Visiting the Melbourne studio of artist Stephen Ives is like entering another world. Part Wunderkammer (cabinet of curiosities) and part Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory it overflows with action men, dolls, modelling kits, pliers, glue, modelling clays, as well as photographs, drawings and quotes all amongst the standard paints, pencils and brushes you’d expect to find in an artist’s studio. Everything in the studio provides inspiration and you get the impression that nothing is spared from being dismantled and reconfigured. There is so much of interest that you simply cannot take it all in or make sense of it in one glance; yet these seemingly separate parts somehow magically relate and respond to each other.
The most captivating of Ives’s work are his 3D pieces. These are made in the tradition of bricolage, an art form which emerged in the late 20th century where Ives creatively uses whatever materials are at hand regardless of their original purpose. The results are complex pieces imbued with popular cultural as well as historical references. They’re equal parts whimsical and bleak, filled with sexual charge, playfulness and child-like wonder. Their complexity means that you can come back, again and again, and discover more each time. Just as humans cannot be understood in one meeting neither can a great piece of art. It has an ability to transcend time and change with each encounter: you don’t just look at Ives’ work, you look into it.
Ives believes that all artists, consciously or not, create self-portraits, and this is nowhere better demonstrated than in the intriguing and beautifully crafted are pencil drawings collaged onto large canvases.
It’s been a long time since I have been this excited, intrigued and provoked by an artist and their work.
If you’re in Melbourne, go and have a look at Stephen Ives “Jet Babies” at Backwoods Gallery Collingwood between 3-10 August 2012.