Archive for June 1st, 2009

01
Jun
09

Review: ‘McLean Edwards: Songs from the Ghost Ship’ at Karen Woodury Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 20th May – 13th June 2009

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McLean Edwards. 'Fifty-Fifty' 2009

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McLean Edwards
‘Fifty-Fifty’
2009

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McLean Edwards. 'Hey, Bastard, Hey' 2009

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McLean Edwards
‘Hey, Bastard, Hey’
2009

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“McLean’s works are theatrical, comical, eccentric and often political with the employment of symbolic imagery. His painting technique involves a painterly layering to create a defined and textured surface.

In this most recent series, Songs from the Ghost Ship, semi-fictional characters are set against the dark starry night sky. The exhibition includes nine oil paintings in addition to four works on paper. One of the works on paper shares its name with the exhibition, depicting a jumpered man with a white ghost looking over his shoulder.

The ink on paper work introduces a theme prominent throughout the exhibition, that of wafting smoke. Emanating either from a clasped cigarette or an iconic green curled mosquito coil, the smoke, in elegant strokes of white, grey, tan or black, draw the eye to the face of the central figures. The figures, often with the light of the moon or stars behind them only partially illuminating their faces, stare into the distance or coyly at the viewer, almost unaware of their solitary state against the night sky. The coil appears elsewhere, surreptitiously working its way into the dark pink weave of Twiggy’s jacket, or the blue and red dress of Venus, in the tyre marks of the Arctic Traveller or the grassy landscape in Hey, Bastard, Hey. The soft curl and filigree detail of both the smoke and the mosquito coil are similarly echoed by elements in other works, through the organic features of flowers, leaves and bugs.

Adrift at night, these haunting figures are about to embark on a journey, either from the wharf at the edge of an ocean, as in Venus, or across the vast ice of the Arctic, through the mist and smoke.

Text from the Karen Woodbury website

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McLean Edwards. Installation of 'Songs from the Ghost Ship' at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne

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McLean Edwards. Installation of 'Songs from the Ghost Ship' at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne

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Installation of ‘McLean Edwards: Songs from the Ghost Ship’ at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne

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The next show on our marvelous walkabout were the eclectic paintings of McLean Edwards at Karen Wodbury Gallery, Melbourne. Continuing the carnivalesque theme from the previous review these heterogeneous paintings are a knockout with their wonderful, layered presence – they really command the viewer to look at them and celebrate the characters within them. Whimsical, ironic and full of humor these phantasmagorical images of creatures cast adrift with the night sky as background are fabulous assemblages of colour, form and storytelling.

Further to the evidences noted in the text on the website (the coils, the curling smoke, the starry night sky) one can also say other things about the paintings. There is an effervescence of colour within the blocking of clothing areas. There is the disproportionate size of the hands and bulbous noses of the characters, the shortening of the feet so that the figures almost become caricatures – but hold back from this through the mastery of the painting, through the intent of the artist. There is the symbology of other elements within the pictures: a doll with pins stuck in it’s body being clasped in a clumpy hand, a small house protruding over the protagonists shoulder (‘Fifty-Fifty’); beetles on tree stumps with human faces (‘Hey, Bastard, Hey’); and flowers, teapots and small humans appearing from around the edges of the larger characters in several of the works (‘Julia 1’ and ‘Night Nurse #2’ for example). The numbers in the paintings were also puzzling but it turns out that they represent the age of the artist when he painted the works.

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McLean Edwards. 'Venus' 2009

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McLean Edwards
‘Venus’
2009

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McLean Edwards. 'Restoration' 2009

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McLean Edwards
‘Restoration’
2009

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Finally one must acknowledge the carnivalesque in the paintings – their fun at playing dress-ups, the almost Alice in Wonderland fantasy and humour of the characterisations. There is an almost androgynous feeling to these characters as some of the female faces seem almost male. Personally I had a feeling that the artist is investigating the subconscious of Carl Jung’s ‘anima’ and ‘animus’ – the feminine inner personality of the male (anima) and the masculine inner personality of the female (animus). These states are manifested by appearing as figures in dreams and so they seem here: the anima or animus vies for attention by projecting itself onto others, here projecting itself outwards onto the painted surface.

My friend and I really enjoyed this exhibition. We were captivated by these songs, going back to the work again and again to tease out the details, to feel connection to the work. These are not lonely isolated figures but sublime emanations of inner states of being expertly rendered in glorious colour. And they made us laugh – what more could you ask for!

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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McLean Edwards. 'For Elsa (Twiggy)' 2009

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McLean Edwards
‘For Elsa (Twiggy)’
2009

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McLean Edwards. 'Night Nurse #2' 2009

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McLean Edwards
‘Night Nurse #2’
2009

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Karen Woodbury Gallery

4, Albert Street, Richmond, Vic 3121
Opening hours: Wed – Sat 11-5pm

Karen Woodbury Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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