Edwina Corlette Gallery
3 Aug – 23 Aug 2016
Two Piece is a dream of the summer envisioned while Yvette Coppersmith was basking in the weak rays of Melbourne's winter. Reclining in her garden with a book on Sonya Delaunay and a foreboding sense of the cold days ahead - the line 'Woman Clothed by the Sun' resonated – not for it's religious references but for it's very literalness. A sun-drenched oasis was created within the walls of Coppersmith's studio. The artist invited her fellow model for a bikini shoot in potted ficus-fringed paradise, replete with heater and bright lamps. The participatory aspect of artist and model taking turns to set the self-timer - creating improvised poses - was one of play and shared creation, blurring the roles of artist and muse.
In recent years Coppersmith has introduced processes of participation and exchange with other artists, ex lovers, couples and friends into her painting practice that expand vernaculars associated with the still life genre. Asking others to contribute to the scheme or at times arrange the still lifes for her, Coppersmith takes an approach akin to her portraiture where her subjects transpose certain sentiments and emotions into her work. This approach to still life is evocative of other Australian figures including Dorrit Black, Grace Cossington Smith and Margret Preston, whose work also delved in to the personal and domestic settings of Australians.
Two Piece is an ode to the bright, balminess of Brisbane and simulates the Australian summer at a time when it's longed for most. The series examines the importance of female relationships in the artist's life. Switching her gaze to the woman as muse, Coppersmith embraces luminous pinks and floral motifs. The softness of pink is set against graphic blacks, a nod to her Modernist influences. The figures have a sculptural quality, yet simultaneously, a very real presence. These women appear to inhabit a constructed beach idyll in lieu of a dreamt lifestyle - the artist's as well as the collective.
James Bowen, Megan Alexandra Ayres & Yvette Coppersmith
5 - 28 March 2015
Yvette Coppersmith began her latest series of paintings over the summer months of 2014/15 in her backyard studio. During this time, friends of Coppersmith's were invited round for BBQ gatherings bringing with them offerings of garden picked flowers, treasured heirlooms, or objects sourced from their own studios or homes. Guests arranged still lifes in her studio over the course of each gathering, to which Coppersmith would later utilise as a starting point for paintings.
In recent years Coppersmith has introduced processes of participation and exchange with other artists, ex lovers, couples and friends into her painting practice that expands the vernaculars associated with the still life genre. Asking others to contribute to the scheme or at times arrange the still lifes for her, Coppersmith takes an approach akin to her portraiture where the subject brings certain sentiments and emotions to an artwork. This approach to still life is evocative of other Australian figures including Dorrit Black, Grace Cossington Smith and Margret Preston, whose work also delved in to the personal and domestic settings of Australians.
Bright pastels and lively tonalities of colour reminiscent of colourful blooms, seasonal fruit, and summer light paired with the stylistic cubist tropes of pointillist brush strokes and energetic arrangement of planes, make for a series of paintings that are at once crisp and warm speaking to convivial happenings amongst the artist's close friends and contemporaries.
5 November - 22 November, 2014
Love Lifes is a series of still life paintings depicting domestic and hand made objects arranged by couples left alone on play dates in Coppersmith's studio.
Each couple was briefed to bring a selection of objects from their home and arrange them in a way that they both find pleasing to live with. These symbolic acts of negotiation within each creative partnership were left for Coppersmith to paint, and in turn became visual markers of compositional and aesthetic ideals for her to articulate while harnessing the creative energy manifested by and unique to each couple's arrangement.
Love Lifes continues Coppersmith's interest in collaborative still life painting and follows her series Love and Light, where she painted clay nude models of herself as remembered and sculpted by former lovers. Her news series continues to explore her fascination with love as a collaborative and participatory act. By choosing couples that intrigue her with the creative dynamic of their relationship, Coppersmith draws our attention to the way two people inspire and affirm each other's creativity and lifestyle within a private space.
Inspired to take action during the creative process, Coppersmith downloaded a dating app. By the final week of creating the work for the show, the artist had been on a couple of dates with a new love interest. On their third date, she issued an invitation for a studio play date; concluding her project with a still life depicting the playful composition of their two sets of personal objects meeting for the first time.
