James Powditch
James Powditch

Victoria Hynes
Preview, Artist Profile Issue 12. 2010

Heart of Darkness (Apocalypse Now), 2010, mixed media, 108x110cm

CARTOON STENCILS OF smiling pigs jostle for attention alongside a crowded array of objects – from squash racquets and hockey sticks, to a model airplane and faded soft drink labels. This odd assortment has been neatly assembled against a background of yellowing pages from a paperback novel. What can it all mean? The title of the work Lord of the Flies II offers a clue for the amateur sleuth to unravel this visual puzzle.

Sydney artist James Powditch is an obsessive film buff, or perhaps a frustrated filmmaker, who uses mixed media constructions to recreate the world of his favourite movies, from the classic to the obscure. Each exhibition he holds tends to focus on a cinematic theme and with his forthcoming show at Australian Galleries in Sydney, he looks at the art of film adaptations of famous novels, hence the abundant dismembering of old Penguin books as a backdrop for his suite of works. Epic and panoramic in scale, Powditch’s works usually present themselves as large cinematic frames.

The artist pounds the streets, junkyards and op shops of his local inner city neighbourhood, collecting industrial refuse and recycled materials, the more battered and worn the better, which he cuts, manipulates and reassembles into reinvented filmic landscapes of his imagination. A cross between collage and assemblage, Powditch draws on found object tradition that harkens back to Robert Rauschenberg and Rosalie Gascoigne.

The exhibits have an intentionally rough and weather-beaten appearance that belies the technical virtuosity of the maker. Powditch has a background in set building and prop making, having worked for the Sydney Dance Company, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Museum. He has previously shown with Ray Hughes Gallery in Sydney and now with his second solo exhibition at Australian Galleries, the artist’s star appears to be on the rise. He is a regular finalist in the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes and in recent years he has won the ABN AMRO Emerging Artist Award (2005,) The Blake Prize for Religious Art (2005) and the Mosman Art Prize (2007).

In Adaptation, the artist’s usual monumental, wide screen format has been reigned in by the use of found timber boxes, resulting in smaller scale works with tighter compositions. Most of the current series of works have been arranged inside these rectangular box frames, making them appear like latter day cabinets of curiosities from an enigmatic movie museum.

The major work for the show is Papillon (Weather Makers), featuring a simple image of a butterfly floating over a swath of vintage science book pages. Like a Rorschach ink blot it is separated into two panels, one butterfly wing traced in a delicate blue ink and the other wing made up of hundreds of of tiny stamps, pinned to the panel, creating a pixelated effect. The butterfly appears like a giant frozen specimen, the striking image implying an environmental message about the precarious fragility of the natural world.

Farewell My Lovely is a melange of louvered window shutters and old maps of Los Angeles, set against the yellowing pages of text, which creates a nostalgic film noir effect in keeping with the book. Other artworks are uncharacteristically minimalist in design. Jaws is simply a rectangular strip of wavy blue linoleum broken up by white window slats. In Zorba the Greek , a dramatic Greek Orthodox cross comprised of book pages is placed against a dark background of black masonite, the entire composition resembling the Greek National flag.

The assemblages operate on both a macro and micro level. Standing back viewers can appreciate them as abstract works of art, but the reams of texture lure them in to study the work up close. For some, the book pages are perhaps used to excessive effect, as a constant reminder of the literary origins of the work. However, the three-pronged process of transforming book into a film into an artwork, is a challenging and fascinating premise.

James Powditch’s frustrated cinematic ambitions seem to be bearing fruit in his career as an assemblage artist, creating works of great thematic scope, technical skill and visual imagination. It’s an exhibition that book, film and art lovers can all delight in.

James Powditch
Adaptation - New Work from Novel and Screen
12 Oct - 30 Oct 2010
Australian Galleries, 15 Roylston Street, Paddington, Sydney


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