Upon learning Shelter Island, New York based Irish born award-winning Australasian artist David Rankin (b1946) was returning to Melbourne this Spring, 2018, I found myself with many questions about the process involved in continuing to progress works of contemporary art in our climate of constant change.
Before the advent of the Age of Modernism in the west during the late nineteenth century in England, Europe and America, now well-known world artists focused on a more formal style of composition when creating images from real life; what the eye could see. They offered their thoughts through many mediums, including architecture, sculpture, powerful portraiture and landscape painting.
For many this style of art was seemingly easier to understand, because it was all about visual effects; it represented what we could and would see in front of our eyes.
However, there was, and is far more to seeing something than meets the eye, whether that be a person or an object.
Before we start to assess how we feel about a work of art what we are seeing is already influenced prior to our first encounter with it, by our own cultural influences and familial conditioning, as well as our broader society’s beliefs, biases, prejudices and more.
Religious beliefs are certainly part of the story, as well as other cultures we have encountered in our journey and their ideas, which have already been gleaned from the world around us through experience or education.
Post Modernism art for many seemingly became far more complex. The satisfaction of looking at art became about exploring the work to discover its meaning. There was no shying away from the image simply because it was ‘abstract’ and the viewer did not initially understand the artist’s intentions.
It required us to expand our horizons, as well as our experience of the world around us, at first by being curious to find out what was in the artist’s mind and why. Psychology and intellectual ideas came into focus.
Gaining knowledge should be an exhilarating journey for us all to embark upon, not a chore. With contemporary art post Modernism, the more you read and the more you look, the more you will find, which may enable you to become emotionally engaged.
Deciding a starting point for my own conversation with David Rankin, was difficult.
In the end, we just simply had an extensive conversation about his life in art.
David began by defining the shows he is offering in Sydney and Melbourne in September, 2018, as two voices in a dialogue…. even though they are in different cities. Here’s how it went.
“The show in Sydney is all about ‘the landscapes of my life’ both past and present; my own vision of the environment around me inspired by so many different influences, both cultural and experienced” he commented.
From a drought ridden plain in the outback of New South Wales to the lights and sounds of the urban and city environment, the Irish born Australian immigrant David Rankin who has lived in New York since 1989, feels happiest when described as an Australasian artist.
“The pop up show in Melbourne” he said, “will deal with the many influences of the different aspects of Asia on my work, inspired by poetry and the paintings of Japanese and Chinese poets and sages, as well as the beauty of wondrous items such as the celadon glazes on Korean ceramics.
As a teenager” he reflected, “I began reading Japanese poetry by Matsuo Basho, a pseudonym of Matsuo Munefusa, (1644 – 1694), the supreme Haiku poet whose works gave me the idea that the concept of ‘being’ was far more important than seeing…
… for seeing, you have to be able to discern the elements characteristic of a landscape but understand that that is governed by a projection of ourself.
Being is more important because you have to be in complete harmony with your own world – calmness and being at one with yourself can allow you to see the world around you” he noted.
“When I was sixteen I started being conscious of just being in the moment and saying to myself this is my life and my existence, I am part of a continuum made of complex, interwoven interwoven strands of life and light. When it came to painting, for me it was all about my sense of place. A teacher in primary school gave me a book about Leonardo da Vinci.
It was the passion in Leonardo da Vinci’s work that suggested to me that could be a life. In high school, another teacher introduced me to Asian cultures by giving me a book on the history of Buddhism”
He also noted “… it then became evident… that in my work, past and present, I am not trying to mimic Chinese art but using elements and techniques of the work as a spiritual framework for what I can see and express in our landscape. I was also inspired by the fifteenth century Buddhist artists of the “Flung Ink” school or Haboku whom I admire. I was fascinated by their ability to balance abstract and naturalistic images” he said.
“The spirit and nature of the landscape that surrounded me when I was growing up in outback NSW was also a powerful influence on me, the dry river beds, the clay pans and drought affected plains, were all part of my childhood. My art was and still is all about the things I find inspiring; a line of poetry, a rock face, a combination of colours, a series of shapes, the stridency or the subtlety of brush marks and a language to express what I want to say.
An important artist for me is the Chinese painter of the Qing Dynasty, Shi Tao. Each significantly different technique or style in Shi Tao’s art tells us there are no restrictions and that we need to express what we want to say from within, which brings about a sense of self”
In life, we reflected, change is inevitable and we can all benefit from change.
“Meeting my wife, the author, Lily Brett was a defining moment for me. Her work challenged me to be braver, to dig deeper and she gave me the courage to be a stronger painter” he said and continued… “both of the exhibitions of my work, in September, have works from the 1960’s to 2017. I see those works as a reflection of who I was and what it was that inspired me and still inspires me today”
David Rankin then agreed it is wisdom, belief and beauty that replenishes our spirit our faith and our hopes, while love and trust feeds our soul.
“We all need comfort and peace in our soul” he said. “The greatest of all gifts, art, poetry and things of beauty will give us all that. I have always believed in the soul, which is transient and while I am not sure, perhaps it is even eternal after all. For me painting, poetic language and prayer are at the centre of life itself.”
What a wonderful conversation. I felt entirely blessed to have had the opportunity to talk with David Rankin whose works are represented in many museums and galleries around the world.
Also our Special Features Correspondent New York, David Rankin’s news and reviews can be found in Spotlight Stories.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018
David Rankin: Conversation
Past to Present
September 6, 7 8 and 9, 2018
Charles Nodrum Gallery
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
David Rankin: Landscapes
Past and Present
September 5 – September 22, 2018
Conny Dietschold Gallery
East Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia