John Giese

Blue To Red (paintings from the Kimberleys)

November 12 - November 26, 2011

At first encounter John Giese's paintings and sculptures present as bold, brightly coloured images of animals. Visual sensation is alive to the raw energy of Giese's work, but embedded within the vivid mark-making and dense textures are layers of meaning that operate on many different levels - the universal and the particular, the intellectual and the emotional, the spiritual and the material. Although each piece in Giese's new body of work has been inspired by an actual incident he met with during his recent journey through the 'red' Kimberleys, or a memory triggered by his return to the 'blue' of the Brooms Head landscape, they are also the product of deep contemplation.

Profoundly symbolic, Giese's imagery and palette choice resonates a power that dates all the way back to man's very first attempts to make sense of his existence. Tribal people the world over have employed red iron oxide, white clay and black charcoal to communicate abstract notions about the cosmos and our place in it. These colours are also crucial to Giese's visual vocabulary. For him they represent the three stages of life and an alignment with the rhythmic cycles of nature. White is used to represent all that is new and innocent - the expansive plane of potentiality and imagination that characterises childhood. Red is traditionally the colour of vitality, fire, ardour and potency, as well as aggression and danger. Black connotes a shifting in thought towards the interior realms and a withdrawal from the passionate strivings and vanities of the material arena; the slide into warm darkness as the mortality of the body is realised. Giese's white, red and black symbolism is augmented with intense sky-blues and rich earthy ochres that ground the content of the works in a here and now corporeality.

Throughout history the depiction and ritualistic use of animals has been laced with totemic intent. Giese's horses, bulls and dogs reflect a comparable approach. Archetypically, the horse is seen as a noble and intelligent creature, but one quite easily 'spooked'. It is a representation of animal vitality, velocity and beauty, which in turn is linked to the power of wind, storm and waves. The primal bull is a potent personification of masculine strength, vigour, energy, sexuality, creative power and the untamable force of nature. There is also the dog - probably humankind's oldest domesticated animal. It signifies loyalty, protective vigilance and companionship. In certain traditions it also acted as a guide or guardian during descents into the 'underworld'.

A carefully considered commingling of colour and animal symbolology, Giese's subjects confront us directly. If there is any challenge in their gaze it seems one of a call to self-assessment and change. Understanding the symbols at play here, we may more readily grasp the underlying significance of the works. The painting Red Dog references a film of the same title that Giese watched in Broome's historic, outdoor cinema. It brought fondly to mind the faithful companionship of his first dog - a frisky, soul-eyed red kelpie. Also harking back to times past is the image of a mighty piebald stallion, said to be the last surviving member of a herd of wild brumbies that once roamed the hills around the Brooms Head region. The multi-hued Braveheart is an embodiment of all those qualities that have made him so. Morning Horses Birdwood Station expresses the startling vision of white, immensely powerful creatures delineated against a brilliantly red backdrop when the herd paid an unexpected dawn visit to his campsite. Black-faced Todos conjures the pageantry and ultimate pathos of European bull rituals, both ancient and modern. "The animals are metaphors for human states of being and our journey through life," says Giese. "They are decorative and scarred but possess a definitive, physical confidence." In conclusion he adds, "My works address issues of freedom and presence. I want them to affect the viewer; to make them feel they are witnessing something authentic and something very rare."



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