, horizontal – looking out over water, headlands and sky. The artist directs the viewers to Look Out; take in As Far as I can See; to Watch out; to encounter the Elements however, he describes the work as being like asemic writing (ie a wordless open semantic form of writing that allows the viewer to fill in and interpret). The work is located but it is not contained.

Given the events that have impacted northern NSW and Southeastern Queensland in recent months, Smith’s response to his world is pretty damn positive. The ephemeral feel of the works seems to reinforce the need to live for the moment.

Read: Book review: This All Come Back Now, edited by Mykaela Saunders

It is a pleasure to engage with contemporary art that doesn’t hit us over the head but gently reminds us, in Smith’s case, of the centrality of nature in our lived experiences; and of our connections to the fleeting past with ideas and meditations provoked by the paintings of Bramley-Moore.

Sea and Sky by Mostyn Bramley-Moore
Look Out by John Smith

Rogue POP UP Gallery
Redfern, Sydney

Both exhibitions will be on display until 10 July 2022

Helen Wyatt is a practising visual artist, writer and curator living in Sydney, NSW. She has a Bachelor of Art History (Sydney University) and Masters of Visual Arts (Griffith University). She has previously written for ArtsHub across a range of visual arts forms. In her own practice she produces small, often wearable, objects. Helen shows small object work in her window gallery space in Rozelle.