From the Shadows

Dr Neill Overton

Conceptual drawing in Australia from 1970 – 2000s can be seen to preoccupy itself with image and meaning, and to marginalise qualities of touch and tactility that previously differentiated drawing from other works on paper.  Much of the large-scale drawing made in the 1980s has been identified as having a sense of detachment. Art critic Robert Hughes argued that large scale drawing suffered because of its removal from the preconditions of its making, the processes of drawing, and also a separation from that which critic Tony Godfrey offered as a summary of the purpose of drawing: as a form of “archaeology of touch”.1 During the last thirty years, the intimacy of drawing has at times become overwhelmed by “the mural” and the predominance of conceptualism; leaving wall-sized, wall paper. 

Seeing art work reproduced in a catalogue is not the experience of seeing the work itself. A major Australian drawer such as Godwin Bradbeer, whose vast, dark field drawings such as Imitation of Shadow 1989 are larger than human scale, suffers in reproduction because his images are reduced to the size of postage-stamp simulacra. Here the qualities of layered surface; charcoal, chinagraph and pastel are reduced.  The dynamics of the image and its meaning, as funnelled through photographic reproduction, is dissipated.  It is a negation not merely of intimacy but of the domain of touch that drawing traditionally, and still contemporaneously, should occupy.  “Image-making” does not necessarily equate with “drawing” at all; it is only part of its rationale.

Drawing in England at the end of the 1960s was being extended, testing the borderlines of where figurative drawing might trespass.  Whether in works by artists like Hamish Fulton in The Sweet Grass Hills of Montana 1971, a small book in which the image of a mountain is redrawn, each page being reworked from the memory of the preceding one, or by Gilbert and George in a series of huge pencil drawings of figures in the landscape, we have conceptual incursions into the often presumed “observational” nature of the figure as subject in art.  Two important exhibitions chronicled these developing extensions of figuration in the mid 1970s:  these were the international survey exhibitions, Functions of Drawing, at the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Holland (1975) and Drawing Now, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1976).

R. B. Kitaj’s exhibition The Human Clay, 1976, marked a watershed in British figuration, and its continued assertion of the validity of the figure as subject.  This exhibition was interpreted as a significant return to the “academic” values of life drawing, and of the single human figure as subject.  Historically, it was against this backdrop that Godwin Bradbeer entered the consciousness of Australian drawing and of Australian art: both against and yet part of the shotgun marriages that were occurring between drawing and photography, and drawing and conceptual installations.  In many ways, my view of Bradbeer remains drawing-centric, as it is his masterful assertions within this medium as his prime art activity over the past 30 years that cements his place in Australian art.  It overshadows his painting, and the innate photographic vision from which his art aesthetic emerged.  In the best sense, drawing is the skeleton of all Bradbeer’s related art activities, which often vigorously trawl across performance and photographic art practices.  His exhibition in 2000, Self-Portrait Photographs 1968 – 1978 projected a persona of Bradbeer as photo-performance artist – the self as subject, vehicle and initiator of images – not out of place in a curatorial enclave with Mike Parr, Gareth Sansom, Arnulf Rainer and Cindy Sherman. 

There was and is a considered “internationalism” about Bradbeer’s aesthetic, steeped in traditions of perspectival innovation and the figure as a cypher of emotion that owes far more to the Renaissance and Romanticism than to any localized referents. Bradbeer persisted in his figurative mode against the clear tide of 1970s abstract and minimal art, prevalent when he was an art student.  From student days in 1968, and even earlier in the magazine covers he drew at school as a 13 year old, Bradbeer’s preoccupation with human form as motif and conveyor of conceptual content has been unwavering.

Bradbeer has been critically positioned as part of the wave of 1980s and 1990s German neoexpressionism. This is due more to his use of monumental scale and what has been described as ‘dark, angst-ridden themes’2 than to alliance with other characteristics of the drawing taking place in Dusseldorf, and throughout Germany by 1985.  Bradbeer’s emphasis and manner of drawing had been established a decade before that, so he was no sudden convert to the zeitgeist.  Rather, he prefers to see his work as a form of classicism, for it is classical structures that most interest and influence him.

