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Figuration?

“Figuration Now” is a group exhibition of four notable contemporary figurative artists at the Karen Woodbury Gallery.

There seems to be some confusion in the title of this exhibition between the words ‘figuration’ and ‘figurative’. Figuration is the giving an allegorical form by representing it using human or animal forms. Figurative is the depiction of human or animal figures in art, with or without an allegoric or emblematic meaning. Figurative art is common now and this exhibition is able to presents a broad range of styles and techniques from traditional to idiosyncratic. However, to describe all of the work on exhibition as figuration is to erroneously conflate all figurative art with figuration.

Del Kathryn Barton, the winner of the 2008 Archibald Prize, is influenced by the elongated figures of Egon Schiele and the work of famous, American, outsider artist, Henry Darger. Although her multi-media paintings and drawings are figurative her one sculpture in the exhibition is clearly figuration. The tower of baby doll arms growing out of the pumpkin is a surreal allegory of fecundity.

McLean Edwards makes fun allusions to the history of European portraiture and in turn Australian painter, William Dobell’s controversial 1944 Archibald prize-winning portrait of Joshua Smith. The figures in Edwards’s paintings represent the idea of European portraits; the dark background giving form to his figure is an attribute of portraiture not just a ground for the figure. Edwards’s figures are dressed in what are clearly costumes and costumes are tools of figuration, a means of creating an allegorical or emblematic figure.

Nusra Latif Qureshi uses the Pakistani tradition of musaviri (miniature painting) to paint ideas about the post-colonial world. In this exhibition Nusra Latif Qureshi uses figures of iconic Australian beach culture as ironic symbols for boat people. Her delicate paintings of outlines are like diagrams that have become so full of lacunas that it is hard to see what they depict, a further allegory on the post-colonial world. Diagrams are another kind of figure, where ideas are represented. In her paintings the diagrams of dhows or the line of dashes to indicate distance travelled or borders crossed amplifies the figuration.

The paintings of Jonathan Nichols are clearly figurative. An argument that his paintings of women are emblematic of limited knowledge and therefore figuration could be made but it would be torturous.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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