It takes a certain level of daring to stand face-to-face with the laws of physics, armed only with a fire extinguisher full of paint, a spark of inspiration, and the experience of half a lifetime dedicated to art. For visual artist Ash Keating, this eternal struggle of human ingenuity against the forces of space and time is the confine within which he has moulded his practice. Globally renowned for his numerous gallery exhibitions as well as his largescale, site-responsive projects, Ash is an artist who grapples with gravity on a regular basis, creating a body of work that combines art with science.
Melbourne born and raised, Ash displayed an intrinsic proclivity for creativity and a deep fascination with the world around him from a young age. “It is now 24 years since I first really considered that I would dedicate my life to art, which is more than half my lifetime,” he explains. “Following my intuition and experimenting in those early years is the backbone to who I am as an artist today.” A true student of art, he has spent years refining his practice, first experimenting in the form of late-night escapades in search of blank canvases dotted amongst Melbourne’s suburban streetscape and observing the gestural abstractions created through the puncturing of aerosol cans. “Like any artist, I am influenced by the life around me; I am constantly inspired by colour in nature and changing light in urban environments,” says Ash. “Subconsciously, I am also influenced by the way that other artists work – I actually think it is a responsibility to be aware of the field you work in so that you can ensure you are creating something entirely unique.”
While Ash’s work draws inspiration from the intangible beauty of the world and expresses an intuitive relationship with colour to create moments of pure escapism for the observer, his process of creation adopts a much more scientific approach as he begins the journey of applying paint to surface. “In the studio, I spend a lot of time mixing pigments and polymers, as preparation is key. But often, due to my painting process being fast and improvised, the studio quickly turns chaotic, wet and messy,” he says. “I create layered atmospheric compositions by applying paint onto primed linen through an airless sprayer. These processes include applying paint to a surface coated in water so when the paint hits it disperses, as well as applying water to the bottom section of a dripping surface to soften the effects and make the composition feel like it is floating. I also like to use these techniques with the extinguishers on larger exterior walls, but often it is difficult to use as much water as I do when in the studio.”
At present, Ash is more aware of his direction as an artist, giving himself over to his unique process of creation to produce a style that defies traditional artistic definitions, instead needing to be observed to be understood. “As a painter, I relinquish control of the medium to the laws of physics and nature. Gravity is a main theme and the reason for my ongoing series being titled Gravity System Response,” states Ash. “My works are improvised, and they have to be in order to really reflect the natural world. The works I make sit somewhere between being abstract painterly compositions and representatives of natural landscapes.”
The pandemic year became a catalyst for Ash to delve into new territory through his recent Duality exhibition. Comprising of two distinct bodies of work, Aerial and Fall, Duality represents a further exploration into Ash’s love of the Australian landscape. “Duality is informed by my lived experiences within the Australian landscape and memory over many years since that time,” explains Ash. “They also are informed by the canon of painting and a deep desire for a number of years to work in ways that other artists do.”
Intriguingly, there are many who would have directly encountered Ash’s work without necessarily knowing it at the time. Emerging out of the urban landscape like an ethereal being, or “a glitch in reality,” his largescale site response projects and architectural collaborations and commissions can be found throughout Australia. His work for the Adelaide Festival Centre, the National Gallery of Victoria, RMIT, Art & About Sydney and, more recently, Finding Infinity’s A New Normal exhibition for Melbourne Design Week have all drawn critical acclaim. However, it was his Hume Response painting in 2019, developed on an unassuming large tilt slab in the Victorian suburb of Craigieburn, that provides Ash with a particularly strong sense of pride.
“The concept was much different, one of restraint and making tall bold gestural marks individually with primary colours on a black background,” he reflects. “This was not a commission, but a self-funded project taking a new direction that I wanted to make a reality. If anyone out there wants to fund something that they have no idea what the outcome will be, please come to me. That is the dream, and the results are far more exciting than pointing me back to somewhere I have already been.”
While Ash Keating’s work draws inspiration from the intangible beauty of the world and expresses an intuitive relationship with colour to create moments of pure escapism for the observer, his process of creation adopts a much more scientific approach as he begins the journey of applying paint to surface.
Reflecting on the past while looking toward the future, Ash speaks fondly of his previous architectural commissions and is hopeful of more largescale work on the horizon. “I am grateful for the amazing opportunities I have had to collaborate with architects and interior designers,” says Ash. “One of my career highlights has to be when I was contacted by Sally Campbell, Senior Director of BVN Architecture, and asked to create an artwork that would be the centrepiece of their transformation of the lobby at 2 Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne. This was an opportunity to create new large-scale linen works that would have an audience daily, and to create the 3 by 10 metre studio commission that was free of limitations other than grounding the work around a cool deep red palette, which I was immediately excited by.”
Over the years, his practice has developed but Ash’s process has remained curious, creative and committed to that which inspires him. Ultimately, his is a story that represents a fascinating insight into the elusive middle ground that lies somewhere in between the world of art and science. While he is aware he will never truly command the unpredictable forces of gravity and nature, Ash’s body of work stands as testament to the innate creativity that lies at the heart of all who seek beauty amongst monotony.