One of the artists in BLAZE THIRTEEN described their participation as “a big deal”. It was always meant to be – an annual exhibition of emerging visual arts practice in the ACT and a ‘best of’ new artists from the previous year, in this instance 2018. Since 2006 when Leah Bullen, Karena Keys, Marina Nielson, Meg Roberts, Simon Scheuerle, Kate Smith and Charlie Sofo emerged onto the local and national art scenes BLAZE has produced a growing archive of artists with their eyes on the future. Thirteen years later many of these names will be familiar to audiences across the country for like the exhibition itself, they are the among the stayers. In many respects BLAZE is a difficult exhibition, with little to hold it together other than the idea that all artists are emerging at roughly the same time. Once confined to the CCAS Studio Residency Program, consisting largely, but not exclusively, of Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Visual Arts graduates from the ANU School of Art and Design, in 2010 BLAZE spread its wings to take a more inclusive approach that focused on the artists exhibiting at venues such as Australian National Capital Artists, M16 Artspace, CCAS Manuka, Belconnen Art Centre and the odd Artist Run Initiative that popped up on the fringes of Canberra’s active visual arts community.
Looking back through some of the past catalogues for BLAZE I was fascinated by the variance in work and approaches to exhibitions as each year goes by. Each iteration has focused the community’s enthusiasm for artists who are warmly welcomed into what can be a recalcitrant society. BLAZE THIRTEEN is a perfect storm of evolving technical expertise and exciting new ideas born partly of innocence and the desire to make an enduring impression in the vast and competitive milieu of creativity that greets all graduates from the sheltered confines of art school. The question arises for all new artists; how does one make a mark amidst this amorphous mass of creative enterprise where technique alone will not suffice? Perhaps another factor that loosely binds the artists in exhibitions such as BLAZE, where the curators’ role is unusually distanced, is a sense of self. All five artists in BLAZE THIRTEEN, Dean Cross, Skye Jamieson, Alex Lundy, Shags and Joshua Sleeman-Taylor have invested something of themselves into their works. While this is not unusual in the arts, the ability to translate self-reflection into form can be the difference between making a lasting impression and none at all.
BLAZE THIRTEEN brings together five artists who have participated in exhibitions around Canberra (and some interstate) over the past year – in Contour 556, at CCAS Manuka, Tributary Projects, Canberra Grammar School, Belconnen Art Centre and Megalo Print Studio + Gallery. The work, however, is new: produced over Christmas and New Year (2018-19) to reach completion near the time of the opening. BLAZE THIRTEEN is straight off the drawing board if not created in the gallery itself, and driven by a curator’s predisposition to discover connections and links between artists and works I immediately attempted to produce a kind of gestalt that is perhaps futile and unnecessary. Against that grain, however, I note that four out of the five artists have emerged from the Print Media Workshop at the ANU School of Art and Design and one, Dean Cross, completed his Honours degree in the Sculpture Workshop. The works are overwhelming monochromatic with a small amount of blue; only Cross has added colour and it is economical. And then there are the personal distinctive identity issues that distinguish the works while the artists simultaneously attempt to avoid excess subjectivity.
Excerpt from catalogue essay by David BrokerImage: Alex Lundy Sequence (detail) 2019, Charcoal and soft pastel on paper, 228cm x 540cm