Alex Spremberg’s current exhibition at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts is an exploration of the limits of painting and a meditation upon the throwaway materials that pervade contemporary life, specifically the omnipresent cardboard box and the printed newspaper. Wrong Angles is, ostensibly, a painting exhibition, but despite the polychromatic riot of surfaces dripped and marbled with industrial paint, Spremberg reveals a preoccupation with the formal properties of objects and the overlooked aesthetic systems which construct our experience of consumer items: food, household goods and even information.
In the series Chroma Flow, Oblique Objects and Conference, the artist has reconfigured the cardboard box by disrupting its standard right-angled (or orthogonal) construction. Rejecting the restrictions of the 90-degree join, Spremberg has sliced and folded along the diagonal, with the increasingly complex polygonal variations offering an alternate angularity to the familiar box. The surface of each form has been meticulously, painstakingly, covered by layer upon layer of colored enamel paint, and they sit boldly upon plinths constructed from stacked cardboard boxes painted white. Through these devices, Spremberg debases the conventions of museum display while elevating the humble cardboard box to the status of art object; this celebration of the utilitarian could be read as a parody of modernist abstraction. However, Spremberg’s fascination with the physical and optical properties of paint transcends any ironic intent; these works address in equal measure the process of applying paint to a surface and the desire to invest a painting with the presence of an object.
Reflecting Spremberg’s serendipitous approach, the photographic works that comprise the series Thrills and Spills were inspired by the process of making the box works. Having used sheets of newspaper to protect the surfaces of the studio while painting the objects, and upon observing the resultant drips and slicks that obscured the newspaper images, Spremberg discovered startling compositions in which the variegated paint both disrupted and distorted the original photograph. However, this description of Spremberg’s ‘collage paintings’ doesn’t convey their potential as interventions upon the found image or as a further play on the oft-unregistered ‘packaging’ that accompanies and constructs consumer life.
In Wrong Angles, Spremberg transforms everyday objects through strategies of fragmentation and obfuscation. These objects are divorced from their original purposes to varying degrees, and the ensuing effect is one of estrangement and elevation, which sees the coded aesthetics of consumer packaging simultaneously rejected and redeemed by the act of painting.