Catalogue Essay by Phe Luxford 2017
A motley crew of flamboyant creatures have been brought together for Josh Robbins’ latest exhibition. Full of showy crests, ornamental plumes and enticing tail feathers, this rabble of noisy boys are preened and ready to dance.
They’re a transcontinental bunch, a global troupe that has flocked to this grove of gnarled trees, this ‘somewhere place’ of the artist’s own imagining, for a once in a lifetime performance. A forest of fantastical foliage – writhing branches, exotic orchids and ripened fruit – forms the salacious backdrop to their show. Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. A display of colossal courtship is about to commence.
Listen, the orchestra is tuning up. Then, the Frigate Bird, centre stage, all the way from the Galapagos, inflates his impressive red throat and begins a slow, echoing drill. The Papuan Bird of Paradise, letting out a series of round, whooping crescendos, is soon followed by the majestic call of the Sage Grouse. Direct from the grassy plains of Saskatchewan, his vast, thrusting chest pops out a beguiling low warble. Dove and Bowerbird charge the upper atmosphere with a delicate ricochet of cheeps. Heard all together, this cacophony is mesmerising.
Feathers begin to plump and flutter. Necks bob and wings spread. Act One is a tribute to the powerful lure of natural selection, to the instinctual proclivity of male desire. Adorned with the crowns of kings, and finery befitting a prince, the detail of each costume is truly haute couture. The artist has painstakingly rendered every downy vane, each plume and rubbery wattle. Observe the Lady Amhurst Pheasant of Southern China, sitting high, stage left. Full of exuberant exaggeration, the bold graphic quality of his nape and tail, all black and white and zebra stripes, plays against the shimmering glory of his emerald mane. This is theatrical attire at its finest.
Act Two is a meditation on the sensuous. As the rhythm picks up the actors turn inward, immersed in their own magnificence. Full of freedom, strength and self-expression, each choreographic gesture encapsulates the wonder of his own species, the true beauty of his being. While this is indeed an earnest performance, the audience begins to giggle, perhaps recognising something of their own vanity, libido or tomfoolery. Full of vim and vigour, these strutting dancers do call to mind the allure of disco lights and tight satin.
They’re in a frenzy now, moving so fast it all becomes a blur. Their forms are abstracting. Everything is losing its coherence. Act Three reveals the final route to seduction, and is a tribute to the prowess of the alpha male. Like the heady effects of a potent perfume or the thrill of a wild tango, the splendour of this sensory display transforms into sheer intoxication. The audience is left swooning, overcome by the physical confidence of these flashy gigolos.
And then, the performance is over. A silent shuffling of claws. A demure settling of feathers. This elegant aviary of actors have told their tale and given their audience everything. They’ve sung their hearts true purpose and done their species proud. All for the love of a lady.
After working in the advertising industry for fifteen years, Robbins left his field to pursue his arts career. Now painting full time, he has been represented by FLG since being featured in Exploration 12, and has exhibited in group and solo shows in both Melbourne and the UK. His works are held in various private collections and also the Holding Redlich Australian Contemporary Art Collection.