The Art and Perceptions of Dawn Csutoros

Related gallery: materiality – elemental: time, space, presence

“The subject I am traveling toward is space; pure Spirit,” stated Yves Klein in 1961.[1] He was seeking to express a space of uninterrupted, full immersion through the art of Pure Colour. This same spirit is again sought after in Dawn Csutoros’ latest exhibition Elemental: time, space, presence. Opening at Langford120 gallery on 21 March, this show is the accumulation of many key themes and representational threads that have been present in the artist’s practise for several years.

Dawn Csutoros - Works from Elemental: time, space, presence

This body of work is largely a continuation from Csutoros’ art residencies and travels in China. The more recent pieces were created in rural Bendigo after Evi Robinson invited Csutoros to be the artist in residence at the John Robinson Studio. The exhibition showcases the development and expansion of her work with mulberry paper and textural surfaces through archaic forms, such as the ellipse and the sphere. “I want to pare things back to their essence, their most elemental form — yet still maintain a tension, a dynamic,” the artist explains. “They are multi layered, deceptively simple, yet with complex meanings. Through this minimalist format, the viewer is invited to slow down, to look and see more deeply, to feel and listen.”

The limited palate and clean, modest nature of Csutoros’ art allows the materials to breath, displayed as dense and unpolluted. They suggest primal landscapes of abstract energy, with light humming in and around the edges, and reference one of the artist’s enduring interests, quantum physics. A clear influence, the monochromatic, ‘spiritually ambitious’ works of Klein sing through, as do the concepts of timelessness, perception and the unconscious. The silhouette of each work holds its own symbolism, as Csutoros comments:

The ellipse is such a primordial form that we intuitively resonate with on many levels appearing on both a micro and macro scale — healthy blood cells, the orbit of the planets, the human aura, the egg and the womb. It is a development from my ‘Numinous’ series and explores the element of presence through its scale and simplicity of form. And the circle, is such a powerful formula and seen as a symbol of infinity in many cultures. In ‘Elemental’, the space of the circular sphere is paradoxical, the spherical form at first appears convex, but in reality is concave creating spatial ambiguity and exploring our notion of perception.

In past works, Csutoros has placed emphasis on inviting the viewer to enter a two-dimensional plane. This exhibition, however, takes the audience further. These experimental pieces document the artist’s transition from traditional painting formats into the realm of sculpture. “The earlier work had the light from within, projecting outwards — this series lifts the light into unique three-dimensional forms”, she states. An interactive sound component has also been introduced to experience the work in another sensory layer.

Dawn Csutoros - Desire Gold, 2013Each sculpture is individually hand built, using mulberry paper sourced from her travels in China. The layering of the paper replaces the gesture of the brush marks in painting, leaving a quality Csutoros describes as the “mark of the handmade.” Embedded within the surface, is a variety of materials chosen for their sensual qualities which the artist builds into seductively tactile surfaces, using mediums such as pigment, ink, graphite, semi-precious stones, 24 carat gold leaf and sterling silver leaf. There is a material equilibrium in every piece, a harmony of formalist notes that rest on minimalist pauses.

Earlier in her career, Csutoros introduced coal as a medium during a residency in China where she travelled across the east Silk Road, through the Gobi desert and surrounding sacred mountains. Upon visiting ancient cities, Buddhist caves and Daoist temples, the artist was alarmed by the presence of coal in the everyday life of these sights, “I was surrounded by it. I couldn’t breathe because of the coal. Each golden horizon was distorted… the light struggling through the smog.” This permeated through to her work, beginning with the series titled ‘Black Diamonds’, commenting on the various ways in which the use of coal is hidden through material guises.

Later, in 2013, these themes were revisited in ‘Black Diamonds #5’ and ‘Black Diamonds – Gold’, created during a further artist residence in Songzhuang Artist Village, Beijing. For Elemental: time, space, presence, Csutoros has continued this line of enquiry, linking her past work with those created during her current residency. As the artist explains, “Every body of work is a stepping stone to your next one… For me it’s very important to keep pushing and searching. In a way, it’s a restlessness, a constant inquiring and exploration into how we perceive the environment around us.”

Developed for this exhibition is ‘Elemental #1’, a painting of a gleaming void that plays with geometric opposing spaces, those that simultaneously delve in and out. Another new undertaking is the creation of ambitious wall scale ellipses — sculptures the artist describes as, “cosmic eggs” — entitled ‘Mystere’. These primal works tap into Carl Jung’s hypothesis of a collective human unconscious, playing to abstract expressionist Adolph Gottlieb’s assertion that:

All primitive expression reveals the constant awareness of powerful forces…a recognition and acceptance of the brutality of the natural world as well as the eternal insecurity of life. That these feelings are being experienced by many people… art that glosses over or evades these feelings, is superficial or meaningless.

The bond within humankind is the channel that art travels through, as Csutoros reflects, “art is important work. It can move people deeply and shift your awareness. It opens up the doorways to new knowings and new understandings of the way you see the world; and how you want to shape that.”

Dawn Csutoros - Elemental #1 (2015) from Elemental: time, space, presence

Csutoros’ travels to distant, remote and sacred sites are reflected in these totemic forms. “I’m interested in the presence that art can have. The mystery of the ‘other’,” she explains. “My travel has informed this. Going to those places was like going back to an ancient time when art was a ritual with a connection to mystery.” Csutoros’ interest in eastern philosophy and meditation also informs and influences her art, often lending her work to be used as tools for contemplation.

Writer Camille Paglia argues that, “Amid so much jittery visual clutter [in modern life], it is crucial to find focus, the basis of stability, identity and life direction.”[3] ELEMENTAL: time, space, presence provides a quiet place for just that — a cleansing space to linger, reaffirm the power of the senses and refocus our internal perceptions.

Jennifer Choat

Contemporary Arts Writer, 2015
Melbourne, Australia

[1] Thomas McEvilley, Yves: the provocateur (NY: McPherson & Company, 2010).

[2] Lynn Gamwell, Exploring the invisible: art, science and the spiritual (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002), 267.

[3] Camille Paglia, Glittering Images (NY: Vintage Books, Random House, 2013).