The Finkelstein Files: In My Room

“Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women; kitchen of lust, bedroom of grief, bathroom of apathy.”

– from ‘The House’ by Warsan Shire

In My Room is the telling title of Helen Gory’s newest body of works – at once an invitation and a provocation. Strongly symbolist in nature and style, she has created a blueprint that challenges the viewer to encroach on her personal space; both as audience and interrogator.

Gilt-laden images are scratched into the paper, challenging its singular appearance. I am reminded of Austrian-born artist Gustav Klimt, who once said something like ‘art is a line around your thoughts’. This idea resonates throughout Gory’s works, which are at once deeply personal and universal. Draw a line; make a point; take a stand; risk something.

Gory’s oil-stick women delve backwards into unrevealed pockets of spaces, memories compartmentalised into separate ‘rooms’. Her challenge – and ours – is to slowly, carefully unpack these subtle chimeras; expose their interior to the outer world. Woman with Leaf speaks loudest without uttering a word. Verging on naïve, these night-shade women hover between darkness and illumination. Their talisman tools may well be props; striking a pose that both regales and invites us inside.

Helen Gory opened her own contemporary commercial art gallery in 1995. Helen Gory Galerie was a pioneer in supporting emerging practitioners, many of whom have gone on to become Australia’s leading visual artists. In 2008, Gory closed her gallery to pursue a long-unfulfilled desire to make art.

Golden Bars, 2018

Paper Collage and Oil Stick on Art Paper, 140 x 110cm.

It’s a Challenge, 2018

Paper Collage and Oil Stick on Art Paper, 140 x 110cm.

Walking Back To Happiness, 2018

Paper Collage and Oil Stick on Art Paper, 140 x 110cm.

Gory’s work is best described as visual stories where humour and joy sit side-by-side with the shadows that they cast. She is concerned with uncovering what is hidden, with the act of revelation. Through the repeated motifs of fragmented body parts, women, and elements of the natural world, her often-surreal images speak of desire, longing, angst and the power of transformation.

(det.) The Leaf, 2018, Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

The Leaf, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

Gory works across various medium to construct these visual narratives. Her first primary medium, collage, allows her to deconstruct, fragment, (dis)connect and reassemble, the process of creation a metaphor for the complexity and layering of human experience.

More recently, Gory has segued from collage to painting and drawing. Using oil stick, graphite and charcoal in scribbling and scratching-like motions, she adds/removes layers in a repetitive act of mark-making that is intrinsic to the interior world she is revealing.

The Pods, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

(det.) The Pods, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

The Scarf, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

The Scarf, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

Last weekend to see In My Room!

Head to: Backwoods Gallery, 25 Easey Street, Collingwood, VIC, Australia (map)


Camouflage and Character : the art of Polixeni Papapetrou

It is now ten years since Polixeni Papapetrou has been killing two stones with one bird: namely making beautiful, perceptive and important art whilst making beautiful, perceptive and delightful human beings in the form of her children Olympia and Solomon.

Papapetrou creates darkly whimsical images that grapple with conceptual definitions of childhood, both historically and in contemporary society. Addressing what it means to be a child, Papapetrou uses her work to argue that the institution of childhood is an adult construct created to satisfy roles in society.

Like Bill Henson and Sally Mann, Papapetrou encountered controversy when a 2003 photograph of her nude six-year-old daughter, Olympia, entitled Olympia as Lewis Carroll’s Beatrice Hatch Before White Cliffs, graced the cover of Art Monthly Australia. Complaints of child pornography and violations of child protection legislation followed, and Papapetrou began photographing children wearing masks or with their faces obscured as a way to remove the childhood identity and add an element of layering to the figures.

Papapetrou is also inspired by the spectacle of dress-up and performance that appeared in 19th century French and English tableaux photography, so she looks to photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron, Lewis Carroll, and Clementina Lady Hawarden. She finds further inspiration in the work of photographers, like Diane Arbus, Roger Ballen, Richard Billingham, Martin Parr, and Nan Goldin, who portray the everyday world around them and in doing so reveal a secluded inner world. Papapetrou’s work is often compared to that of Cindy Sherman for her presentation of such a varied array of characters and personalities.

Engaging part reality, part fantasy moving through the Australian landscape, Papapetrou uses the rich terrain as a backdrop for her narratives about the transitional space of childhood. Her art practice has involved an intimate collaboration with her children and their friends for over a decade. As they have grown and transformed, so too have the roles they perform and spaces they inhabit. It is the awkward evolution of youth that informs the in-between spaces she creates in her work. As childhood identity recedes, new archetypes emerge as apparitions that speak to us about transformation and self-realizing periods in our lives.

