Stephen Garrett makes objects that can be connected with architectural space, domestic space, spiritual space and the formal space of the grid. The place of the grid in twentieth century art history must be acknowledged in his work but he adds a peculiar psychological edge to his work that is at once terrifying and humorous. Garrett occupies the material world of the grid with his use of architectural formwork and the structures but he expands the possibilities of this ordered geometry by his careful juxtaposition of soft/hard, open/closed etc. He evokes a kind of blindness by presenting the possibility of looking through, but we see only the blankness of blackness of the other side. Or he presents a kind of muteness by filling the spaces of the grid with foam rubber; a blockage. 

These grids are contradictory, they offer containment but also a sense of something beyond, we observe these works from the safe side of the frame. The grid describes order, knowledge, a separation of the known from the unknown, or the discovered from the undiscovered. The grid or frame suggests a larger structure, an infinitely extending fabric. It is inherently schizophrenic, we are at once looking through the frame and also at the surface. 



Stephen Garrett  Through and Through  2000 enamel paint on wood

Stephen Garrett Through and Through 2000 enamel paint on wood

Stephen Garrett   The Universe Outside My Window  (detail) 2000  wood, enamel, steel, pigment on lightbulb, electrical cables 

Stephen Garrett  The Universe Outside My Window (detail) 2000  wood, enamel, steel, pigment on lightbulb, electrical cables 

David Malouf illustrates these different perceptions of order and space in Remembering Babylon. Malouf describes Gemmy and Mr. Frazer walking through the bush. Gemmy was shipwrecked as a young boy and brought up by the indigenous people of the place, Mr. Frazer was a minister of the church and an amateur botanist, intent on classifying his environment. Gemmy describes the walk: 

… he saw nothing but felt the presence of the watchers as a coldness in his spine, a thickening of the darkness to one side of the track. Once again, he acknowledged them, whether they were there or not. Mr. Frazer saw nothing at all. Even when they were meant to be seen, he did not distinguish them from the surrounding vegetation or the play of light and shadow between the leaves. Puffing and singing odd little songs to himself, and fanning away flys, and calling Gemmy to notice this or that. He went barging through; and Gemmy did not enlighten him. [1]

Mr. Frazer was in a frame not of his own making, but its presence provided him with a safety net of scientific knowledge and investigation. Gemmy, on the other hand, was responding in an entirely different way to place. Mr. Frazer was intent on finding Darwin’s monkey. Gemmy was more interested in being, mind and spirit. The paradox and contradiction of the grid is that it is able to offer us both of these experiences at once. The grid maps the material surface of the work:

… if it maps anything, it maps the surface of the painting itself. it is a transfer in which nothing changes place. The material qualities of the surface are mapped onto the aesthetic dimensions of the same surface. [2]

Rosalynd Krauss in Grids You Say, a catalogue for an exhibition of the same name in New York 1978, looks at this very material grid and then turns it upside down by moving on to discuss the work of Malevich and Mondrian. Their view was that the grid was a staircase to the universal, they were not interested in the grid as concrete or material. The architectural fragments which surface in the work of Stephen Garrett; the vents, frames or apertures in the seamless spaces of contemporary architecture also offer this disruption: they indicate that this clinical space, in which we live is connected to both the sewer and the stars. They indicate that there is a space beyond the fragile order that we have imposed upon our surroundings. The grid of the metropolis responds and fluctuates to a particular pattern, we are flotsam in a larger ocean. 

Stephen employs another fundamental attribute, that of humour in seducing us into his world. He makes a very serious joke; the fabric of the universe is poked, it proves to be resilient and we bounce back to begin again.

Anne Graham, Sydney, June 2000


1. Malouf, D. Remembering Babylon, Vintage Press, UK. 1993, 68.

2.  Krauss, R. Grids: Format and Image in c20th Art, New York, Pace Gallery Publication. 1978.