Exhibition of 12 painted fragments (acrylic on gesso and wood) and 13 wood engravings
15th to 27th October 2019
ARO Gallery, Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia
Video of the exhibition:
In this exhibition, Kingsford-Smith has referenced practices within ancient Egyptian and Roman culture that were used to combat feeling of existential anguish and doubt. The texts inscribed on the wood blocks reference ancient Egyptian letters to the dead, while the coloured imagery on their verso drew inspiration from ancient Roman frescos that depicted mythical scenes. In keeping with his larger body of work, Kingsford-Smith looks for connections between the psychological impulses underpinning ancient practices and our own within the contemporary world.
The Egyptians believed that the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped to the extent that it was possible for the dead to intervene in the affairs of their families and acquaintances. The relatives of the deceased therefore often sought to communicate with them by writing letters. The texts on the back of the wood blocks, in this exhibition, communicate the range of ways of relating to the dead during the ancient Egyptian period. Many of the letters had a cathartic role – spouses wrote about their sense of loss to their deceased partner, or plead for permission to move on with lives and to take another spouse. Other letters requested intervention with relationships with others or to help with financial matters. As a whole the letters conveyed the sense that the dead continued to exist within the lives of the living.
On Kingsford-Smith’s blocks the letters to the dead have been combined with images that relate to the content of the letters. The expulsion of colour is intended to convey a sense of the underworld, in contrast to the brightly coloured imagery on the other side of the wood block. Inspiration for the monochromatic imagery was derived from the ‘Garden of Earthly Delight’, specifically the black and white panels depicting the ‘World on the third day of creation’: a world before humankind.
The coloured imagery on the woodblocks was stimulated by fragments of ancient Roman frescos that Kingsford-Smith studied during a trip to Italy. The woodblocks combine two cultural traditions on the same object, binding them together to emphasise dimensions of human experience that threaded between ancient cultures. Like the ancient Egyptians the ancient Romans used mythological narratives to make sense of their transitory and fragile lives. Myths were a manifestation of the will to order – hierarchies were established between good and evil, and between the phenomenal world and the afterlife. Frescos represented both the cosmological origins of the world and mundane reality.
The coloured side of the woodblocks illustrates the narratives conveyed within the letter on its verso. The colour palette conveys the sense of an otherworldly realm where the living and the dead coexist. The flattening of perspective also signals medieval religious painting where stylised pictorial conventions were used to convey a sense of the deeper order of the world beyond mere appearances.
A series of wood engravings have also been included in this exhibition. The imagery within them extends the themes present within the painted blocks. The relationship between the living and the dead and the diverse dimensions of human experience are depicted. The series of wood engravings suggest the ontological basis driving the impulse to produce images.
As a whole the exhibition invites viewers to reflect on the dimensions of ancient practices and imagery within which they find their our own concerns and experiences mirrored back.