The artist would like to acknowledge the participation of Meredith Turnbull and Ross Coulter, Ann Fuata and Neil Shurgold, Melissa Loughnan and Simon Griffiths, Anna Crews and Aiden Morse, Justin Hinder and Troy Doran, Adele Winteridge and Dhiren Das, and Michael Weisler.
Love and Light
Utopian Slumps, project room
15 March - 5 April 2014
Julia Kristeva's Black Sun (1989) raises the idea that melancholy from loss of love can be transformed creatively by giving visibility where there is a void; that art can be an object replacing the love that was lost.
For Love and Light Coppersmith has produced a new series of still life paintings which also function as self-portraits. Collaborative in nature, the project began through the exercise of asking a selection of former lovers to create a model of a reclining nude in remembrance of the artist's body.
Exploring ideas of memory, loss and desire, the resulting figures served as the subjects for a series of paintings that distort notions of the male gaze. Presented as a reclaimed trove of relationship artefacts and a gestural recollection of the self, the artistic interpretation of the figures serve to assert the artist's body and reframe the memory of each relationship - a transference of love from the transient exchange to the artwork itself.
1 - 18 August 2013
In his early volume The System of Objects (1968) Jean Baudrillard presented a structuralist phenomenology of commodity culture, an assessment of the lived material reality of commodification. His interest is in the landscape of the interior; not so much the meaning of individual objects themselves, but instead the discourses that surround them and particularly the relationships formed between objects in space. He argues that within private space each piece of furniture and in turn each room internalises its own particular function and takes on the symbolic dignity pertaining to it. For, he continues, the primary function of a collection of objects in a defined space is to personify human relationships, to fill the shared space of the interior for habitation, to bind those who occupy it, to specify boundaries and the nature of interactions alike. Baudrillard claims that in the past the emphasis within such systems of space has been on immovability, imposing presence and hierarchical labelling. Each room had a strictly defined role corresponding to one or another of the various functions of the sum of it inhabitants, and each ultimately referred to a view which conceived of the individual as a balanced assemblage of distinct faculties.
Baudrillard makes a distinction between this past system and what he finds in his present (the late 1960s), which is characterised as a modular world of constructed environments, and by the dissolution of formal boundaries of inside and outside - a world no longer given, but instead produced, mastered, manipulated, inventoried, controlled. Walls dissolve, rooms open into one another, space is diffused and at the complete disposal of the occupant. Baudrillard understands this shift as a genuine and fundamental change in the nature of civilization. This new order is for calculation and, above all, functionality. In it Baudrillard sees the end of enigma, of mystery - for everything is clear, and driven by absolute conductivity.
Yvette Coppersmith's new project, also deals with constructed spaces. Her interiors are formed through walls, arranged to shape rooms - they are spaces demarcated through their material boundaries. Yet she presents these spaces divested of their substantive qualities. She is interested in their in-between state, their re-invention and re-formation. Their original forms are denuded, divested of ornament, of mass, of surface. In this absence they reveal. Nascent intentions and passing arrays intersect and are simultaneously present, and in this presence Coppersmith finds an occasion to consider the implications of the formation, use and consumption of space as a cultural phenomenon.
To do so she induces a moment of occupation. Her works insist on the presence of a spectator. She repeatedly locates and contains a viewer within a fixed structure placed in the foreground. In (figure 2), through the construction of a quasi-pedestal given as a solid, determined block of uniform pigment, Coppersmith frames her viewer rather than the space, locating presence while inverting traditional modes of spectatorship to objectify the intentionality of the gaze. The device of the denuded walls - potent in their eloquent nonappearance - at once reinforces spectatorship through additional framing, while also revealing the capacity of the space to ever adapt in an eternal game of reimagining and reshaping before a series of unseen yet ever present occupants. The recognition of the fetishization of space in this viewing relationship, that is, space shaped in responsiveness to the desirous gaze which appraises it, alludes to the commodification of space - wholly available before an expectant spectator.
