GRAEME DRENDEL ARTIST TALK
THURSDAY 15 MARCH 6.30pm
Brimbank Community and Civic Centre
Level 1 – 301 Hampshire Road, Sunshine
“I’m endlessly fascinated by human nature, and what people do.”
Graeme Drendel is a boy from the west, not the western suburbs of Melbourne but rather the west of Victoria. He grew up on a wheat farm near the rural township of Ouyen in the northwest of the state. Seeking further opportunity and education Graeme eventually left Ouyen and headed for the city, firstly Ballarat and later Melbourne to study art. He went on to train as a teacher and has since worked as both a secondary and tertiary art educator. Graeme now lives in Melbourne’s northern suburbs but it is interesting to note the ongoing visual impact that his Mallee upbringing still plays in his artwork. The spacious, vast and often parched landscape of his childhood frequently plays a pivotal role as the setting in his paintings. More than just backdrop however, the wide open skies and low horizons provide an expansive, somewhat ominous sense of space in which figures appear both physically and psychologically isolated. Even when groups of people stand together they appear slightly off-kilter and disjointed in relation to each other.
Whether it is alone or in a group, the isolation of the individual is a central concern in much of Graeme’s figurative painting. This is not altogether surprising when you hear the terms by which he refers to his own existence as “an isolated, meditative life … It’s true, I’m not very sociable. I’m quite happy with my own company”. In this regard isolation is not negative concern. Rather, it is simply an understanding of the reality of the human condition. As Graeme puts it “every figure, every person is an individual and contained within their own shell … you can get as close as you can to a partner but you are still encased within your own consciousness”. With this in mind, Graeme Drendel’s paintings can be read as not only a visual exploration of individuals but also a pictorial representation of social constructs and conditioning. In terms of Graeme’s approach to creating works there is in one sense a strong parallel to the farming ethos. Simply put, he works hard. It is not difficult to see a direct comparison between a farmer working long hours out in a paddock rounding up livestock or planting this years crop and Graeme’s rigorous studio practice where he devotes hour upon hour upon hour to the development of his work. A visit to his studio reveals not only paintings but sketches in the hundreds if not thousands. Each drawing recording poses, testing ideas and pictorial notes that are filed away for later reference.
Given his prodigious work ethic and volumes of sketches you could be forgiven for assuming that each painting is meticulously pre-planned. The reality however is almost the exact opposite. Graeme much prefers the freedom and reactivity that is possible with an unplanned approach to the blank canvas. As he states “I just grab things out of the air, really, as I’m painting. I look for different settings for the figures, different dynamics. The thing I really enjoy is not knowing what I’m going to end up with”. In an interview with Michel Lawrence, Graeme noted that if you could do an Archaeological dig through most of the canvases you would find probably almost as many figures again. The showing of these artworks in this civic building is intended to give pause for reflection. Artwork that focuses on people coming together and the balance between them as individuals and their inclusion in a group or community is hugely relevant to people in the building. In Brimbank and its cultural diversity this consideration feels all the more pertinent. The municipality of Brimbank is one of Victoria’s most culturally diverse. Represented amongst the population are 156 different nationalities. Of those residents 45% were born outside of Australia and 58% speak a language other than English at home. The area prides itself on this diversity and its welcoming and inclusive sensibility. Graeme’s work in this context seems to give space for the consideration of individuals and the comfort and discomfort that can come with being alone. Within Brimbank’s environment of diversity and inclusivity then there is a challenge to celebrate individuality while also breaking down marginalisation and social isolation.
Image at top: The gatherers 2012, oil on canvas, 167 x 137 cm
Above: The piper 2015, oil on canvas, 122 x 91 cm
Above: The observers 2014, oil on canvas, 122 x 91 cm
Above: Transcendence 2006, oil on canvas 100 x 76 cm