Ann Debono is a painter who has enough technical to skill to indulge realist painting, but the tenacity to question the very foundation of such painting. Using oils, the artist delivers the world as an infinite series of images with skewed perspectives, layering objects, sites and tactile textures. The paintings are familiar. They’re also disorientating. “You can question the reality of images through making images, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” explains Debono. “One question my work asks is, ‘How do historical artefacts and sites speak about time, which itself never purely appears?’”
This reflective mode of talking and thinking is how Debono works, and it informs her upcoming exhibition, Diachronic. Stemming from Debono’s three-month residency in Rome in 2018, where she travelled on the premise of looking at Byzantine Christian art, carrying with her a book of things she wanted to look at. Yet when she encountered an artwork or a site, she questioned the experience: “What does it mean to stand in front of the thing that you anticipated, whether objects, artworks, buildings, archaeological sites? They function as a kind of speech, allegedly speaking about the epoch from which they emerged, but, also, they can be mute. I am interested especially in their muteness.”
While Debono’s paintings often start from her own photographs and found images (or her own photographs of found images), the concept of time is important. She’s interested in the distinction between time as it is lived, and historical time as studied by historians and archaeologists. This has led to new paintings, many black and white, that skew both historical and current ephemera from Rome.
Time, reality and looking. It is painting at its most metaphysical—“What can the visible world tell us about the actual reality of things?” asks Debono—but the paintings are also beautiful, and immediately graspable, layers of time.
Please note that Sutton Gallery is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne. Amended dates for Ann Debono’s exhibition will be available on the Sutton Gallery website upon the gallery reopening.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2020 print edition of Art Guide Australia.