Coppersmith's space is presented to be shaped. Not only in the literal sense of architectural forms given in a process of renovation - exposed only to be rebuilt - but also through its figuration as malleable and, at times, limitless. In Figure 4 spatial recession and spatial ambiguity cohabit. Flat areas of resolute pigment are simply moments of potential, rather than any kind of opposition to the more clarified spaces - they are the raw material from which evolved spatial units have also been formed. The emphasis on the materiality of the work in addition to the visceral presence of the act of drawing creates a sensation of just that, creation - of the construction of the spatial realm. The tension between recession and surface sustains forms rather than consumes them, and as such Coppersmith's interiors are seen to address space beyond the possibility of commodity. Her insistence on a constructed viewing platform before open and indeterminable realms, then too becomes part of an awareness of space as perpetually ephemeral and ambiguous, despite intrusions which attempt to establish it otherwise.
Her mark making confirms this, particularly in works such as Figure 3. Each individual mark can be viewed as part of a greater whole, organising the field of the work, as gestures intersect with their compatriots to create forms and visual experiences of the space. While suggesting a referential relationship with the cubic nature of building materials, the spontaneity, variation and vivid nature of the marks convey absorbed cerebral investigations rather than concrete finality, particularly as they generally operate beyond the viewing platform. The plurality of her mark, creating multiple paths of access through the spatial field by a combination of varied hues, directional marks and systems of patterning, focus on process rather than completion, imagination rather than acquisition.
Ultimately Coppersmith's spatial realms are re-constructions, and are presented as such. They imagine spaces as sites of possible occupation, but as the viewer is openly objectified, space is formed not in an attempt at self-actualisation, but as a process of awareness. Baudrillard's observation of the free play of endless conductivity where "things fold and unfold, are concealed, appear only when needed" and of the inhabitant of such a space as a cybernetician - defined as someone obsessed with the perfect circulation of messages - suggests ratified spaces. Coppersmith's aren't. They facilitate cognizance - are pensive and exploratory. They recognise temporality, and are conscious of the nature of authorship and usage. They are contradictory in a way which is antithetical to consumer culture, and as such her work resonates with determined consciousness.
mark de vitis
24th September - 17 October 2011
The man of initiative, of action, of thought, the LEADER, demands shelter for his meditations in a quiet sure spot; a problem which is indispensable to the health of specialised people.
Le Corbusier, Toward a New Architecture, p24
Our lives are constantly controlled by the spaces we inhabit: we are told what to buy; we are photographed and monitored; we are excluded from and drawn into a variety of areas; we live and die in a hygienic hospital. In such a situation it is even more important for us to have special, secret spaces where we can exist with some autonomy. For Gaston Bachelard the place for dreaming was the home; in fact it was the only place where we could truly imagine (is that why an easy chair has become such an important item). Michel Foucault in an essay called 'Other Spaces' carefully set out autonomous spaces he called heterotopias that for him are spaces of liberty, crisis, transgression or temporally and culturally removed.
For example, an art gallery is a perfect heterotopia. It is a space of many countries and times, where at one point you may be in ancient Egypt the next in Elizabethan England; a theatre stage is a similar chameleon. A secret garden or botanical park is a refuge from the city, a place apart. The Chinese Garden is a metonym for both heaven and earth. A honeymoon suite, or a drive in motel room, or a brothel, is a space to drop in to partake in transgressions, for Foucault, outside the normal run of things.
In the last few series of work, particularly Lock In and Loft Suite, Yvette Coppersmith has explored a number of dreamy and creative spaces: the artist's studio; the St Kilda collective; the art residency garden; a friend's house; anywhere where Coppersmith has found a special space of solace and poetic inspiration. In this exhibition she focuses on Le Cabanon, Le Corbusier's 1952 cabin/studio at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin; it was here that he retreated from everyday worries. Corbuseier called it "my Castle on the French Riviera" which was facetious because the cabin is actually tiny at 3.66 m by 3.66 m and 2.26 m high. (Unbeknownst to Coppersmith the cabin will be exhibited reconstructed 1:1, at the Power house Museum for August next year; one can do a video tour of the construction by Cassina for the Royal Institute of British Architects online.)
