By Sarah Ryan
The Colour of Music and Place is an exhibition that focuses exclusively on the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ collection of work by David Aspden (1935-2005).
The process of creating an abstract painting involves not only aesthetic tools, but also an emotion that comes from within the artist. Early in his career, Aspden was profoundly influenced by international formalist and hard-edge painting, propelling him to move into a more nuanced and lyrical abstraction of artistry inspired by music, landscape and nature. With an emphasis on colour and a remarkable facility for tone, Aspden simultaneously explored form, complex patterns and the interlocking of shapes painted with razor-edged precision.
Geometrically arranged and diffused across three spacious rooms, The Colour of Music and Place is the first in-depth exhibition of Aspden’s work and provides viewers with an overview of the progress of his practice over the years. Each painting is chronologically displayed from his earliest work beginning in 1969 until his last in 2005.
Aspden’s 1971 work, Brazil series no. 3, is centrally positioned. It was exhibited at the Sao Paulo Biennale in Brazil, where he was awarded a gold medal for his body of work. The key aspect of this painting is Aspden’s artistic maturity conveyed through the introduction of his freeform jigsaw shape which enabled him to further explore the relationship between colour and space.
Within the exhibition of more than 70 works spanning four decades, his paintings of the 1980s and 1990s displayed in room three project an illumination of prominence; they are both energetic and joyous. These paintings highlight the way in which Aspden’s practice of drawing directly from his environment became more pronounced. His 1995 work, Black Music, reasserts the importance of colour and music in his later paintings. Aspden referred to colour in musical terms – harmony, variation and discord – and associated it with nature and landscape.
Despite the overtones of ‘loneliness’ conveyed in his later work, The Colour of Music and Place makes it clear that Aspden’s work never stood still, and never sacrificed its vitality and lyrical qualities. His playful yet seemingly compulsive use of colour symbolises a gap between knowledge and wisdom, reasserting the impression that he was not on a quest to sculpt the world into an unambiguous stream of clarity, but to expose it through the colourful and harmonic layers of nature, sense and place.
David Aspden: The Colour of Music and Place, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 28 July – 4 September 2011.