CORRIDORS OF SPILT INK
If Jasper Johns has exerted an influence, even subliminally, on Godwin Bradbeer’s work, it would not be found in the short, punctuated marks Johns caked on in overlaid scribbles but in the use of random or chance elements.  In his ink work, Johns created the type of Rorschach blots that recall the idea that a formless or random “shape” causes a viewer to exert greater interplay of imagination.  Alexander Cozens was aware of the power of a cloud-shape to stimulate the mind associatively, and also Da Vinci in his ruminations on blotches on a wall.  A great part of Bradbeer’s output has been to do with the power of suggestion through shape, though their creation is scarcely random.

The “objects” he represents are not always literal as much as suggestions to which a viewer must bring the missing pieces: as in his drawings of a snake form reflecting a snake, or a horse mirroring a horse, as in Terribilita 1990.  Dual images of animal or human forms mirroring themselves, and thematic series of these visual twins have dominated his work of the past two decades.  The snake is as much to do with the evocative power of a curve, of the white “line” it makes against an indeterminate vast black space, as it is to do with any associative content or narrative; whether implied phallic or religious symbolism can be further attached to it. The dancing girl, seemingly plucked from one of Degas’s rat-gamines, poised in Innocent Diptych 2002, tutu feather-light, hovers in the ethereal light of childhood and beatitude.

Bradbeer’s consideration of Rorschach tests are less to do with their randomness than the subject of duality, as you get with an unfolded ink blot on a creased paper page. In Illustrated Man 1991 as in all his two panel “mirror pieces”, the mirrored image, apparently reflecting things that are alike, is a deception - they are at once vastly different in the quality of minutiae, of marks that imbed the surface and mould the form. The impact of the giant image at a distance may well be that they are identical, but as you close in on the drawing it emerges that one is not a copy of the other, they are infinitely varied.  Like two different expanses of stars, their milky complexity of chinagraph strokes, their torch-lights of orange or pink undertones well beneath the figures’ facades. Is one “real” and the other a copy, a reflection, an imitation of reality? Bradbeer questions the drawing act of making likenesses, of representation and reproducing images. The psychological properties of a Rorschach reflected image, and the number of images in society that exist in duality intrigues Bradbeer. His cloud shapes are not arrived at by accident but by intent: not the chance flow of ink or smudge, but rather the imposed “accident”, the double-reading by deliberation.

CONCEALMENT BY BURIAL
Procedurally, in common with Johns, Rauschenberg and Pollock, is Bradbeer’s need to represent something then to conceal it: to depict and then erase.  In Johns’s post 1970 work, where he produced hatched surfaces, there was this same relationship with depiction and erasure; to change or modify the statement of “subject” through process.  This became most pronounced in the collages and pencil and turpentine transfers of Robert Rauschenberg, where images of ready-mades from magazine photos of athletes appear and disappear beneath accumulations of pencil directional marks.  For Bradbeer, drawing is an unveiling process, not unlike the Erased De Kooning of Rauschenberg’s in 1953. This unveiling is arrived at by depiction of a known form from the skeleton up in accumulated layers: eventually, once the central figure or animal form is stated, it is visually obliterated under a layer of crushed charcoal and pastel.  It is then dragged back; what we finally see are those forms that have been pulled out of the dark field by methylated spirits on a rag, which may then be defined further.  This causes every drawing to become an archeological dig, where a fossilized form is partially scraped out of the “rock” of the drawing, and left imbedded in the nocturnal ambiguity of dark space.

