Lives and works in Sydney
8 April — 17 April 2021
Cape Cod, on the east coast of the USA, is a curious place. Atmospherically distinctive, its inhabitants are an intoxicating mix of personas—people born from the puritanical founding fathers through to the latter day Kennedy clan’s Camelot mythology. It is in this place, with its long shadows and brooding coastline that seaside towns like Truro would come to epitomise an American east coast ideal. Its notoriety for a gothic sensibility was embodied through the mid-century paintings of Edward Hopper. His was eponymous image-making with a beautiful unease about it. There is a tension and anticipation that pervades throughout his work. Light and dark dance to a melancholic tune. It is this aesthetic context that provides the genesis of Stuart Spence’s photographic and video installation, Truro—an exquisite document of human delusion, lost love and paranoia.
A bowerbird of human emotions, Spence is an artist who bounds between genres and mediums. His is a career that has seen the morphing of imagery and ideas into a narrative that delves deep into the elemental nature of living. In this exhibition—his first at Nanda\Hobbs—the tide keeper is the central protagonist in the video work set in the 1930’s. He is escaping a war that he could no longer participate in—for him, the destruction of his fellow men was too much to bare. The cost of his absconding is the loss of all that he loves. The tide keeper finds solace at the end of a pier of broken dreams, a bottle and the measurement of tide heights. He has kept his demons at bay for years, documenting the one thing that man cannot control—the effects of the moon’s gravitational pull. Now, the tide keeper awaits his seemingly impending and inevitable fate at the hands of the authorities. His loves and losses replayed in his head in an ever-increasing haze of fleeting imagery. Beauty dissolves into delusion. Fragmentation of a life rewoven in his isolation. It is in this moment that the artist is at his finest—fragmented glimpses are drawn from contemporary images, recontextualised and embedded in his narrative.
Spence’s fervent mind and skilled hand bends light, words and sound to his effervescent will. And so it is with the photographic works—captured in a lens with a neo-impressionistic fervour—the grain of the image, in effect, becomes pointillist in nature. The noiresque sensibility is all encompassing.
Spence makes melancholy desirable. The fleeting moments of a documenter of life that digs below the surface to reinvent meaning in this world—or rather, perhaps he unearths what was really there to begin with.