There’s something wonderful about going to a gallery when your friend’s show is opening, and it’s not just about seeing them smartly dressed with brushed hair for a change, instead of the usual grungy t-shirt and shorts. It’s about seeing the works that you last saw propped against the wall in the studio let free, soaring up the walls and out into the light and JP Willis’s work is all about the light.JP Willis Temple of Love August 2015 1st Avenue Gallery Installation
For the last year Willis has had a fixation with neon lighting. Working with a specialist in Brisbane, he’s coaxed the brittle Italian glass tubing into an assortment of shapes including the iconic Colt .45 pistol, two of which eye each other up, barrel to barrel in shiny mirrored boxes as you walk through the doors of the First Avenue Gallery in Sawtell. Willis hasn’t had a solo show in several years but the shrewd curatorial eyes of gallery directors Jennifer England, Nicholas Kachel and Isha Black have helped him assemble a substantial exhibition of new work. Followers of Willis’s arts practice will recognise the underlying tension of death and beauty, personified in his sleek renderings of fighter planes, guns and weapons of war. But they won’t have seen him play with light before. Walking into the gallery for the opening party on a short winter dusk, your eyes take a moment to adjust to the incandescent shimmer of F15 “Eagle” bombers curving up the walls trailing loops and coils of flexible neon lighting behind them, or shooting straight across the gallery with their vapour trails knotted and tangled.JP Willis Looking for Love2015 Screenprint, metallic and acrylic on glass 810 x 560 mm
The front of the gallery is full of light and the rear of the gallery is full of subtle shadows. A series of boxed screen prints in the ongoing series Looking for Love is assembled in grids on the back walls. Here the tone is quieter: silver, grey and black F16 “Flying Falcons” are printed on sheets of clear glass and layered next to and behind each other in box frames. The frames, the layers, the prints… they all create shadows that twist and move as you move, spilling out of the frames and onto the walls. Frames and light – or their absence – are two strong themes in the show.JP Willis Temple of Love August 2015 1st Avenue Gallery Installation JP Willis Looking 4 Love2015 Archival print on handmade paper 1200 x 1200 mm
Willis isn’t afraid to let his imagery escape from the frame, and when he does use them, as in the boxed screen prints, the frames function more as an artistic device designed to help the viewer see the shadows and the movement rather than as a mere ‘place holder’ for the work. Everything in the show has been carefully considered, from the interesting pale turquoise colour of the gallery’s wall which offsets the sticky brightness of the neon guns and the two-pack sheen of the wall-mounted planes, to the grid arrangement of the screen prints and the sculptural plinths which contain the transformers for the pieces that use neon light.
The effect is to offer a series of tensions, which become lenses through which to look at the work: free/contained, coloured/black & white, light/shadow, beauty/death. It works very well in an intimate space, and I’d love to see it scaled up into something larger.JP Willis Temple of Love August 2015 1st Avenue Gallery Installation