Ham Darroch painting Counter Attack 2020 at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery. Photo: David Paterson.
Folio: colour in geometric action and The Battle of San Romano
Anne-Marie Jean goes behind the scenes of the recent Ham Darroch exhibition to explore its influences and the artists that inspired it.
Throughout his career the study of art history has played a significant role in the development of Darroch’s creative ideas and aesthetics.
In 2018 Canberra artist Ham Darroch spent six months working for internationally acclaimed British Op Art painter Bridget Riley, as a project manager and art technician, to create a new wall painting at the National Gallery of London.
During his daily breaks, he would study Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano (c. 1438–1440), a painting by iconic Italian Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello. Dramatic and poised in its narration of active battle, Darroch considered the structure and composition of the painting, observing that colour played a crucial role in the way animal, figure and object seem to move through space.
Throughout his career, the study of art history has played a significant role in the development of Darroch’s creative ideas and aesthetics. He had visited this painting numerous times, captivated not only by the content of the historical battle as it played out over the surface of the paintings, but also by the drama of the figures and objects activated within the pictorial plane. Darroch saw in Uccello’s painting a re-invention of pictorial space. He reflected on the tools and processes used to create the works, the way colours responded to each other in space, and immersed himself in the shifting geometries, actions and objects that he viewed in the painting. As Darroch prepared for his solo exhibition this year at the ANU’s Drill Hall Gallery (February 14- April 12 2020) his intimacy with Uccello’s Battle of San Romano made it the ideal inspiration for Counter Attack, the 12-metre long abstract wall painting that would be a central work in the show.
Since 2014 Darroch has created six large scale geometric wall paintings around Australia using first objects and then significant historic and modern paintings to provide the inspiration for each work. Including Counter Attack, his latest work, four of the six paintings were temporary, remaining on the walls only as long as the performance of their making and the length of the exhibition. Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles provided the armature for his 2017 wall painting Spar at WA Collective in Perth.
A viewer may ask, why respond to a historical battle scene with colourful and dynamic geometric forms? Darroch’s colour enhanced abstractions are a discourse on form and action. An alumnus from the ANU School of Art and Design, Darroch began his career in sculpture. As he explored the way humans interact with objects and tools his practice naturally expanded to encompass performance and then painting. All manifestations of his work, sculpture, painting and performance explore the echo’s of human interaction with objects. In his abstract geometric paintings arcs and arches duck and weave evoking not only activity but its absence. His coloured forms ignore traditional boundaries of the picture plane and it is the white spaces in between them that enhance illusions of depth and perspective. Shifts in the colour and light activate the pace of movement and create a kind of rhythm or soundtrack to accentuate the geometric forms that stand in the place of people and objects.
Darroch says of creating large scale paintings: “It’s about invention, about inhabiting the painting to find things out.” The fascinating thing about geometric abstraction and colour vibration in painting is its ability to articulate activity and even give a sense of recording past action. As his latest work on the western wall of the Drill Hall Gallery Counter Attack attests, colour and geometry can be steeped in the narrative of the gesture of battle or the action of the artist painting those movements of horse and lance. Uccello’s rhythms and angles expand and contract through the gradated colour and mathematical form of Counter Attack.
Ham Darroch’s exhibition propeller was on show at Drill Hall Gallery from February 14 to April 12. A five week timelapse film of the painting is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yo74xY12ZNw.
For details about current exhibitions please see dhg.anu.edu.au