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‘Hashin Loop No.1 (Osaka-ku)’, Graeme Todd, acrylic, ink and varnish on board, 2004

Graeme Todd is an artist at the crossroads—at the junction of representation and abstraction, image and decoration, urban and pastoral, oriental and occidental, linear and painterly, and finally, spontaneity and reification. Likewise the structure of his creativity reflects this; a dense skin of varnish suspends his gestural improvisations and lighthearted drawing. It is in the tension of these elements, between the figural and the abstract, and the delicate and crude, that Todd’s work seems to vacillate.

In the past, each of Todd’s paintings has tended to evolve with a measured pace, but this show is the result of a three-month-long residency in Japan. In other words, time has been of the essence. The exhibition title Hanshin Loop refers to the expressway around the city of Osaka, where he stayed; the road also becomes a motif in the paintings. Where Todd’s drawing previously appeared to recreate a sense of 18th century draughtsmanship, his recent pieces also incorporate a more graphic and contemporary scribble akin to that of Joanne Greenbaum. The representational imagery that prevailed before now gives way to abstract elements: drips, dots, brushstrokes and graphic marks create a more ambiguous, though still pastoral, quality.

Beginning as almost a ‘traditional’ landscape artist, Todd has been evolving his work toward more and more physical abstraction over the years. Despite these changes, he has maintained his long-time practice of using photography as a point of departure and ending with a work that’s more or less a landscape. Yet under his skein of linear descriptive drawing and painterly tropes, and despite the work’s overt playfulness, degradation, decay and sentimentality seem to be hidden themes. There is a sense of urbanity falling apart or moving aside in favour of nature, as if the pressure neither penetrating perspectivally nor skimming the surface………… It is a moment of suspension, of fragile synthesis between painting and drawing, where ideas are balanced.

Sherman Sam is an artist and writer