Escarpment Series

Escarpment (2 man show with Ken Orchard)
organising gallery - Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Sydney, 2005 (above view)

touring to - Flinders City gallery, Adelaide June 2007

click on selected works from the exhibition below to open enlarged version
prices of all works on request to

Works below by Kurt Brereton

Cabbage Tree Palm Dump, 57cm x 76cm, linocut, graphite, acrylic on Stonehenge paper, 2005. $790


Tagging the Escarpment No.1, 103cm x 228cm, linocut,
graphite, spray enamel on Arches paper, 2005. $2500


Edgewood Progression Map No.1, 76cm x 106cm, linocut, graphite, and spray enamel on Stonehenge paper, 2005. $790

Tagging the Escarpment No.2, 103cm x 228cm, linocut,
graphite on Arches paper, 2005. $2200

Edgewood Progression Map No.2, 76cm x 106cm, linocut, graphite, and spray enamel on Stonehenge paper, 2005. $790

Tagging the Escarpment No.3, 103cm x 228cm, linocut,
graphite on Arches paper, 2005. $2200

Rainforest Bushfire Vignette, 76cm x 80cm, linocut, graphite, and spray
enamel on Stonehenge paper,
2005. $790


Bushfire Archaeology, 76cm x 106cm, linocut, graphite, and spray enamel on Stonehenge paper, 2005. $790

Sandon Point Yucca, 76cm x 228cm, linocut,
graphite, pastel on Stonehenge paper, 2005. $3000

Illawarra Cabbage Tree Triptych, 150cm x 250cm, linocut, acrylic, graphite on Aqua paper, 2005. $5900

Escarpment Study, 57cm x 76cm, linocut and graphite on Stonehenge paper, 2005. $790

Native Beehive Cycle, 150cm x 300cm,
linocut stamps, acrylic, charcoal on Aqua paper,
2005. $5900
Mt Keira-Time and Edgewood Estate-Time
(performance drawings installation with video).

Bulli Escarpment Estate, 150cm x 320cm,
linocut stamps and acrylic on Aqua paper,
2005. $6900

ITagging Escarpment Triptych, 150cm x 250cm,
linocut, acrylic, graphite on Aqua paper, 2005. $5900





"Brereton's talent lies in his ability to pump his images with high levels of graphic energy."

"Paradise lost or gained, this gem of an exhibition has it all ways."

John Neylon, (Art Critic for The Adelaide Review, June 8, 2007)


Escarpment Series - Kurt Brereton and Ken Orchard
(catalog essay by Ken Bolton)  

Kurt Brereton and Ken Orchard’s pairing makes compelling sense: both are preoccupied with the meanings that landscape and the environment acquire—their use and how we experience them. But comparisons don’t come down to one artist’s feeling for light or the other’s broader or more controlled ‘touch.’ Even if Orchard and Brereton were not treating such radically different landscapes their oeuvres would have no difficulty standing apart.

Kurt Brereton’s work can be typified by its assumption of a lingua franca—a commonality of visual experience, reference, signs and knowledge. This has meant that through all its phases his art has never been off-puttingly specialist. These phases have been many: photographic sequences, conceptual performance and installation, painted and graphic work. None of these modes is ever definitively relegated to the past for Brereton and they can often seem ‘latent’ within and behind each particular manifestation. The distinctly unusual virtue derived from this is that Brereton’s work is able to make propositions with great clarity and frankness and to assume the viewer’s understanding, complicity even, in this communicative process.

The tone of Brereton’s work can be amused and cajoling, or brusquely familiar and ‘user-friendly’—or less personable and, caustic in, say, mockingly offering the unpalatable for our assent. Brereton’s work is ‘semiotic’: its subjects are signs that show use of land or the uncaring life lived within our environment. Much of the time Brereton’s work captures the sensuous, embodied faith in—or identification with—the physical world that these signs constitute: the familiarity of motifs, images, mise en scene, being crucial. For Brereton the liminal world of beach, coast, mangroves, of land meeting sea, and of movement through its atmospheres—is grasped and reported as a resource. It is celebrated as what supports us. The mere fact of these recognitions is often its point. But it is also offered as itself tragically vulnerable, as what we will lose, fluid and unstable. And it is posited, often lyrically, as site of our own dramas and existential status, tragic or exhilarating. The moods vary from the humorous, rueful, to lyrical, and all the way to dispassionate. It is an exploration of our interaction with, and definition by, the bodily world around us—of light and dark, dry and moist, of water, land and air—making of it an avowal, or drily exposed utilitarian attempt to treat the world as abstract commodity. Brereton’s exhibition Art Realty (2002), to cite one example, showed painted landscapes overlaid with real estate’s gridded apportioning of property: nature and art similarly commercially evaluated by ‘lots’.

Orchard deals with vision and the making visible, or perceptible, and of what is not immediately apparent in form, pattern and any number of larger pictorial truths. Brereton’s work deals with the visible as palimpsest—one overlain with signs, or as an abacus (a breviary, a concordance, a lexicon) of our meanings, identifications and aspirations. Orchard’s work is, by comparison, reticent and distanced.

