As those who circulate in creative networks are well aware, our government has recently stated that they’re “prioritising education” by recent decisions to savagely cut the arts from TAFE. After completely cutting funding to the Fine Arts, the New South Wales Government stated that “there are simply no job prospects for students”. Whilst it chills us creatives to our bones that our own government bluntly ignores the value of diverse, fresh, lateral thinking as means to stimulate growth in the creative industries, we go forward and still turn up at the studio every day. As the government keeps it’s blinkers on – it forgets to acknowledge the astonishing amount of people with arts training who also apply their skills of entrepreneurship, collaboration and creative problem solving to a whole range of sectors far beyond the creative industries – which would no doubt be a welcome change. From where TAFE students are standing, things would be looking pretty overcast.
It was Friday night and I was on my way to Vinegar Tits – a collaborative exhibition by recent Southbank Institute of Technology Fine Art graduates Deanne Peta Muir, Jess Thompson and Toby Gooley. From the eye of this education storm, these three artists pulled together a truly astonishing show, exclaiming with their works that these “prospects” our government so affectionately refer to are looking decidedly bleak.
As I ascended into Jugglers’ newly renovated upstairs gallery and cider bar (most conveniently situated outside my studio), I was sucked into Deanne Muir’s riptide of ceramic debris.
A cacophony of recently deceased bovine, plastic bottles and cups, arranged as if they are the result of a careful tidal wave or a meticulous shipwreck promptly swept me into it’s depths. This collection of figures was exceptionally crafted, recognised immediately in the small water cups whose beauty lay in their simplicity.
The cows appeared at ease, though you could still see the muscles and sinew aptly defined as they lay bereft of life, coated in the lifeless, chalky coating – characteristic of raw ceramic.
The installation was sombre and clinical, and saddeningly despondent with its familiarity. The strong contrast between the biological nature of the animals and the synthetic nature of the cups and bottles brought about a beautiful tension within the space.
As I shifted my gaze from the midnight zone of the white ocean to the walls, a beautiful graphite illustration boasted a captivating cafe scene, acting as a window into a reality we’re perhaps not all ready for – showing the special of the day being hunted and killed in amongst the tapas fiends and cocktail connoisseurs.
‘Half Empty’ – a stunning woodblock by Muir was truly charming on first encounter, then desolation and the many other associated realities of modern consumerism crept in. ‘Accustomed’ was a little more close to home crafting a dismal portrayal of our current Australian urbanised landscape as dingoes frolicked amongst plastic bags in a modern pseudo-ecosystem.
Deanne’s paintings are creamy and pastel soft to sink your eyes into, interrupted by short explosions of light from a mystery source.
Illuminated, translucent, familiar Australian icons were soaked is an unfamiliar colour palette, allowing the subjects to boast fresh and thoroughly revitalised demeanors, even though the narrative was charmingly bleak.
Jess Thompson’s mesmorisingly surreal forms abruptly introduced themselves as I floated around the main gallery, and I was instantly affronted with amoebic patterns – short fused with Dali-esque arms, breasts and limbs that seemed to surge forth from a wickedly angelic void in the paper. Vulvic forms took me back to Vince Collins’ 1982 film Malice in Wonderland, where you follow a jet-propelled white rabbit as it flies through the vulva of a supine woman into a wonderland where everything turns inside out at warp speed.
The immediate contrast of ink and watercolour with striking pen etchings, subsequently defined the weight of these independent masses, and made for a teeteringly balanced self sufficient wonderland.
On the other end of the spectrum were Toby Gooley’s charming characters whose quirkiness suggests they could be equally false in identity as they are real. This instant eccentricity was partnered with a consciously loose painting style and amplified by awkward scrawlings.
All no doubt meticulously crafted as the “amateur aesthetic” is a surprisingly hard thing to master amongst the complexities of adult life, the viewer forms an instant relationship and you feel like your staring at your awkwardly inappropriate uncle at the family barbeque or that heavily tattooed fellow you’ve dreamt of naked at the office.
‘The trigonometry of Desire’ was a definite favourite. The hypothetical posed in the text is as familiar as those provided on your grade 11 maths exam, so your brain begins to habitually scrounge for the answer. Then the guilt creeps in and you doubt your speculations as they uncannily resemble stereotyping and you blushingly avert your gaze from “the gays”.
‘Just Picture them Naked’ was another stand out, and all of the works subtly remind us that we can’t actually tell the difference between a gay fellow, a professor of economics and a blind man when they’re in their glad rags and socialising around an esky.
Despite the fictional aura of these characters, I felt like we were simultaneously best mates and awkward strangers – no doubt attributed to the snippets of narrative and witty sound bytes which invited them into those warm nostalgic parts of your brain.
Lets face it, mother nature has an astute habit of bringing up our shit; resurfacing what’s wrong with this society of ours and showcasing it to us in a manner that we’re continuing to ignore at a frightening rate. Artists are undeniably blessed with the visual vernacular to do the same, and Muir, Thompson and Gooley presented us with a convenient “modern-citizen-sized” mirror.
With this eclectic group of artists, the obvious common thread for Vinegar Tits was value placed on the hand crafted. As I walked out into the dark sheet of rain that threatened Fortitude Valley I felt like I was still digesting three courses of an ethically and socially conscious feast. And boy was it satisfying.