Press Room Details

Trevor Weekes
Preview

August 2012
Bridget Macleod

Artist Profile magazine, Issue 20, p.154-5


When Trevor Weekes began to explore the ideas underpinning the Japanese ukiyo-e prints that he collected - which were to inspire a new body of work - he discovered 'that there are two floating worlds'. The more familiar describes the pleasure-centred urban lifestyle of Edo period Japan that is depicted in the prints. Yet with one change of character, Ukiyo becomes the sorrowful world, the early plain accompanied by pain and sadness, a transitory existence from which Buddhists sought release. The latter concept resonated with Weekes, and he realised it fitted the images he had come up with more.

While this may seem a particularly disheartening view of our existence, Weekes sees its potential for inspiration. Life can be painful, so we need to appreciate beauty wherever we can, and it will end, so we need to live mindfully and make of it what we can. The artist rails against a commonly held sense of entitlement, that just by being born we are 'owed something' by life. He feels we need to decide to live, to actively shape our own paths and create a lasting legacy.

These ideas are reflected in a number of works in Weekes' upcoming exhibition The Floating World and the Beauty of Things at Stella Downer Fine Art in Sydney. In the colleciton of small paintings that makes up one-third of the show, many have a palpable sense of lonelines and unease, as a solitary animal or bird is depicted in unfamiliar terrain. The dark still brings the dawn, for example, depicts a rhinocerous stranded on a rocky outcrop in the centre of a turbulent ocean. However, in these works there is also the potential for action and escape - the rhinocerous can remain standing, or delve into the unknown by swimming away from his stony prison. Weekes is visualising "the predicament of making a decision", which is something the majority of the audience will never have experienced. He succinctly encapsulates the need to commit and move forward in order to live a full life.

The use of animals to relay such ideas and act as a metaphor for the human condition is a deliberate decision and one that has always characterised Weekes' practice. As the artist states: "the animal world is so amazing that I'm constantly inspired by it ... and it allows me to make comments about science and the world we live in without jumping on the soapbox and rambling about it."

The second section of the show, fan-tales, is made up of 15 works in which narratives, enacted by various animals, are painted onto wood that's shaped to resemble a particular Japanese fan from the Edo period. However, Weekes' fans are asymmetrical, the handles placed off-centre to "create a feeling of unease" and to highlight that life is never as perfect as we may want it to be. And while these works are based on the graphic style of ukiyo-e prints, the imagery is vastly different. Animals have been paired off in strange combinations and situations - for example, an octopus trying to drag a badger into the water, or a kiwi nestled against a leopard. The juxtapositions inspire one to devise the stories that could lead to such circumstances, a desire only increased by titles such as The badger gasped for air as the octopus lifted it high out of the water and The leopard had to understand the kiwi was a loyal friend and not a play thing. This suits Weekes, who wants people to bring something of themselves to the works and interpret them as they see fit.

In the third component of the exhibition, the title is taken at a more literal level. This is a multi-panelled work consisting of more than 100 individual 'portraits' of birds hung slightly off the wall. Small spherical objects are dotted throughout the work, drifting past the birds. When deciding on the form of these objects, Weekes also considered fishing lures and dandelions, but decided on marbles, as they "are like little worlds floating around in there".

These second session of the show, fan-tales, is made up of 15 works in which narratives, enacted by various animals, are painted onto wood that's shaped to resemble a particular Japanese fan from the Edo period. However, Weekes' fans are asymmetrical, the handled placed off-centre to "create a feeling of unease" and to highlight that life is never as perfect as we may want it to be. And while these works are based on the graphic style of Ukiyo-e prints, the imagery is vastly different. Animals have been paired off in strange combinations and situations - for example, an octopus trying to drag a badger into the water, or a kiwi nestled against a leopard. These juxtapositions inspire one to devise the stories that could lead to such circumstances, a desire only increased by titles such as The badger gasped for air as the octopus lifted it high out of the water and The leopard had to understand the kiwi was a loyal friend and not a play thing. This suits Weekes, who wants people to bring something of themselves to the works and interpret them as they see fit.

In the third component of the exhibition, the title is taken at a more literal level. This is a multi-panelled wokr consisting of more than 100 individual 'portraits' of birds hung slightly off the wall. Small spherical objects are dotted throughout the workm drifting past the birds. When deciding on the form of these objects, Weekes also considered fishing lures and dandilions, but decided on marbles, as they "are like little worlds floating around in there".

These three series of works are linked in their use of incongruent amalgamations. The combinations should look unnatural and jarring, but instead come together to form a harmonious whole. This is due largely to the "almost clinical" planning Weekes puts into each work. He will know precisely what he will paint even before he touches a canvas. Once the artist has an exhibition idea in mind, he will sort through the thousands of images he has collected over the years. These include photographs of landscapes and animals from trips around the world, sketches of birds from the natural history museum in Paris, and images from museum catalogues. He may also draw from the large collection of specimens that fill his Newcastle studio - an incredible assembly that includes taxidermied birds, preserved lizards, dried coral and human and animal skeletons. Once he has found imagery that suits, the artist will sketch possible combinations until an idea resonates. 

This process began in art school, when Weekes would have so many ideas he couldn't paint them all, and ended up with "30 half-finished paintings". Even with these efforts, some works are still started and then scrapped. He thinks this extensive editing is important. "I can't think, just because I have done it I should show it," he says.

Weekes does not expect anyone to pick up the Japanese allusion in the title, and its influences in the exhibition, as he shied away from creating "pseudo-Japanese" works, wishing instead to capture the essence of Japan. However, the 'beauty of things' is apparent throughout this exhibition. Weekes takes great care in depicting his animals, and their colours, expressions and plumage, as well as the landscapes they are placed in, built up to create an overwhelming display of beauty. In this way, we experience firsthand the pleasure that can be gained through culture, just as the townspeople of Edo Japan did in their floating world."

EXHIBITION

The Floating World and the Beauty of Things

18 September - 13 October, 2012

Stella Downer Fine Art

www.stelladownerfineart.com.au

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