Arthur McIntyre referred to Bradbeer’s drawings since the 1980s as having “...placed him in the Neo-Figurative camp which owes no small debt to Italian Trans-Avant-garde preoccupations with reinterpretations of past history and its motifs.”3 Animism, with a series of man and horse drawings, notably Phalanx Tertia 1985, convey an undercurrent of sexual metaphor that lurks within most of his work.  Around the same time, John Elderfield, then Curator of Drawing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, stated that, “The oft titled ‘new drawing’ refers to ‘imagist’ drawing”.4 This is more to the point: Bradbeer was unabashedly imagist; and often mistakenly reviewed as being anachronistic in intent. Iconsider his interest in history to be one of continuance more than reinterpretation.  Thematically, Bradbeer remains concerned with the monolith - usually single figure, or animal form enveloped and partly emerging from a black, sculptural charcoal mass. Like a figure slowly advancing through the darkness out of an impermeable London fog: the blackness exists for this reason only, that it is indeterminate.

The drawings are literally developed from the skeleton up, in a ritualized excavation. He marks out drawing sites to identify a quiet place ruffled, a stone disturbed, sods of earth turned over uneasily.  Wrappers of skin and flesh are lifted, the flesh taking on a watery transparency to reveal the bones beneath. The purpose in this, as in Aboriginal X-ray drawings, is to show the viewer a deeper reality than surface appearance: to cut through to what exists within and makes up all that is the human entity. Yet in this he is not enamoured of what he describes as “the school of blood and gore”, as he sees the excess bloodiness of Francis Bacon and often Peter Booth.5 Bradbeer sees his concerns not in the blood-letting of dramatic image-making, but in classical allusion. Unlike the postmodern synthesizers of appropriation, he does not purloin images as much as refer to the structures and compositions of Hellenic art. Summarily, Bradbeer explores the mechanisms of Renaissance intent without hiding it beneath irony; in this endeavour he is arguably the most postmodern of artists, unafraid of the figurative language he explores.  In this regard, I recall comments contemporary Australian multimedia artist Johannes Klabbers made in 2005: I have a problem with the way postmodernism uses irony; it sees itself debunking the myths of the modernists – exposing how myths are created – that knowing smile of postmodernism that you see all the time…6

BLACK IS THE COLOUR
Bradbeer is not exposing myths, but immersing himself in the tasks of their completion.  While there is tonality to all Bradbeer’s work, his use of it is often critically misunderstood.  In fact in 1988 Arthur McIntyre wrote, “Tone, rather than line, gives Bradbeer’s work its theatrical quality and imparts a ‘painterly’ flavour quite common in recent large-scale drawing which, among a host of other things, defies the traditional notion that drawing is essentially, even exclusively linear.”7 This is actually not the case with Bradbeer’s work, his tone is not painterly or used to model form - the drawings are developed entirely linearly and the tone is a subordinate concern. There is a lack of directional light source, and according to Bradbeer, “I think all my drawing is sustained by the line… the character of the line in the early stage of the work.”8 A point overtook him in his student drawings where, in order to combat his own facility with line and to toughen the images, he came increasingly to use tone.  But they begin as line drawings and are sustained by line.  It is not modeling in tone, but the advancing of forms by building up light areas – all armatures and spider lines; taut linear girders the way Alberto Giacometti constructed space.

His works are dark. Oppressively black; and like Jan Senbergs this has often prompted reviews of the apocalyptic doomsday variety, where there is an immediate psychological transfer that dark works are projections of despair and gloom. If you consider the “drawings” of white against black on Greek vases, or linocuts, then it must be considered that tone and blackness are not always signification of the pit, fumes of sulphur, and the void. That black creates ambiguous, uncertain psychological depths is true. Black is also used to equalize dark shapes with light ones such as is the case with the work of Victor Vaserely and Bridget Riley, or for instance, in the way of Minoan vases using marine creature motifs in the equal balancing of light and dark areas.

