Ogilvie, Charly, "Sensitive images create a distinctly moving exhibition", The Canberra Times 15 December 2003|
Love's labours is the third (sic) show of Neil Roberts' work at the Helen Maxwell Gallery since the artist's death in March 2002 and draws on three series of photographs from his estate.
Selected by Barbara Campbell, the images display a sensitivity for theme and surface as they examine the physical remnants of outdoor labour.
Discovering beauty through the exploration of weakness and decay is the preoccupation of the photographs featured in this unassuming yet distinctly moving exhibition.
Suicide of the Hands 2001 is a five-piece study of a torn, frayed and discoloured gardening glove. Each image displays a glove on a glossy, black background, viewed from varying angles and exposing varying degrees of disintegration.
Roberts' camera focuses on details of texture - fraying fabrics and torn leather, unravelling stitching and felt lining spilling from ruptured seams. The glove shifts its posture, each photograph a gesture which beckons, teases or dismisses the viewer.
Suicide of the Hands features no hands, simply the remains of a shell which will no longer protect or encase but is itself wasting away. Used-up Tools (brooms) 1995 also takes as its subject worn tools. Printed in large scale and matte finish, these three images of discarded objects of labour explore the beauty of the broken.
The head of one broken broom is wrapped in hessian and thread; a stump which may once have been a mop is exposed with all the uselessness of its frayed end displayed; a third broom is missing half of its bristles.
These "used-up" objects have been scrubbed up for the camera. The old, worn wood and tattered brushes are resurrected as visual statements about seeing afresh the everyday, the discarded, the mundane.
Used-up Tools (pails) 1995 continues this exploration of the banal, transforming four rusted pails into iconic symbols of work and the passing of time.
By focusing on the corroded metal, discoloured with blackening and rust, Roberts has retrieved these broken and forgotten objects and invested them with respect and dignity.
One watering can has completely eroded away at the base - used-up and useless - yet Roberts reworks this brokenness into an emblem of effort and age.
It is an exhibition of sensitively photographed and selected images combined to create a show highly effective and insightful in its simplicity.