Things Written About......
Andrew Antoniou has committed himself to an uncompromising vision in his art, creating a powerful and engaging body of work in which his drawings, etchings and paintings reflect an interior world. This world is experienced through the subconscious and the imagination, through a cast of characters brought together in fantastic circumstances and enigmatic ritual, all expressed in his confident visual language. Antoniou's strength as a draughtsman and printmaker lends his work a particular graphic intensity. Mirroring the force of his imagery, his work positions concentrated, solid figures within static tableaux within a close, almost stifling space. While his drawings exhibit a certain density, they also have a subtle quality that comes from his method of drawing in charcoal,with additions and erasures that both intensify the solidity of his characters and add to a sense of stasis or stillness, while simultaneously implying arrested action - his images are moments snatched in time, much like a film still or a scene glanced through the window of a passing vehicle.
The dream world of the subconscious is the locus of Andrew Antoniou's art. He draws upon memory and imagination to create his images, rather than using direct observation and working from life. Like many surrealist artists, his process of forming compositions uses principles of collage - that is, a bringing together of disparate elements, often developed previously in preparatory drawings using different poses or costumes together in a final composition. Unlike much surrealist art. however, Antontiou's work presents images that have a strangely convincing quality, defying their absurdity, through the unified quality of his drawing and sense of calm normalcy that his subjects project. His work has moved beyond the randomness of surrealism into a realm of fantasy and imagination that is carefully considered and quite deliberate.
Whether set in an interior or outdoors context, Antoniou's imagery has a distinct artificiality, his subjects embraced within a proscenium-bound stage with all action drawn forward towards the picture plane, and lit by an intense, unwavering light. This is emphasised by strong contrasts of black charcoal and whitepaper and the overall clarity of his well-defined forms.
Antoniou's theatrical, dream like tableaux are carefully staged, open-ended narratives, enigmatic and subject to interpretation by the viewer. They appeal to our desire for narrative, while remaining elusive. His characters inhabit a Bosch-like world - at times harmonious, at others menacing - with strange collusions of human, animal and fantastic creatures interacting on a stage.
Strange machines, anthropomorphic animals, figures engaged in riiual and dressed in circus costume inhabit the images, in which they enact their roles in a detached way, interacting but at the same time maintaining their aloofness from each other, as they perform their ineffable roles in the unfolding scenes.
Andrew Antoniou's work is laden with metaphor and personal allegory that defies easy interpretation; nor does it ask for it.
Rather, his drawings invite the curious viewer to look within themselves, in order to enter the fantastic world that the artist has created, and make of it what they will.
Curator, Australian Prints
Art Gallery of New South Wales
"There is something wonderful about Andrew Antoniou's pictures that never wears out for me. Paintings I have lived with for years are as alive to me now as when I first saw them. A curtain seems newly raised on a sequence of intense dramatic action. Either something momentous is about to happen, or something momentous has recently happened and is forever being lived out in the fullness of life.
Look at these pictures in the morning, they have the rippling quality of a dream. Look at the same pictures after the day is over and they give mature meaning to waking reality. Our lives, after all, conform to a pattern, the shape of myth and story."
Roger McDonald , author of Ballad Of Desmond Kale , Miles Franklin literary award winner 2007
"Andrew Antoniou’s work belongs to the tradition of Hieronymous Bosch (1460-1516), William Blake (1757-1827) and Max Beckmann (1884-1950) and the Scot, John Bellany (b.1942), who taught him at the Winchester School of Art, before he emigrated to Australia. Where Bellany’s art addresses the overbearing religiosity of fishing communities like that of Port Seton, near Edinburgh where he grew up – born of primal issues of survival in the elements, Antoniou’s work possesses a sensibility more attuned to Lewis Carroll’s, (1832-1898) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where nonsensical events take place, or the puppet theatres of middle Europe. Like Bellany, however, Antoniou peoples his curious world with composite creatures, part human, part animal with a toy-maker’s quality. A cut out, clockwork style figure is, however, given the sculptural quality of Ferdinand Léger. No single source can be attributed to this, the creation of a surreal and theatrical place. The etchings: Light Fantastic (2009) and Music of Madness (2009) refer to the apparent chaos of personal lives, to unexpected and fearful episodes, to the timeless nature of the cycles of life and death. Emotional rebirth as a continuation of loss is in this body of work quietly celebrated.
Andrew Antoniou has been described as an etcher and draughtsman who also paints. “As an image maker he thinks as a printmaker, always working from a matrix and constantly layering his images. He is also an artist who enjoys a sense of grand scale and who is able to instil a grandeur and monumentality into his slightly absurd creations.
