Cover image of the review
Josh Krum, Clutch, 2022, Enamel, acrylic and book on canvas, 133 x 400 cm, NAP Contemporary. Photo: Vision House Photography

Josh Krum, New Paintings

3 Dec 2022
NAP Contemporary 18 Nov - 30 Dec 2022

Mildura is a town littered with hot rods and watered by a pub called Heaven. Palm trees and a flooded Murray await our arrival as we pull up to NAP Contemporary, a car dealership turned art gallery located on the city’s main boulevard.

This river-bound city is a multicultural place. Many migrants, including my parents, spent time here picking fruit before obtaining their visas. A divide across the city remains apparent today with a great influx of culturally diverse people. Contemporary art came to Mildura between 1961 and 1988 by way of the Mildura Sculpture Triennial. Its influence is evident as you drive around the area and pass large bronze sculptures from the seventies. Regional and suburban museums like Heide and McClelland have developed an affinity for these kinds of sculptural installations, a selling point for the vast acreages of local estate owners.

NAP Contemporary deviates from Mildura’s sculptural conventions with a painting-oriented gallery founded by Riley Davison and Erica Tarquinio. They’re a hip couple with a background working in central Australia at Indigenous art centres. Now they have settled in the “Dura” to establish a fresh commercial gallery. NAP is composed of two gallery rooms divided by a large wall. The newly renovated ex-VW dealership is fitted for optimum commercial display—large glass windows replace the exterior walls, allowing golden-hour light to flood the gallery.

Installation view of Josh Krum, New Paintings, 2022, NAP Contemporary. Photo: Vision House Photography

NAP’s latest exhibition, New Paintings, has seen Melbourne-based artist Josh Krum drive six and a half hours straight from Melbourne to hatch a new selection of works. Krum is a recent graduate from VCA’s sculpture studios and is best known for co-founding the Brunswick-based backyard shed gallery Asbestos. His previous work sees canvases drenched in motor oil, Coca-Cola reductions and New York cityscapes. New Paintings puts on display explosions of paint; seldom static, they are a psychopomp of technicoloured sludge. With a total of nine large-scale works on view, New Paintings shows a refinement in the artist’s practice as he for the first time expressly delves into his Jewish heritage.

The opening night atmosphere is mozzie-ridden but pleasant nonetheless. The attendees are predominantly locals who have seen the countless paste-up promo shots (taken by the charismatic photographer Tim Hardy). A four-metre-long canvas, Clutch (2022), has been released across gallery room two, with a bench needed to endure the painting’s technique and spiritual release into belief.  An inquisitive man approaches me saying he “looooves” Jackson Pollock and asking whether I understand the drip reference. I tell him I prefer Lee Krasner’s work—the stupid feminist I am. We talk about the famous costs of the NGA Blue Poles acquisition and laugh. Then, turning back to Krum’s enamel and acrylic painting, I ask myself, “Why is this the only work in the show with a drip-style technique?”

Every work in New Paintings is associated with an individual branch of modernism that works beyond the frame to conceptualise the canvas. Clutch certainly adheres to this method in a humble yet sinister way. Baby blue, mustard and salmon rival for splatter dominance across a canvas that wants to satisfy the triadic colour theory. To maintain harmony, Krum avoids using any colours close to black.

Installation view of Josh Krum, New Paintings, 2022, NAP Contemporary. Photo: Vision House Photography

At the centre of the multi-coloured drips is a book with the back glued to the canvas. This isn’t an interactive art exhibition; guests are not welcome to touch the books, but if they did they’d dive into Never Again? The Threat of the New-Antisemitism by Abraham X Foxman—literature on the evolution and reversion of old-fashioned antisemitism threatening the future. The book has a finite ending and is bordered in red, formally integrating it into the artwork. Meanwhile, the painting and its heraldic use of colour bleeds boundlessly into its surroundings, foreseeing no end.

At the centre of Gallery One is a standalone partition that draws its focal point to Bomb (2022). The work unveils a freshly erupted explosion made up of neon paint against a dark background of solid square structures.