The design element of tone as patterning is at work in Godwin’s compositions and in his use of positive and negative values, particularly in such forms as his tiger image or rib-cages on humans; his skeletal, softly padding prowler in the darkness, his “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, in the forests of the night…”9 The light and dark that pervades Bradbeer’s drawings is not one of chiaroscuro, or an exaggerated single light source to create intense contrast.  It is not to do with a directional light source at all.  Bradbeer is fully aware of the evocative power of blackness to create monumental images, and for him the black envelope acts more as the sleep from which he rouses figures and forms, to allude to qualities other than “...the darker side of human nature” (as McIntyre again wrote of the concerns expressed in his work). Perhaps they are more to do with the inner life, the spiritual life within the human frame, than to do with representing the darker side of the human psyche. These skeletons and skins are layers through which we glide, our mortality, and not to do with portents of death in the manner of Goya or expressionists like Edvard Munch. This is the major linchpin on which Bradbeer’s work hangs that needs to be understood; that black is not only and always a metaphor for the grave.

If Degas informs an attitude to drawing in Bradbeer’s work and certainly in the compositional cropping of figures in the rectangle, or in the diagonal movements he establishes across the picture plane, curiously Bradbeer regularly avoids Degas’s more photographic angles or asymmetrical compositions: his figures remain either directly vertical or directly horizontal.  In the manner of a portrait, stamp or coin, his poses embrace the monumentality of the upright form and eschew the “snapshot” aesthetic. His love too of the profile is as an enduring image, which comes not only from British stamps, and Roman coins, but Egyptian portraiture. The profile imbues the figure with a sense of permanence; it does not wear away and retains its clarity at a distance.

In regard to light Degas said, “The point is to not to always show the source of light, but its effect.  This aspect of art can become immensely important today.  It is possible not to see it.”10 The figures in Bradbeer’s rectangles are bathed, almost incandescently in a light that appears to emanate not from outside, but from them, as if they are irradiated. It is an art of the effect of light, and how it comes to occupy and confirm the supposed “subject” of the work. This is a major distinction between Bradbeer and other essentially studio based Australian drawers such as Brian Dunlop, Brian Siedel, William Kelly or Rick Amor. The relationship between the figure and the concrete reality of the environs it inhabits is very non-specific. Figures float in a space neither shallow nor deep, between the mirror and its reflection, between earth and otherness, life and death. They move outside of and in between these realisms. It is a cerebral evaluation of the figure; they are never “portraits” in any sense of the everyday.

The manner of execution of working back to polish away and slowly reveal the drawn image is a photographic aesthetic in that the image gets “developed” or slowly exposed to the level that the artist wishes to be revealed. It evidences the photographic origins of Bradbeer’s work, a natural confluence of control and revelation.  From 1971 - 78 he held eight photographic two-man exhibitions with Warren Breninger, increasingly exploring reconstructed or drawn-over photographs, motivated by a desire that the artist’s hand control all marks seen.  By the early 1980s Bradbeer’s works were becoming increasingly monumental; vast floor to ceiling drawings needing to be worked at on a ladder. In the event of Empirical Triptych, 1983, measuring 300 x 816 cm – he increasingly sought an impact of the image at a scale best realised by a drawing rather than photograph.

MEMORY SHARDS AND CHALKBOARDS
Given that the work is highly ordered, in the way that Hellenic art is disciplined and stylized, it might seem incongruous to compare his work to Cy Twombly’s. However the minutiae on the surface of a drawing and the layering of marks, is calligraphic in its scribbling. The quality lies in making a vast image of a singular form that has a surface character of broken shards of lines wrenched into coherence. If a section of one of his drawings was viewed in isolation so that it was not identifiably a figure, it would be as abstract in form as the blackboard-like drawings of Twombly. That gestural abstract “handwriting” is a vital component of the figurative conclusions that Bradbeer has reached, to enliven the drawings and stop them becoming too polished or slick.

It is also unusual in his working methodology that the drawings emerge totally from imagination and memory, with occasional use of a mirror to gauge the angle of an arm or leg. They are not resourced directly from a model, or a photographic reference; this is unusual in that his drawing is exacting in its consideration of human physiology. “I tend to use a limited, almost ritualized range of angles. And so, it’s almost as limited as the Egyptian arrangements… after awhile you can just educate yourself in those positions.”11 It is his way of limiting the amount of variations and to exact subtle shifts from just slightly varied poses of the figure: an austere choreography.