Le Cabanon is indeed a special, heterotopic space, where Corbusier and his wife could holiday, work, and sleep. It was designed as a romantic gift, they say in under an hour, for Yvonne Gallis's birthday in December 1951. The romantic notion of work and artistic creation appealed to Coppersmith as an arch-studio. It was described by Corbusier as "A little cell at human scale where all functions are considered." Some suggested that the small hermetic monk like cabin was influenced by his time in India, at that time, and the Hindu practice of Sannyasa, or renunciation. (Is this why there is no cooking area in the cabin? Like the devotee who need not do anything but pray, Corbusier and his wife would eat at the local restaurant, also imaged in the show.) On the other hand is it about work and leisure, but in the most perfect way.
Like a wanderer or loner, Corbusier would sit and dream of new projects. The sublime nature of the horizon, between sea and air, can be seen through the very particular and focused picture windows. The Purist mural at the front and above the bed also points to another perfect reality. The cabin has folding and sliding paintings that make way for mirrors which in turn make way for the view. The mirrors reflect the light back inside the cabin. The cabin's fluid nature moves through night use and day use, beds fold down and stools tuck away. It is a space of constant becoming and open potential. It was this Romantic cabin in the landscape that first appealed to Coppersmith. Painting, architecture and living are all combined in a hermetic package.
How are we to reconcile the modern utopianism of Le Cabanon, with Coppersmith's sketchy and imprecise works? For Corbusier the cabin was an ideal unit, the perfect space for living, with not a centimetre to spare. The main cabin is a perfect square with then a 70cm addition for the entry and toilet. The cabin is based on Le Modulor which Corbusier published on in 1948 and 1955. It is loosely based on the Fibonacci sequence which is connected to the golden ratio. 183cm is the length of the bed, two of these make 366 the width of the cabin, with outstretched hand the ceiling height is 226 cm. 70cm is the square at the centre, the width of the windows and veranda and this unit is repeated in many guises. There is a tautness here, a pseudo-scientific approach which tries to hide the gesture of the architect. In fact Corbusier put his ideas forward as a standard measure for all architecture at the UN. Like a latter day saint of architecture with "contempt for the vanities of the world" this architecture would be clean and pure. It tapped into an architecture of universal truths, shared virtues of Renaissance classicism and the rightness of geometry.
Coppersmith has wilfully chosen to paint a modernist icon in a traditional and Romantic style. The universals give way to her own expression and experimentation. Corbusier's own paintings in the Purist style were totally the opposite, cleanly contoured, hyper-legible, lacking in overt gesture. This is the major tension in this series. By choosing this subject matter Coppersmith creates a post-modern repositioning of the Le Cabanon. First, she shows it is actually Romantic and personal; it is a singular gift that is not so easily repeatable. Second, the joinery is not so perfect and modern, it is wooden and a little home spun (unlike the Cassina copy). Third the views are sublime leading to monkish introspection. Although Coppersmith chooses to paint in oil on linen, in a representative style in this exhibition she makes the viewer fully aware that she knows the experiments of modernism. What she shows though is that as a special space of dreaming it is perhaps not reason and mathematics that best explain the cabin's beauty. In 1965 Corbusier drowned, through a heart attack, while taking a morning swim here. He had mentioned to a colleague previously, "How nice it would be to die swimming towards the sun."
Chalk Horse Gallery
22nd July - 7th August 2010
Access to the loft is along a condom-littered pavement and the odious smell of fresh cadavers from a nearby meat packing business follow visitors up the stairs to the front door. Property development in the area will inevitably change the faces on the street, but for now it is a raw inner-city space shared with creative friends, for parties and working from home.
Yvette Coppersmith, 2010
by Jaime Tsai
Yvette Coppersmith's new collection Loft Suite represents a significant break from her earlier focus on portraiture. Despite this divergence, marked by absent figures, these meditative interiors are rendered with the same expressionistic intimacy that characterised her earlier work. Her portraits explore the self through masquerade, and the other, through voyeurism, revealing the chimerical nature of subjectivity. The same mutability that pervades her portraits is present in theses images of her friends' St Kilda studio; without any real visual anchors, these interiors speak of the artist's experience of transition, displacement, and the psychological value of place.
