My intention for this show has always been to focus on the landscape, defining specific sites or locations in my surroundings via existing markers in this landscape, in this case poles and posts, viewing them almost as navigational devices. In a general sense it became a process of `mapping' my locality. It was never a deliberate process of `cartography', like most landscape artists I used my surroundings as my starting point and went off on tangents from there. This `mapping' came as a by-product of interpreting my position in the landscape through paintings.
The `Poles and Posts' of the title refers to telegraph poles and to goalposts both of which exist side by side at the only playing field in Stanwell Tops, where I live. Surrounded by bush this perfectly level playing field creates an edge between bush and manicured lawn, delineated by goal posts and wires draped from telegraph poles. Bush meets suburbia meets sport meets telecommunication. During this `pole' painting period the local electricity commission replaced a telegraph pole outside our house, leaving behind a perfectly seasoned telegraph pole. The pole was duly divided up between several neighbours and supplied us with wood-burning fuel for the winter. The idea of the pole as an icon took on a whole new meaning.
The irony is that the original use of the pole as a carrier for telegraphic messages has come back to haunt it, as telecommunication carriers drape cables from poles to homes to connect them to today's version of the telegraphic service.1 Even the historic debate over "telegraphic wires" returns as poles and their wires are condemned as eyesores.
The religious overtones of the telegraph pole are sometimes played on for example in "Pole Repairs- Wombarra" a `ready-made' deposition minus the Christ figure. Along the way there are references to Zurbaran's "St Francis"2 a painter with links to my Spanish heritage.
The dual-purpose goalposts became a focus for me during the 'Pauline Hanson' debate. They became an unintended yet positive metaphor for the advances of multiculturalism in Australia. As a sporting device, which combines the goalposts for both soccer (International), and rugby league (Australian), they exist as a perfect symbol of engineering unifying cultures as a result of an accident.
The Roadside series reflects on the many hours spent driving the local roads, navigating by distinctive poles and markers. They also deal again with the notion of the `edge', from park edge to road's edge. Perhaps this notion of the edge is born out of living physically on the edge, i.e. Stanwell Tops is perched on the Illawarra escarpment, and also on the edge of two cities, between Sydney and Wollongong.
Fred Williams once mentioned in passing that the most perfect landscape (painting) was a map. Perhaps all landscape painters are cartographers at heart.
1. See Michael Cathcart's "How the World Was Wired" SMH 23.10.99, for an investigation of the original Internet, the introduction of the "telegraphic" service in the mid 1800's.
2. Spanish 17th C. painter who completed a major commission for a Carthusian Monastery in my parents home town Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.
Tony Ameneiro lives and works on the extreme northern edge of the Illawarra at Stanwell Tops. As well as being a practising visual artist he is also a conservator of works on paper. Until recently Tony played in the seminal Wollongong punk/performance rock band Dinky Crash. His dual roles are the points around which his work is constructed. His work as a conservator, a highly trained and skilled practice, is manifested in the conscientious nature of his artwork. The high proliferation of images, techniques and skill reflect the work that he deals with on a daily basis.
For an artist to be in such a position is neither a luxury nor a blessing. To look at the 'best' and perhaps more importantly the 'worst', is one thing but to then make your own work with that looking over your shoulder is another. Art workers and administrators are at times the most anxious of artists. They are highly aware of the futility of practice, the impossibility of immortality, the fleeting success of an exhibition. For someone working in traditional object based practice, these problems are confounded even further.
Ameneiro's work reflects the complexities of this conundrum. He chooses not to settle into a fixed medium or style and his technical and aesthetic concerns transcend faddishness. At the base of the work is its presentation in clear plastic CD covers, or jewel cases. Although a practical and simple way to present the work they also reference the artist as a collector of images and relate to similar concerns in popular music. In the last few years in popular music we have seen a cut and paste technique. Its greatest practitioner at the moment is perhaps American musician Beck, whose music runs the gamut from hiphop collage to blues to rock and cabaret. Ameneiro draws inspiration from an artist like Beck who refuses to stick to one genre. Ameneiro's collage of styles is similar.
You can break his work into subgroups and then break these groups down even further. In some of the small ink drawings Ameneiro acts like a jazz musician jamming on a motif, ad libbing the image. In other works like cover version - A Forest, and cover version The Well is Dry the musical reference becomes a form of play. The ink image of a vinyl record, used predominantly now by mixers and DJs, is presented almost like a museum piece in the CD case, the format by which it has been superseded. Ameneiro becomes a DJ of the visual, taking images and mixing them up, cutting and editing to emerge at the end of this process with something of his own.
