Neil Roberts

Holland, Steven,

"Light Touch Hard Blow"

Muse , Review, February 2003. pp. 10

Steven Holland

Light Touch Hard Blow was the first opportunity to view a substantial number of Neil Roberts’ works since his accidental death in late March 2002. Exhibited in two rooms, the exhibition oscillated between extremes of beauty and pain. Roberts’ interest in the mysteries of shifting energy were palpable, and the exhibition was evidence of a truly creative person whose work endeavoured to transcend physical boundaries and material existence.

Light from a collection of neon sculptures filled the large gallery. Each wall sculpture combined neon electrical circuitry with various objects including football bladders, ping-pong balls and landscape paintings bought from charity shops. Each was charged with poetic meaning, energy and light. Still Life (with finches) – a long line of ping-pong balls with a neon tube threaded through their centre – rested on a horizontal shelf attached to the wall. Alive with radiant energy, the visual repetition of the translucent balls and the slightly pulsing neon glow created a synaesthetic effect. It was possible to imagine the sounds of twittering finches.

The smaller gallery was hung with works from four series that Roberts had been developing over the past decade. The Bradman’s Tank series were printed by inking up a soccer ball with boot polish and bouncing it thousands of times onto sheets of Stonehenge paper, and The Ring series of abstracted boxing images was produced by transferring toner onto a thin layer of cement painted onto glass. A series of old cement trowels, whose handles visually transform into drinking glasses, formed Hydromancy, and footballs unstitched at the seams and held open with wooden tennis racket presses formed An Auspicious Symbol.

Like pressed flowers, each piece of An Auspicious Symbol synthesised separate states of energy, material and idea into a formal vibrant whole. As emblems they are both football and flower, masculine and feminine, ball to be punched and pigskin. They absorb and release energy. The artist’s engagement with the materials is lucid, the touch is light. Arranged like four rays the football petals are a symbol of good fortune.

A much darker work is Bachelor’s Kiss. This highly reflective sheet of black glass was already shattered when Roberts came across if at Revolve. With lead strips like a stained glass window, he painstakingly repaired it. Hung in the large gallery it shifted the viewer’s focus, at once mirroring brilliant colour form the neon and absorbing light into its transparent blackness, creating a sense of mystery. It is names after The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even (The Large Glass) by Marcel Duchamp and references the street fighting term “Liverpool Kiss” that is a violent head-butt to the nose.

Through the Friends of Neil Roberts Trust Bachelor’s Kiss is being acquired for the National Gallery of Australia. In honour of Roberts, the Trust hopes to initiate future projects to support local artists. Anyone wanting to contribute should contact Helen Maxwell Galleries.