Thematically, the rigidity of these“poses” emerges in a series of head studies in profile. For example, his Cosmetic Head with Yellow Core 1990, or in his Empirical Triptych 1983, which tend to be more linear, and to incorporate more colour traces. These giant profiles have the durability of a coin where the image is trusted not to wear away or age. Many of his profile drawings appear as effortless as a stone rubbing made from a statue gleaned in passing.  It reflects a concern for the universality of the image, as it manifests itself from the reaches of imagination, divorced from any individual particularities of build or features of the “model”. The male or female figures he draws remain ageless, heroically proportioned and usually vertical in pose: androgynous grace, approaching the figure as a symbol for all human presence rather than any specific moment in time or place or history. To this end, there are no localized references to particularize the figure in Bradbeer’s work.  No length of hair to be changed by fashion as the years pass, or clothing that indicates a certain period of time. The physiology of people is the only common ingredient. The naked human figure. “And if somehow I can make it look like a shining artefact of the future, I’d feel really victorious and hopeful.”12

The almost singular reference point for Godwin Bradbeer as a student by 1968 was not a “drawer” at all, but Francis Bacon, whose manipulations of a palpably distorted figure set in rigidly geometric enclosures held enormous sway as an artist who post World War Two was making the figure relevant to the concerns of abstraction. Like so many figurative artists of this period, Bradbeer wanted the figure to serve an abstract end so it did not appear anachronistic. Right to the end of the 1970s Bradbeer used the figure, but in a fragmentary fashion, using parts of the body to accommodate this sense of locating abstract form from the figure. In a sense, still fearing that a whole figure might appear retrograde: this formative aesthetic persists in his work, although full figures are more prevalent than they were. The floating, embryonic heads of his Imago Series (1998 – continuing) have flickers of “real” faces, yet remain elusive coins or meteors adrift. Transient, windblown, and partially revealed – they seem at once carved of stone yet flickeringly impermanent, as if the back of your hand could wipe away charcoal, pastel and dust.

Bradbeer’s exposure to Bacon was via a copy of the large 1970 book on him, which included a volume of small black and white reproductions of his paintings. These were influential on Bradbeer’s growing sensibility about placement and dynamics of the figure, and it is integral that the images that so saturated Bradbeer were black and white.  “...And I used to look through completely forgetting that I was looking at paintings that were done in colour.” This is not a trivial reflection regarding drawing emerging from painting sources: Bradbeer’s experience translates to how many artists of his generation digested their information about overseas art; scavenging magazines and books for images.

RECONSTRUCTED PHOTOGRAPHY: EXHUMATIONS OF THE PAST
Bradbeer’s photographic exhibitions in tandem with Warren Breninger throughout the 1970s were part of a groundswell of activity in reconstructed photography. Arnulf Rainer who exhibited drawn-over photographs between 1969-74, was instrumental in popularizing the art form. Breninger had a greater emphasis on the reconstructed photograph than Bradbeer, as in Breninger’s Expulsion of Eve 1970s work that mixed collage, photography and drawing; although Bradbeer too experimented with writing and drawing over photographs.  Eventually, “I missed in photography that responsibility for every mark that constructed form.” There is a tension evident between the figures and the edge in much of his work in the 1990s and 2000s that still echoes a photographic sensibility in the placement. Or as Bradbeer succinctly put it: Quite often as a figurative artist when you approach the rectangle in the knowledge that you have to place a figure into it, you have that appalling feeling that you are a mortician putting another corpse into a coffin.15

Bradbeer began drawings at life size in the 1970s by occasionally including, or using as a starting point, the shadow of his own figure as it was cast onto the page when he was working. He would mark out the ashen shape of head, hand and arm as it landed if there was a spotlight somewhere in the room. This device not only confirmed the drawings as a same-size process, but at an image-making level there was something metaphysically satisfying about transferring one’s own shadow onto the page: which is philosophically what one is always attempting to do in the activity of drawing.