Dune Man, 120 x 120 cm pigment ink print

Dune Man, 120 x 120 cm pigment ink print

In The Ghillies, a single large indefinable anthropomorphic presence, as if coming out of the land, dominates the natural environment. Inside these ominous statues is a young boy on the cusp of ado- lescence, wearing a ghillie (a camouflage outfit originally developed for hunting and the military).

These photographs speak both directly and metaphorically about boys, adolescence and identity and how they might reconcile their inner world with the social demands of the outer world during this phase. The body is concealed and childhood identity slowly recedes leaving a universal figure that becomes one with the surroundings. In his catalogue essay for The Ghillies, Associate Professor of Cultural Studies at Melbourne University Chris Healy writes:

“Not content to just offer us these vividly powerful images, even in the title of this exhibition, Polixeni Papapetrou immediately makes us think about land and servitude, masculinity and nature, colo- nialism and combat. {…} This time, it’s no exaggeration to say that Papapetrou’s work has engaged deeply with major cultural themes both ancient and modern.”

These photographs remind us of our own shape shifting, of time playing out on our bodies and minds. The abstract meeting of these two forms, inner child and outer presence may indicate the latent wisdom and self-acceptance only realized with the cyclical nature of our life spans that inevi- tably brings us back to the vulnerability and freedom of youth.

So much has been written on her extraordinary career, but a recent article by Gina McColl entitled “The Final Frame in a Bold Body of Work” resonated with me  – read more here.

“Australian artist Polixeni Papapetrou trends the line between fantasy/theatre, mythology/reality, archetype/play, male/female, child/adult and animal/human. As with all her work, the series The Dreamkeepers tells a story that includes her autobiographical relationship with her children, but it also says a lot more about the condition of childhood — its place in our culture and how we react to images of children in photography.”

— Susan Bright, Excerpt from Between Worlds catalogue

Hattah Man and Hattah Woman, 70 x 105 cm, pigment ink print

Hattah Man and Hattah Woman, 70 x 105 cm, pigment ink print

“Between making the work ‘Between Worlds‘ and ‘The Dreamkeepers’, Poli suffered a serious illness. Her work is now more confronting, the photographs ʻwill a deeper placeʼ an essence of humanity in some way, Poli seeks a tenderness, a poetry in what repels us. Once again this part of the journey is shared with her children (and family), circumstances that unfortunately touch millions of families. But Papapetrou has a process: her art, though which to engage those around her. I hear in this work and in conversation with Poli, an urgency, a desire to address the future. No longer are the back-drops painted. Events take place in the real world, gentle strange events.” Naomi Cass, 2011, Director, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne.

Salt Man, 120 x 120 cm pigment digital print

Salt Man, 120 x 120 cm pigment digital print

Polixeni  lives and works in Melbourne. She has held over 40 solo exhibitions and participated in over 70 group exhibitions in Australia and internationally. She is represented by: Stills Gallery (NSW), Johnston Gallery (WA), Nellie Castan Gallery (Victoria), Foley Gallery (NYC), LMD Gallery (France) and ARTITLED! (The Netherlands).

Nellie & Poli @ 'The Ghillies' opening night @ Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne.

Nellie & Poli @ ‘The Ghillies’ opening night @ Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne.

The Ghillies‘ exhibition opened to swelling crowds filled with admirers, family and friends last Wednesday at  Nellie Castan Gallery in Melbourne  as Naomi Cass, director of CCP spoke on Papapetrou’s latest offering.

Her work is held in private and institutional collections including the National Gallery of Victoria, Bendigo Art Gallery, Geelong Art Gallery, BHP Billiton, Wesfarmers, Artbank and Murdoch University, Perth.  She has been the recipient of numerous Australia Council New Work Grants and Arts Victoria Grants.  In 2009 she was awarded the Josephine Ulrick-Win Shubert Photography Award. Polixeni is also a Research Fellow at Monash University, Melbourne and holds the degrees of PhD 2007 (Monash University), MA Media Arts 1997 (RMIT University), Bachelor of Laws 1984, (University of Melbourne) and Bachelor of Arts 1984, (University of Melbourne).

The Ghillies is on show @ Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne until 24 April.

The Ghillies is on show @ Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne until 25 May.

Polixeni will be exhibiting work in a solo exhibition ‘Stories from the Other Side’ at Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York. Opening 4 April to 1 June 2013 –  which is about now (!!) if you’re reading this in Melbourne, Australia!