Laith McGregor | Swallow the Sun

Starkwhite is pleased to present Swallow the Sun by Laith McGregor from 1  October – 12 November 2016

During his recent travels in South East Asia, Laith McGregor has been exploring the conceptual foundations of portraiture, from primitive mark making through to contemporary practice, and the discourses surrounding it, while being immersed in various cultural communities. He says: “The resulting work is an outcome of my ongoing research to understand the complexity of the human experience and my place within it, in particular investigating the relationship of various interpretations of portraiture as a common vernacular, through the use of masks, deities and notion of the self.” 

The new work in Swallow the Sun is informed by McGregor’s experience of South East Asia, including a lengthy stay on a small island off the coast of Bali, when the only information he received was from overseas sources at various times and locales, via the internet. “Time felt like it was condensing, becoming arbitrary, barely a function to signal the difference between night and day,” he says. “I had a feeling of being displaced, not knowing languages, unfamiliar locations, people. Time was slowing down, every day felt like the last and simultaneously the first. I would spend the mornings in the studio, most afternoons exploring, eating, swimming, and then back to the studio at night – the same again the next day. This new body of work attempts to recreate that feeling of isolation, stillness and longing.” 

In Swallow the Sun, McGregor presents a timeless apparition of figures and landscapes with his signature eyelike circles that are at once unfamiliar, but also eerily familiar due to their immutable appearance. Beautifully rendered as drawings, the portraits are a contemplation on time, combined with moments of intuition that coalesce in the exhibition to form an intimate space within which the viewer can experience insights into the artist’s way of thinking.  

“Drawing is a fundamental form of human expression, says McGregor. “The line as a symbolic gesture dates back to our primitive origins and has filtered into the fabric of everyday life where it remains a primal instinct, used to map, guide, express and converse. It’s an immediate action that bridges consciousness. Repetitive mark-making acts like a tapestry of days in ones life. Prisoners scratch the number of days left in solitary confinement, while marooned sailors mark the number of days stranded on a deserted island, both drawing similar but polar conclusions.”

McGregor’s research into the conceptual foundations of portraiture takes place across time, place and culture. While in South East Asia he was looking at Western traditions as well as those of the East (via the ubiquitous internet). In addition to the large drawings of figures and landscapes that stand in the exhibition like dark monoliths, Swallow the Sun features early 20th century vintage portraits by unknown artists, which McGregor has made over. He resurrects a presence, knowing the subjects from a not too distant past once sat for an hour or two in a similar intimate space with an artist. We experience the space that the sitter and artist once encountered, now located in a grey area between fiction and reality.  

The exhibition also includes an installation of material from McGregor’s studio. A large drop sheet with traces of his art making and impressions recording his movements around the studio is pinned to the wall like a giant abstract work. A small, framed work displays the pencil shavings, collected over the duration of the shows development, showing the history and detritus of the unseen and displaced.  

The drawings in Swallow the Sun echo the presence, of some other – the various and largely unknown figures throughout the show that sit somewhere between the real and the unreal. The subtle observations revealed in the works emphasise polarities of the human condition and continue a dialogue on the position of the artist and the uncanny. Through these nuanced explorations of the intersection between real and unreal spaces, and also the parallels that exist between them, the artist aims to establish a breakdown of this limboed existence and allow the viewer a private peek into oblivion. “Darkness is arbitrary, death is approaching and life is nothing but an ephemeral moment,” he says. “We must all walk the line.”

Laith McGregor has been represented in solo and group shows in Australia and overseas. Recent exhibitions include: Prints at Large, Australian Print Workshop, Canberra (2016); SIRENS (I HEARD VOICES IN THE NIGHT, Gertrude Contemporary’s Glasshouse, Melbourne (2016); Basil Sellers Art Prize 5, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2016); The Red Queen, Museum of Old and New (MONA), Tasmania, curated by Nicole Durling (2014); Art & Australia Collection 2003-2013, a travelling exhibition; Conquest of Space, University of NSW Gallery, curated by Andrew Frost (2014); and Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria (2013-2014). 

He has been the recipient of numerous awards and including: the Australia Print Workshop Collie Print Trust Fellowship; National Works on Paper Prize, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery; and the Art & Australia/Credit Suisse Private Banking Contemporary Art Award. And he has undertaken residencies at Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne; the Australia Council’s studio in Barcelona; and at the Centre Intermondes in La Rochelle, France. 

McGregor’s work is represented in the following collections: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; The National Art Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane; and the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. 





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