Jasper Johns had in the 1960s and 1970s experimented with drawing shadows cast onto the paper and the transferring of one’s own image by rubbed on oil in a series of drawings entitled Skin wherein the paper was rubbed against with the oily imprints of his own hands and face to form grey apparitions of himself. In the traced shadow cast by a child onto the page in Johns’s drawing A Souvenir for Andrew Monk 1987, he continued these “fallings” of shadows transferred across to the page. Bradbeer was never derivative of Johns, but in both photography and in drawings he has worked with a consciousness of contemporary abstraction’s capacity to offer aesthetics to activate the figure; galvanize it into new life.
To the inventory of Australian artists who notably worked across photography and drawing in the 1970s were Micky Allan and Virginia Coventry, whose work in the 1976 Ewing and George Paton Galleries exhibition, Drawing: Some Definitions, combined drawing and photography. Coventry stated then that, “...the real representation of form reflecting light in time is made ambiguous by the physical distraction of hand-made marks.”16 While this may be true for her work, perhaps Bradbeer affirms the hand-made mark as being not so much a distraction, but the quality that particularizes a drawing and releases it from the equanimity of the photograph. As much as the classical Hellenic order of his work makes it at once endless chess-move variations within a limited, stylized series of moves, they are not meant to be anonymous documentations: you are meant to see and feel the hand that made them.

BUILDING MONUMENTS IN THE DARK
Most of the large black Australian “mural drawings” of the 1980s and 1990s, Italian and European influenced, such as those of Bernard Sachs’s labyrinthine bitumen tunnels between the ghostly presences of figures partly wiped on in charcoal, or draped like vast shrouds of Turin - were tacked straight to the walls. This roughness of presentation, generally necessitated by size, suited the neo-expressionist verve of much of the work, and drawing’s “sketch” capacities. It also removed one psychological barrier between the viewer and the work, bringing them closer to the drawing and its tactility. However, Bradbeer throughout has consistently exhibited his large scale work framed either under glass or perspex. Seemingly he prefers the distancing museumology of the “object under glass” that it imposes, and the added ambiguous layer of reflections it gives to the density of the drawings. The contradictory nature of Bradbeer’s aesthetic is again enshrined in these opposites of permanence, agelessness, and the conflicted immediacy of the “sketch” as opposed to the “exhibition work”. 

On an international level, his use of black fields bears comparison with an artist such as Robert Morris, whose works from the mid 1980s were multi-panelled, huge depictions related to devastation at Dresden and Hiroshima. Morris envisioned life-size images of skeletons swirling as they sink into black holocaustic tar-pits. The smudging technique is more akin to Jasper Johns’s The Diver 1968 drawing, which deliberately shows the scale of the human figure through the window-cleaning sweep of the arm. On the crest of the current eve-of-destruction drawings fuelled by social comment on the nuclear age, the appearance of Morris’s work has striking visual consistencies with Bradbeer’s. What makes it all the more interesting then is that the mood they convey is obliquely different. Bradbeer’s work is not to do with death, if anything his skeletons are testaments to longevity. The belief that inner bones are lasting and durable whatever frailties sag or wither the flesh is manifest throughout Bradbeer’s various dissections. His drawings turn the figure’s skin into glass to show the whole, not the temporary surface appearance which surely fades. Bradbeer is illustrating a permanency of the human form, beyond its immediate vulnerability.

ARTEFACTS OF THE FUTURE
Warren Breninger described his own drawings in 2004 as “serial and figurative… a range of strong confronting female heads that are intimate and irreproachable, familiar and peculiar, generalized and particular.”17 In part this dichotomy of the familiar and the general applies to Bradbeer: the serial, full face mastheads – yet the sense of “flotation chamber” and of the tranquility of the spaces the figural forms drift in always particularizes Bradbeer’s work for me; they are less figures placed in coffins, than always pulled into their own gravity of ambivalent rotation like astronauts at the ends of their oxygen cables in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

