Review / Boynes dehumanises landscapes in ‘unsettling’ exhibition

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‘Precipice’ by Alexander Boynes, pigment and enamel on aluminium
THIS exhibition of dehumanising landscapes is unsettling. 

In the comfortable surroundings of Beaver Galleries, the sun streams into the courtyard, but on the walls is an apocalyptic vision. Ghostly figures move across the foreground of the paintings. They are perhaps wearing suits to protect against hazardous materials and are blurred like the old TV images of the astronauts walking on the moon. 

In the background of the paintings are industrial landscapes. Chimneys emit smoke. Australia’s coal-fired history is on display. Or maybe not. 

The titles of the paintings are suggestive of a post-industrial, perhaps post-nuclear future: “Accelerant”, “Dead ahead”, “Last Light”, “After the Boom”. 

The images are made using pigment and enamel on raw aluminium. The tactile feeling evoked by this metal is discomfiting – the sharp edges of industrial metalwork are dangerous, they would cut deeply. 

The colours are not those of nature, oranges reminiscent of fire and sulphur, fragments of cobalt blue, a chemical compound of aluminium. They shine brightly under the artificial lights projected onto them, and I need to shield my eyes. The remaining parts of the paintings appear mostly black, grey and white.

Viewing the exhibition, I found the larger paintings to have a more convincing presence than the smaller images on display. Perhaps because the scale of the human figures is closer to real life, and also because the background landscapes open up more to the viewer.

Since graduating from ANU School of Art in 2004, Alexander Boynes’ art practice has focused on environmental issues, including the destruction of the Australian landscape caused by the extraction of fossil fuels. 

He has also collaborated with indigenous artists and with his mother Mandy Martin on a range of projects with an environmental focus. The works in this exhibition also bear similarities to his father Robert Boynes’ paintings of urban environments, particularly the way human figures are depicted and the types of colours used.

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