Who: Stieg Persson
What: Crypsis
Where: Anna Schwartz Gallery, 185 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000
When: Until 18 December 2010

So I’m back from my trip to Kuala Lumpur and have settled back into real life here in Melbourne. To get the ball rolling again I decided to check out Anna Schwartz during my lunch break today.

Stieg Persson currently has a show there called Crypsis. The gallery has been transformed into something really amazing. The stark white walls that I am used to have been painted over with hard edged geometric patterns in black and white only to be interrupted with large sections of deep warm purple. On these walls hang Persson’s chaotic yet decorative paintings of large swirls, curls and scrolls. The lighter paintings against the deep purple parts of the wall and the really dark pieces against the black and white patterns. All this created a great juxtaposition of shape, form, colour and rhythm. My visual senses went on overdrive.

The patterns on the walls mimic the Dazzle camouflage pattern used by navy vessels in World War 1. A pretty odd pattern that in the first instance seems to defeat the purpose of camouflaging, but the aim was not to conceal the ship.  Instead, the patterns created confusion as they made the ship difficult for its enemies to estimate its type, size, speed and orientation as it disrupted the optical mechanisms in rangefinders used for naval artillery. I must really be under a rock because this is the first time I’ve ever heard of Dazzle camouflage and I wish I knew about it earlier – the ships look absolutely wicked! And to think these ships graced our seas in the 1910s. Austin Powers eat your heart out.

If ships still looked like this I’d be a marine engineer!

The titles of Persson’s paintings are based on contemporary themes such as Is My Video Viral? (2009) shown below. To be honest, I don’t know what the title of the work has to do with the painting itself. I see a beautiful, expressive and rhythmic painting and the title of the work just puzzled me. I am not too familiar with the work of Persson, and I could be completely off the mark here, but perhaps the artist is using his abstract paintings as a means to have a go at contemporary life in a very subtle way. Is My Video Viral? makes me think about the obsession that people have these days with posting videos of themselves on YouTube and hoping to become famous.

Is my Video Viral?, 2009
oil and metallic paint on linen
229 x 183 cm
Courtesy of Anna Schwartz Gallery

Another work entitled Fragile Y’s (2009) suggest the theories on the demise of the Y chromosome arising out of the research being conducted at ANU that hint that within the next 10,000 years we could see the end of the Y chromosome and men as we know it (hmmm… is this a cause for celebration?). Science aside, the ever growing independence of women, glass ceilings disappearing one after another, women no longer need to include a man in their financial planning.

The titles of Persson’s work provide much food for thought, but when it comes to abstract art I don’t care too much for titles. I rather much just look at the paintings and admire them for their formal qualities like paint application, composition, rhythm, colours and vibrancy more than anything. Having said that though, who says you can’t have a bit of fun with your titles and confuse your viewers?

However, as I was thinking about this, a little light bulb lit up in my head. Perhaps the confusion is the art itself, as the viewer is forced to find the connection or meaning in the painting having been suggested a meaning from the title. Dazzle was used by battleships to confuse its enemies, and here we see Dazzle on the walls. Coincidence? I think not. The title of the show Crypsis is also a word used in ecology as having the ability to camouflage and avoid observation and detection. It all suddenly made sense. Persson is presenting us with a maze of thoughts, ideas and theories camouflaged and indecipherable in paint.

Going back to admiring the work for its formal qualities though, I loved Persson’s paintings in this show and the Dazzled walls really make them pop. And after thinking a bit more about the artist’s intentions with the confusing titles and the implication of the Dazzle pattern, I can truly say that the exhibition is both visually and mentally satisfying. And with that I shall leave you with my favourite painting… Harbinger (2010). Dark. Sinister. Beautiful.

Harbinger , 2010
oil and metallic paint on linen
183 x 173 cm
Courtesy of Anna Schwartz Gallery


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