Catalogue essay by Lucinda Bennett for Evan Woodruffe's presentation at Sydney Contemporary for PAULNACHE 2017.
supple hues // Evan Woodruffe
All colours appear in nature, but rarely all at once.
On canvas they appear in strokes, swathes, washes, and dollops. Corners are populated by deep mauve vessels. Entire paintings are taken over by swarms of delicate blue circles. Backgrounds are blackened orange skies, are scratched reds, are turned an illusory purple by the obsessive layering of turquoise over spicy pink. On Evan Woodruffe’s canvases, colours bump up against each other in ways we rarely see outside of a rainforest, where shining green leaves fall to the ground, turning to vibrant fungus, to dark humus, to fresh, miraculous sprouts.
When vivid colours appear in nature, they often do so for a reason. The orange cast of certain corals announces their bitter flavour to potential predators. Male peacocks flaunt their iridescent blue-green plumage in the hopes of attracting a mate. Some butterflies resemble dark oak leaves while others may spread their wings to reveal a pair of bright, beguiling eyes. Woodruffe’s paintings are emphatically decorative, luring the gaze with lush hues and rippling patterns. However, they are guileless in their seduction – there is no ruse, no bitterness. Coming close to the canvas will only reward the viewer with new depths of detail: marks which appear flurried come into focus, revealing the slow patience behind their creation; surfaces appear aqueous, are built up from lissom layers of wetness; delicate cracks and hollows emerge from the murk, the canvas breathes and sighs.
While these organic readings of Woodruffe’s paintings are compelling threads, they form only part of the fabric. These works weave expansive narratives, are responsive to the newly networked landscape of our accelerating blue planet – where WiFi signal reaches into the Amazon and sharks attack fibre optic cables buried deep under the sea. While the initial impulse is to compare Woodruffe’s works to the vastness and diversity of the rainforest, reef, or cosmos, these same qualities can equally be found at our fingertips, shining through screens. Woodruffe has said that his paintings respond to our augmented reality by “proposing a fluid way of encountering the world.” They create rhythms rather than hierarchies, forms are watery and move fluidly. Spheres form from a thousand sheer and disparate pieces, vibrating together for a moment or drifting across the canvas. One thick green lines snakes through space, arches across canvases, recalls the plastic-coated cables that run beneath our feet out to the ocean.
These large-scale canvases allow for a more immersive viewing – particularly when tiled together, fusing into one vast opulent whole. Standing up close, one can breathe out and allow their eyes to soften, can let the colours wash over them. The gaze is led around, through areas of quiet to fields of dense soup and fizz. They can breathe in, sharpen their look and make out what is tiny, what is tremulous, what is exacting. In these paintings, colour is an audacious protagonist, drifting and adventuring through landscapes of supple pattern, mapping the terrain, caressing the surface.
Of course, the “landscape” is a human construct – before it, there was just land. Perhaps a better word or phrase would be mise-en-scène, in the sense that these paintings communicate the narrative and feeling of the world, far more so than simply the look of it. Woodruffe’s paintings move past realism, they collapse the scenery, the props and the people into one boundless, porous ecosystem saturating the land, stretching across and beneath the oceans, spiraling up into the clouds, encompassing the Cloud.
Lucinda Bennett Dunedin 2017.
 New media theorist Nathan Jurgenson uses the term augmented reality to describe our world, in which physical and digital spaces have become irreversibly enmeshed. “When Atoms Meet Bits: Social Media, the Mobile Web and Augmented Revolution,” Future Internet 4, (2012): 83-91.