Thursday, 30 May 2013

Masked Intentions: He Made She Made

Matt Preisz & Lulu Ruttley, Elvis
Masked Intentions
21 Artists reinvent 21 Masks for the 21st Centuary

He Made She Made: May 22 - June 9, 2013

  1. mask  

    A covering for all or part of the face, in particular.
    Cover (the face) with a mask.
    noun.  disguise - vizard - guise - visor - vizor - masque - veil
    verb.  disguise - conceal - hide - camouflage - veil - cloak

(L-R) Ray Ray, Lady Roaccutane; Swayze, MS DOOM; Kitiya Palaskas, The Gypsy Crow
Masks, by their very nature, conceal, disguise, reinvent and camouflage. The 21 artists in the latest exhibition at He Made She Made attempt to reinvent this idea giving purpose and concept to the masked identity. At times fanciful, terrifying, beautiful and audacious, the masks on display each bring with them a different purpose and meaning. The Candleman by Oscar Casas reflects the chronic sleep deprivation and recurring nightmares he suffered from as a child. With such villains as Michael Myers, Leather face and Leslie Vernon interrupting his sleep, this mask attempts to frighten his own subconscious. The Candleman, a clever play on the 1992 film Candyman, is a hideous apparition yet also a source of light in the dark.

Eduardo Wolfe-Alegria's Oceanid is a ritual mask traditionally worn by a shamanic figure and is said to give whoever wears it insights into the subconscious terrain. According to legend the mask was found in the ocean within in scallop shell and is said to carry with it the powers of the deep sea. The mask is at once terrifying and awe inspiring. It is not difficult to imagine it's magical qualities.

It is fascinating to see how each artist has interpreted the idea of the mask. From global warming to Sigmund Freud and the digital age, far reaching topics are covered and put into practice. Curatorially, I really liked the combination of the physical masks with the stunning large format prints, it demonstrates that a mask is simply an interesting object until it's worn and then is takes on a life of its own, a purpose, a defining moment and an overarching significance.   

Oscar Casas, The Candleman

Eduardo Wolfe-Alegria, Oceanid

Benja Harney, The Id

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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Automyth: Kourtney Roy

Kourtney Roy
Customs House: May 22 - June 30, 2013

Canadian-born Kourtney Roy creates fanciful, banal scenes of domesticity through her photographs. These stylistically posed self portraits present a very stereotypical idea of 1950's female acquiesce with banal objects and vacant stares. There is something beautiful in the vibrancy of colour and even in the apparent perfection and precise placement within the frame.      

The women in these images are seemingly untouchable, lost in a world of artifice. As someone who actually chooses to dress like the women in these images everyday, it unnerved me to see such fashion associated with female subservience. This emphasis on appearances is not new or unusual but it is often misplaced. These images both fascinate and concern me at the same time. While idealised and the very picture of perfection, appearances can be deceiving and there is sense in Roy's images that something is amiss, even if you can't quite put your finger on it. Boredom, acceptance and a certain finality pervade and it seems odd to find such sadness so striking.   

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Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Blue Box Gallery: A Love Letter to Oxford Street

While strolling down Oxford Street a friend showed me The Blue Box Gallery, two public installations mounted in secluded doorways. The wall text states:

The Blue Box Gallery is a gift for Oxford Street. Please respect the artworks and leave them for everyone to enjoy.

If you would like to put something inside the blue box, contact us at 

There is a tradition in Sydney of 'hole in the wall' galleries that dates back to the early 1980s when artists Marr Grounds, Tony Coleing, Shayne Higson and Bonita Ely pioneered the original 'hole in the wall' exhibition space, AVAGO in Macdonald Street Paddington, which was then the smallest gallery in the Southern Hemisphere. 

This notion of bringing art into the public space and to the attention of those who perhaps would not necessarily seek it out may be a more common-place idea these days but it still surprises me every time I see it. I don't know who is behind The Blue Box Gallery, the sense of anonymity only adding to its allure, but I do hope it continues to expand and grow. 

If anyone know of any other locations where The Blue Box Gallery has popped up drop me a line and let me know.  

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Sunday, 12 May 2013

5 Questions With... Artist Kaya Clarkson

Kaya Clarkson

Your practice appears to be primarily portraiture, in particular, images of women, how did this come about?

I have always been enticed by life drawing and figure painting, especially with women as my subject. It pulls me in. I also primarily use myself as a reference for my work. It began as an aesthetic decision, with my experimentation of drawing the figure and the translation of that into painting. When I was younger I remember doing a series of self portraits and realising that not only could I paint myself; it was also an unexpected means of self expression. I then painted the women in my family, which was a means to understand and represent other parts of myself. I was entranced by the visual language of artists such as Klimt who painted beautiful women and Chagall, who painted life. Now, as my practice develops, it has deepened into an investigation of the way the female body is represented within the art world and within the mass media. I look outside of myself for reason to paint myself.

The women in your portraits are faceless with seemingly no identity – is this a conscious decision? If so, why?

They are faceless as a conscious decision. One of the reasons is that I want them to be ambiguous and familiar concurrently. They are portraits of one woman but they are also of every woman.  The focus on my work is on the body or ‘woman’ rather than creating a recognisable portrait and the face is so expressive it can portray a thousand other things. The flat bright colour, often geometric shapes and defined black outline lends itself to that lack of detail. The interesting aspect of some of my work, in particular, Mademoiselle, is that people who know me instantly recognised it as a self-portrait.
Kaya Clarkson
Kaya Clarkson

Why do you focus on the female form?

