David Ferguson

Courtyard for a Bird


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SANCTUARY & FLIGHT: MEDIATIONS OF VISION AND MOVEMENT IN 'COURTYARD FOR A BIRD'

 

David Ferguson's large-scale paintings give a first impression

of thick, built-up impasto and painterly textures.  It is only when one

examines another aspect of his newest works, his austerely minimalistic,

monochromatic wall assemblages, that the viewer perceives the effect of

built-up paint in the larger chromatic works, is an illusion.

 

The grounds for Ferguson's painterly surfaces are, themselves,

sculptural works:  cast-cotton fibre panels mounted on board. Each is

unique, bearing a different aspect, expressing a specific "character."

Ferguson's sculpted impressions of constant motility and flux are pressed

into large, fleecy-white cotton wafers.  He groups some of the square

"wafers" to form the grounds for the larger, painted works. He paints these

assembled, square panels in subtle colour scales and tonal relationships,

letting the surface dictate the secondary images and shapes -- as

geographical features dictate where a river will flow, or a fissure open in

the earth's crust. Other panels, those destined for the show's title piece for

example, he breaks, fragments, shapes or recombines, arranging them in

animated relationships upon the wall. In both the chromatic and unpainted

applications, the cast cotton ground lends a particular impetus of motion

to the final work, an animus that is there, like a spirited personality or

"ensoulment," from the very start.  Whether brightly coloured or left a

pristine white, the foundational materials for "Courtyard For a Bird"

provide a fluid, rhythmic motion which unifies the individual pieces in the

show, from the "ground" up.

 

Ferguson uses complementary and contrasting colours to 

produce optical effects of pulsing movement.  The paintings appear to vibrate, 

a combined effect of both textural and chromatic motion.  Their animated

surfaces reveal other forms, clearly described in paint, flowing through

the fissures and radiating lines. Curved forms like uroch horns converge in

a high, pointed arch in "Shelter," creating a gate or portal into yet

another dimension of movement.  The viewer is invited into and through that

door; the lure of another, mysterious space beckons, rife for imaginative

exploration. Energetic, wriggling lines rise from the bottom of the frame

in "Wilderness" -- like some kind of science-fiction, fast-frame growth

pattern.  One can imagine a vast, supernaturally hyper-fertile field of

wheat or succulent, wild grasses.  In other works, the cracked and wrinkled

surfaces are more likely to evoke dried mud lake-bottoms or, perhaps, the

microscopic vegetal blossoming of many thousands of tiny lichen.  The

surfaces seem to writhe with a vibrant force because there are multiple

movements going on, on several levels, in any given piece.  There are

polyrhythms, accents and multiple variations on the basic theme -- which is

pure movement.

 

Ferguson is also a dancer, writer and choreographer, so it is

natural that his perspective is a sweeping, mobile, movement-oriented

vision.  It is no wonder that his visual works "speak" of motion.  One way

in which movement is emphasised is through the paradoxically restful

stillness attained for the viewer.  It is from this "still place" that one

can really see, feel and commune with the sense of liveness and motion in

the show setting. Ferguson has controlled the way in which these works are

to be viewed through lighting , placement, scale and the relationships

struck among the installed works. He seeks to place the viewer into the

same mental and emotional space from which he created the individual works

and their cumulative message. Each of the works is a complex text, evoking

a necessary synaesthesia for its decoding.  Slight sensory distortions are

a part of this decoding experience; the paintings' animated fields of

colour can give a vertiginous illusion of great height and distance from

their surfaces -- a telescopic view.  They can just as easily produce the

sense of minute magnification.  You could be gazing at the Earth's surface

from orbit, or plummeting into the complicated detail of its material,

molecular structure.

 

These textured surfaces can appear, close-up, to be almost

topographical.  This impression is what gives the sense of vast scale and

great distances.  Rifts, gullies, branching tributaries, canyons, and

crevasses appear to track aerially-viewed landscapes.  The serene,

monochromatic fragment assemblages, on the other hand, are more modest;

their textures appear as the repeating patterns caused by wind upon sand

dunes, or by waves crashing and receding on the shore.  Throughout,

"Courtyard For a Bird's" mediation relies on confluence, correspondence,

reciprocity, connection and relationship.  The audience's experience of

texture, shape, colour and form is enhanced by the installation's

manipulation of space, perspectives, light levels, distance, proximity,

contrasts of stimuli and quietude.

 

The "Bird" in Ferguson's "Courtyard" is the mobile, fleeting

perception of the viewer, at lucid, meditative rest. More than just an

optical experience, this "bird's eye view" is expansive,  experiencing the

constant, dancing motion within each focussed moment.  From a

particularised vantage, along the lines of a specifically located

perspective -- from what we may call a "still-point-of-view" -- the

nomadic, migratory, multi-tasking "eye" can establish an intimate

connection with the encompassing, perceived world.  It can rest, Ferguson

tells us with this body of work -- rest, quieten, and locate itself.  The

bird's eye vantage is that of the artist, creating from a still, a timeless

moment of perception, the trance-like state of creative mediation.  When

the viewer is placed in this relationship to the work, he or she shares in

the creative state of heightened perception.  In this manner, Courtyard For

a Bird" is also performative; the audience participates in both the

creation and experience of vision.  Ferguson's newest works are about the

motile and emotive nature of perception and perceptual frameworks.

"Courtyard" suggests that visionary perception is itself a state of grace,

the sanctuary provided by meditational observation.

 

David Ferguson has choreographed a momentary respite from the

world's dulling clamour with his "Courtyard..."  Here is a visionary

interlude, where episodes of motionlessness are portals to an experience of

constant, vital motion.  Here, fleeting perceptions dilate to enfold vast

expanses, infinite detail, sublime distances, simplicity, eternity and

silence.  Questions of ontology and eschatology, knowledge and pure being,

are broached through the works.  What do we see, and how do we come to

knowledge?  What enables or brackets experience and sensation?  The

"Courtyard" suggests that we "see" and "know" differently, according to

factors of stillness and motion, distance and intimacy, activity and rest,

from the vantages of a constantly evolving, transitory yet eternal, present

moment.

 

"Courtyard For a Bird" is an invitation to touch-down and check-in,

even if momentarily, to allow this intimate connection with the experience

of seeing.  It beckons us to observe the sublime in the play of light upon

subtle, dancing surfaces, the quiet complicities of grandeur and

simplicity, excess and refinement.

 

- Yvonne Owens, Art Critic, Artichoke Magazine, 2002

 

 

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