Ameneiro takes this visual jamming further in the more detailed collage works which are products of his working life as a conservator. Here Ameneiro uses the flotsam and jetsam of his conservation work. Often the collage works may be direct quotations of other artists' works, re-presented and refocussed into a small square format. In Unico en su Clase Ameneiro directs his gaze towards Schwitters, the dadaist collage artist. The word dada is spelt out in bits of paper like a ransom note while the title of the work, printed on what appears to be a cigar wrapper, sits in a brown field of torn papers and old drawings. At first glance this appears to be an exercise in surface, composition and tone, a homage to a modern master. In talking with Ameneiro the complexities of this work become obvious. It may be a statement on Ameneiro's Spanish heritage, the direct Spanish translation being 'the only one in its class'. However the materials used have all been obtained from work sources, gum tape inadequate for conservation purposes obtained from the back of some family heirloom, glimpses of writing and typed letters that could have been found like a secret treasure map under an old frame, the detritus of work and age.
In other works, working life discoveries and refuse appear as artistic devices, a pH colour wheel framing a Iandscape, fragments of discarded prints, sometimes Ameneiro's own, sometimes too ambiguous to tell. Ameneiro's conservation work transforms him into a conduit of art: here he references Gerhard Richter referenced by John Young; in another he pays homage to Balson by discreetly pointing out the failings of painting Balsonesque pastiches; a portrait in the style of Auerbach; a personal letter in the style of On Kawara; a corner of the room at the last Futurist exhibition. All exhibit the traits of an obsessed artist and an obsessive worker. His eye is cast over everything and it all goes into the mix. The vast number of works in Pictures in C.D., over 130, give him license to do whatever he pleases.
There are though obvious threads in the exhibition, and the most consistent vision in Ameneiro's work is the landscape, made more obvious through its peculiarity which is at first glance banal and deadpan. Ameneiro draws our attention to something that we only glimpse, but rarely look at, as in the way he places an insignificant, discarded piece of brown paper framing into a collage. What is interesting is that it demonstrates how the landscape burns itself onto or consciousness.( Like tracks being burnt onto a CD?). In many of the works, often around Waterfall, Helensburgh and Maddens Plains, the landscape is something seen from the window of a car or train, conveniently framed, on the way to Sydney. Personally I find it dull, boring. monotonous and devoid of major landmarks but it recalls immediately catching the train, or driving to see an exhibition, catching a band, going to an opening etc. However, when looking at Ameneiro's work, it is surprising how aware I am of this landscape and how its every nuance is stored my head.
The landscapes are close in spirit to the work of American artist Edward Hopper, and like Hopper, by drawing our attention to the pedestrian and focussing on composition, tone and structure he shows us the place between things. Ameneiro's work could be also what Hopper claimed his paintings were about, 'the fall of light on a building' though in Amenerio's case it is on the landscape. Ameneiro does not try to reign in the vast emptiness of the landscape but, like Hopper, he concentrates on the evidence of people, telegraph wires and goalposts, parks and roadside markers.
Ameneiro's landscape represent the edge of the Illawarra, a kind of cultural and physical deadzone. It's a limbo, an in-between space undefined, uncelebrated and unattractive. He is showing us the physical edge of where we live, and the edge, both pictorially and metaphorically, is what most of this work is about. Ameneiro looks at the edge and holds it up to the viewer. The escarpment cut hard against the sky, a crisp lawn of a football field meeting the surrounding scrub, a piece of paper collaged against another, power cables breaking the sky into lines and a picture of a roadside where the Illawarra meets Sydney.
Glenn Barkley - 'Periphery' - Issue No.36 Spring 1998
Location is Tony Ameneiro's first solo exhibition at Wollongong City Gallery. Born in London to Spanish parents, Ameneiro migrated to Australia 35 years ago and has since lived, among other places, in Stanwell Tops and the Southern Highlands where he has resided for many years. The work in this exhibition, while strongly embedded with the pervasive qualities of the local landscape, especially its flora, also carries the deep influences of Ameneiro's Spanish cultural roots. The physicality of the immediate experience and the intangible gossamer of memory coalesce in Ameneiro's prints and drawings to describe locations both real and imagined. While this exhibition is drawn very much from the artist's experience, there are within it strong resonances for any who have journeyed to far away places or have shared the dislocation of the migrant experience We would like to thank Tony Ameneiro for his enthusiasm and commitment and trust that you will enjoy this small voyage into his world.