Neither artist’s interest denies the other’s and in fact their differences also work to suggest similarities—of a mark-making, meaning-making and re-presentation—the contingent, propositional nature of (all) art. No matter how visually acute Orchard’s work is, seen in the light of Brereton’s we see that it is also notation. Brereton’s work seems to operate at some second or third-order remove from Orchard’s visual acuity, yet under the stress of seeing that, we see also see that Brereton’s imagery depends upon and derives its power from elements of accurate observation. Emotional effect and tellingly identifications and recognitions are triggered by key accuracies of detail—despite Brereton’s seeming to operate via abridgement and suggestion.

Both artists are inheritors of Conceptual art. Brereton, in that his work is happy to forget pictorial landscape tradition for amalgams appropriate to the semiotic modality on which he plays—collage, montage, assembled works and studies offered as provisional as well as beautiful. Brereton’s work analyses the land’s status—as endangered, and degraded, as commodified product—or resonant sounding-board for cultural aspirations and orientations.

Orchard’s practice reflects the conceptualist imperative in two ways. The most often remarked is that his formats are of a serial nature: often determined in size by their derivation from pre-existing and arbitrarily chosen sources such as reference book pages. Arbitrary, but not inappropriate. The closely observed landscape carries references to the land’s use (directly showing through on the art’s surface beneath the applied paint) but also makes reference to a systematic, workaday method. The scars of earlier farming and book-keeping which parallels that of the artist himself, choosing a task and putting his head down to its methodical completion. Orchard’s base link to conceptualism is that, while aware of joining the great tradition of landscape painting, Orchard is also driven by the notion that art might provide knowledge. Though seductively rendered, the work is not formalist in motivation. The pictures use the tradition’s means and format as vehicle for a close and searching reading of the land. Repetitions of a given figure or motif—of knowing that today’s perspective will make the tradition’s and formats sensitive to different issues than they were a century or fifty years before. Issues related to ecology, urban spread and climate change. They also raise a less sanguine view of ourselves as colonisers for the last 200 odd years.

Locality is of prime importance here. Of being in the country. Both artists deal with landscapes in which they are immersed and which they have studied and absorbed over a long period. In Brereton’s case it is the Illawarra coastal escarpment. Orchards’ work is the product of intensive and repeated visits to inland areas around Lake Mungo, an escarpment of another kind, which feeds gradually into the Murray in South Australia. Arid now, it was under the ocean millennia ago and can still suggest its marine formation. In Orchard’s Kitticoola series, we can see a slowly dynamic geography: of hills meeting plain, of rain shadow, salinity, climate change fault lines, colonial mining and aboriginal preserves. The overall flat horizontality allows us intermittently to imagine a seabed with water rather than sky above: a parallel world and a continuity.

Brereton deals with an environment that surrounds and is less able to be taken in at a distance. Brereton’s Illawarra is felt up close as an almost fluid medium in which human life is suspended. Brereton’s landscape teems ungovernably. The history of time depicted is not that of geographic time but of rapid, more recent despoliation. Where Orchard’s sites are, to a degree, abandoned or are part of large, not very populous settlements, Brereton’s Illawarra is kinetic with crowded life. In Bulli Escarpment Estate houses spread virally amongst the rainforest trees of the escarpment.
Ken Orchard’s pen and ink notations capture a cruelly reductive light that bleaches all against shadows sharply black, with forms suggested by the briefest silhouetting on their undersides and folds. Orchard’s ink line often denotes the wiry curl of low-lying scrub and saltbush, recalls the same intense line that characterised his earlier woodcuts. Where the viewer searched those as containing narrative clues to a mystery, here we search for accurate visual registration of form, be it watercourse, fault-line, or road. Orchard’s line has the bite, still, of the print medium, a sharpness and definition that equates to the sun’s in these scenes.

Kurt Brereton creates a shallow depth in which the real shifts in the surface signs of our prior evaluations, politicized visions and estimations. Or it may be that the signifying level is foremost with the other reality riding, moving underneath, like a base pattern carrying a melody of ornamental motifs. These latter motifs can be repeated, appearing as singular, main-feature scenes or vignettes, only to reappear in another work, or another part of the same work, as a note quietly voiced among others, a phrase keyed differently, or subliminally noticed. In Cabbage Tree Palm Dump they are cultural: abandoned burnt out cars, hieroglyphs against the picturesque view. In Bulli Escarpment Estate we recall Japanese wood-block prints and modern digital graphic equivalents. Interestingly, both artists at times employ a format akin to Japanese scroll paintings.
Where Brereton’s pictures are awash with human presence, Orchard’s are devoid of it. The pairing of the artists brings about this thought, but brings also a reserve realization. That is, in Orchard’s work the viewer is the presence, a witness arriving after, who interrogates the land for signs of change and development over time – to indigenous and settler communities’ views of the land as sustaining, as harsh, as home or whatever. Orchard dives beneath signs of Australianness, barrenness or monotony to a real of perceived detail, for its quickening effect. Hairs rise on the intellectual neck of the viewer as the actual is sensed.

By contrast, Brereton’s pictures deal a higher-revving emotional charge, generated from another topographic perspective (current and coastal) yet engaged with many of the same territorial issues drawn into sharp relief half a continent away.

© Ken Bolton
Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide (2005)