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).