Mary Scott

Carnegie Gallery, Hobart; Linden Gallery, Melbourne
25 August – 2 October 2005; 21 October – 13 November 2005

Although primarily a painter, for several years Hobart-based Mary Scott has been working with digital prints and exploring how identity can be determined by social expectations and standards. Scott’s digital prints are dark and moody, favouring anonymous bodies and shadowy interiors: sharp lines of starched ribbons contrast with lush billows of fabric concealing and revealing the bodily frame, seducing the eye with a playful yet disconcerting façade. Fleshings represents Scott’s return to painting and a much lighter palette.

In Fleshings, Scott configures her compositions meticulously. Figures possess a pert sensuality while softly lit domestic interiors are sliced into fragments. Imprinted onto the gallery wall is a quote, ‘the house felt more like a body—softer, more mortal and more organic than a building’, which immediately provides an interpretative springboard for the viewer. Without the aid of titles, Scott’s large body of work consists of neat snapshots, intimate views of domestic space and the figures inhabiting them.

Initially, the works in Fleshings appear serenely hazy. Yet with deeper contemplation, the images convey a gilded menace which hovers tensely beneath their muted pastel surfaces. Furniture has been placed askew and figures drift between rooms. Something is not right. Faces gaze out into an unknown pictorial plane, hinting at uncertain possibility. A hint of impending violence lurks within Scott’s idealised feminine environment and conjures a frustrated desire to break away from the confines of this impeccably controlled interior space.

Scott paints the firm flesh of primly dressed adolescent girls as though it is coated in a waxy candy glaze. Their postures and expressions appear more like those of a coveted porcelain doll than a female on the cusp of womanhood. Capturing the awkwardness created by striving to uphold society’s expectations, the figures in Fleshings possess subtle, unnerving peculiarities. A pair of hands spread their fingers wide as though steadying the body or fluttering out in fear. A sense of unease creeps over the viewer when one realises that the fingers are elongated and disturbingly plump while the knobbled knuckles are strangely bulbous and square.

Scott’s ability to create unease is also accentuated by her use of visual suspense. Closed curtains viewed from outside a window and figures standing with their backs turned or paused abruptly before a doorway give the paintings an unsettling edge, as though they are teetering on the precipice of a held breath. The false calm before the storm.

While the works in Fleshings could all exist as singular pieces, when placed together they form a loose narrative. One of the most intriguing sets of images includes a portrait of a woman in a slinky grey-green dress bending down to pick up (or offer) a pale pink slip of fabric. Her gaze is directed outside the picture plane. Directly opposite and seemingly following the woman’s gaze is a smaller painting depicting two oddly proportioned, tan coloured dogs fussing over torn up pieces of pink cloth. Could this be the same pink cloth held by the woman? The inclusion of the dogs with their beady eyes, gummy jaws and muscular limbs contributes to the pervading sense of the unpredictable present in the works of Fleshings. Reminiscent of the princess offering a suitor a token handkerchief only to have it cast aside and torn to shreds by beastly jaws, these images set up a visual exchange filled with sinister possibilities.

The blurry outlines of fresh cut roses bloom out over the rim of a white vase, a pink-gloved hand reaches out to gently touch (or display) a child’s face. The heady private space of this distinctly feminine realm is dissected and exposed as fraudulent under Scott’s keenly acidic brush. Hemmed in by paintings of rich blue curtains, Fleshings conveys the theatrics of social expectation and the unbalance created as a result.