Michael Cusack : recent work


The afternoon I walked off Macleay Street, Potts Point, into Martin Browne Fine Art to see Michael Cusack’s 2009 exhibition Archive, all noise ceased. The artist had created an atmosphere of suspense: the more I looked the quieter things became. I was experiencing the kind of work that takes hold of you with a delayed impact. The space was in a state of equipoise. The paintings with their contained shapes and tight, tonal range of greys, charcoals, chalky whites and muddy ochres coalesced in a series of sequences that began to evoke musical associations – John Coltrane came to mind. The painter’s sensitive brush work and gentle overlapping forms underscored the deep emotive impact Archiveachieved as a spectacle.


Curiously, the catalyst or inspiration for that particular body of work was the Aran Islands and the rock walls off the west coast of Ireland. Cusack had observed these islands and was struck, in his words, by ‘their interlocking shapes held together by weight, weather and time.’ And yet, as with a good deal of fine abstract painting, the artist has simply shifted the focus from the external to the internal realising imagery that reveals subtle spatial shifts and rich tonal variations, all within a rigorously controlled format.


Two years on, and Michael Cusack’s forms are expanding, gathering momentum and surging to the limits of the format. The hermetic imagery of Archive  has given way to a more vigorous, expansive treatment of the motif while adhering to the call of tonal restraint. The ‘logic of construction’, as Cusack describes his point of departure, lies at the core of this recent body of work.  Herein also is a key to the painter’s process where he finds pleasure in the fact that ‘logic is interrupted’. While at one level, the artist revels in the world of architectonics, engineering and geomorphology these disciplines, or areas of interest, are not in themselves subject matter for his painting, however, they can provide an armature or support for the forms that take shape within the canvas.


The artist’s evolving internal dialogue is relayed in a silent language of shallow depths and subtle brush strokes that speak of paint as the unalloyed conveyor of emotional reverie, blue- prints of an inner life. The overall impact of these works is of a confident mastery, where imagery has been wrested and inverted from the realm of experience to be re-cast in an interior world attuned to the divergent, emotive forces that have given rise to a singular vision of substance.


Gavin Wilson

29 May 2011


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