Space is never neutral. It is psychologically dynamic for Gaston Bachelard and a political battleground according to Henri Lefebvre. The Loft Suite reminds us of this. The studio paintings are not direct transcriptions of space. Each perspective is a microcosm, a locus of imagination with unique topographical features. Just as Coppersmith's portraits are emotional landscapes of her subject, the animated objects in the loft are reciprocally anthropomorphised. There are corpulent lanterns, eviscerated turntables and a ceiling of flaccid underwear hanging from a suspended clothesline. Beyond their functional use-value, these objects become primordial vessels, psychological receptacles belonging to the register of the Imaginary. The house, Jean Baudrillard claims, is the symbolic equivalent of the body, where "man is bound to the objects around him by the same visceral intimacy that binds him to the organs of his own body."
The Loft Suite triggers our imagination by personifying the Baudelairean lifestyle of its inhabitants. The loft cross-sections speak of spontaneous late-night drinking sessions, comings and goings, music, unresolved conversations and the banal activities of everyday life. As a result, it contests commercial images of modern living, or "domestic porn" as Coppersmith describes it, clinical shrines to functionality that clearly distinguish the domestic sphere from the space of labour. This collection is the result of a communal "lock-in", an enforced period of creative work in the studio. By representing this dynamic space, Coppersmith references the historical evolution of the artist's studio, which dissolved the boundaries separating the public from the private (by inviting patrons in) and the domestic from industry (it is both a home and a site of productivity where the studio space itself, as well as the art object, is produced and consumed).
The absence of figures in Loft Suite only emphasises its function as a vessel for creative habitation. Drawn by its corporeal familiarity, the spectator is "locked-in" to Coppersmith's theatrical interiors just long enough to be inspired.
the opera room
Horus & Deloris Gallery
by Dominic Knight
Yvette Coppersmith has transplanted the intimate portraiture of her recent works into a lush tropical landscape for her new show, The Opera Room. By adopting the role of an operatic heroine, Coppersmith has produced paintings that appear rather traditional at first glance, but on closer examination reveal themselves to be highly contemporary interrogations of Orientalism and its assumptions about culture and gender.
The opera in question is Lakmé, Léo Delibes' 1882 work set in Raj-era India. The larger paintings tell the story of the eponymous heroine, a young Brahmin girl whose name derives from the Hindi Lakshmi. She is represented here by Coppersmith herself, most substantially in the character self-portrait As Lakme, and the artist has portrayed herself in a shawl that evokes the traditional sari.
Lakmé's father Nilakantha, the high priest, sends her to a river to collect flowers for the temple. En route, she sings the famous 'Flower Duet' with her servant Mallika - its melody is instantly recognisable from True Romance and Carlito's Way, as well as several British Airways advertisements. At the riverbank she meets a British officer, Gérald, with whom she falls in love. This is depicted by Coppersmith in Duet for Two Sides I and II, in which the exotic landscape that looks so impenetrable in some of the other paintings is portrayed as a European pleasure-garden, complete with gazebo.
But her father thinks Lakmé has been defiled by her contact with Gérald. He forces her to identify her lover in the marketplace by singing the opera's other famous aria, the 'Bell Song'. Gérald recognises his love and rushes to greet her, but is stabbed by Nilakantha. The wounded soldier is taken by Lakmé to a forest hideaway, where she nurses him back to health. Coppersmith shows this in Duet for Two Sides III, in which the previously welcoming forest is portrayed far more intimidatingly, its formidable spikes encroaching on the two lovers.
While Lakmé fetches sacred water to confirm their vows of eternal love, one of Gérald's fellow officers arrives to remind him of his duty to the King. Lakmé returns to find she has lost her love - a realisation represented here by Coppersmith's decision to hang a self-portrait directly opposite the figureless Scene, reflecting Lakmé's own desolate view of a world that no longer has anything to offer her. Having effectively betrothed herself to Gérald, Lakmé chooses to die with honour by eating the poisonous datura flower. Her last moments are shown by Coppersmith in her final Duet for Two Sides (IV), in which the tranquility of the water mirrors the stillness of the heroine. Whereas Lakmé was previously cradling her wounded lover, he is left holding the lifeless body of a girl he has wounded far more deeply.