Initially painting the female form was purely a means of self-representation. Now, after years of research and reflection, I paint the female form as a way to examine how women are represented within our culture. I have been looking at the polarities of this representation within the media. My inquiry is how to maintain equilibrium between my own representation of women and of an authentic study of women’s desire and sexuality. My work is framed by the systems of judgment placed on women both by themselves and our culture and of observations of myself as a woman.

Are these portraits modeled on yourself? Otherwise, are they modeled on anyone in particular?

They are all self-portraits of a style. I use my own body for reference as I am interested in representing myself and I have the ease and familiarity of my body as subject. In a sense they are an examination of the self through painting, which is quite personal, but they are also the exhibition of the private within a public space. As such, self-portraits are not an absolute element in my practice. I am interested in representing other women and investigating how their personality and differences influence me and my practice in terms of painting and materiality.

Kaya Clarkson

Kaya Clarkson

What five words would you use to describe your practice?

Intuitive accident. Speculative expression. Initiation. 

All images courtesy of the artist.

Kaya Clarkson

Kaya Clarkson

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Wednesday, 1 May 2013

GUEST POST: Todd Fuller gives his thoughts on the art scene in Rome

Julian Pedraza Serrano (Bucaramanga, 1982) MAGDALENA BIPOLAR, 2011

It is a strangely small contemporary art scene in Rome. To give an indication of scale, one of the more significant commercial spaces, Galleria Lorcan O'Neill Roma, represents Tracey Emin. Relatively speaking, in comparison to Sydney, this space could be considered like the Roslyn Oxley Gallery of Rome, but in terms of physical size, it would be a similar scale to Mop Gallery – possibly even less. In Roma there seems to be more curators than artists, art is an international game and the city seems like a bubble, a time capsule where the contemporary is not so much a focus. But when you do find it amongst the minefield of messiahs and museums, it is well worth the time.
Julian Pedraza Serrano(Bucaramanga, 1982) CRUCIFALLO, 2010
This evening at Galleria 291 EST, I had the privilege of meeting the artist behind Roma Rima Con Sodoma (a reference to the cities name in Italian rhyming with the Italian word for sodomy). The space is an intimate hole in the wall with a high ceiling formed from vaulted arches. The architecture is the perfect complement to artist Julian Pedraza's altarpiece like paintings. With the finesse of a Giotto, each painting is acutely composed; many have mastered a sense of form and harmony that one would expect to see at the end of an almighty pilgrimage. But this is as far as the tradition extends.
Julian Pedraza Serrano (Bucaramanga, 1982) PANTYCRISTO (monoteismo monouso), 2013
Pedraza boasts fifteen years of Catholic education and nearly became a priest. He tells me that he still considers becoming a priest but I suspect that the church would not accept him given his current body of work! From behind his thick Colombian accent he tells me that he loves the church but he also hates it. There is certainly tenderness towards the religious iconography at the core of his paintings. However this is balanced with interventions and a bold pop art style which seems to make a genuflection to Warhol. Bright colours burst forward as we are confronted by works in which unexpected gender; race and sexual orientation are injected into familiar iconography. Despite the difficulties of making art in Roma, the artist has moved here for its wealth of subject matter and considering that the city boasts over 900 churches – Roma is clearly the perfect match for Julian Pedraza. As you negotiate the room there is an uncertainty towards what would be an appropriate response, at one point I wish to bless myself and the next I am checking over my shoulder to ensure that a priest or nun is not present before allowing myself to chuckle. In one corner of the room, a crucifix morph into a phallus while in other areas we are met by a local celebrity who notably died of suffocation from her own surgically enlarged breasts, she replaces non other than the Virgin Mary, elsewhere we find the artists self portrait in priestly garments. There is a tension between the artists practice and catholicism which is particularly relevant to the city. Were I to witness this work in any other city or context I would possibly dismiss it as crude but after two weeks of church hopping and observing the megalith of the Catholic Church in Rome, it feels refreshing from the unwavering reverence or token tourism gestures.
Julian Pedraza Serrano (Bucaramanga, 1982) PEACH MELBA, 2012
The work is blunt at the right times, despite its attempts to hard hitting in a typically bold style, it finds a sense of serenity which is enhanced by the chapel like gallery. What could at first be regarded as a simple one liner is eroded by intersecting layers of research and references embedded in each piece. The colours are like those of a glorious fresco. Concealed in the centre of the room, in what could be described as a confessional booth, a video work contained a montage of altered depiction's of Christ adds an interesting tangent to the show with its pop video like soundtrack.

Later the artist shows me his studio, a 1x1 metre space nearby, his tiny desk is covered with discrete pots of paint and he tells me that he would like to bigger pieces but obviously cannot do so here. The space instantly recalls imagery of monks engaged in the illumination of manuscripts - in small spaces, dimly lit, spending hours mediating on the creation of a small page. Here this space feels like a 21st century equivalent.
Installation view
Installation view
In the context of this city, where icons become idols, and papal politics are like tabloid sensations (not to mention that you can make a pilgrimage to a chapel containing a relic of the supposed remains of Jesus Christ circumcised foreskin), this style and approach seems strangely apt. 

Todd Fuller is a graduate of Sydney’s National Art School and is represented by Brenda May Gallery.

All images supplied by the writer.

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