David Austen: My love, I have been digging up my own bones in the garden again **** (The List, 23rd October 2009)

The topsy-turvy poetics of David Austen’s exhibition title are in keeping with the tragicomic works of which the exhibition is comprised. At once fragile and striking, this collection of watercolour figures, bold text paintings and a silent film study of artist Enzo Cucchi smoking, presents a world that hovers at a slight, yet distinct remove from the ordinary. Rendered throughout with an arresting lightness of touch, anxiety pervades these works. Austen’s figures, signs, plant life and ‘Smoking Man’ are shot through with apprehension, and they affect a disquieting sense of unease.

A painting of a tree, heavy with odd globular fruits hangs opposite an abstract of a soaring headless man; lightly painted naked figures coldly touch and entice, bold and laden signs – ‘Paris Hotel’ and ‘City of Love and Fear’ – are painted with thin veils of oil and charcoal, and a disorientating coloured mobile hangs in the central space. Anxieties over sex, death, balance and the unknown prevail in Austen’s almost topographical depiction of this melancholic land.

Playing with the weights and nuances of association, a hierarchy of effects begins to appear, with his bold text pieces demanding heavy attention and his figurative watercolours effecting a gentler, yet more niggling effect. This subtle way of working throws up interesting comparisons between the artist’s use of text, figuration, abstraction, sculpture and the moving image. While extraordinarily oblique, Austen’s attempt to balance these abstractions remains palpable, a mechanism that lends harmony to this otherwise disparate exhibition.

Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 14 Nov

Rosalie Doubal

The List website link