TED MCKINLAY | HOME ON THE TEST RANGE
4 - 25 JUNE 2016
"First there is a mountain / Then there is no mountain / Then there is" -
Donovan Leitch, 1967
Searching for simplicity, one might describe Ted as the bloke who draws mountain ranges.
Even though this is partially accurate (at least it is today, but as soon as he’s read this, probably never again), to see his work as ‘just’ drawings of mountains would be to miss most of what’s going on.
When I first became conscious of what appeared to be themes in Ted’s work, I thought that perhaps he was exploring the essence of mountains, the abstraction of mountains – mountainess. And that it was this that gave his drawings their energy (and, quite often, scariness).
But I’m pretty sure I was wrong, because even though they look like mountains in outline, they don’t behave like mountains. I think they’re something else (entirely or as well?), possibly prisms or mirrors or crystals. Anyhow, that’s how they appear to behave. The white light that hits these surfaces refracts in all directions and in many hues. Or at least it seems to wish to, except that the emanations are being manipulated by a master colourist. His delicate hand directs the shards and fragments into patterns that dynamically engage with the spectator’s visual imagination quite independently of their figurative potential.
The result is not representation - these are not landscapes. There is never a substantial foreground, and certainly no intimation that crossing these ranges may lead anywhere, there is no other side, no indication that beyond or before this vertical surface is there anything of consequence.
The apparent ‘reality’ of the range (simply) offers a framework for what otherwise might be total chaos (a feeling always imminent in Ted’s work). He uses the range to make shapes in which he can go exploring: jagged horizons, peaks and passes, shattered reflections are used to play with angular patterns of tone, density and hue.
Stravinsky asserted that music does nothing but express itself. Ted’s work carves a similar path. What is engaging about his work is not that its expressiveness is representational or symbolic. The only ‘meaning’ to be found is in the patterns, in the relationships, in the contrasts, in the composition. Stand before these pictures for even the shortest moment and you’ll experience visually inspired feelings – the patterns are moving. Where they will take you is your call.
It’s like Miles Davis playing an old standard – you recognise the melody (even sometimes remembering the words), but you get taken somewhere else entirely. No longer are you listening to yet another interpretation of a song already deeply embedded in your being (or looking at yet another mountain range) but rather you are witnessing disturbingly complex patterns that, while clearly growing out of something familiar, take you on imaginative journeys that defy linguistic interpretation.
And there’s so much white. The untreated surface is not simply empty space, but a vital support (and source) for the chromatic rhythms that flow across and through it. This sense of the untouched being active within the image is very powerful. ‘Nothing’ is almost tangible. In the same way that silence - the pause - is in music, and oratory. I’m reminded of a meme currently doing the rounds that shows Lucy telling Charlie Brown, ‘it takes a long time to understand nothing’. I believe that Ted has taken that time.
While I still think that ‘landscape’ is an inadequate way to describe Ted’s work, I reckon it does, a little, hark back to Albert Namatjira – very few of N’s pictures don’t have a mountainous horizon, and many have hues not dissimilar to those Ted applies. Although Ted’s mountains are clearly not Australian – his sensibility most certainly is.
In conclusion, a thought about pastels. Knowing something of Ted’s past, it is wonderfully counter-intuitive that he would chose a medium the word for which means ‘soft and delicate shades of colour’. Indeed the colour in his pictures is soft and delicate – which makes the fracturing, the tonal contrasts, the jaggedness, the leaps into emptiness all the more thrilling. I’m reminded of the sharpies in their connie cardigans – rough and tough lads dressed in delicate knitwear. What at first appears to be nothing more than beautiful turns out to be dangerous as well. Ted’s surfaces are sites for both calm contemplation and roller-coaster journeys. It’s the viewer’s choice – in my view, they’re certainly worth living with.
- Jon Hawkes, 2016