Just as the artist has cast herself in a role that Delibes would never have imagined a real Indian girl playing, these landscapes are not genuine representations of the East, but instead reflect uninformed Victorian conceptions of the exotic. Coppersmith's Indian jungle is the Rippon Lea Estate, a garden where she played as a child, situated a short walk from her house in Melbourne. And just as she has made herself the subject of these works, Coppersmith has chosen to locate her self-portraits in an environment with which she has a strong personal connection.
The landscape architect William Sangster designed Rippon Lea in the rustic 'Picturesque' style, which "asks the visitor to view the garden as a picture", according to the National Trust, which manages the property today. Its remodelling with the ornamental lake and gazebo which feature in Coppersmith' paintings took place in 1882 - the year of the opera's completion. Its Romantic design is a visual equivalent of the lush Romantic music of Delibes - which, of course, bears no connection to the real music of India. And since Lakmé and Rippon Lea reflect contemporaneous European notions of the exotic, it's no surprise that the studies that Coppersmith has included in this show bear a distinct similarity to the highly ornamental jungle drawing that appeared on the poster for the opera's original season in Paris.
The theme of the noble Eastern heroine who is despoiled by her contact with a Western soldier is familiar to opera audiences from Puccini's Madame Butterfly. It's not surprising, then, that both stories have an author in common - Pierre Loti, whose work Madame Chrysanthème was a major influence on Puccini's opera. Just as 'Chrysanthème' was inspired by a Japanese woman with whom Loti had a relationship, Loti's novel Le Mariage de Loti (The Marriage of Loti) was based loosely on his relationship with a Tahitian woman. Delibes' librettists Gondinet and Gilles transplanted the story from Tahiti to India, perhaps so as to avoid any implied criticism of a French soldier for abandoning his lover.
Readers of Loti are left unsure which parts of the novel are fictional, an ambiguity which the author deliberately played up when naming his book. And Coppersmith, like the semi-autobiographical author, also plays with the viewer's natural curiosity about the artist's 'real' life. The very title of Le Mariage de Loti invited the reader to wonder just how much of the work is fictional, and those who recognise these paintings as self-portraits will inevitably wonder about the man who plays Gérard in this verdant garden paradise. Like Loti before her, Coppersmith leaves us to our own speculation.
But even 'Pierre Loti' himself was a fiction, a pseudonym adopted by the French naval officer Julien Viaud. Fittingly, the word itself is the French word for 'lotus', the plant associated by Coleridge and others with exotic reverie. Peter James Turberfield's book Loti and the Theatricality of Desire describes the once-shy author's adoption of native clothing and customs while he was in Tahiti - which was mirrored by his fictionalised equivalent in the novel.
And just as Viaud chose to cloak himself in constructed personae for different situations - a uniform-wearing French officer on some occasions, and a flamboyant author who had 'gone native' on others - Coppersmith plays here with her own image, depicting herself not only as an Indian maiden, but as a British officer in As Gerald.
It's impossible to mention Orientalism and painting without referring to Gauguin's Tahiti paintings, another high point of the artistic movement within France. Like those idyllic island landscapes, Coppersmith conveys here an other-world of great sensuality, but has also succeeded through her own positioning within that world in transcending the patronising, distancing notion of otherness that has troubled some critics of Orientalism. Whereas Gauguin's nude islander innocents are defined by their contrast with and dislocation from European society, Coppersmith has made herself the 'other', and challenged the viewer to guess at the boundary between artwork and artist.
By doing this, Coppersmith has placed these works firmly within the tradition of Western landscape painting while at the same time making them as deeply personal as much of her other portraiture. For The Opera Room, the artist has responded to the challenge of landscape painting by creating ornate works of considerable drama - a successful visual representation, therefore, of opera.
