Christian Flynn / Test Pattern

The images that impress themselves on us as children have a prevailing influence on our lives. So it is with Christian Flynn who, as a child, was enthralled by the ABC TV test pattern. He is not alone in this – the design’s ordered structure and saturated tones beguiled a generation of kids who grew up on colour television.1 For Flynn, the pattern continues to resonate, and has become one of the foundations of his art. Other artists have been inspired by the motif that speaks, incidentally, to the language of abstraction. Scott Redford’s larger-than-life painting Things the mind already knows (2010), and Luke Parker’s installation Test pattern test (Optical discs) (2006), celebrating 50 years of ABC TV, prove its allure. Flynn’s investigation, however, is part of a larger project that has sustained him over several years. Other influences that feed into his work are as diverse as the post-minimalist paintings of Peter Halley, and through Halley the work of proto modernists such as Piet Mondrian; the iconography of Japanese anime, in particular the animated exploits of The Voltus Team of super robots and related action figures popular from the late 1970s; the New York skyline, which captivated Flynn during a trip to the United States last year; and contemporary advertising and design.2 Each of these informs an aesthetic that is at once random and orchestrated, expansive and restrained, fragmentary and refined.

Sculpture, not surprisingly, plays a pivotal role in Flynn’s practice. The paintings from this current series retain strong links to the three dimensional through their overtly constructed nature, and through the spaces Flynn creates between his gestural under painting and the hard-edged structures he imposes on it. Gesture and geometry collide in works that reject the purity and idealism of early Modernism, while paying homage to it through form. Areas of solid colour that appear flat are revealed, under scrutiny, to be layered. These multidimensional shapes recall origami, presumably one source for the Japanese animators that inspire Flynn. Through the fractured, folded forms in paintings such as Pusher (2011), he asks his audience to acknowledge his method, stating, “That’s the point of doing things in paint.”3 The artist contrasts these polished surfaces with areas where he relinquishes control and, attuned to the nuances of his materials, works into the paint with brush or fingertips. The finished paintings are a coordinated sequence of competing yet, paradoxically, complementary components. Authoritative, brash and, at times, comic, Flynn performs a balancing act designed to stretch incongruity to its limits.

Faced with an endless set of geometric possibilities, Flynn sets constraints. He restricts his palette and his formal language to test, “what you can do with a limited number of rules.”4 Like many of his contemporaries, he seeks balance; to bring together visual elements once seen as mutually exclusive and establish where they coincide. Art and life merge. The hybrid, a function and legacy of a post-modern world, is at work.

Verticality is a dominant theme in Flynn’s paintings. In works like Transition (2011), there is a sense of looking up, through the splintered shapes that pierce the picture plane, into another world. Flynn builds the image using paint as an “additive and reductive” force.5 Not for him a pure, white plane. He prefers a dark, primordial surface as the backdrop for his grids. We are left to negotiate the spaces between the solids and the voids, to distinguish between object and ground, and to wonder what lies beneath.

For Flynn and a legion of viewers like him, the ABC TV test pattern still holds sway, a phenomenon attested to by the number of websites selling t-shirts embossed with the icon. One comes with the caption ‘This is only a test’. Though it may be his professed stance, Christian Flynn’s paintings, and the intentions that provoke them, assert otherwise.

Samantha Littley, Curator, The University of Queensland Art Museum, October 2011.

1. From 1993, when ABC TV began broadcasting 24 hours a day, the ubiquitous pattern ceased to exercise as pervasive a role in our tele-visual lives.
2. While not being a source, Samuel H Gottscho’s black-and-white photograph Financial District, From the Hotel Bossert 1933, printed later, of a cloud-filled Manhattan skyline articulates the confluence between the organic and the constructed that is present in Flynn’s work.
3. Conversation with the artist, 27 September 2011.
4. Ibid.
5. Artist’s statement for the exhibition Interpretive Matter: Looking at abstraction in Australian art, Redcliffe City Art Gallery, Redcliffe, Qld, 2010.