Doble & Strong: Synchronous
As part of the fourteenth biennial Melbourne Art Fair (13-17 August, 2014) Art Equity will début two large-scale works from Doble & Strong. Established artists in their own right who maintain separate careers, painter Robert Doble and photographer Simon Strong first collaborated on the work Salathiel (I Have Asked Of God) (2009), a finalist in the 58th Blake Prize For Religious Art. Three subsequent exhibitions (2010-13) have seen Doble & Strong refine a distinctive, sometimes macabre, and inherently unsettling œuvre, one that disturbs and provokes as much as it intrigues.
These works serve as something of a cautionary tale, presenting a dystopian future that is both uncompromisingly beautiful and deeply sinister. Doble & Strong seem attuned to our latent fears and anxieties about the transformative possibilities of technological and medical progress, whereby only the aesthetically and genetically sound will be favoured. It is as though the confronting ideas put forward by futuristic films such as Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca (1997) had come to pass.
“Our works present perhaps a more extreme narrative about the ‘advancement’ of the human race due to ongoing scientific experimentation, and increasing emphasis on manipulating genetic structures. Perhaps in the future humans will all be genetically modified, and no longer able to exist in the form we do now,” Doble suggests. “The potential demise of the human race due to over-population, destruction of the environment, contamination and pollution, means that people could be living in purified biospheres, or board escape pods in order to flee to some distant planet to escape our shit! It often seems as though we are racing towards our doom, while actually knowing the outcome.”
The interdisciplinary process, applying paint to a photographic surface, and the interpersonal negotiation, between two strong-minded artists, has only grown in sophistication. “This is, in many ways, different to my own work; we have to leave our personal egos at the door. Simon and I have an understanding now, that for us the collaboration has to be as one unit, a coherent statement. Our working process has evolved to be more fluid, there’s a synchronicity now”, Doble believes.
“We both sort of suggest similar things, and we’re both more aware of the overall outcome. We make some preliminary sketches to note the position of the model, where other aspects are going, and to map out the various elements. However, when it comes to applying the paint it becomes more of a spontaneous process that takes on its own life; the joy of it is often the ‘accidents’ that push a work in a different direction”.
The development of his working relationship with Strong has opened up aspects of Doble’s own practice that have perhaps been somewhat unfulfilled. “I’ve always been interested in the figure, but I don’t want to sit and paint that because other artists do it so much better, and I don’t want my work to be a pastiche of someone else. Photography provides a window that allows me to access the figurative, and the handling of the paint is really organic, very much like my own ‘plasma’ works,” he reflects.
“The way we work with paint is not what people would normally envisage,” Strong agrees. “It is not the same as painting on canvas. I had already watched Robert do [his] ‘plasma’ and ‘gravity’ paintings, and it was actually that which led to the discussions we had about possibly collaborating. Obviously my ability to use the paint that we use, and the techniques we employ have improved as we have done more and more work, but it’s always a challenge to try to steer and anticipate what the paint will do, and we’re always on the lookout for different techniques and processes.”
For these two works, the inspiration was a 1940s era operating table around which the wider concept was devised. “It was only when we actually photographed [the table] that we really decided how Haylie [the model] was going to be positioned. The last position we shot was the one we used. The shot was also composited from several more close up shots, since we knew the work would be large and divided into three panels”, Strong recounts.
“After I had composited the shots together, we then decided to add the ECG electrodes and cables and the cuts. We sourced the correct electrodes and constructed the cables using parts from an electronic components store. We then shot Haylie again with the electrodes attached in the same position as the original shots, which made it reasonably easy to add them to the final images.”
The tonal subtlety and deft deployment of the painted elements is testament to the duo’s exactitude. “In terms of the paint, apart from a few discussions and a rough sketch, we really decided on the day we started painting. We did, however, carefully choose the colours: even matching swatches at the paint shop to full-scale test prints. It’s the only work whereby we’ve considered the colour palette so carefully. We knew we had to execute the works in a short period of time, so we wanted to be completely prepared”, notes Strong.
Doble & Strong are on show this month at the Melbourne Art Fair, Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton (VIC) – melbourneartfair.com.au | Art Equity, Level 1, 66 King Street, Sydney (NSW) – artequity.com.au | Artist site – dobleandstrong.com.au
Inga Walton is a writer and arts consultant based in Melbourne who contributes to numerous Australian and international publications. She has submitted copy, of an increasingly verbose nature, to Trouble since 2008. She is under the impression that readers are not morons with a short attention span, and would like to know lots of things.