Sunday, September 26, 2010

Imbi Davidson

Charles Darwin University is not the sort of place I would expect to find an artist. Art and academia seem as distant from each other as Antarctica and aardvarks. Even in the dictionary they are held apart by words like ‘arrogance’ and ‘archaic’. After locating a car park I could afford somewhere among the mangroves of Rapid Creek, I make my way to Orange 11 Room 1.24a. The universities system of navigation has been designed by a Phd student studying abstract mathematics and its relationship to mental stability in the visiting public. I pass numerous zombie-like creatures searching for colours and numbers that have no obvious relationship to any location system. An elderly woman sits crying in the courtyard between ‘red’ and ‘blue’. She is whispering the word ‘green’ over and over to herself in a desperate and distance voice. Best not to interfere, I think, for fear of shifting the bell curve.

‘How can art exist here?’ I ask myself? How can freedom of expression and creativity coincide with such formality and rigor? I hope I am about to find out as I stumble upon room 1.24a. In the continuing effort to remain abstruse, there is no indication as to the contents bar a picture of a regal looking woman tacked precariously to the door. I look either way into the prison-like corridor for a sign of life. My IQ diminishes with every breathe. A door slams behind me and I am alone; a solitary spaceman on a distant, hostile planet. Desperation mixed with a modicum of courage and anticipation entice me to open the door. On entering, I am immediately transformed into a different world; the diffused light from a distant window engulfs me and a soft, alluring voice, the Loralie of the open seas, becons me to enter. If I were dead, and there is no evidence to the contrary, I might well have arrived in Heaven and now being irretrievably drawn to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Signs of the creative process are everywhere. Abstractions splashed across the walls, fragments of thoughts transposed into something concrete, impressions of life, the ‘tools of trade’ for the artists, chaos among order, a disordered refuge among the logic of supposition. I have found my art and my artist. Home at last.

Imbi appears from the light as my eyes adjust to the imagery. A young woman (I guess at 30) with a strong confidence in her manner and voice. She sweeps some papers from a chair and offers me a seat. The room is dimly lit. All is still but everything moves. Flash-backs of my father walking me through musky museums surface in my frontal lobe. Creatures on the walls follow my every move. There is order here but it is well disguised. All things connected but the threads are loose and convoluted.

‘I work here and at home’ she says as we enter into conversation.  'I can’t use oils here. The smell gets into the air-conditioning and …..’ A twist on the ‘academia stifling art’ theme, I think. We launch into a discussion of the anomalies between her work and her chosen surroundings as though it is necessary to clear the air before any further discussion can ensue.

‘I’m a hypocrite, really,’ she admits embarrassingly, ‘but it provides me with the means to do what I want to do and be what I want to be – an artist. Art helps me to make sense of the world’.

Imbi explains the connection between her art and her place of work. She is part way onto a Masters Degree, which provides her with space, a meager stipend and a schedule, which she admits is ‘not one of her things’. Her undisciplined nature is somewhat evident in her work. ‘Scratchy’ she calls it. In return, the university expects a ‘plan’, purpose, research and a submission to the critical review of her peers and mentors; a process which she finds uncomfortable, to say the least.

She, like many of the artists I have spoken to, has no ‘vision’ of what will appear on her canvas. Her actions are as a result of some convoluted thought processes guided by her memories, feelings, culture, observations and thoughts about the world around her. It’s her way of finding answers to indescribable questions. Beauty is not a criteria for her work, she emphasizes, although I find beauty inherent in what she does. There is a painting of what appears to be a seascape above her head that flows and floats like a cloud, tempering the mood and answering a question I have not yet resolved or even asked.

‘Some days I just paint in blue’ she adds. I’m conscious that she might be reading my mind. ‘Its instinctive’ but we agree that this may not be the case. The learning process can be subtle and the results of that learning may manifest in different ways; like the sense of painting instinctively.

Her love of her children, plants and gardening is strongly expressed. She is experimenting with plant representation using a technique that is best described as brutal. Taking a hammer to a leaf seems a bit extreme but the results are quite fascinating. Imbi described the process but I become more interested in the results. It must show. The excitement in her voice wanes and her explanation becomes disjointed. Maybe the camera is distracting. But I sense there is more to it than that. It might well be that the process is not clearly defined or it may even be insignificant. The process is as seemingly disjointed as the mental processes she engages while painting. As I have discovered in many others, creativity has no formula, no prescription. As Imbi says,’ its what I am’. And once again, I am intrigued by the relationship between art and academia. How can one person or even a group of people, with any sort of intent, make a critical judgement on the creativity of another person. I know there are many answers to that question and I am yet to find them. My search continues.

‘Let’s go to the Gallery. There are some things you might be interested in’.

The Gallery is where Imbi has recently ‘run the gauntlet’ of her assessors. This inquisition is to justify her continuation with her Masters Degree. She has my vote.

Ansel Adams said ‘There is always two people in a photograph: the photographer and the viewer’. The same certainly holds true for paintings as well. Imbi’s art encloses the space around me like a soft blanket. It is unmistakably her work. Even after such a short time I would recognise her work anywhere. This work is truely ‘her’. It is as though she is dismantling instead of constructing; creating her images by rummaging through a complexity of thoughts and ideas with a brush in her hand. As a photographer I am reminded of the concept of 'looking behind'; when looking for the image look behind to see what is revealed. Imbi is 'looking behind' in that same sense. There are no distinguishable figures or recognizable images here but its alive with shape, form, colour and texture. As I move around the images hanging before me I am conscious of three things: Imbi is talking non-stop about her work in that unsure, disjointed uncertain manner that is evident in her painting, I am absorbed in the presence of it all, and the art has become the connection, the link, the interface between the two people Adams refers to.

So this is what art is all about.

My task is over. I have found what I came looking for. I am one step closer to finding the answer to all things. In her search to find her own answers, Imbi has provided me with my own.
Thanks Imbi.


  1. she provides answers for quite a few of us....

  2. Thanks Tom, for your eloquent report and images of one of my favorite artists.