Chalk Horse Gallery
11 - 27 June 2009
Coppersmith's process involves a close, and almost obsessive examination. In discussing Forever in Blue Jeans she comments that there is a need to intimately understand her chosen subject: the way their hair drops and sits on the back of their neck, the slight wrinkles around their eyes, and the way their smile raises subtly on the left. This type of knowledge is something that one often obtains from an extended personal relationship, but that is essential to Coppersmith's labour. A labour formed by the sublimation of desire. Understanding this, in Blue Head the artist presents herself as a hysterical predatory creature who ravenously pursues her subject.With its ring of empty oyster shells this work presents us with a simple propostion: in this world of Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, is the artist really constrained by and perpetuating this dominant sexualising gaze and what does this imply of her subject?
If Blue Head is an examination of the artist as predator, then Forever in Blue Jeans can be read as an act of analytic assault. Certainly every detail is painstakingly rendered and as Coppersmith's subject is presented in a number of regimented mug shot like poses it is the artist and viewer who have control here.
Or is it? The heightened and mesmerizing hyper-real tones of the sitter's blue shirt in Forever in Blue Jeans, as well as the foliage in The Two Blue Eyes suggest another narrative. Certainly, our need to look has created a visual culture where display and desire are intimately bound together. Indeed, this is no big secret - it is why and how Kate Moss sells clothes with silent looks. We look at them and we want what they have, what they are, and often, on the most elementary level, we want them. So to look and conversely, to be seen, are both powerful acts. Coppersmith highlights this with the display of peacock feathers in The Two Blue Eyes, where the sitter is the subject of her gaze, but also ultimately master of his image, for he is the object, the desired vision. And to be desired often equates to real power and whilst the artist is hungry in pursuit of their subject, the visual playing field is more even than it appears.
This complex relationship between artist and sitter is what makes portrait painting so powerful and so fascinating. For there are two different lives and stories on canvas for us the viewers. And we are all forever engaged.
10 - 23 December 2008
by Amelie Scalercio
I am bored. It's 2.30pm on an intensely sunny Thursday and I am at the zoo. So far I have visited enclosures from the water dwellers to the tree swingers to the powdery high flyers and I feel like I am looking at very boring photos in a very boring picture book of animals from around the world.
It should be interesting.
It should be fascinating.
But it isn't.
So I go to the gift shop.
After looking at a few rather dubious soft toy impressions of various animals I realise I haven't yet seen all the monkeys.
The monkeys. Interesting not just because of the ever fascinating baboons' rears but rather because I have a surprising interaction with an infant Mandrill.
I have my 8mm camera with me. I begin to remove it from the case in which it sits and for some reason, this grabs the attention of the Mandrill. His excitement swiftly brings him face to face with me, not 10 cm apart, separated only by the clear-pane divide standing between us. He jumps up and down and presses his face against the glass to get a better look at the camera and what I'm doing. Taking his enthusiasm as a cue to continue this contact, I proceed to show him the insides of my handbag.
He drags his mother over so she can look too, but after her initial concern she reverts back to being watched. I suppose she is used to sitting inside the confines of the same space and being the one who is examined. Then again, maybe my bag's contents of keys, wallet, phone, tampons and endless papers, tissues and receipts are just not that intriguing to her. The mandrill having fun with me on the other hand, has not yet resigned itself to merely being an object-on-display. I realise in this exchange, my role alters from the observer to the observed. For a few minutes, no longer do I exist on the periphery of this creature's world, but I become the focus. In these brief moments of communication, I too become transfixed and subsequently disappointed when the mandrill's interest in me wanes.
It is only later when I get home that I think the zoo sort of reminds me of art galleries. They contain all this artwork, gallerists, artists and viewers. Each work is like an animal in a mini-enclosure bound by its frame or the space it exists in. The work invites you to engage; view, contemplate, enjoy, question, examine, like or dislike or both, and walk past. Sometimes though, you come across a monkey of an artwork making us reconsider the relationships between artist, audience and model. The inclusion of gallerist as model complicates the act of looking, as we are gazing at someone who traditionally controls our viewing experience, now inside the frame. We are drawn into a consideration of the act of making, looking back on what has transpired.
Yvette Coppersmith's work subverts the existing relationships, unmasking a gradual unease in this new context of keeper-as-artwork and artist-as-keeper. We, the zoo going viewers are privy to this transference and tension as the works stares back at us into the space of a gallery.
