In an extract from his essay featured in our second monograph, SPIRIT LINES: Graphics by Sylvia and Tony Convey, writer, curator and artist, Colin Rhodes offers a fascinating insight into the Convey's graphic oeuvres. And in doing so, he somehow manages to reveal something about us all.
It is an unfortunate truism of art history that graphic work has usually taken second place to other media. Art museums like to collect and show painting and sculpture.[i] At times this has resulted in the relegation of artists who work primarily on paper to minor roles in movements in which they were centrally involved. Or, more likely, the public comes to understand only partial practices in the cases of those artists for whom drawing and printmaking played active and vital parts. True, works on paper tend to be less physically hardy than painting and sculpture, but the museum tradition of placing them in a closed ‘graphics cabinet’ as distinct from open gallery display also suggests a distinction between private and public practice. Perhaps there is something to this. There are many artists who draw incessantly, yet never show this work. They consider it too speculative, or too personal. After all, the immediacy of image making in the graphic media lends itself to revelatory statements, whether intended or not.
So it is with the graphic work of Sylvia and Tony Convey. Though they have shown works on paper at times throughout their lives (Sylvia more often than Tony), they have been represented overwhelmingly in public by their paintings, sculptures and constructions. They produced much of their mountain of graphic work over the years, as it were, in secret. It was done in a domestic setting, with no audience in mind except themselves.
It is worth pausing here and saying something about the Conveys. Sylvia and Tony are fiercely individual, with distinct characters and backgrounds.[ii] Their work is similarly distinctive, not only stylistically but also in its expressive sensibilities. They do not collaborate on single works, so there exist two separate oeuvres. And yet… Sylvia and Tony have as often as not worked together; that is, in the same space at the same time. Together they have shared new discoveries and great swathes of the highs, lows and mundanities of lived experience. During a period when Sylvia was very ill in the mid-1990s, for example, she introduced Tony to monoprinting and the two of them worked in the medium every day in a shared artistic adventure that lasted over a year. They have explored identical narratives and subjects from their particular viewpoints – compare Sylvia’s Strong Bond (1986) and Maternal (1997) and Tony’s treatments of the same subject from 1988 and 1998, for example. Their common bond goes beyond mere partnership and the transactional. In a real, though intangible, way time and interaction has performed a kind of seeping and intermingling of personhood the one into the other. The result is a kind of pronounced connectedness that actually enhances rather than threatens individual personality. We might also similarly read the sum of their work, and especially their graphic output, which reveals itself with great immediacy.
Sylvia has always made drawings, whereas Tony started, as he puts it, with a brush rather than a pen. He had already been painting for a dozen years before he began to draw. This he sees as a disadvantage since he was already accomplished in the other medium. He had developed a method. Yet the evident struggle he brought to drawing has resulted in the creation of a body of gritty, authentic work. In general, Tony’s graphic work is all accumulated tectonics – of the earth as well as the built environment. Forms are excavated, as it were. Chthonic landscapes erupt and figures reveal themselves with the primal mud or stardust still clinging to their persons. Look, for example, at images like Maternal (1998), Strange Growth (1997), and Lay of the Land (2016). Sylvia’s graphics meanwhile seem to draw their life from more ethereal realms. While no less authentic in the immediacy of their complicity in the dynamic of communication with creative forces, Sylvia seems to look out, rather than down, so that her drawings report back those experiences with a fluid lyricism that departs from simple optical verisimilitude...
This is an extract from the essay, 'The Graphics Cabinet Opened' by Colin Rhodes featured in 'SPIRIT LINES: Graphic works by Sylvia and Tony Convey' (Published in Australia by Tellurian Research Press in November 2017).
Rarely does one read a text which upends an academic discipline, slams it against the wall and with a forensic scalpel skewers its epistemology. This is such a book. For many years Bednarik has written on the blunders and follies of the archaeological establishment. In 'Creating the Human Past'  he reviewed the discipline's failure to provide a cohesive, scientific account of the surviving traces our species have left in the archaeological record of the last ice age. Bednarik is not just an iconoclast tearing down the structures of a moribund discipline as he offers an alternative, scientific way forward to those archaeologists who share his concerns about the way the discipline has been marooned in a number of dead ends created and aggressively defended by the establishment. In the preface to the second edition of 'Rock Art Science'  he notes that the first edition 'has been criticised by some archaeologists as being overly critical of their discipline. In this edition I have made an attempt to limit criticism to what is absolutely necessary to convey the gravity of issues......This is hoped to lead to academic introspection, not antagonism, and to a better dialogue between archaeologists and rock art scientists'.
Sadly the archaeological establishment has largely ignored his writings presumably hoping that a lack of 'oxygen' will see them fade into obscurity. Instead he has published this concise and ground breaking account of the archaeological establishment's ongoing inability to scientifically assess the single most important body of data relating to the evolution of our species - the rock 'art' of the last ice age. Of the hundreds of books and many thousands of papers devoted to this subject none has surveyed the surviving pleistocene 'art' of other continents beside Europe. This Eurocentric bias has distorted our knowledge of the origins of symbolism and the cognitive evolution of our species. The scale of this distortion is alarming as the European corpus provides only a sliver of the available data and the much larger inventory of Australian pleistocene 'art' has been almost completely ignored as has that of the other continents. Bednarik has rectified these omissions in the first overview of the subject to analyse the claims for a pleistocene origin of the rock 'art' of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe. He discusses the enormous problems involved in the scientific determination of the age of rock 'art' in a way accessible to the general public as well as professionals in the field. Furthermore he delivers a devastating refutation of the African Eve/Replacement theories which are still held and ruthlessly defended by the gate keepers of the archaeological and anthropological establishments. These Eurocentric fantasies have dominated the disciplines involved for decades even though their origins in a hoax have been known for some time. It is a classic case of the old trope about discredited theories only being replaced after the demise of their most intransigent proponents.
'Paleoart Of the Ice Age' is the most valuable addition to the epistemology of rock 'art' studies yet published and deserves the widest possible readership and will undoubtedly become a classic in the field. Tony Convey
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REFERENCES 'Rock Art Science - the Scientific Study Of Paleoart' Robert G, Bednarik Aryan Books International Delhi 2007 'Creating the Human Psst' Robert G. Bednarik Archaeopress Oxford 2013 'Paleoart Of the Ice Age' Robert G. Bednarik Editions Univeritaires Europeennes 2017