Lux in Tenebris Lucet

Light Shines in Darkness

Dr Irene Barberis and Godwin Bradbeer, April 2007

Godwin Bradbeer in conversation with Irene Barberis

I.B. Godwin you came up with the title and it seemed to fit both our work – where apart from the Biblical context did this title come from?

This Latin phrase meaning light shines in darkness was given to me as a title for a work 25 years ago by my friend Dorothy Lee. She had previously referred me to Gerard Manley Hopkins for a language for my work and from his poetry I found titles for two photography shows ‘Mortal Trash is Immortal Diamond’ (1975) and ‘Eyelid on Eyelid” (1976). Both these shows were with artist/photographer Warren Breninger and much of the work and many of the ideas remain unfinished business. ‘Lux in Tenebris Lucet’ connects me to the spirit of these shows.

I.B. You have manipulated these drawings through the medium of ‘light’, was this your purpose?

The reference point within my most sustained images is the seul point de lumiere. The dominant point of light from which all others are keyed with descending intensity. In most of my drawings I set up a constellation of points of light, a stellar geometry within the physiognomy. Within a squared gallery space I like to consider the four walls with a consciousness of their north, south, east and westerley aspects. Had I used the four walls there would be a considered rapport –perhaps cultural - between the eight (four diptych) visages. Only one face in duality is used here.

I.B. I first met you through my practice of classical dance – was the inclusion of the swan and its reflection a reference to the ballet Swan Lake?

The swan has many associations of course in art and mythology. It is perhaps opportunistic of me to take advantage of such a motif but in my art I eventually visit all the cliches. ‘Swan of Trespass’ acknowledges the extraordinary surrealist Ern Malley poem ‘Black Swan of Trespass.’ Somewhat quaintly for me it also nostalgically and obscurely recalls the inverted black swan of Western Australia. As a childhood hobbyist I knew this pre Federation postage stamp to be black and white, flawed, absurd, extremely rare, very valuable and modestly beautiful.

I.B. Darkness typifies much of your drawing, do you ever see this in a negative way?

Sometimes I regret this. 

However darkness makes void palpable and shadow like reflection introduces an equivalent presence that is compositionally helpful for an artist- existentialist like me who has difficulty with more than one figure. 

It is a frequently repeated metaphor that the dark night sky reveals the moon and stars and that these are rendered invisible by the brilliance of daylight. It is a simple paradox. Australia has a great tradition of daylight artists, unfortunately as an artist I have always had a day job so the admission within my work of its nocturnal origins is at least honest. Duality is inferred by the Rorschach symmetry of reflections and of cast shadows and this has engaged me as a sub-theme in my work for some years. I once saw on a funniest home video show a toddler hysterical and crying at the shadow stuck to her feet like black chewing gum. In distress she was trying to leap away from this doppleganger.

I.B.When I first saw your work in the early 1970s it was light, lyrical and linear. Are these qualities still important to you?

It is not shadow that interests me, it is light. Lustre, lucidity, illumination and illustration. The latter – illustration - for many years unsayable within an art school. An artist drawing,  painting or even photographing can make no illusion of light without creating an encompassing context of at least relative darkness. Chiaroscuro is significantly more than a tonal technique. The term perhaps more specific to my fascination is perhaps lucus a non lucendo; the referencing of an effect to its paradoxical cause. In my own drawing process I work initially and primarily with white. Despite the apparent lack of colour I endeavour the cool white of alabaster and the warm white of ivory. And yes, I love the lyrical sensuality of line drawing but ironically, whereas light and tone are an optical phenomenon, line drawing as the defining of interface between form and space is actually a more radical abstraction.  Most, perhaps all of my apparently tonal drawings are line drawings in disguise.

I.B. You are using one of the ‘Imago’ series of large face drawings in this exhibition. Has this series grown from a direct portrait or a generic idea of the human face?

The ‘Imago’ series of frontal faces are rendered as dense white polished ovoids obscured by burnished silver oxide and eclipsed with dusted black pastel. Initially inspired by many things, amongst which are the beautiful sculptures of Brancusi. I imagine the head like Jupiter or Saturn with a gravitational compression so intense that elements invert themselves, like carbon to diamond. Lux in tenebris lucet – light shines in darkness.

These works are designed as diptychs. Each face has a companion, sometimes in reflection, sometimes in response, usually in intended verisimilitude. The drawings are meditations on the subject of the human face, not really portraits, they are derived from imagining and from remembering a million faces seen. No present model or available photograph is consulted. Certain intentions are in conflict in this context and they can either neutralize, neuter or intensify the work. Maleness and femaleness might be indeterminate, so too racial identity – these are not anthropological studies. Rendered realism is my visual mode though an alphabet of abstract markings like cunieform on clay tablets or a tabula rasa representing the blankness or the enigma of origin is a phase of most of the ‘Imagos’.

I.B. How will you present your work in the context of this exhibition?

In this presentation I am experimenting with accompanying an ‘Imago’ drawing with its projected duplicate.  Material and non material images in partnership. Many questions arise. Is the illuminated image eclipsed by the projected image? Is the static image diminished by the kinetic image? Is the illusory more evocative than the physical?

Variously these might be positioned at radiating compass points gazing at human difference with bewilderment. In the context of this collaborative exhibition I intend only one ‘Imago’ face coupled with its own projected reflection.

My intention is to present the electronic image as video, static but not inert. I want the suggestion of the lapsing of slow time and a transmission of energy without narrative sequence. This presentation is for me an experimental response to this particular location and an opportunity to reveal a conduit of visual connectedness between our practices as artists.

For their generous technical support Godwin Bradbeer would like to thank; Robert Last, Kevin Maxwell, Ceri Hann, Andre Liew and Steve Hope.

Dr Irene Barberis and Godwin Bradbeer
April 2007