James Powditch

Warm the spirit, tickle the eye

Spectrum, The Sydney Morning Herald August 20-21, 2005

One of Australia's best-kept secrets uses fragments of nature while another talent employs cultural debris, writes JOHN McDONALD

... Another artist who has no interest in creating small visual interruptions for cavernous white spaces is James Powditch, showing new work at the Ray Hughes Gallery, along with sculptures by the winner of the 2003 Wynne Prize, Tim Kyle. On the same day that this newspaper printed a list of the top "kids' films" of all time, Powditch (born 1966) was hanging a show with an almost identical theme.

Partly inspired by parenthood, partly by cinephilia, Powditch has created a series of large-scale constructions using packing crates, old furniture and other discarded materials. The works take their titles from kid's films - Lord of the Flies, My Life as a Dog, Tin Drum, Paper Moon and so on. By a "kids' film", he means a film in which the action is seen through the eyes of a child, even if it be dark or perverse. The Night of the Hunter, for instance, can hardly be compared to an episode of the Wiggles.

Boo! is Powditch's biggest and best exhibition. The theme is a playful one, and the artist's enjoyment in making these works is palpable. Where Wilson uses the detritus of the natural world, Powditch has a taste for cultural debris. Most of his materials come with pretty sordid pasts and he sees no need to preserve any vestige of integrity. Powditch has been happy to paint, saw, carve and sand these fragments into new configurations, full of visual puns and tarnished glamour. The result has some of the comic verve of a sculptor such as Geoff Harvey, but with surprising touches of elegance.

Powditch is a bit like Dr Johnson, who once said he set out to be a philosopher but was waylaid by frivolity. When he conjures up the frightening "kill the pig" scene from Lord of the Flies, Powditch gives us the beaming face of Porky Pig. Of Mice and Men features Mickey Mouse and his clone. It is as though the artist is constantly saying: "After all it's only a movie". Or only a painting, or only a junk assemblage. For this reason the stand-out work is probably Empire of the Sun, which uses a "rising sun" motif and Chinese script to capture some of the threatening atmosphere of the Speilberg film as the Japanese forces overrun Shanghai. The small panels make one think of Imants Tillers, while the recycled materials recall Rosalie Gascoigne's work. Yet there is a distinctive voice to be found in this quirky, weather-beaten pop art.

Roll the credits, lights up. Despite all the gags, this is an artist who deserves to be taken seriously.

(this is an extract only)


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