Upon The Stairs
Exquisite FragmentsWeekend Mercury 07/05/2022 pg.14 – Visual Arts, Andrew Harper
Upon the Stairs, Tony Woods, Colville gallery, Ground Floor, 15 Castray Esplanade, Battery Point, until May 11
Tony Woods feels like a bit of a secret. Born in Hobart in 1940, he had a lengthy and very productive career that took a sharp turn in 1968 when he received a Harkness Fellowship that took him to New York, Where his Expressionist-influenced method of painting was exposed to the excitement of conceptualism, and his work changed. It would have – New York in that historical moment was a wild place for experimental and changing art, and Woods clearly learnt and saw so much.
He lived at the famous Chelsea Hotel – this is somewhat amazing as this location over the decades saw an incredible range of notable creative inhabitants, taking in musicians and rock stars, filmmakers, writers and visual artists: it’s a landmark of global culture. While Woods was in residence, so too was great Australian artist Brett Whiteley, and Woods struck up a friendship with Whiteley while working intensely. Woods was in his element. Everything came crashing down, though: Woods’s Manhattan studio was destroyed by fire and he lost everything, he returned to Australia, and, after a period of time living with Brett and Wendy Whiteley, he eventually found himself living in Melbourne, also spending time back in Tasmania, at a studio in Dunalley.
He kept painting, branched out into Super 8 film and making prints and drawings, largely living a life near-Zen focus on small details and tiny wonders.
He was recognised by a retrospective at the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art in 1986, and built a community of friends and artists around himself, holding life drawing classes at his studio and mentoring younger artists. He passed away in 2017.
Woods wasn’t all that interested in the commercial art world. He wasn’t much of a materialist, and it shows in his works on display in this exhibition. There’s lots of space left untouched, not many colours are used and much is made of the play of light and shadow. Woods was fascinated by light shining through cracks, and this image of contrasting bright and dark is featured many times: this is a fine example of how he honed in small details and found precious wonder in them.
These works are quite extraordinary in their slowness: they take a bit of extra time to really unfurl. You can really feel Woods’s presence in works like this: he is in his studio, focusing and recording a micro experience he clearly finds quite special, and which he captures quite lyrically.
Light is often the subject of much art, particularly landscape works, but the way Woods tightens his focus and looks at a tiny, delicate moment is gorgeous – you can almost see the slow dance of dust motes in the soft bars of sun. these are meditative and subtle works from a fascinating artist who seems very concerned with moments and exquisite fragments, rather than grandiose statements.