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loene furler: from the shed to the dining room and back, a selection of work from 1962-2002
The contrasting styles of these two painters bespeaks the evolution of painting in recent decades. The retrospective tribute to Loene Furler, well-known Adelaide musician, lecturer and artist, spans the period from late modernism to the present. Her personal and expressive approach to art-making has evolved with the artistic trends and political concerns of that period.
Furler's early work explored diverse subjects. Landscape (1965) is typical of Australian abstraction of the time, its strong, earthy tones and lyrical shapes suggesting formal concerns. By contrast, The Housewife of the same year shows a woman (the artist?) at the kitchen sink, suggesting domestic servitude. Furler's Vietnam and Prince Charles I and 11 (1966) are collages protesting the Vietnam War. Her preoccupations have ranged widely since, though a primary theme is her own situation, as depicted in Squeezed (self portrait) (1971), in which her face emerges from a paint tube. Right from the start we are bound (Sia) ( 1976) shows her infant daughter roped into her high-chair during feeding, paint peeling from the wall behind. Since then, Furler's work has encompassed portraiture, assemblage, ceramics, fabric design and even candle-making.
Furler's most interesting recent works are her assemblages on canvas. In A scattered mind seeking signs (2000) the canvas becomes a pin-board bearing memorabilia such as a naive watercolour, a stick, letters, parcels and photographs. Sometimes her canvas is stitched, representing 'women's work', or stitched outlines or borders. These are strong personal statements, but are calculated to have broader signifying potential and are metaphors for the aggregate persona. The direct statements of earlier years remain, but are now subtler and wiser. She is at her most powerful when she depicts objects and forms with symbolic potential, for example ears, letters, lipsticked lips blowing smoke, or crosses, in the (re-)consideration of a woman's life.
Aldo lacobelli's work, by contrast, addresses painting itself- its forms and materiality, its status and its value-systems. One of his most famous works is Paintings in Oil (1992-93) - dozens of large glass jars containing paintings preserved in oil. There has always been a sharp political edge to lacobelli's work and his recent BMG Gallery show is no exception. Tom is Obese (2002) is a painting of wallpaper motifs, with the title painted into it, the layout suggesting the canvas has been cut from a larger sheet, like wallpaper. In JH & PR Commit Atrocities Against Humanity (2002) the wallpaper design matches the cloth of an accompanying dining chair. His DP (2002) combines plastic-wrapped bales of compressed clothes with a painting that looks like an unremarkable 1960s abstract, except that it is a careful copy of the stripes of colour in one of the bales. These works suggest binaries such as donation and possession, comfort and need, as well as painted, bourgeois decoration juxtaposed with its real, 3-D counterpart.
But his most disturbing and controversial work, In Search of the Most Tranquil Continent of the Planet (2002), comprises an unsealed linen stretcher hung adjacent to four realistic-looking life-size rabbits made of rabbit-skin glue (used to seal raw canvas) and the wooden crates in which ornamental rabbits might be transported. Next to the rabbits, the raw canvas is perhaps an Australian desert landscape - might the cute and vulnerable rabbits then be invaders, or refugees? Painting itself seems here to represent a society in denial.
For both artists, painting is a subject of and a device for political statement. Both artists have adapted the traditional canvas in unique and significant ways, and plumbed its immense symbolic potential.