Out of the Forest

Ian Hamilton

Back to his bowers The arts audience of Townsville can be thankful for the return of Ian Hamilton, whose exhibition Out of the Forest will be on display at Perc Tucker Regional Gallery from 13 February until 22 March.

Art Exhibition previously on at Perc Tucker Regional Gallery in Townsville precinct, Queensland, Australia.
From Friday 13 February 2009 to Sunday 22 March 2009

Ian Hamilton, Single Tower image

Published by anonymous on Wednesday 04 March 2009.
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Out of the Forest is appropriately named, as it declares the return of Hamilton the artist, after many years trapped in the forest that is arts management. It’s been quite a journey back to becoming a practising artist for Hamilton, having worked for such an extended period for South Australian and Victorian local government organisations. Many would have doubted Hamilton would ever make it back out. Hamilton, however, is down to earth about the time he spent away from his practice, “I had a family to support!!! You can’t live on the sort of art I make.” But now the doubters have been silenced, and he is “free (at least I thought I was until the crash of my Super fund) to make art without worrying too much about money.”

The love affair with making art began at an early age for Hamilton. He vividly recalls the earliest drawings of his childhood, and the evident passion led him to his first serious training as a teenager: “life drawing class led by the legendary Mervyn Moriarty (who later formed the Queensland Flying Art School)”. His training continued sporadically under Roy Churcher, as well as a mad Balt (whose teachings Hamilton rejected) in Mt Isa, where he had travelled to complete his electrical apprenticeship.

Indeed, it was not until 1969 that Hamilton applied for full-time entry to study at the South Australian School of Art. During his third year of study he became inspired by the simple fluorescent tube, and he decided he would experiment with “us[ing] the fluoro tube as a painting medium.” His investigation into light and space using the tubes, particularly an exhibition he mounted in an old wool store in 1974, gained him recognition, “prior to graduating I was advised that I’d won an Australia Council ‘Living Artist’ fellowship for 1975.” In 1976 he was appointed Artist-in-Residence at Griffith University in Brisbane for 12 months. He continued his fluoro work around the university campus, hanging tubes from trees that, “at night…produced a spooky effect that drew the viewer deep into the forest.” Sadly, “safety officials didn’t take kindly to bare fluoro tubes strung on and around trees so the work was banned.”

His interest in the forest and displaying art outside the white cube was equally as important, and while still in Brisbane, Hamilton “went to O’Reilly’s on Lamington Plateau where I recorded the male Satin Bowerbird building and decorating. On one occasion I captured the bird on video rearranging the placement of a stick. The way this was done by the bird – by stepping back, cocking its head, then stepping back to rearrange the placement, reminded me of the way we artists are constantly reassessing our work in progress. At the time I was heavily into entropy theory using the fluoro tube as a symbol. I began to incorporate the tube into bower-like structures in very ephemeral works. This led eventually to a theory I developed called “Time Allows the Elaboration of Basic Urges and/or Forms…The suggestion was that an organism free from the pressures of predation, hunger, parental duties and territorial disputation had time to elaborate on basic urges (nest-building) and forms (the form of the nest).”

“In 1978 I received a grant from the South Australian Government to ‘Study the Art of the Golden Bowerbird’. This allowed me to travel to the Mt Spec area northwest of Townsville where, over several weeks camped within the forest, accompanied by the sounds and creatures of the forest (including leeches), I observed the workings of the male Golden Bowerbird (Prionodura newtoniana)” His work with fluorescent tubes, however, would soon end. Equally, with a family to feed, his time became increasingly consumed with work within arts management.

However, working again in Adelaide, Hamilton could feel his interest in making serious art renewed in the early 2000’s. He re-examined his work from the 1970s and 80s, and found himself more and more drawn back to the bowerbird.

In Out of the Forest, viewers will find themselves taken on a journey through the field notes, through to the drawings and sculptures (including Hamilton’s own bowers, built stick by stick in what is a very lengthy process), to finally wonder at the complexity of the large prints that result. And while Hamilton is down-to-earth enough to state, “I don’t think the artist has any right to expect anything from viewers. As Dylan said, ‘take what you can gather from experience…’,” it is fairly safe to assume most viewers will feel an appreciation that Hamilton has finally made it back; back to his art, back to his bowers.