Robin Eley is without a doubt an exceptional painter. An Adelaide based artist, his preferred medium is oil on Belgian linen canvas. In his first solo exhibition, Singularity, he reveals a fascination with reflection and transparency along with the human form. Masterfully, he has completed 15 paintings exploring the theme of Isolation in modern culture. Eley thorough his artist’s statement explains the theme of his latest body of work. “Singularity” is an apt title for an exhibition exploring the phenomenon of social networking and the artificial existence people perpetuate online. All the works point to the reduced attention span produced by the proliferation of available images on the internet. With the click of a mouse, says Eley, pictures are reduced to a disposable folly. Rather than shout louder and demand attention by raising the volume of the message, he has chosen to let his paintings speak softly. Through the sheer labor of his technique the viewer is drawn to step closer and listen.
His work certainly caught my attention.
Salutary breeze depicts a young woman in a reclining pose. Meticulously painted by Eley with fastidious attention to detail, she appears frozen on canvas. Her head is tilted forward as if in quiet thought. There is a subtle melancholic air about her. One leg is raised with her knee pointed toward her head. Her arms delicately wrap around her shin. Her other leg points forward, toes extended and posed. Her body is wrapped in a thin film of transparent plastic sheeting; so much so that I lose sight of her exact form though the shiny exterior. This film extends forward from her as if blown by a gust of wind. She is naked yet she exposes little of herself to the viewer. The plastic seems to stick to the woman’s form, it clings to it stretching against her skin. There is a tenuous anxiety about this work; what if the wind should blow from another direction, what then? Would she be engulfed by and ultimately become suffocated in a plastic mass. This work, as with many others in the same exhibition, explores and warns us of the dangers of allowing ourselves to be surrounded by the artificial social media phenomenon. Slowly, as we embrace its use we improve our plastic facades and digitally clock our existence. The result, warns Eley, is a loss of our humanity to a world where quantity is more important than quality.
The self-portrait for an artist is often a journey of exploration. The artist must invariably ponder what it is inside them that matters most at the time of completion. When I look at Robin Eley’s “Self-Portrait”, 2010, I sense a lot of his essence. This portrait placed runner-up in the Moran Portrait prize behind Michael Zaveros in 2010, earning it a “Highly commended” in the competition. The detail of the work captures my eye first, it is something that draws me into it. Eley’s fascination with tone is something to be admired. The artist is pictured standing in front of an aging doorway staring out at us. On his upper body he wears a loose-fitting jumper, open at the neck. His hair is ruffled and pushed back. There is a quiet symbolism, a door way is a path to somewhere else. We face many doorways in our lives. Yet for Robin this door has no handle allowing easy access. It must be pushed. His eyes, draped in shadow are calm yet they reveal a certain weight. The horizontal and vertical lines of the window echo a meticulous nature. The shadow around the artist’s face suggests he carries a burden yet his head is tilted sightly back in a determined fashion. In a complementary manner his hands show us still more. He holds his right hand with his left. He is after all a painter and it is from this point that his craft must flow. Cradled by his left hand with a gold ring there is a clear reference to a supportive partner. His painting hand appears delicate and sublime. He is a serene character, contemplative. Is this an external door, it leads to somewhere internal. The markings upon it suggest years of weather, it has been through a lot. Yet what we might find inside we are not shown. We do however know that through it there is light and clarity.