Bruce Reynolds resists the pretension of art


There’s a sense that, in his choice of materials, Bruce Reynolds resists the pretension of art with an approach both unorthodox and innovative. Reynolds’s practice emerged from working with old flooring materials and for over three decades he’s repurposed lino and carpet as painterly elements. At its heart, his work connects the present-day with the past.

While born and trained in Canberra, Reynolds may be best known in Brisbane, where he’s lived and worked for 35 years. His exhibitions, public art and travel—fuelling a voracious artistic imagination—have taken him all around the world.

This month Reynolds won the 2022 Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize, receiving $25,000 for his work Animal Kraters. The sculpture is shaped like a broken vessel, as if a relic drawn from an archaeological ruin. Yet Animal Kraters is imprinted with contrasting surfaces, from archaic relief sculptural motifs to industrial rubber.

This award comes at a busy time, with a Reynolds survey opening at Brisbane’s Artisan gallery. This exhibition, Speculative Archaeology, includes relief sculpture and vessels from recent years and will tour. Reynolds also has sculptural work included in the 2022 Canberra Biennial; they will subsequently travel to the Rockhampton Museum of Art for WrestleMANIA.

Given the level at which Reynolds is identified as the ‘lino man’, it is notable that recent attention has focussed on work that follows a different direction. This new approach began after a residency at the British School in Rome in 2013.

Reynolds tells me: “I used the time in Italy as a break from working with found materials—beginning with a completely blank slate, which is the only way of approaching the complexity of that ancient context, the cacophony of references you’re going to be absorbing in a place like that. So, it was the beginning of an embrace of working from blankness, with white materials instead of found materials.”

It’s now nine years since this new direction emerged—yet Reynolds still makes paintings using lino. In his mind there’s no difference between these dual modes of practice; within his work they operate as a change of material more than a change of methodology.

“I still make lino works,” says Reynolds. “I still make two dimensional pictures, moving across different media at will. I think, on reflection, that the work is finding its position in-between . . . rather than a specific genre or medium. Rather than making some paintings and making some sculpture, I feel like I’m making things that are themselves and that may relate to all of those forms rather than subscribing to any of them in particular.”

This approach has long fuelled the success of Reynolds’s public art, which has been integrated into buildings in Queensland and Singapore. It’s also a significant part of the appeal of Reynolds’s work for Artisan curator Cassandra Lehman. Artisan’s focus lies in the interface between art and design and Lehman sees Reynolds as, “a master, in the extraordinary skill with which he works material between two and three dimensions—at a level where you can’t ‘wing it’”.

“In [Reynolds’s] gestural marks and forms, I see past histories and cultures, but also a hybridised future—yet when I get physically close to each work, none of those elements crystallise. Reynolds creates connectedness between those histories and our futures,” explains Lehman.

As a senior artist, Reynolds has experienced the many peaks and troughs that accompany a long career. Reynolds says the Woollahra Prize provides “recognition representing the other side of studio practice, where labour is invested on faith, well away from the art world”. Yet what’s most welcome is the gift of time: “Financially, it enables me to continue in the studio with increased resolve and ambition, keeping the distraction of costs at bay a while longer.”

Canberra Art Biennial 2022
Various Canberra Locations
Until 29 October 2022

Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize
Woollahra Gallery at Redleaf
Until 20 November 2022

Bruce Reynolds: Speculative Archaeology
5 November—5 March 2023

Rockhampton Museum of Art
19 November—26 February 2023

Feature Words by Louise Martin-Chew