Exhibition Review: Luke Sciberras, Side of the Sky – ArtsHub | Candle Made Easy

That is a big painting show! And just when you’re done with that, you’re reminded that it’s only half of it. Luke Sciberras: Side of Heaven takes place simultaneously at Campbelltown Arts Center (CAC) and Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG).

It’s almost as if Sciberra is catching up on lost time; This mid-career overview of one of the most celebrated Australian artists of his generation has been a long time coming.

We review the presentation of CA-C side of heaven, a body of work spanning 25 years of practice by the Campbelltown-born artist. It alone is exhausting, moving between expansive paintings and collections of loose sheets from the artist’s sketchbook. It’s almost like an anatomy class in the “process”.

Sciberras grew up in and around the Campbelltown artistic community of Wedderburn – the subject of many of his paintings. Then, as an adult, he settled in the artists’ community of Hill End, near Bathurst. Both places are surrounded by the Australian bush.

Home is one of the enduring themes explored in this earth toned exhibition, as are travel chapters. Sciberras spent time in Gallipoli; traveled to Flinders Rangers (SA) – captive at Maing Gallery – and Wilcannia (Darling River Baaka area) both in 2008 in 2008. A decade later he was in the Kimberley Coast (WA); then the almost mythologized destination of Belle Ile in France, where Monet painted and the Australian impressionist John Peter Russell painted.

Sciberras often undertook these painting trips with other artists; but they were always an exercise in it outdoors Painting – Working outdoors to capture the atmosphere and spirit of a landscape.

Read: Why plein air painting is booming

One of the most gratifying aspects of this exhibition is that it allows viewers to witness this journey of creativity – starting as a small sketch, then to a small study on canvas, and finally to a monumental painting.

Installation view of Luke Sciberra: Side of the Sky at Campbelltown Art Centre. Photo ArtsHub.

This type of grouping keeps the scope of this show digestible, allowing viewers to easily read these shifts between times of day, locations, and concerns across galleries like chapters in a book—interconnected yet from their own spaces.

While this mapping of a 25-year career demonstrates the refinement of Sciberras’ skills – and a deeply personal visual language of abstraction – it also allows the viewer, more subtly, to witness a change as he paints on the land with the indigenous communities, understand remoteness, drought, flood and isolation – influences that go beyond a purely physical place.

The most personal thing I can say about my paintings is that they are not so much about “a place” as “about” my being there.

Luke Sciberras, artist

While some artists are prolific by nature, the real test is their consistency. Sciberras is indisputably a master of his generation.

All of the words we use to describe painting – gesture, punctuation, line, form, texture, weight, space, light, sound – are as much a subject of Sciberras’ paintings as the places he captures.

To some these may be considered “old-fashioned” paintings, but in a post-pandemic era where the immersive art experience has garnered attention and headlines, Sciberras shows just how powerful — and tangible — painting can be.

These works sit well against a wall. You are full of energy; Full of passion. And while this exhibition is a deserved nod to a well-deserved career, it’s also a much broader nod to a genre of painting as old as Australian art history itself, which mythologizes the bush and places Sciberras within a range of artists.

It is not surprising that many of these works have an echo, from works by artists such as Elisabeth Cummings – who taught him to draw as a teenager and has traveled and painted together over the years – and Wedderburn artists David Fairbairn and John Peart, Roy Jackson and David Hawkes or Euan Maclead – they all allowed the bush to imbue their DNA with an abstract tone.

Though a generation older than Sciberras, they all speak of the landscape as a timeless connection – one that is being renewed for many in our day as we grapple with discussions of climate change and environmental degradation.

In this respect, this exhibition has an appeal and topicality for all viewers. But for any serious painting artist this exhibition is a must see.

And if you miss it, then treat yourself to the stunning monograph that has been published. It’s one of those books that “live off the peg” and rather stand by your side for constant “review.”

Luke Sciberras: Side of the Sky will be shown simultaneously at the Campbelltown Arts Center from June 4th to August 7th and at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery from June 11th to August 7th.

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