If u were mine...

Kirsten Farrell, Madeline Kidd, Noël Skrzypczak
Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Manuka
10 – 19 October 2003

This exhibition of three young female painters has a three venue tour. It has been seen at Gallery Wren, Sydney; in Canberra; and will be shown at Linden Gallery, Melbourne in early 2004.

The artists graduated from the Canberra School of Art in 2000, and Magdalene Keany, in her catalogue essay, points out their engagement with the trajectories of pop art and modernism. That is, the works engage equally with issues of abstract painting (geometric and organic) and with references to media or personal imagery. Certainly these are valid points to make, and, equally, Keaney notes that ‘the theoretical constraints of linear stylistic inheritance or singular adherence to one movement or another are exuberantly denied’ by the artists. Exuberant is a good word in relation to these works, because they present a high degree of confidence and are conceptually sophisticated. Not leaden or bogged down by any particular methodology, they have an openness and freshness.

Kirsten Farrell’s paintings of tonally-related vectored stripes on panes of perspex, for instance, might at first glance seem simply an exercise in clever geometric abstraction. Strips of aqua, moss-green, gray; or blues and deep reds slide across the paintings surfaces, fanning crisply. In the installation at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space (a development of Farrell’s commended work in the Lempriere prize at Sydney’s Artspace), the modestly-scaled perspex panels are arranged in groups of nine, each placed on two nails so that the effect is reminiscent of the louvred windows of a Queenslander house, or more precisely of a factory. The stripes suggest Venetian blinds, and in this way, the works take on a narrative by default. But this is also the point: the openness of the work invites a range of satisfying interpretations. Farrell’s choice of colours, and the direction of the stripes (narrow to wider, or vice versa) is the result of a systematic process. The artist has used books in previous works, and here had the covers scanned to produce a range of paint colours, each of which is assigned a letter of the alphabet (and an accompanying aphorism in the small bound book of paint swatches that accompany the grouped paintings). Each painting, then, is a coded reference to a woman admired by Farrell, the coloured stripes spelling out names, for example: Janet Frame, Li Lin Chin, Banana Yoshimoto. These cool paintings are also portraits.

Weird, reasonably large ‘spills’ of paint on MDF, with smaller oval images of grateful or pensive looking Jack Russell terriers is the manifestation of Noël Skrzypczak’s works. The poor doggies, (one still wearing a leg cast) held by their rescuers, are the survivors of a near-death experience (as the artist pointed out to me, one was resuscitated by mouth-to-mouth after getting stuck trying to jump a fence; another chewed free of an airport crate, and was hit by a car weeks after running the gamut of several airport runways). Their little portraits are surrounded by a cosmic aura of bleeding colour, like melted bubblegum Paddle-pops, or the northern lights. Keaney quotes the artist on this: ‘Is this what the dog’s life may have looked like as it flashed before its eyes? Is it the sight of death itself—looming ominously and ready to strike?’ The little doggies, with their ears flat, and rather sad, but strangely transcendent looks on their faces, seem oblivious to the masses of liquefied colour that swirl about them. There is a perplexing gravity to this work.

Madeline Kidd’s small oil on canvas paintings (slightly shorter than A4) show moments from international football matches, the imagery sourced from newspaper photographs. In most, male bodies are represented in a kind of blurry tangle: limbs, colour-coded outfits, stadium spectators and field-side logos blurred. Keaney evokes German painter Gerhard Richter in her essay, and these works have a blurred-photo Richter feel, but something odd happens. At close range, the physicality of paint is entirely obvious: blurry spots for crowd heads, blurry faces of the football players. From a distance, the works take on an entirely different aspect. They actually look three-dimensional, or lenticular, like Catholic devotional postcards. These are complex pictures, not only optically, or sociologically: they writhe as much as the protagonists depicted. Their import is gradual.

Overall, this is a group of works that continues to linger and impress.


Quotes are from: If u were mine…, exhibition catalogue, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 2003.