John Monteleone - Deputy Director
A map has no vocabulary, no lexicon of precise meanings. It communicates in lines, hues, tones, coded symbols, and empty spaces…Nor does a map have its own voice. It is many tongued, a chorus reciting centuries of accumulated knowledge in echoed chants. A map provides no answers. It only suggests where to look: discover this, re-examine that, put one thing in relation to another, orientate yourself, begin here…Sometimes a map speaks in terms of physical geography, but just as often it muses on the jagged terrain of the heart, the distant vistas of memory, or the fantastic landscape of dreams.
Harvey, Miles. The Island of Lost Maps, Random House, New York, 2000. p.38
Distances exist only in the real world. In the imagination they are irrelevant. This body of works, the Location series by Tony Ameneiro of prints and drawings, work within the gap of real distance and the distances of the mind. In the works images and techniques are juxtaposed with a sense of order and precision. These images and techniques strongly symbolise Ameneiro's cultural heritage - born in London to Spanish parents and for the past 35 years living in Australia.
Until recently Tony Ameneiro lived and worked at Stanwell Tops and this exhibition represents a kind of "unfinished business"- the works are traces of thoughts and ideas fermented within its geographical bounds. In the Location series, drawing and printmaking convey the complexity and layering of culture and geography.
Ameneiro has chosen to directly reference two elements of his personal landscape that are indefinably linked to place. In the case of the cultural landscape of Spain it is a series of works by the idiosyncratic and typically Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran (1598 - 1664). In particular it references a series of paintings done for the Monastery of Nuestra Senora De La defension, Jerez de la Frontera in the province of Cadiz.
These paintings form a part of the visual and cultural heritage of Ameneiro. Both his parents grew up around the Monastery in Jerez and their families have lived there for generations. Interestingly, local folklore says that Zurbaran had used as models local townspeople and transformed them into figures of worship and adulation.
The other image central to understanding the Location series is of Doryanthes excelsa or the Gymea Lily. The Gymea Lily is an omnipresent visual element in the areas around the Illawarra, not unlike the Xanthorrea, the other remarkable and striking plant species in the area, the Gymea Lily was also extremely useful to the original inhabitants of the land, the Dharawal people. It was a useful food plant with the stalk and roots being edible, the spike was used to make spears and the flowers excreted a sweet honey-like substance.
In earlier works Ameneiro focused on the edges of places - a park edge with goal posts butted against the scrub and road edges cutting through the landscape of Stanwell Park, Helensburgh and Maddens Plain that sit butting up against the Royal National Park. The edge came to represent 'man vs nature', particularly apt for pictures of playing fields, and the Gymea Lily is the most recognisable symbol of this edge - their spectacular flower stalks shooting high from the base and the crimson flowers dramatic against the bush - the lily in flower is always a visual treat on the train journey from Wollongong to Central.
In the works from the Location series the Gymea Lily, so representative of this place, the Illawarra, and Zurbaran, an integral part of the personal cultural history of Ameneiro, are brought together, overlaid and compared. In the case of the images by Zurbaran they are drastically simplified and in a deliberate post-modern appropriation strategy (and a particularly Australian one), the images are photocopied from books and then using a release method the image is transferred to the matrix, in this case a lino block. This is then simplified again in a series of precise cuts turning the face, hands and symbols intosomething akin to a contour map. (On his studio walls are pinned a series of transparent photocopies of maps which the artist often overlays over images.) The tight lines within the linocuts closely resemble the contour lines that represent the escarpment of the northern Illawarra in a surveyor’s maps.
Ameneiro's depictions of the Gymea Lily are fairly abstracted renderings of the flower that has been cropped from a close up photo. The use of the etched line is again, as in the case of Zurbaran’s saints, a contour although this time far looser than the precise woodcuts. The line is both precise and frenetic – meandering lines pick out the separate petals and the etching conveys the architectural qualities of the flower bud.
Ameneiro then creates trial proofs of the prints and goes through the process of pairing prints. The pairing of images is seemingly random but each is carefully considered – often a shape, form or mark will correspond to one another in a purely aesthetic way. A line or mark may trigger a series of abstract associations within the pair. The images are then placed side by side as one editioned work. The linocut is closely cropped to the edge, and using chine collé is butted up close to the etching.
In the large drawing Location – Detail the images closely relate to the prints – again a seemingly random juxtaposition of images – but each carefully selected to fit alongside one another. Memory and location are reduced to purely visual terms. The drawing, more so than the images, emphasises the links between the images, and colour and form is homogenised.