Linden St Kilda Centre for Contemporary Arts
10 - 17 December 2006
It is through the ideas of the Symbolists of depicting that which lies beneath the surface, that I have entered into a negotiation between autobiographical stimulus and borrowings from Christian, Buddhist and classical myths and iconography.
The second commandment of the Old testament tells us 'Though shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: though shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.' However the impulse to make images and their power to captivate, has been profusely utilized by Churches and by artists themselves.
Christian imagery was principally utilized to educate and inspire religious fervour in the illiterate. From the personal experience of traveling to Europe this year, it seems that to the artist and art appreciator, such imagery has become the idol itself, rather than merely the signifier. Through the adaptations in my work of such images as the pious woman, repentance and Eve in the Garden, these images become symbolic representations of my creative processes. Correlating with that is the notion of the artist as being in consort with the divine, throughout the making of the work. It is here the image of the pious woman is subverted. For example, the Virgin as we are told, was the channel for God's creation. In this instance, what she is divinely channelling, is in the form of her own portrait.
The painting Ensanguined is derived from my recent work with the performer, Queen of Cabaret Bizarre, Moira Finucane. The performance which is the basis of the painting, is titled Soup. Her work is a melding of various performance genres, one of which is burlesque. Here's an apt description in the words of Robert Allen from his book Horrible Prettiness, 'the burlesque is one of several nineteenth-century entertainment forms that is grounded in the aesthetics of transgression, inversion and the grotesque.' The reframing of the stills from Soup, allows for a departure in interpretation, from its original form. The poses, recalling a crucifixion image, echo the grotesque aspects of biblical depictions. Even in its dance like qualities, there is an ambiguity, is the doubling of the figure a dance with the self - or not a dance at all - but a self-flagellation.
The 'tableux vivant' and installation provide a transference of the performance (in the paintings) from the private space (the studio or dwelling) to the public space (gallery). Also shifts the work from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional and from permanent object to an ephemeral art form, or vice versa as in the painting of Moira.
The framing devices of the paintings recall Giotto's idea of painting being like a window. It is through these frames that the walls of the gallery have been opened, revealing some of the signs that have embedded themselves within our consciousness and the very structure of the gallery.
I would like to thank for their generous support:
Moira Finucane, Jackie Smith, Marilyn and Michael Kino, Mum, Dad, Brendan Hay, Adele Varcoe, Aliza Levy, the staff, volunteers and sponsors of Linden.
Linden St Kilda Centre for Contemporary Arts,
17 September - 10 October 2004
There's a loss of objectivity that happens in an intimate relationship. I have the same difficulty trying to piece together what my work means. There is a fine line separating multiplicity of meaning from a total loss of meaning and between intended meaning from merely a motivation to make the work. On one level, Somewhere Here is related to the unveiling of the meaning, and it's elusive quality to be pinned down by either the artist or viewer.
The interest in material excess and refinement recalls earlier times of sumptuary laws and the need to display ones status through appearance. Renaissance female artists often depicted themselves with great skill and dignity. Their self-portraits were partly to fulfil the curiosity of patrons and were subtly aimed at establishing themselves within a male-dominated field. In contemporary times, a self-portrait relates to the need to be seen - a need validated by our narcissistic culture. It also allows for the control of ones image, which women are lacking within the male-driven barrage of consumer advertising.
The elements of lowbrow trashy glamour inherent in the self-created pin-ups are at odds with constraint of prudish modesty and the need to be more than mere 'eye candy'. The serious yet seductive gaze contradicts the frivolity of dressing up in a different guise and lures the viewer. The desire to be more than just surface is in someway paradoxical for the medium of painting.
The Renaissance notion that a beautiful exterior is a physical manifestation of the divine inner qualities is an enduring way of thinking to this day. The illusion that if someone perfects their physical self they simultaneously internalise the qualities they outwardly project seems quite real, so that physical appearance is taken to be a sign of what is within. The body acts as the interface between private and public spheres. Possibilities for grooming and embellishing of the body's surface create a greater divide between outer and inner realities.