Looking at Water Lilies (2018), the epic digitally printed ‘painting’ by Hany Armanious is both aerial and terrestrial. Apprehended at a distance it reads like a big master, an abstract cloud muncher tearing holes into the void and glowering on the wall with poetic muscle. Composed of the stains that surrounded a studio wall where a completed canvas once hung, the void is the spectacle. Even the most subtle magnetic image draws the eye quickly. You have to stomp over there and find that the three dimensional base is an illusion, the painterly mark is a breath of vapour and the grime is resting clearly on pale canvas. It doesn’t matter. In fact it makes it better. The power of the object consumes the conceit. The remnant is the whole and it is replete. The elegy here is to space. But it was created in a space that has been disembowelled. It is like a skyscraper that is made by digging down, the wound in the ground pierces the sky.
Armanious photographed the walls where others had painted. This studio complex, well known, was harvested and re-purposed as a “creative retail precinct”. Upon development, the hive became a husk. The neurotic pencil notes, smudge and grime are reproduced in this show by digital scanning onto the gallery walls, the large canvas and in one resin cast object. And it is not a homage and it not nostalgia, the studio as remnant is a fact.
It’s good to look at things that were not made as conscious images. Pre-abstraction testifies to the fact that the peripheral is mutable. Once you shift your focus to the edge of an object it is not longer the edge but the central object. The peripheral is illusory, something of a tease. And you can enjoy that experience by letting the eye slide across daubings and shadows that were not generated as mimetic statements at all but still hold all the gravity of marks.
Our expectations of sculpture are met in this gathering on several levels and hyper-palpably by resin. Two buckets that resemble studio refuse assume the majesty of columns, worn stumps of antiquity and myth and their contents; gleaming paint slops and hardened cement are all of the same material. The resin is like the void supporting a super realist drawing. The paper doesn’t change, it assumes the perception. Resin is not mechanistic. This is not, the artist asserts, work regarding technology. Carving, casting, ropes, weights and the ardour of time are ancient materials and Armanious uses them to create objects that are only visually oblique. To the touch they are as personal as body parts, more detailed than any powdered relic. Their texture in fact hums and links mediums by linking senses. The cerebral bridged by the haptic.
The use of perception: both cultural and physical is not arbitrary in this work. The way Armanious uses illusion, in terms of volume, texture and the weightlessness and solidity of things, is deft. Think upon how we measure the value of an object with and without a plinth. Before and after replication. With and without the evidence of our own touch. The difference between a found object and a made thing is potent. I think it is the brink between evacuation and solace.
Hany Armanious is a sculptor whose work is predominantly concerned with the magical properties of the casting process. Many of his works deal with the alchemical transformation of one object into another via what the artist has described as the ‘cult of casting’.
Armanious represented Australia in The Golden Thread at the 54th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (2011). Armanious has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally, notable solo exhibitions include Hany Armanious: Frequently asked questions, Southard Reid, London (2016); Pavilion, City of Sydney public commission (2014); Selflok, City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand (2014); The Golden Thread, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2012); Fountain, inaugural MCA Sculpture Terrace commission, Sydney (2012); Birth of Venus, Foxy Production, New York (2010); The Oracle, Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis (2008); and Morphic Resonances, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane and City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand (2006–07).
Selected group exhibitions include Every Brilliant Eye: Australian Art of the 1990s, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2017); New World Order, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (2017); Future Eaters, Monash Museum of Art, Melbourne (2017); Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions, Museu Picasso de Barcelona, Spain (2014); Adelaide Biennale (2010); Busan Biennale, Korea (2006); National Sculpture Prize, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2006); and Selflok, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2003); Johannesburg Biennale (1995); Aperto ’93, Venice Biennale (1993); and Biennale of Sydney (1992).
Armanious is represented in numerous collections of Australia’s major state and national galleries, as well as the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tu0101maki, New Zealand; Dakis Joannou Foundation, Athens; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Hany Armanious has been represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney since 2003.