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Chasing the ephemeral

Chasing the ephemeral


Above image: David Serisier, untitled golden diptych, 2009, oil on linen, 122 x 244cm. Image courtesy Liverpool Street Gallery and White Buffalo Publishing

Text: Sebastian Goldspink
Photography: Andrew Worssam

A tourist from Ohio cranes their neck to take in James Turrell’s monumental light-based work Aten Reign, 2013 in the central atrium of New York’s Guggenheim Museum and shoots a snap on their camera phone to upload for the folks back home in Akron…

Meanwhile, in an industrial studio in St Peters, Sydney, another artist obsessed with light, David Serisier, pores over this image in painstaking detail, focusing on one single colour in the corner of the image. A colour that, once discovered, he isolates and downloads, a digitally sourced palette for a painting focused on re-formation and an attempt to capture the ephemeral.

One of the many mysterious and counterintuitive aspects of quantum physics is the term ‘superposition’, which applies to a particle being in two places at once. For Serisier’s upcoming exhibition Gallium Sky, this feeling of superposition was a constant state as he explored the raw source material for his latest suite of paintings, the online images coming from Turrell’s 2013 Guggenheim installation, that is, in itself an all-encompassing display of the artist’s central focus, the qualities of light and space.

Through a blending of natural and LED light, Turrell transformed the central spire of the Frank Lloyd-Wright designed museum into a glowing colour field, rising up towards a modified skylight. From Serisier’s studio to the museum, the gulf of distance shortened as the artist studied the images and looked at minute changes in colour and light.

Serisier’s studio is filled with works for his upcoming exhibition in various stages of completion and size. Large, square monochromatic works that, from a distance, appear as solid blocks, but when inspected more closely show a stunning complexity of grade. A series of smaller works are arranged in a large grid on an opposing wall. On a nearby workbench, full-page digital prints reveal the outcome of lifting single colours from the trove of images he’s examined.

Serisier holds one of the prints against a completed work to demonstrate the match. “The images are a mixture of authorized by Turrell and the Guggenheim and unauthorised, which basically are happy snaps,” says Serisier, who processes the images through programs that are re-formed as digital print, which are then rendered in paint through multiple generations of layering in an attempt to perfectly colour match the digital print. Effectively the work is an attempt to capture an ephemeral event through layers of re-formation.

Serisier is deeply interested in the way light affects colour and space, which is reflective of the goals inherent in Turrell’s installation. He’s also interested in how time and, in particular, the time of day affects the colouration of image. Serisier describes how colour changes across an image in relation to light source.

David Serisier, untitled vertical purple painting, 2009, oil on linen, 244 x 214cm. Ceramics by Jennifer Lee. Image courtesy of Liverpool Street Gallery and White Buffalo Publishing.

David Serisier, untitled vertical purple painting, 2009, oil on linen, 244 x 214cm. Ceramics by Jennifer Lee. Image courtesy of Liverpool Street Gallery and White Buffalo Publishing.

“The pink is right up at the top near the sky,” he says. “As you start to come down the colour gets stronger. As you’re going into the shadow in the space, that’s when it gets darker.” He describes watching the light change across the works at differing times of day. This process is also the methodology for examining the digital source images. He then isolates a single colour in an area of the image and works from that starting point. “I’m interested in how colour relates to the everyday, even though the colours are sourced from high artist colour systems, it’s the ephemeral event as captured and presented by digital systems and various processes of re-formation,” says Serisier.

New York looms large in Seriser’s imagination. He has spent several years studying and exhibiting in the city. When asked why he chose this exhibition as a subject for new work, he points to his connection to the city, Turrell and the Guggenheim. “I was interested in Turrell’s show because not only was it in a building I knew intimately, but because I was interested in how he was going to deal with the Guggenheim skylight and how it would affect the colour. I later discovered that he was using LED. It had a very rich possibility in terms of colour variation looking at the point of confluence between natural light and LED light.” The title of Serisier’s upcoming exhibition, Gallium Sky, takes inspiration from this use of LED, gallium being the active element used in LED coloured light.

The central suite of works for the exhibition is a 36-panel grid in varying ranges of magenta, blue, green and yellow. When asked if his intentions are to display the panels in a spectrum from light to dark or in a less rigid formation Serisier’s response is that he is undecided and “capable of doing both”. Currently they are arranged in a particular formation in the studio, but the artist alludes to the fact the arrangement changes almost daily.

Following on from Gallium Sky, Serisier is planning another suite of works with a markedly different source material. He’s become interested in the way colour is used in Harmony Korine’s 2012 film Spring Breakers. “There are amazing rich deep reds, chocolate browns, acid greens, pinks… I’m interested in looking at a single image and exploring the dominant colours,” he says. This fresh source of colour provides the artist with numerous points of inquiry: a red telephone, pink lipsticks, a multi-coloured Hawaiian shirt…

As night falls on Serisier’s studio, the dappled sunset gives way to pitch black and the fluorescent tubes hum in their synthetic light. Serisier takes a final look around the studio to make sure everything is in order and closes the door. Leaving a room that for him transcends time and space. A place that acts as a time machine, a blank portal for investigations into that which cannot be captured, a place that seemingly allows him to be in two places at once.

A flick of a switch and suddenly all light vanishes. Snap to black.

David Serisier, Gallium Sky, runs from 2 August – 4 September 2014 at the Liverpool Street Gallery, Sydney.

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