Connection and empathy are two resonating themes that empower the practice of internationally respected Australian artist Patricia Piccinini. Emotions are playfully and tenderly tugged by Piccinini’s enchanting scenes which immediately transpire an endless supply of curiosities that search for answers. A glimmer of her created world can be observed in the exhibition ‘Like Us’ which is currently on view at Newcastle Art Gallery. Incredibly detailed works are presented which question opinions suggesting that the startling differences seen are perhaps not so different to the real world.
Piccinini engrosses herself within a wide calibre of mediums including; sculpture, painting, drawing and video work all of which pave the creation of her ideas. Mediums are carefully chosen for specific ideas. She explains; “The figurative works create a strong sense of drama and connection to the characters. The drawings are more intimate and personally intense. The photographic and video works allow the scope to develop a narrative over time. The more abstract sculptures allow a focus on form and colour in a really pure way.” She continues, “I don’t think I could say everything I wanted to through a single medium, so I try not to restrict myself that way.” Taking the time to consider which mediums most successfully communicate an idea evidently enriches the viewing experience and connection to the work. Piccinini reveals that she can spend weeks on a drawing and months on a sculpture. Every piece is highly considered and labour intensive involving preproduction elements and sketching.
Piccinini’s invented and distinguishable creatures are not always easily accepted when first looked upon. Their abnormalities are noticed, and at times repellent. Most observers do consider them further however, and the stories of these misunderstood creatures soon surface. Carrying human attributes, an undeniable emotional connection is formed. There are differences, they are unfamiliar yet familiar, strange yet pleasant, Piccinini explains; “This is the double meaning of the title.” ‘Like us’ – the creatures implore; “because, deep down, you are just like us.”
The Welcome Guest presents a young girl who appears relaxed in the company of a creature as they playfully dance in their own personal space. The bond between the unlikely companions is clear, they understand each other because they are perhaps all too similar. Their likeness for one another is a little bewildering which poses questions of how did the girl became so desensitised to a creature of such appearance? Perhaps this is a prelude to a not so distant future, a world not so far removed from our own as Piccinini suggests. The limbs of the creature seem human in appearance but have been manipulated and manifested into something new, experimental, animal like. Empathy is readily given to the beings as they are perhaps a consequence of humanities own doing.
‘Like Us’ is visually compelling with its choice of mixed media which hold recognisable features of Piccinini’s style. To view in physical form, under close scrutiny, demonstrates her precision and attention to detail which layers the works with believable qualities. When the sculptural pieces are seen, every crease in the skin, every vein, hair follicle and pressure point is recorded in her craft allowing the situation to be successfully visualised as a possible alternate reality. Piccinini hopes that; “The viewer will take with them a meaningful memory, something that they keep thinking about or can see reflected in the world around them.” Memorable moments and meditative thoughts will follow from this pleasing experience.
Newcastle Art Gallery
Until 22 February, 2015
New South Wales
The Welcome Guest (detail), 2011, silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, taxidermied peacock, dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist’s collection, and the Newcastle Region Art Gallery Collection
Surrogate (for the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat), detail, 2004, silicone, fibreglass, leather, hair, wood
Purchased by the Newcastle Region Art Gallery Foundation 2006
Newcastle Art Gallery collection