Like reviews of his exhibitions, Myles Heskett’s obituary will likely begin with a reference to Wolfmother and could very well proceed to be peppered with a series of a-paw-ling wolf puns. Fair enough – if you co-found and percuss a band as popular as Wolfmother once was, that’ll happen. But Heskett absconded from the band three years ago (due to ‘musical differences’, the music business’ version of ‘irreconcilable differences’) and is trying to change his CV’s first line from muso to artiste with his debut exhibition, The Valleys of Ash.
It’s easy to be sceptical, to suspect this might be like Hilary Duff’s novel or Scarlett Johansson’s album – someone trading on a name, tricked by their fame-inflamed egos into thinking that they are latter-day Leonardos. But just remember that, actually, Myles Heskett was a low-ranking ex-member of an Australian band whose moment has very much passed, with name recognition approaching zero.
And, indeed, the work stands on its own. Heskett is certainly art-literate: his father was an artist, and a press release cites his influences as Joan Miro, Cy Twombly, Basquiat, Stanley Donwood (who designed the album covers for Hail to the Thief and The Eraser) and surrealist film-maker David Lynch. As this cast of characters would suggest, Heskett’s work is abstract and tends towards darkness.
The fifteen or so works on display range from miniature sketches to a large (and pricey) series of enjoined painted panels. The smaller pieces are geometric and concentrated, almost like optical illusions or a game of Tetris, created with a fine inky pen and texta. He began working on these in his notebooks while on Wolfmother’s 2007 world tour, and while they’re certainly interesting, there’s a bit too much Travis from Clueless about them. It’s the frames and the gallery space that have elevated them from doodles to art. They’re also uncomfortably depersonalised.
Heskett’s talent is more obviously on display in his bolder, larger oil-on-canvas paintings. These feel more mature and reveal him to be technically able. Most striking is his palette: splashes of yellow and purple are startling amid gloomy hues. He also plays with texture here, coming closer here to realistic representation. Thicker oil is reminiscent of trees’ knots, signifying that perhaps the collection is really a depiction of the Australian landscape. These paintings are impressive and involving, and it’s a shame he didn’t include more such ambitious efforts.
Viewed as an ode to the rock’n’roll life, the exhibition is no Almost Famous. It’s shadowy and contemplative, suggesting loneliness and long hours. But it’s not as pessimistic as the exhibition’s name might suggest. Heskett is talented at symbols as well as cymbals, and that means this exhibition isn’t just something for the few remaining Wolfmother fans.
The Valleys of Ash is currently showing at the Mart Gallery, 156 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills. Open Tuesday-Saturday 12-5, April 7-30, but closed for Easter.