Josh Krum, Wheel, 2022, oil and book on canvas, 115 x 120 cm, NAP Contemporary. Photo: Vision House Photography

Quick-tempered clarity fosters a necessary evil. I understand thrill-seeking as the quintessence spiritual malnourishment. I am thirsty for the knowledge gracing the canvases of Wheel (2022) and Index (2022). They hold a matrix of sublime text reflecting on secrecy, myth and the history of the Holocaust. Texts of satire float above the expressive paintings in a romantic dance between the books of destruction and the rigor of Krum’s style. Mila 18 by Leon Uris and Sanctuary: Nazi Fugitives in Australia by Mark Aarons are two books found on the shelf of Wheel. They unravel the past and create historical transactions directly on the canvas. Both works are associates, a family of brightly coloured fluid hallucinations, smudged and repeated over and over.

Fundamentally ill-suited yet striking for a town of approximately seventeen known Jewish residents, Krum provides an ad hoc library owned across generations of family—and Woody Allen is the buffer. It’s the education that Ye needed before voicing his own conspiracies about Jewish “mafia” running the streets of LA, a location of similar frugality to Mildura.

I’ve lost my sense of direction. Wheel spins its own centripetal vortex in a motion that folds in on itself, moving towards the centre. The feminine camo print and jig-sawed shapes are an upheaval in contrast to the solemn blocks of colour in Index, with thick large smears of oil paint and a body dragged across the page. The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory is the subtitle that is placed upon the smudge; the cover of the book is a collage of newspaper reports of the ongoing conspiracy theories asserting genocide denial, a rotting Mandela effect wreaking havoc on collective memory. Heroines of the show in their separate rooms, the two paintings act with a lack of restraint in their mediums. This meditates on modernism’s ambitions with the rise of abstract expressionism. The result is undisrupted emotion crafted by way of sporadic brushwork.

Josh Krum, Index, 2022, oil and book on canvas, 91.5 x 91.5 cm, NAP Contemporary. Photo: Vision House Photography

Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.
Inside the museum
a synagogue,
inside it
inside me
my heart,
inside my heart
a museum
—’Poem Without an End’ (1996) by Yehuda Amichai

This is the first of three poems collected by Krum as the exhibition text. For the Israeli poet Amichai, paintings are the windows to this synagogue and to Krum’s heart. The poem seeks truth in solitude.

Above, I looked to books, their titles and front covers to contextualise Krum’s practice. Factory (2022) and Arm (2022) substitute the three-dimensional books with blank spaces on the canvas for a lost essence of text. Paris is Burning, a bonfire of pages instigated by paramilitary. The empty space protrudes a great darkness in Factory. This painting appears burnt—thicker applications of paint are crisp layers of brown forming the foundations. On the fertile grounds of the gallery a work such as this turns its back on nature, the same nature that engulfs NAP Contemporary in a regional town. Oil paint (the withdrawal from organics) and acrylic paint (a boat for plastic modernism) compete on the playing field in a battle for opacity. A small square of orange connects this work and the adjacent painting Dawn (2022), with a grander orange stripe running vertically down the canvas.

Installation view of Josh Krum, left to right: Factory, 2022, oil and acrylic on canvas, 180 x 170 cm and Dawn, 2022, oil, enamel and book on canvas, 129 x 139.5 cm, NAP Contemporary. Photo: Vision House Photography

A similar threat is underway in Dawn. This work mimics the shadow of the Factory painting, although at this point it’s more foreboding, with a glued-down book titled The SS with a black and white image of a Third Reich soldier yelling commands. Krum constructs a flag using green, white and orange with a black border, producing an effect akin to propaganda and a mood of fear. The colours cross over and under each other and extend beyond belief. Dawn stands as perfectly crafted, regulating the spontaneity of the rest of the works in the show.

Spirituality is the anchor in New Paintings. Krum is no longer endangered in his Being. Take the pilgrimage, for it is worth every second; reject the narrative but keep in mind “the bottom line of the grid is naked”. Visit Heaven and you’ll realise you’re a catch. Hysteria in the car dealership. Stable? That’s for horses. Viva Las Dura.