Shaun Gladwell: Inspector of the Tides

Shaun Gladwell is almost finished installing The Inspector of Tides – a bold and impressively diverse collection of his most-recent work. Dressed in his typical, understated skater get-up, the Australian-born, London-based artist is standing in Anna Schwartz Gallery at Carriageworks as final adjustments are made to a video projection shone onto a cluster of incongruent, geometric shapes. The Inspector of Tides is perhaps equally as disparate – as we navigate the gallery space, Gladwell unveils a mixture of painting, video, photography and installation he describes broadly as many ideas, but without one unifying style.

The exhibition arrives after a retrospective of Gladwell’s work at UNSW Galleries and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation earlier this year. The survey included a small library of the artist’s multi-channel video reels, showing Gladwell surfing, skating, and then poised on the back wheel of a BMX on a beach promenade somewhere in England. Best recognised for his rain-soaked skate loop, Storm Sequence, Gladwell’s signature slow-motion sequences capture his skill and prowess as a skater, and place a steady, hypnotic veil over otherwise harsher moments, movements and elements.

The Inspector of Tides, however, presents a new slant on Gladwell’s style through gentle artistic allusions and collaborations with his art-world contemporaries. “I’m starting to resist this idea of mono-logical signature style,” Gladwell explains. “So there are lots of little things, ideas, projects, but it’s all hung together through the idea of reference, appropriation and collaboration.” The exhibition takes its inspiration from a Michael Dransfield poem of the same name. Free flowing and without any specific metre, the verse describes an ethereal stroll with friends. “It’s quite a beautiful poem, and I thought I would base this show partly on a series of collaborations with artists I respect.”

Collaborative pieces in the exhibition include a painting of a pensive Star Wars Storm Trooper titled Mirror Man, with a bright orange, almost calligraphic overlay via artist Matthys Gerber. “[Gerber] happened to be my painting teacher at college a few years ago,” says Gladwell. “I love Matthys’ work, I’ve written about his work, and I’m still in conversation with him.” Daniel Boyd has lent his celebrated interpretation of Papunya Tula dot-painting technique to a diptych called Portrait of Meyne Wyatt / Black Digger (colour version), while Archibald Prize winner Fiona Lowry has edited Portrait of a Street Artist, 2.

The exhibition is also infused with subtle art references – more inspiration and influence than pure appropriation. “It’s not for me to interpret, it is whatever you make it,” he smiles. Offline Pastorial Edit (after Heysen) is a translation of an early Hans Heysen watercolour – two heavy pink gums in an iconic bush scene resurrected in oil and blown up in scale. “I suppose I’m kind of collaborating with [Heysen] posthumously through the technique of 1980s appropriation art. I really love the kingpin of Australian appropriation Imants Tillers, who started off referencing Heysen.”

Probably most immediately arresting is a pair of bright-blue portaloos, side by side in the centre of the gallery. Mid installation, against the sound of drilling in concrete, the idea doesn’t seem so abstract – the effect will no doubt feel different when tools have been packed away. “You can’t do much about it – you put a portaloo in a gallery and you’re talking about Duchamp’s 1917 installation Fountain,” says Gladwell. Despite the potential tie in to Duchamp’s infamous avant-garde porcelain urinal, Gladwell has veiled the idea with a distinctly Australian air. “I love doing Aussie versions of things. I love the horror of going to a music festival and being in a portaloo and getting tipped,” he laughs. “In terms of abject terror, it’s probably the most horrific thing you could ever have done as a young person.”

Next for Gladwell is a new video piece that will screen at Barangaroo Reserve’s Cutaway for the Sydney Festivalin January 2016. Skateboarders vs Minimalism will feature one of Gladwell’s favourite skaters, Rodney Mullin, free wheeling across celebrated minimalist sculptures. “Rodney is the founding father of modern skateboarding,” says Gladwell. “He’s capable of looking at an object – say a Donald Judd sculpture – and seeing it in a completely different way, and having completely different uses for it.” Mullin skates on, in and around replicas of famous sculptures from the likes of Judd, Dan Flavin and Carl Andre.

This article first appeared on Broadsheet, 9 December 2015. 

Image, Shaun Gladwell.