Write-ups and Critiques

The presence and power of the totem

The Weekend Australian, July 30, 1988

Adrian Mauriks, in 11 carvings in cyprus, elm, oak and blackwood called to solemn and silent convocation at the Irving Sculpture Gallery, reasserts the presence and power of the totem.

They really do not recall oriental gateways or guardian spirits. Some look like the logos that guardian spirits might leave behind when called away at celestial commands and some might look like silhouettes of figures that have been jaggedly torn from the centres of large blocks of wood and some, like Memory, are split up the centre as incipient human shapes emerge.

However, whatever is said will seem a rash over-simplification because Mauriks wants to infuse these figures with the roughness and unpredictable vitality of the bush. In Moon Totem, the habitual thick flat plank of wood, often tenderly touched or scoured with paint, is so raggedly chopped and fretted about the head that it seems that torn clouds are enveloping it.

On the other hand, Gateway has two thin black legs or pilasters that are cut into blocks and triangles on their outer sides like Brancusi forcing Constructivism into sensible subjection. Across the top a long black object like a fish with fins, drooping tail and red slashed down the side, has the frantic fantasy that Picasso could use when he put a fish on a womanís hat as a sarcastic, decorative touch.

The whole idol is black; only internal areas have been painted a uniform red. It is a commanding and optimistic piece that like others reveals the neglected possibilities of asymmetry and imbalance.

While Mauriks prefers an encounter between stalwart, rough and loose-jointed forms as in the massive black Cross-Totem, where a range of clumsy peaks stand in for head, shoulders and arms, with a cross, painted white on the insides and cut through the chest letting you see the world beyond, he can also achieve a harmonious, lyrical complexity of flat shapes delicately painted a pearl grey or a harsh notched jangle of forms as in Survivors. The surface is a beguiling and deceptive powdery grey and cream but the tiers of shapes, like an oval in a tattered pilaster, a bladed doorway and two savage cockerels (I think) indicate that this is a monument to a battle for survival not yet over.

Mauriks has devised skills like controlled hacking, continuous shallow scooping and appropriate surface painting and scrubbing that are entirely subjected to the creation of sculpture and thematic metaphor. He has emerged as a figure of real importance.

Elwyn Lynn, 1988