In Sydney, since 1982 John R. Walker has exhibited huge black drawings at Mori Gallery, of tangled figures atop a yawning void. A centrally placed dome of light bathes massed figures, as if they are slumped in the wings of an abandoned stage in biomorphic heaps. Walker invokes this Goyaesque social comment on drink, dissolution and human decay; on common ground with the current British figuration of an artist like Ian Breakwell. Contemporary British or Scottish figuration in drawing is dominated by economic realism: the legacy of the Thatcher years and the crumbling of Britain’s economy, edifices and institutions. British artist Ian Breakwell exhibited here at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space in 1990, and chronicled the Britain of the 1980s in large scale narrative drawings that commented on the Falklands war and the soccer hooliganism that characterized the new conservatism. Ken Currie’s Triptych Study for Constructors 1992, exhibited again here in Sydney in 2003, reconfirms socially directed work from Glasgow, Scotland, that still sees mural scale drawing as a political tool for documentation and change. In the final end, do we measure Bradbeer’s work by how far it stands outside of these realisms, and its voice for drawing as a poetic mirror? Godwin Bradbeer’s drawing is diametrically opposed to this type of social comment, enacting as he does a wider humanism that revisits the Renaissance, but remains devoid of self-conscious irony. He is forever trying to extract light from darkness, and his work is a persistently quiet celebration of the human spirit transcendent; a potholer working through a tunnel towards a distant luminous glow. Or as one recent description of the filmed figure, and the impact figurative art still retains, put it: A newsreel image of young girls cascades down a white wall in projected Duchampian nude staircases in staggered half-light, sea-tossed in a hall of mirrors – layering and grafting to achieve disordered logics, in the corridors outside the painting rooms – in the intense train - wreck of music into picture – 18

This essay began with the position that the scale of drawing in Australia in the 1980s caused it to become detached: all murky drive-in screens and panoramas. Bradbeer’s achievement is to defeat this notion by holding onto intimacy at scale; in the presence of his drawings, if not their reproduction.  We walk into his installations of wall-works and are subsumed by both their classicism and their address to the chalk and bones of mortality. Or as French theorist Jean Baudrillard reflected on the photograph and its reality: Irrespective of the violence, the speed or the noise of its surroundings, the photograph restores the object to the immobility and the silence of the image.  In the very centre of the city, in the very centre of turbulence, in the very centre of visual and auditory stress, it recreates emptiness; it recreates the desert, the equivalent of the desert…19

Beyond photography: enlarging upon his essential photographic sensibilities, the images Bradbeer pursues enact these same disappearances; as art and gesture they reinforce “...the only way to cross cities in silence. The only way to cross the world in silence”20; they are restorations of the object to reflective silence: salvage-ships of the drifting soul.

Dr. Neill Overton
June 2006

1 Tony Godfrey, Drawing Today, Phaidon Press, 1990.
2 Arthur McIntyre, Australian Contemporary Drawing Boolarong Press, 1988, p.38.
3 Ibid.
4 John Elderfield, The Modern Drawing, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
5 Confirmed in interview with the artist in Melbourne October 7, 2005.
6 Johannes Klabbers, in interview with the author August 16, 2005.
7 McIntyre, ibid.
8 Interview transcript, 1993 and in 2005.
9 William Blake, “The Tyger”, 1794.
10 Ian Dunlop, Degas,1979, Thames and Hudson.
11 Confirmed in phone interview in May 2006, and earlier interview transcripts.
12 A reference to the poet Leonard Cohen’s line, “Everybody knows that the naked man and woman are just a shining artefact of the past.” From his 1988 CBS album, I’m Your Man. 
13 Interview transcript.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Andrew Sayers, Drawing in Australia, Oxford Pub., 1988.
17 Warren Breninger, 2004 Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, Graftan Regional Gallery Pub., 2004, p.7.
18 Neill Overton, cat. essay, Johannes Klabbers, A Limited Catalogue of Endless Things, Feb 2003, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery. 
19 Jean Baudrillard, The Art of Disappearance, in N. Zurbrugg, ed., Jean Baudrillard: Art and Artefact, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Aust., pub., 1997, p.23.
20 Baudrillard, ibid.

Dr Neill Overton June 2006

www.godwinbradbeer.com