Basil Beattie – When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades, at MIMA until 12th June 2016.
“Only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life. Non-ambiguity and non-contradiction are one sided and thus unsuitable to express the incomprehensible.” CG Jung
This years exhibition highlights for me so far have been two substantial shows of big paintings; John Hoyland at Newport Street and Basil Beattie at MIMA, both a refreshing contrast to the multitude of ‘contemporary’ domestic abstraction often artfully and sometimes even subtly restrained in grids of one sort or another with no personal ‘signature’ in the facture. Impersonal and emotionally cool, they are what Roger Hilton would have called “tidy”. Not so here. In these two shows it was so refreshing and invigorating to see progressions of series and witness the leap from identity to existence in such a strong way, especially in Beattie’s ‘retrospective’. And refreshing to hear him say that having a show like this is a way of ‘learning about what I am doing’. It is not a grand finished statement but a work in progress, a getting to know your own working process in a more objective way.
Beattie sees painting as a journey, full of doubt and uncertainty, but he also likes to use such words as ‘vividness’ and ‘intensity’ to describe the satisfactory outcomes. He ‘discovers things’ after he finishes a painting, doesn’t ‘know much about it before or during…’ He says in the film Corridors of Uncertainty that he ‘finds things that have meaning in a painting which I cannot necessarily or easily accommodate through speculating about them but they seem to impose themselves on the memory…’ Working in series is one way of making sense of this, allowing the images to shift and change until they are ‘worked out’ enough to move onto a new series. Some elements are stubborn and have a propensity to return later and be explored anew among different permutations and painterly adventures. The show at MIMA demonstrates this admirably, stretching from the eighties through samples of various series such as the Witness paintings, Brooklyn series and Janus series to a room full of what I will call dreampaintings made between 2012-15. The sequence of the exhibition is roughly chronological, arranged in four rooms covering examples from approximately 10yrs in each.