Just before it closes I finally got around to seeing Jan Sensbergs’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (Fed Square).
His lines and perspectives appealed to me and his vision of cities and interior spaces are not bleak exactly, but not happy. I feel like he and William Blake could agree on the damaging modern industrial complex and the ruinous nature of dark Satanic mills.
If Jeffrey Smart’s cityscapes are clean echo chambers for the presentation of humans isolated in concrete and asphalt, then Sensbergs’ pictures are frenetic. His works are full of bold, often black lines and movement. They also don’t really feature people at all – just the signs of them. When they do, I’m not as convinced by them unless they’re obscured – and they often are.
Scale struck me too. I wasn’t expecting his works to be so large and so, when not looking at them, I found myself drawn to clear corners of the gallery for respite. Or when I wandered up to his smaller sketches, they too offered no relief, as they were just as detailed and overwhelming as some of his pictures.
His series of bushfire depictions were haunting and while I could see the ‘art’ in them, especially compared to his photograph preparation work also displayed, I felt their heat and truth. They brought back hot summer memories. They were an interesting contrast to the Antarctic series, where the impact of humans on the landscape was again, highlighted.
In his nature paintings, I found myself searching for faces in the rocks. I’m not sure if it was me compelled to do this, or whether it was a trick of the lines, or it was intentional on Sensbergs’ part. It doesn’t matter. Although looking nothing like Hanging Rock, I found myself thinking about how we see nature. It’s interesting to consider how these paintings are so different from say, photos, but we (I) see in them the same things. But it’s a human thing, to see faces even when there aren’t any.
While I found much to admire in the work of Jan Sensbergs it’s not the kind of art I could restfully contemplate on my own walls forever (if that were even possible). Even his less busy works feel heavy – burdened perhaps – with the weight of embodiment. There’s something monumental in his work, like sculpture. It makes it important, and also unsurprisingly, appropriate for large public spaces.
I’m glad I saw it and I have plenty to think about.