Lindberg Contemporary Art was dark, black-labels, the black walls with the only light spotlighting the neo-baroque paintings of Sophie Hewson’s exhibition “Solstice – City of the Godless.” It takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the gloom.
The first painting that I am looking at is a large literary painting: “Goodnight Atala.” Atala is an early Romantic novella by François-René de Chateaubriand, in the novel Atala falls in love with Chactas, her half-brother, but cannot marry him as she has taken a vow of chastity. In despair she takes poison and dies. There were many paintings of Atala done in the 19th Century by Luis Monroy, Girodet and Rodolpho Amoedo. However, this is perhaps the first painting of Atala done for over 100 years.
Another painting of another pair of tragic lovers “Hero and Leander”, Again this is part of early19th century Romantic literature with the poem, “Hero and Leander” by Leigh Hunt in 1819.
There is eroticism to Sophie Hewson’s paintings; the erotic of curve, the twist, the transformation the revelation and, its counterpart, the hidden. It is the mysterious eroticism of white underwear that is featured in many of her paintings. It is an eroticism mixed with the instinctual knowledge of death and darkness. The putrescent flesh of a dead pig or a damp woman humping an inflatable dolphin; Sophia Hewson paints them with the same loving devotion. Her brush caresses and creates this flesh. Her paintings are then covered in thick resin, sealing in the images like insects trapped in amber. The resin fills, flooding the ornately decorated black frames.
Sophie Hewson’s paintings are similar to those of Sam Leech with their resin, dark backgrounds and evocative neo-baroque sensibility. Many contemporary Melbourne artists have a neo-baroque sensibility. The baroque could be seen as a re-examination of the meaning of a metaphor, as a shifting image. Before the 17th century the meaning of the metaphor was defined by established social conventions, the world was the metaphor of the Christian god. But amidst religious schism and other social changes metaphors become a puzzle, a cipher with double meanings, perhaps even an unsolvable mystery.
It is an impressive first solo exhibition for Sophie Hewson and I am looking forward to seeing more.
Along with renewed the artistic interest in the baroque there has also been academic interest. There is Angela Ndalianis, Associate Professor and Head of the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Melbourne, New Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment and Gregg Lambert’s The Return of the Baroque in Modern Culture.