Sitting in the light-soaked rooms of Michael Reid Gallery in Sydney, there is a flicker of the country boy still in Brett Weir. Atop the pale yellow linen shirt is a mop of curly brown hair, and below it the blue denim jeans are slightly ripped, the Vans roughly tied. But this country boy has travelled, noticeable in the slight restrictions of the accent common to those who have spent more than a few years away from Australia.
“I used to hitchhike around the block of my parent's farm to see what would happen or who I would meet, I can't help myself,” recalled Weir.
These journeys away from home have led slightly further afield since then. Spending his twenties travelling, Weir moved across Australia and throughout Europe, taking jobs as they came, whether they were setting up fences at the Melbourne Grand Prix or doing landscaping work at the estate of a retired banker in Scotland. Eventually, Weir happened to land a gig in Zürich, helping out at a friend’s theatre festival.
“I wasn't planning on staying,” noted Weir, “but I think after ten years of being on the road, constantly, I was ready to tap a root and everything fell into place there.”
Finding a close circle of friends and his life partner convinced him to stay, and Weir has made Zürich home ever since, notwithstanding regular jaunts back to Gippsland, in south eastern Victoria. Furthermore, Zürich is not the worst place for an artist such as Weir to end up, being the home of art movements such as Dada and a lively contemporary art market. With a more permanent base there, Weir found the time to put together an exhibition and finesse the artworks he had been developing throughout his travels.
“I decided I had a pretty coherent body of work, I had a little solo exhibition with all these paintings that I'd been making in my spare time, and amazingly it sold out on the first night.”
The days of odd jobs now over, Weir could invest in his creative practice and find an aesthetic voice that had until then only been hinted at.
“Living in Zürich enabled me to go full time with my art,” highlighted Weir. Supported by the strength of these early sales, Weir’s brush found its canvas. “It's only by being able to take big risks with my paintings that I find what I consider to be the most valuable parts of my work.”
At art school, which was at the Victorian College of the Arts and RMIT, Weir had primarily trained as a drawer, representing what he saw in front of him: “I spent thirty hours a week jumping into everybody else's life drawing classes.” However, Weir found the environment of structured instruction stultifying.
“[At] art school, going to the same place day in and day out, I really struggled.”
While on the move, Weir’s practice developed through necessity.
“I had a small kit of acrylic paints, a few tubes, a couple of brushes and I would pick stuff up off the side of the road when I was travelling that would fit into my backpack. That was anything from timber, cardboard, paper, [and] at some point I picked up a piece of stainless steel and did a landscape painting on it and I really loved the way the paint travelled over the surface. The perfect, mirror-like surface allowed for a great amount of textural variation.”
Chancing upon some copper while cleaning out a basement, Weir found the connection between paint and metal to be particularly inspiring.
“They had fabulous, heat-affected rainbows and different hues that happened through this chemical process of getting heated up.”
Using this material as his canvas, Weir allowed for the raw material to show through, and a selection of these works were exhibited at Maunsell Wicks Gallery in Paddington, which began his career of transcontinental practice. Working between Gippsland and Zürich for six years, and with his name continuing to be recognised in Europe, Weir did not want to lose his connection to his home audience, and decided to put down roots where it had all began.
“I love the ocean and so I bought a block of land ‑ sight unseen ‑ and shipped a container-load of power tools and furniture across to an empty paddock and started building my home.”
Completed with the help of family and friends, Weir’s home also contains a large studio where his works for the current show at Michael Reid, entitled Sonic Variations, were produced. Working in an improvisational manner, Weird likens this process to that of jazz greats.
“When Miles Davis recorded Bitches Brew, he called all of the studio musicians in three days before and I think they only had any form of rehearsal on three tracks, the rest was improvisation in the studio. Davis liked to work that way because it allowed a real spontaneity and an energy into the work, and that's exactly the way that I like to work in my painting.”
Grappling with some of the most difficult concepts to depict in a two dimensional manner, such as emotions and the experience of listening to music, the works themselves display an abstract engagement with these themes. Broad brushstrokes against dark backgrounds characterize the latest works, while works from a recent show at Gippsland Regional Gallery, which highlighted the metallurgic yet organic nature of working with aluminium, make a return for Sydney viewers.
Produced through a process of trial and error which can sometimes take months, Weir then edits down what he has created, only exhibiting ten per cent of what he produced.
“Once I've gained a rounded understanding, then I can do what Davis did, go in and try and draw all of that experience to make something quickly and spontaneously that looks like it just happened,” described Weir.
Not only working in a jazz register, Weir cites classical compositions from the like of Beethoven as being the soundtrack to his studio sessions, a creative process which will be continued in Weir’s works that will be shown at the Michael Reid exhibition at Sydney Contemporary this September.
For now, the whitewashed walls of Michael Reid Gallery, in the midst of the noisier end of Surry Hills, play host to a riotous exploration of colour, texture and play, that combines the wildness of the ocean that crashes into the cliffs below Reid’s hand-built home in Gippsland with the technical virtuosity of Zürich.
Sonic Variations runs until March 30 at Michael Reid Gallery. 105 Kippax Street, Surry Hills. You can find more works by Weir here: http://www.brettweir.com/ and via @weir_brett on Instagram.