I saw and heard of none like me

Imprint Magazine review.

I saw and heard of none like me, group exhibition curated by artist Rona Green.

 2 – 20 September 2009, c 3 Contemporary Art Apace, Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne

I saw and heard none like me takes its title from a remark by the monster in the novel by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus (1818). This is a story of a man made monster with sentient feelings, alone and longing for someone to accept and love him. Instead of finding likeness he finds indifference and alienation.

This exhibition’s premise covers ideas of self, identity and longing for acceptance. Each of the artists has created artworks that are well executed and some leave the viewer seduced by the surface rather than delving beneath the veneer. Boldly adorned exteriors give little indication of the private persona hidden from view. The colourful bravado of the mask, adornments and the alter-ego cloaks insecurities hidden beneath.

Gregory Harrison’s mezzotint Gilded Image (2004) presents a self portrait in furrowed concentration. Unlike the other images which utilized metaphor and religion to cover the everyday exploits of the artist, this self portrait requires none of that illusion. Printed in a gold ink, the mezzotints’ darkness turns to a dark warm green that even denies the gold surface its chance to shine and reflect. Looking closely, it is well drawn with uncertainty evident on the face. Filling the frame, the portrait seems contained and the only element with potential movement is a small bird, with wings stretched in flight, tattooed on the side of the neck, near the collar. Almost hidden from view, it offers a freedom for Harrison to soar beyond the confines that he has set himself in his other works.

A series of beautiful ink, wash and watercolour pencil drawings of potential tattoo designs for backs and arms is exhibited by Dean Patterson. Inspired by Japanese tattoos, these drawings depict cranes, water cascading and koi fish leaping from the confines of the body. The backgrounds of the designs are coloured and treated to simulate a false skin upon which the design is intricately drawn and tonally rendered. Patterson’s paper is a stained and scrunched ground, skin-like complete with blotches and blemishes. Similar to the idea of preparing a ground before committing the first marks, it lessens the imposing purity of the blank white paper or canvas. It suggests that raw skin is somehow inadequate when unadorned in its natural state and longs to be covered to achieve completeness.

Rona Green’s linocut prints and acrylic paintings of hybrid animals with tattoos stare directly at the viewer with intricate designs on their arms and chests. These tattoos are about belonging to a tight knit group, and Green references the body decoration of naval seamen and tribesmen in Borneo. The stark use of black and white adds to the characters male toughness. And although Jacky (2009) the dog might look like he could cause trouble, the two rabbits Vernon (2009) and Dutch (2009) simply look like they have been caught in the headlights, awkward in their half-nakedness. Their tattoo designs may have been carefully selected or the choice of a drunken dare. These are not cute animals, however in their stance and gaze, Green questions how we relate to individuals that seem marginalised and how we define and view ourselves.

Deborah Klein’s linocuts continue her use of female figures as the main protagonists. In the series, The Enchanted Hair Ornaments (2009) only the backs of the women’s heads are presented, their faces are hidden. Klein’s current investigation of nature employs insects, such as beetles, butterfly, cicada, and wasp to form elaborate hair pins to tame the hair into place. A large green dragonfly pin contains the hair and almost pierces the wearer’s neck.

The masked Moth Women (2009) series sees links with Klein’s earlier artworks created between 1995-97, Lydia the Tattoo LadySt. Kilda Warrior and Tattooed Faces series, where she uses adornment as a metaphor for concealment and storytelling. Covered up, these attractive Moth Women can present other personas. Their real identities veiled and in a process of metamorphosis they can go forth, conquering the night and their sexuality.

Hybrid wolf-women and dingo-women dominate Jazmina Cininas art practice. These girlie-werewolves offer freedoms of self and sexuality that are super-human. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, these female wolf-creatures are strong and able to cope in extremes but they differ because although uniquely individual they are part of a pack and history, having a sense of self that isn’t fraught with despair. There is no anguish about their appearance or ability to assimilate back into society.

Boldly running or staring straight at the viewer they are self-assured in their mongrel skins. Dressed up in were-wolf garb, Iron She-Wolf: Monika (2001) looks like she could dispense with anyone coming her way. Complete with egg beater and wooden spoon in her apron pocket, she belies implied domesticity and the romantic landscape pictured behind. In her other works, Cininas uses a reduction linocut method, also known as the suicide print, to create her multiple coloured prints. This process complements Cininas’s premise as she embarks confidently in gouging the linoleum away knowing that the original state can never return. Once the print process/hybridization has occurred neither the block nor female figures are ever the same.

Concerned with family history, primarily examining a matriarchal lineage, Rebecca Mayo presented artworks ranging from flip books, sculptural felted works to mistletoe-dyed and printed garments. Her premise links the female and the mistletoe to create an alternative tree, as Mayo explores ideas of female regeneration for a healthy eco system rather than seeing the mistletoe as parasite. Considered now a ‘keystone plant’, Mayo focuses on the women in her family carefully recreating dresses from her history that are dyed and printed with Australian mistletoe.

Maria 1802-1847 (2009) depicts a woman in historical dress with sleeves that have no openings, whereby she is constrained and dependent on others. Digitally printed onto plywood, the grain of the wood is evident and supportive as is the relationship between the family/tree and the women/mistletoe. Mayo shows a love of making as she reveals her story.

The artworks in this exhibition are well constructed and seductive. Each attempts to examine an aspect of the self, the projected, the private and the hidden. Some offer greater insights and others flit on the surface. Unlike Dr. Frankenstein’s isolated and tortured monster who longed for acceptance, they acknowledge their differences and are content in their individual searching. None seem totally lost in despair.

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