Images of travellers and voyagers, recent arrivals, re-visioned and altered messages from actual and fictive pasts. I’ve sought a way of shifting and reshaping both material and form, solid form nibbled and whittled into and then re-formed so that figure and ground relationships remain pliable to abstract painterly rhythms or to my own changes of thought and mood. 

Some images need to be painted and played with a deadpan bat. With “James and Susan”, I respected the makers original forms to the point I felt that they could be translated and investigated with paint but not necessarily altered in form. Other works led to alternate outcomes. The gift of an old photograph advertising a gymnasium in “A painting for Jasper” began with no further expectations than translation and yet as the image was being painted, a snatch of visual memory, a certain brushstroke, an evocation of a mood led the work into a completely different conceptual terrain. Old school beefcake and an elegy to Jasper Johns is unexpected but not without humour and yet remains a sincere, heartfelt tribute for both the artist who I had admired conceptually as a student and to an elderly friend who’d recently died. 

It is, I hope, a way of painting which allows and incorporates the widest range of translation with differing degrees of realism and painterly abstractions co existing according to both the dictates of the subject at hand and my own thought processes while painting. 

- Daryl Austin, 2018

With its focus on immigration, dislocation and seeking asylum, Outward Bound could not be timelier. Sourced originally from amateur snapshots found in vintage photographic albums, Austin’s new paintings focus on travellers, and new arrivals. Though a turning point in a life, a long one-way sea journey is a strange mix of both boredom, and unbearable hope and anxiety. As portrayed here by our unknown émigré, the ship’s attendants, the stokers, cooks, cabin boys and ships staff, were important. Someone didn’t want to forget them, so they’ve been preserved for posterity. 

Austin manages to preserve the instantaneousness of photography, while shifting it seamlessly into his own medium. In shifting the motif, he mostly reserves the scale and framing of the original photograph while keeping as well the humanity, decorum, the hesitancy, the sense of performing to the lens. 

In a process requiring intense concentration, the ‘factures’ or ‘making strokes’ behind the figures, are broken by rhythmic shifts in tone, like waves, each spreading from the last. This ‘translation’ – the artist’s term for it - alters our reading of the figure, which begins to embed into the surface. In the shifting of tone from photograph to paint and creation of colour – from acid to muted, the scene seems to become dream-like; a fragmented memory defying time. 

The depths behind the figures, and around the still life objects, are not flat, but roiling with other visual possibilities that photography can’t imagine. In letting the surface shift and play and stray this way, Austin creates an independent motif that wanders way beyond its source imagery, and begins to do something extraordinary. It preserves the photographic moment within a medium ruled by an entirely different dureé, (or sense of time). Here Austin evokes both the time of production, and the abstract and de-temporalized time of our gaze, while preserving the ‘punctum’ [to use Roland Barthes’s term] or emotional punch – of photography’s relation to death. 

Dr Georgina Downey
Art Historian and Research Fellow
School of Humanities University of Adelaide