There is also the interesting overlay of papers, pale Japanese tissue for the most part, combined with images, then backed on to a dark card highlighting the use of white pencil. The Japanese paper was originally sourced for the repair of rips in damaged artworks, which references Ameneiro’s ‘day job’ as a paper conservator.
The overlay here is fixed to a support, which allows the drawing to exist in its own space. The crayon with which images are drawn sits up flat on the surface, not permeating it like a print or watercolour. It shifts in focus as you move around it, from certain vantage points the image can disappear altogether and it is again a topographical description – the map – of an image.
Location gives viewers a chance to see into the working processes and personal history of one of the area’s finest artists. It also gives viewers the chance to see the possibilities of contemporary printmaking – the blurring of techniques and imagery combined with consummate skill in editioning and creativity.
More importantly Ameneiro renders geographical distance obsolete – the distance between Spain, the land of his parents and the generations before them breathes down his neck in much the same way that the majestic expanses of the Royal National Park slowly creep upon the land near Stanwell Tops.
Glenn Barkley - Curator, University of Wollongong Art Collection
The series has been about looking at landscape and personal place in the landscape and trying to arrive at an alternative more inclusive and personalised description of place. The early works in the series such as ‘Location (drawing)’ started with an almost cartographic approach, attempting to integrate personal stories into the works, creating a type of personal map, an “autobiographical map”.
The mapping and cartographic imagery in the works like the Location prints have become more subtle over time. For example the implied contour lines from a topographic map in the cropped figures. These closely gathered contour lines echo the tight lines on the maps of the Illawarra escarpment area (my previous home). An area approximately 80 miles south of Sydney on the East coast of Australia.
The floral images in the intaglio panels, the Gymea or Illawarra Lily (Doryanthes excelsa) are a symbol of place denoting my previous home, Stanwell Tops, on the Illawarra escarpment.
The Lily is huge native flower of the area and a very prominent feature of the area when in flower.
The linocut panels are details from a series of paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán a Spanish 17th C painter, commissioned for a Carthusian Monastery in my parent’s home town, Jerez de la Frontera, in the far south of Spain. These panels relate the idea of place mixed in with family history. My father worked at the monastery for some time during the 1940’sThe monastery still stands but is empty of the Zurbarán works. The monastery known locally as “La Cartuja” is still a well-known feature and historical focus of my parent’s town.
A suite of five colour etchings each printed from three plates.
My interest in the Gymea Lily (Doryanthes excelsa) stems from a time when my family and I lived at Stanwell Tops at the Northern end of the Illawarra Escarpment, on the South Coast of New South Wales. This particular plant with its tall, striking flower spike is a dominant feature of the botanical landscape in the area. The early naturalists of the day even referring to it as the ‘Illawarra Lily’. It was of particular significance to the aboriginal people of the area both as a food source and as a symbol tied to their ancestral roots. The Gymea Lily became a symbol of place for me in my previous series titled ‘Location’, which explored the links between place and family, home and heritage. This plant still maintains a fascination for me even after having moved from the area. There is a unique appeal in the flower’s profusion of chaotic forms, its scarlet and violet hues, the leather-like finish of its flower segments. The height of the flower spike, sometimes at 2-4 metres, also required trundling through bush with ladders or scaling nearby trees for a close enough angle for drawing or photographs. This difficulty merely added to its appeal for me.
The etchings themselves are all drawn ‘soft ground’ etchings. All the plates are based around the colour separation method arising from the digital-graphic method for separating colour using the ‘Cyan Magenta Yellow and Black’ (CMYK), only in this method the black was eliminated reducing to three the number of matrices required to draw each image ( hence the ‘CMY’). Much like drawing with red blue and yellow colour pencils the method aimed to create a sense of colour inherent in the original flowers but always mindful of the simplicity of the primary colours at work.
The works in the skull series of drawings and prints are based on the one view, the underside of a cow skull, found in a field next to our home in Mittagong, NSW. These skulls have become a type of ‘slate’ for exploring ideas, techniques and thoughts. They also continue my on going interest in exploring symbols of place.
Additionally there is the reading of any skull image as a type of ‘memento mori’.
- In “Cow Skull on Calf Vellum” the drypoint etching of the skull is printed onto a traditionally treated piece of calf skin vellum.
- In “white skull black skull” the linear contour approach echoes not only the form of the original object, but also the tight contour lines from the topographic maps of Mount Gibraltar, a prominent landmark opposite our house and the field where the cow skull was found. Continuing my interest in looking at maps and drawing a sense of these back into the object.
- In “Big Night Skull”, there is a suggestion of the skull as an imaginary night sky, with galaxies, comets, and star trails.