The charcoal drawings are perhaps his most satisfying images, not only for the quality of the draughtsmanship, and the well-orchestrated dynamism of the picture plane, but in the range achieved from the simple medium. The sculptural quality achieved in the figures and the energy infused into each is varied and masterly. The velvety blacks in the charcoal can also be found in the etchings. The energy achieved in both etchings and drawn images enables Antoniou to present an original message.
Janet Mckenzie Spens. Sub-editor Studio International 2011
"Antoniou works from his imagination and " makes no distinction between things remembered and things dreamt". the exploits of his characters, however, are not to be found in any play you will ever see. New Arrival features a man riding a peacock serving ice cream to a cast of characters , including a cat-headed man , an aviator complete with plane , a woman in a teapot and a howling dog. These are complex , highly detailed works, a collage of of ideas drawn from all aspects of the artist's life. His influences are wide from the written works of Carl Jung, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, to the artistic output of Francisco Goya , Max Beckmann and Pablo Picasso.
In addition to these external influences , Antoniou responds to personal events such as moving house or the death of a loved one. These influences appear in Antoniou's drawings, but not usually in their literal form. He believes that " most of the things that happen in our lives have much greater meaning than we really understand" and he tends towards a language of symbols to synthesise the influences in a different guise.
In spite of the unfamiliar settings and strange characters populating the art works, we recognise the depth of emotion present. There are intimations of fear, sadness and loss but also of friendship, seduction and exhuberance."
Bridget McLeod, Artists Profile , June 2011
"Antoniou's early passion for the theatre shines through in his recent exhibition. Using the planned uncertainty of etching and dry
point, he continues his exploration of the figure in relationship to theatrical settings. Inspired by Beckman, Picasso and Goya,
Antoniou maps his personal experiences in narrative landscapes of the interior, that are both playful and profound."
Marama Warren, Imprint Magazine - Autumn 2004
By Artist Profile February 2019
Andrew Antoniou is an artist and teacher whose drawing practice examines the theatrical incongruities, and ambiguities, of human experience.
Antoniou’s fascination with the theatre has been a life-long affair. Since first engaging with the pantomime tradition as a child, an interest in the ways in which we organise and give ritual meaning to or lives through stagecraft and storytelling has occupied the artist’s thoughts, and shaped his artistic practice.
MRAG’s exhibition conceives of the stage as a space separate to, and yet intrinsically reflective of, our everyday lives — our quotidian dreams and desires. Allowing us to see ourselves as from above, observing the tragedies, comedies, and mysteries of our lives, the visual vocabulary of the theatre — replete with open-ended symbols, tropes, and motifs taken uncannily out of context — gives us a scaffold around which to understand our lives and our conditions. What it doesn’t give us, this show proposes, is any fleshing-out of this scaffold, any sense of certainty or satisfactorily complete answers.
Props (2017), for instance, shows in bright colour some recognisable characters and tropes of the theatre. A man holds a skull: poor Yorrick! Populating the scene are a plethora of objects which gesture toward ideas bigger, but less exact, than themselves. A ladder crosses over the centre of the picture — leading where, and why? A rope dangles in the air; a bell punctuates the scene. We sense that these ritual objects are overdetermined with symbolic resonances, spinning out from their sources in all directions. It’s the combination of breezy recognisability and ineffable ambiguity in this picture that seems to be much of Antoniou’s point. Inspired by Absurdist theatre, he aims to eliminate logical modes of explanation from his picturing of the world, capturing the human condition without explaining it.
Antoniou cites Goya and Max Beckmann as formal influences. Bouncing off their engagement with the grotesque, and their use of deep shadow to dramatise narrative events, the artist’s work bears the visual and conceptual traces of these predecessors’ work. Beckmann’s drawn portraits, especially, feel present here. The choice of drawing as a medium through which to engage ideas of theatrical mystery and mortality certainly gains coherence through a consideration of these source materials. The scratching of the pencil against the paper might take on a troubled emotional valence in this context, just as the brightness of the colour pencils takes on, in light of Goya and Beckmann, an ironically unsettling feeling.
The gentle art-historical — and theatrical-historical — references that Antoniou’s pieces gesture toward hint at the artist’s background in teaching, and at his approach to creating artworks. ‘The business of inspiration of a bit overrated,’ he says, ‘it is a job after all coming into the studio.’ The MRAG’s show gives us an artist embedded in both an exploration of the tropes of visual and theatrical art, and an investigation of the human condition.