Watching the world from behind

By Rhonda Dredge

The best work comes out of the imagination of artists rather than curators at public institutions or sanctioned trends.

Growing up in the art world helps. The parents of Brendan Huntley, showing at Tolarno, were potters.

This gave him the impetus at an early age to follow his bent.

“In my nature I’m somewhat OCD but not crazy. I like to see something all the way through. It kept calling for more,” he said of the work he did during lockdown.

There are 36 paintings on paper, done in pastel, oil and graphite, and 17 raku-fired figures in Without Within, all of butterflies and moths.

The figures could be called raw. They definitely have personality, and they cross that difficult divide from the graphic work of the illustrator or cartoonist to the more substantial style that is collected.

Many figurative artists have succumbed to the pressure of abstraction or camera-based influences. Not so, Huntley. 

From his first show at Hell Gallery about 20 years ago he combined figurative ceramics with drawings and commanded the respect of the old guard. 

Molding with clay has influenced his painting style and it remains blunt, rounded and blocky like a substance that offers resistance.

“In early April 2020, I found myself searching for some peace of mind amongst the chaos of the pandemic,” Brendan wrote in his artist statement.

“One day, I heard someone on a podcast describe how a moth or butterfly doesn’t simply grow wings on its already fully formed caterpillar body but breaks itself down into a kind of soup and slowly reforms itself in the cocoon, reusing its body parts to come out at the other end as a completely new creature.”

“Transformation often requires stillness. Like a cocoon, stillness shuts out the static and noise of the outside and gives us a chance to rethink and reimagine who we are.”

The works on paper seem to tell a story, numbered as they are from one to 36. Close up, the human characteristics dominate, and these insects turn into characters.

Number one is cerebral; two has a rather lovely body; three is quite pleased with itself; four is very fleshy; five is uptight; six is made of earthenware; seven is seductive; eight is a totem pole; nine is into geometrics; 10 is into jokes; 11 is confused, 12 is just pleased to be alive; 13 has prominent eyes on its wings; 14 is rather wise; 15 is twisted; 16 is psychedelic and so on.

This is Huntley’s third show at Tolarno and the gallery had a “meet the artist” afternoon instead of a traditional opening, encouraging punters to respond to the work.

One thing that can be said is that the advantage of 3D is demonstrated in this show with the ceramic butterflies having all of the patterning of the paintings, and more.

From the back some are not the flitting creatures of the sunshine we expect but are more severe and watchful, keeping an eye on the world from behind. 

Without Within, Brendan Huntley, Tolarno Galleries at level 4, 104 Exhibition St, until May 15 •

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