What is most appreciated in the work of this artist is his eye for detail, not only for the subject but for the painting itself. Viewing an exhibit from across the room we recognize a certain beach or swimming hole by its accurate description then, as we approach the work, we see the image dissolve into an interesting painting of confident brush strokes and textural daubs of the medium. This is a form of realism that communicates the artist’s respect for both the subject and the act of painting.
In this exhibition Darby presents large images of pounding surf at Trigg and gentle bays at Rottnest, detailed in vivid colours of oil on acrylic on canvas. Dive provides a fine example of how the artist can suggest different depths in clear water. The mildly distorted swimmer is just beneath the white bubbles and sun’s reflections on the water’s rippled surface while tones of blue suggest the water’s depth, and golden reef hues tell us how far below the surface they sit. In Trio, heads of snorkellers appear in a blue sea that dissolves into a collection of green swirls of sea grass in dark water. Amid the play of bright green and dark blue, random yellow lines are drawn in a meandering manner suggesting the joy of painting the scene.
Swirling brush strokes and the raised edges of these marks capture the power of water rushing through a gap in the rocks at Trigg. It’s as if the artist was inspired by the solid surge of the surf rather then its liquid quality. And the fascinating abstractions of sea blues and greens in Reef 1 & 2 evoke all the beauty and confusion of colour in the underwater marvel, slightly blurred by a misty diving mask and moving water. One need not identify a specific to appreciate the whole.
Darby also offers smaller Bali inspired works of mixed media on paper. Interestingly the depiction of a reef in Bali is very different in composition and mood from the images of Rotto reefs. The Bali Reef has the composition divided by a ‘white water’ line above which a pattern of black linear fish float in a deep dark sea, while the lower section has brightly coloured boats sitting in calm blue water. The Bali works capture exotic carved images and patterns of batik work in strong, joyful colours.
This is a refreshing exhibition that attests to the artist’s ability to display the beauty around us, in life and art.
Judith McGrath (Review in Art Seen in Western Australia, 2003)
“This Summer” was at Stafford Studios in Cottesloe WA from 26th March until 17th April, 2003.