Andrew Totman: ‘Metamorphosis: Ever-changing… China’

Above: The exhibition space at Desheng Museum.
Right: Andrew Totman, Translucence, 2017, monotype, 50 x 30 cm.
Below:  Andrew Totman, Day dreaming, 2017, gouache, 110 x 77 cm.

Michelle Watts reflects on Andrew Totman’s latest show, held at China’s Desheng Museum.

Andrew Totman – Metamorphosis: Ever-changing… China

Artists run their fingers over the fabric of eternity

(Rose, H. Museum of Modern Love, p56 Allen & Unwin,  Sydney,  2016)


Totman’s  professional arts background covers four decades and six continents and  his works are held in major public, private and university collections from the USA, Canada, Australia, Morocco, Germany, Great Britain, France, Korea, Japan, Finland, Norway, Monaco, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, and China. In this latest exhibition, Totman has chosen to present a mixture of gouache paintings and monoprints on paper,  under the broad title of Metamorphosis: Everchanging… China.

The abstract works presented at Desheng Museum, are alive with glowing colour and animated movement. Driven by a boundless communion with nature, Totman reveals his admiration for and a kinaesthetic response to the certainty of the seasons, the cycles of tides and moon.  The abstract field implies an expansive character that is simultaneously enveloping and breathing, pulsating and muted.

Abstraction, by its very alchemic quality, offers an investigation on the balance and convergence of the elements. Although the landscape may be evoked, there are other determinants present, emotional and profound aspects of the natural world that are created in the diaphanous, weightless forms and luminosity achieved with repeated layers of transparent colour.   These works metaphorically link art (form and surface) with the human spirit and change, a mutability of the natural world and the place of humanity in it.

Totman’s established work reveals many indications of his past preoccupation with the strength of the hand, its universality, its contradictory character. In this current series, the authority of the hand is implicitly evident in a deft and essential touch.  Although on occasion languorous and tender, at other times vigorous and whimsical, the sensuality of the surface resonates with the muted power and strong form of the gesture.

These abstract compositions seem to emanate from the grace and calm of an inner peace, that, although expressing something of the dynamic, contrary forces of nature, remain convinced that an equilibrium will be achieved. Totman is not a romantic in the sense of the terror experienced in the presence of the sublime. Rather, his works display a mature knowledge and recognition of the constancy of change; extremes are balanced with harmony, darkness lifted with light, intuition tempered by intellect. Here is an artist whose belief in the elemental force of nature of the world, those universally recognised symbols of air, earth, wind and fire slipping within and around us, ground even the most resilient human hubris.

Totman’s interest in metamorphosis extends also into the qualities of a culture. Through personal experience, his growing knowledge of China and its contradictions, has led to his conceptual notions and reflections on change, contrast and dissonance. References to the iconography of the elements of fire, air, water and earth, go straight to the heart of the traditional cultural east. Totman has investigated the elements as codes, their very ambiguity offering a philosophical bridge, a  communion between art and audience, harmony and resolution,  East and West. His works strike a balance between the changeability and contested character of China, posing a quieter, more humane questioning, an admiration for our vulnerabilities and strengths.