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PJ HICKMAN Making a Name 

The monochrome, over a circumference of time, has continuously edged painting closer to the parameters of its own surface. The monochromes lasting tension may largely be due to the paradox in reaching its zenith: in achieving the absolute gravity of “zero content and infinite meaning. 

The work of PJ Hickman enters this zone, this ‘zero degree’ of painting. Over a sustained period, Hickman has – with cunning precision – set about reconstructing the repetitious possibilities of a reductive logic, a logic that is inherited from the serial effects of minimal abstraction. In his most recent line of work Hickman again meets the standards of the minimalist game; playing it to perfection as he continues to zero in, this time zeroing in on the name.

These names are seen as one enters  Sophie Gannon Gallery. Sparsely arranged and symmetrically hung, Hickman’s discreetly sized paintings all retain a uniform scale and composition: all monochromatic, all dark and all meticulously painted. With the name of the artist there boldly stated in white text against the muted hue of the monochromatic surface.

Who is listed? Some are more recognised then others. Here I shall spare you the list, though I must say there are several pivotal figures. Produced in three series, Hickman begins with ten of the forefathers of non-representational painting. The two remaining series consists of the names of the six Australian representatives for the last Venice Biennale, and the ten stable artists represented by Gannon herself. 

In already ‘hijacking’ the naming rights of those artists who are commercially represented, Hickman further agitates their value in the gentle tactics of displaying in unison with the paintings, the custom made boxes in which they are kept. Stacked on plinths and also placed ceremoniously on the gallery’s floor, the presentation of an archiving device objectifies the works into a conventionalised state, whilst concurrently conferring their legitimate status as objects to be preserved and remembered.

Upon seeing these paintings, which bear their own title, a sequence of questions immediately arise. They concern the fundamentals of our looking; in our coded reflex to identify in works of art the author. Like a latent desire that confronts us, which asks us, exactly what do we look for in an artists work? What is it that we see?

In citing a name – a proper name – Hickman strikes us with a sense of double vision. As we see in the work a visible name, yet simultaneously the resounding absence of it. For here the specification of a name only points to the fact that it is not of the named artist at all. Such a disorientating condition ironically produces a moment of clarity, as its effects put into focus the “instituting of the proper name as interior to the artwork.”   Thus what is recovered is not the identity of the artist, but the artists name designated in terms of consumption and ownership within the arbitrary exchange and circulation of aesthetic signs. Is this the image of the artist?

There is a need to return to the monochrome as this is the surface upon which Hickman ultimately works.  Upon this blankness which suppresses and transcends the figure/ground relationship. Thus to look at Hickmans paintings at this crucial moment, a literal but dissimulated form resurfaces. As the figure – the figure of the artist – reappears by name.  The monochrome in this disfigured state equates to a clever play on figurative painting and the figure/ground relationship. Hickman has just edged a little closer to the surface.

Keith Wong 

Keith Wong is a Melbourne based artist