Press Room Details

Urban Patinas A look at Sydney artist, Ashley Frost

8 May 2012
Harriet Levenston

Aesthesis blog

Slabs of paint - blue on burning red on neon orange on cool violet on black - form the thick, textural reliefs of artist Ashley Frost's vivid cityscapes in his current show, ‘Urban Patinas'.

To Frost, cities are curious and vibrant places, sites of modernity and the hub of contemporary life. Fascinated by intersections, where the city's periphery converges with the inner suburbs and the moment where day exhausts itself and becomes night, he shows us that there is beauty to be found in the urbane.

Entering the gallery space, you're hit straight away with hot bursts of colour. White walls pulsate with large-scale and intimately sized canvases which act like windows through which a living, breathing - panting - cityscape is in central view.

‘Varicose' - almost 4 metres squared - is a gestural perspective of a road lined with shop fronts somewhere in Sydney. The paint has been applied so thickly and freely, that the scene verges on abstraction. Dense brushstrokes have been troweled back to allow pockets of fluorescent red-orange to surface and merge with a glowing sunset. Sky and city reverberate with energy, which is at the same time enlivening and exhausting to view. There is a real sense of movement within the work, circulated by the rush of scintillating colour, undulating road lines and expressive, aggressive, brushstrokes. It feels like a humid, hazy workday avo on King Street.

Smaller works revealed cooler, somber, more subdued night scenes. In ‘Entropy Study', an ominous navy sky is fringed with the silhouette of a dark cityscape. Pallid yellow glare radiates at the point where city and sky converge, and is echoed in flecks of the dim light of street lamps. The scene is filled with urban reminders: power lines streak across building facades, drawing the eye along asphalt to smog. Slices of colour cut through black shapes, suggesting illuminated shop awnings, car brake lights, metallic road signs and a wet road reflecting the evening sky. It's an intimate vignette of the city at dusk, where the workday clocks off and respite is found back at home, probably before the lulling glow of the TV.

Whether Frost is saying something deeper about suburbia, about what lies beneath its patina, is unknown. Yet it is clear that through his immensely layered, visceral, expressionistic paintings, Frost is emphasizing the richness and involvedness of city and urban living. The surfaces of the works, replicating also the patina of their subject matter, have been scraped back, reworked, embellished and developed. The result is a raw, worn, lived-in feel. The works' surfaces have a history to them, onto which a present and a future have encrusted.

And this is exactly what an urban patina is the result of - accumulated history, change, construction, and damage as signs of aging. But patina, although the consequence of corrosion and exposure over time, is ultimately a polished, uniquely beautiful surface. Like metropolises and suburban dwellings, patina's uniqueness is reminiscent of its wear and tear. Anything and everything in urban life culminates, heaps up, interacts and informs its outer form.

This culmination is echoed in the works, wherein rigorous brushstrokes collide and contrasting colours clash, but in a way that is surprisingly more harmonious than garish. Frost definitely pushes colour boundaries to the extreme, going against the grain of colour theories which predict what will and won't look visually appealing. In ‘Flight Path Study 1', layers upon layers of violet and various shades of blue have been brushed over a bright orange background, which permeates the sky. The electric contrast crackles before you like an open fire. The deep purple horizon line is is met by a winding cobalt road swooping round from the foreground. Pink cars speed past magenta footpaths. No element escapes Frost's obsessive colour treatment - even electrical power poles are streaked a muted rainbow.

It's exciting to see such a colourful translation of what we usually deem mundane, industrial and ugly. For as much as Frost explores and displays ‘urban patinas', he expresses a real fascination and enjoyment of colour and texture. ‘Ferry Study' is so abstract, that without the clue of its title, is fundamentally a haphazard pattern of colour and light. You're made to focus on the material qualities of the work - on the dense smears of impasto paint, which have been etched into with a palette knife, fingertips and the end of a paintbrush. It's a very involved, hands-on approach to painting which arguably obscures the boundary between painting and sculpture.

Frost has energetically slapped onto canvas and board a multiplicity of images from his travels, ranging from skyscrapers in New York to ice caps in Antarctica. All of his works reverberate with a liveliness that's unrelenting, exciting and highly contagious.

Harriet Levenston 2012.

‘Urban Patinas' is currently on display at the Stella Downer Fine Art Gallery until 19 May at 2 Danks Street, Waterloo NSW.

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