Art Review: Duncan Stewart (27 June to 27 August 2012)

The Ron Belling Gallery is currently showing Sacred Steps. This is a solo exhibition by local artist Duncan Stewart, and it runs until 27 August 2012.

Stewart’s work covers a range of media and defies the viewer to pigeonhole him. His works move, with solid technique and confidence, from two-dimensional to three-dimensional media and back again. Despite this, and Stewart’s obvious well-rounded artistic skills, it is clear that it is his photographed-based landscape painting that is the strongest. Neither his charcoal drawings nor his sculpting show the same level of clarity and self-assurance.

Nevertheless, across the varied pieces of the exhibition, the work remains cealry recognizable as the work of the same man. The compositions are static, centralized, with strong tonal contrasts. The colours are bold and, with the exception of the landscapes, the figurative subject matters remain solidly front-and-centre in the foreground.

And that is, possibly, the weakest part of the exhibition. The viewer is told that, thematically, Stewart wants to focus on the spiritual facet of his journey up the Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan, but this seems to clash with his heavy-handed representation.

Spirituality is often understood to be elusive, quiet and, above all, deeply personal but it is represented here as monolithic, overt and deliberate. The blatant imagery demands nothing from the viewer. There is no introspection, internalization or personal soul-searching required in order to grasp Stewart’s intent. And, if it weren’t clear enough, the supporting texts spell it out. It is as if Stewart believed he undertook the personal spiritual journey so that the viewer didn’t have to, settling for religious proclamations instead of an invitation to personal meditation.

Still, Stewart’s ability, and keen eye for composition do leave a gap for the more subtle and contemplative elements do creep in, depsite loud subject-matter. And there is something more quietly contemplative that emerges out of the ensemble of the exhibition, beyond each of the individual pieces, a bit like the solace of one might find in a cathedral regardless of the surplus the over-the-top religious iconography.


Stacking the melting odds

The Ceiling Raisers

Throneroom of the Gods

Once again, thanks to Nadine.