The materiality of the earth beneath and the lightness of the heavens above touch at the edges of a starry night sky painted in fine coal particles and threaded in silk. Inseparable from this Earth, as the Earth follows the Heavens and the Heavens follow the boundless universe, we are invited to ponder upon our existence as being a part of all and everything there is…has been… and will be. It is with such insights that Dawn Csutoros – a long time student of Daoism – continues to approach her art, creating abstract images that can only be understood through the phenomenological experience of process.
Dawn Csutoros’ latest body of work Black Diamonds, is perhaps her most daring. She moves away from the vibrancy of the colour palette in search of light, shade and states of duality contained in black surfaces. To contemplate this blackness can be deeply unsettling. Unaccustommed to the experience, we search for familiarity only to invariably see ourselves, our passing thoughts and feelings, fears and desires reflected back at us. Our quiet surrender would eventually lead us to a peaceful place where our fears are given the opportunity to arise, be acknowledged, and ultimately released. To the artist the blackness in these paintings is not a void but a space impregnated with the exuberance of a symphony of colour and light that it contains – a formless vessel carrying every form. Over time it is something to be embraced rather than resisted. In Silken Desires and Chinese Whispers, the ink is applied with soft brushstrokes and layered on handmade mulberry paper. Silk threads enmesh carefully orchestrated lines of surface tensions and sensual touches. Sparingly, red lines – the marks of embodied energy – cross the canvas, bringing together earth, body and heaven.
Dawn Csutoros references the work of artists such as Mondrian, Rothko and Agnes Martin, and their explorations of the relationship between inner and outer spaces, as having an influence on her practice during its formative years. However, her paintings are not purely a formalist pursuit, for they also respond to contemporary concerns. In 2007, the artist travelled to China to undertake an art residency in Beijing during which she began experimenting with coal – materially and conceptually – as the focus for her work. The never fading presence of fumes and ash in Beijing’s air made the public debate on the effects of CO2 emissions very palpable and visceral for her. Back in Australia, Dawn started researching the nature and history of coal, building on the experiments made during her residency. Known as a “black diamond”, the possession of this hundreds of millions of years old material brought riches to its traders as well as the societies that used it for their daily needs. Coal has given humanity light, energy, and the means to industrialize and develop. To this day, it continues to enmesh the histories of Australia and China. Ancient Sunlight is a suite of forty four paintings, which explore the dichotomy of coal’s life-giving and life-threatening force. While the number is associated in the Chinese language with dying and death, each individual canvas is an intuitive excavation of the energy of coal as a substance that continues to be relevant to the lives of many.
In all of these works the technique is exquisite. At times the edge stops sharply and precisely, at others it is left bleeding into the white background. There is not excess, the brushstrokes are measured and deliberate. Each line carries the memory of the previous one and the intention of the next. Each gesture wrests itself out of its moment, only to join infinity. Unadulterated by marks, patches of white push through the blackness. Are they being left there for us to continue Dawn’s story? Are they the things that we are yet to learn? Or are they, in the spirit of the Dao, the unknowable that it is everything there is to know? In the end, the process and the medium become the content of the paintings. The assertion of what these abstractions allude to is left to personal reflections.
Antoanetta Ivanova 2009
Contemporary Arts Curator and Writer