Tobias Richardson

<strong>Tobias Richardson</strong><br/><i>Kabah - Circumambulation</i> 2006<br/>Acrylic on board, tacks and collage<br/>62.5 x 64cm<br/>Gifted by the artist, 2007<br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection, CDU1724Tobias Richardson is a New South Wales-based (formerly Darwin-based) Australian contemporary artist, whose practice as a painter and sculptor has been shaped by residencies in remote Northern Territory communities, Southeast Asia, Europe, rural Australia and extended travel abroad. He was Lecturer in Studio Practice at Charles Darwin University between 2005 and 2007.

His work is represented in Griffith University Artworks, Artbank, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory Art Collection, Government House Darwin Art Collection, the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery (Townsville) and Galeri Petronas (Malaysia), as well as the Charles Darwin University Art Collection. Two works by Richardson, from his Pit of Death (2009) series, were recently acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Kabah – Circumambulation 2006 was the first work in a series of more than 200 paintings, predominantly on board and in mixed media – enamel, acrylic, oil, collage and hardware – featuring pictorial manifestations of the Islamic shrine in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. They were created between 2005 and 2007, first exhibited at The Gallery (Orange 10) at Charles Darwin University in 2006, and selected by the late John Stringer for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s survey show Cross Currents: Focus on Contemporary Australian Art in Sydney, in 2007.

The Kabah series owes its origins to the artist’s journeys to Burma, where his curiosity was aroused by photographic poster images of the ancient granite shrine, sold by street-vendors in Yangon. The hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and its associated mass-ritual of circumambulation, appealed to the three-dimensional sensibility of Richardson’s own practice.

In his own words, his aim was not ‘to create a true impression’, but to present ‘an expressive and open narrative’ through the ‘simplicity’ of the Kabah’s ‘very potent subject matter’. As a ‘taboo place’ it became ‘magical’; as a ‘physically void space’ it was also ‘psychologically rich’. Colour is symbolic in this series: black is both finite and infinite; white represents the underside of the black cloth and echoes the gallery’s neutral, white-walled space; red, replacing the gold Koranic script of the real Kabbah, refers to both the forces of life and death.

It is significant that Richardson elected to represent the Kabah via two-dimensional pictures, rather than as freestanding sculptures, although the paintings’ installation en masse created a vertiginous spatial experience within the ‘white cube’ of the gallery space. Hovering from ceiling to floor, they formed an emblematic tableau – an optical and symbolic circuit – surrounding the viewer with shifting focus points, compelling circumambulation and reflection on the physical act of viewing itself. From a curatorial perspective, selecting several paintings for the University Art Collection, drawn from the whole body of work in situ, proved almost – but not quite – impossible.

In Richardson’s words: ‘I have shown the Kabah as a universal iconic image, as the centre of the earth, governed by astronomy and inspired by humanity ... The gallery ultimately becomes the psychological and physical space of the Kabah. The multiples represent infinity and enable many interpretations. As an artist, the gallery space, like the Kabah, has special significance to me as a place of expression and faith’.

Sources: T. Richardson, Circumambulation (1-17 June 2006), Exhibition Statement, Darwin; A. Angel, ‘Tobias Richardson’ (catalogue essay), Cross-Currents: Focus on Contemporary Australian Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2007, pp.90-97. 

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection and Art Gallery
28 April 2010

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