Keyboard mash (Caps lock on): Terrence Combos

Chloé Wolifson

Terrence Combos came to our attention after receiving highly commended at the 2014 Kudos Awards. The Sydney-based artist has only just wrapped up his Bachelor of Arts at UNSW Art & Design, but already has an impressive list of credentials. Runway board member Chloé Wolifson caught up with Combos following the opening of the Annual exhibition, and discovered there is much on the horizon for this thoughtful high achiever.


Can you tell us about the work in the Kudos Award exhibition?

It’s called Keyboard mash (Caps lock on). A lot of my work has the grid as its basis. It’s about using the grid to guide this kind of geometric abstraction, and also the way text is conflated within abstraction. The grid nestles both of them together pretty perfectly.

Before that work I was doing a lot of work that was instrumental in its use of language – phrases, quotes, self-reflexive language that would speak of the work itself. But I wanted to move away from that because of the way the text is formatted – quite squashed together, mashed in with the patterns and very difficult to read. Trying to decipher a phrase that exists is different to trying to decipher something that isn’t actually meant to say anything explicit. So I was using a keyboard mash, just slamming fingers aimlessly against the keyboard, to find a basis for language that isn’t guided by syntax or anything like that.

Keyboard mash (Caps lock on) is painted on an unusually shaped support. Was that something new for you?

That was the first one that I’d made. Before that I was always using squares as the support, but if the text is there to rupture the grid, then why not use the support as a rupture as well? That’s why there are all the splits, because of the multi-panelled structure.

The shape was pretty arbitrary, essentially. [I was] trying to melt away the corners of a work, [and] get away from a single solid shape.

Terrence Combos

Terrence Combos, KEYBOARD MASH (CAPS LOCK ON) 2014, Paint marker on board, 90 x 90cm. Courtesy the artist.


Can you tell us about the influence of abstraction on your practice?

I used to be really keen on modernist abstraction in that Greenbergian sense. But once I started studying it at uni, I started to question that whole art for arts sake premise. I wanted to do something that ruptures that autonomy of an object. [I’m] working within it to rupture it in some way. The patterns themselves are systematic but their conception is pretty arbitrary. So in a sense I’m still using the formalist principles within the work, but in trying to conflate the text with it I’m trying to pull away from that a little bit.

And what are your contemporary influences?

When I started making work of this type, I didn’t have any technological influences, but that was read into the work because of the nature of the grid – the pixel and the grid [are] always going to be connected. So [although] it was never really something that I registered as an interest, it now seems like it’s a consequence of [the work].

I do enjoy the early, very pixilated fonts in video games and early mobile phones. I could be a lot more elaborate with the fonts because I use big grids, but I still like the idea of restricting the typography in a way so that it does have that low-fi effect to it (even though it is actually an analogue process).

Are you looking at the work of particular contemporary artists?

I’m interested in how text is integrated into pictorial systems. So I’m really keen on Rose Nolan, Emily Floyd, as well as Raquel Ormella – seeing how text can fit into a broader framework without it being a singular focus. With Rose Nolan, the typography’s consistent but it’s mashed together so it takes on its own formal quality for me as well. It is quite legible but I find the shapes that come out of this sort of text work very interesting.

What’s next for you?

I’ve got a residency at Penrith Regional Gallery for six weeks. I’m having a solo show in May at Rubicon ARI in Melbourne, and then I’ll be doing Honours next year as well. Other than that, I’m just trying to keep a consistent flow of things that I’m making, and taking it from there.

Combos will have work available in the Archive_ ICAA fundraiser on 22 December 2014.

His solo exhibition at Rubicon ARI in Melbourne, FEHRSGVOUYE runs from 20 May to 6 June 2015.

A solo exhibition at Gaffa in Sydney called Hgsadlhfgw (Hug sadlyfe) will run from 23 July to 3 August 2015.

In 2015 Combos will also hold a solo show at Seventh Gallery in Victoria called Fyoudge (Droid face) (dates TBC).

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