‘The Dark Side’ presents the work of 13 West Australian artists across two spaces, Edith Cowan University’s Gallery 25 and There-is in Northbridge. Born of a partnership with the National Art School’s Frame of Mind project, which aims to prompt crucial discussion around mental health in the arts, ‘The Dark Side’ showcases artists who engage with their internal tensions and interrogate psychological frailties. For curator Ted Snell, rumination on the ‘dark side’ becomes a tool by which artists can nurture well-being.
Snell has deftly selected artists that engage with their ‘dark side’ to a multitude of ends. What darkness means to each artist varies: to some, it means to confront fears; to others, to process grief or humour, concretise memory, highlight quotidian experiences, reclaim control or escape reality. The results are a diverse selection of artworks spanning sculpture, painting, drawing, video, textile and installation. This unusual but apt range results in an exhibition that is compelling and triumphant. At its core, the artists in this exhibition transform base, negative or unimpressive emotions and experiences into aesthetic objects deserving of admiration. The curatorial premise of the show invites one to privilege the psychological process of the artists; but what is equally as interesting is the aesthetic pleasure of the encounter with each artwork.
Anna Nazzari’s fleshy, pastel watercolours in The Harbringers are hypnotic. Cleverly emphasised against a blush-coloured wall, their subject matter – bruised and diseased dolphin eyes – is horrific, yet their rendering is lovely. Similarly, the synthetic fabrics, LED lighting and glitter of Taryn Gill’s Trickster series sparkle with verve and aplomb but after the initial visual delight, take on grotesque qualities. Carla Adams’ richly textured portraits are bejewelled and self-indulgent; there is a slick decadence to her works that is at odds with the frank emotionality and limited palettes of Mary Moore’s refined drawings and Paul Uhlmann’s controlled oil paintings. Carefully emphasised curatorial threads connect seemingly disparate artists; the works of Adams, Gill and Nazzari invoke flesh and tactility and are lush and enticing.
The vivid colours and spontaneous imagery of Tyrown Waigana’s painting A Nice Place to Hate Yourself beckons the viewer to untangle its layers of complex psychological meaning. Roderick Sprigg’s paintings of vehicular accidents Beautiful as the Chance Meeting Between a Landcruiser and a Train and Chicken walk the line between sincerity and irony, examining masculinity, risk-taking youth and disaster. Sprigg’s title may be ironic but his work is beautiful; much like an actual car crash, it is hard to look away, and one is mesmerised by a combination of macabre interest, guilt, attraction and disgust.
Emblematic of these tensions are Morbid Curiosities by emerging artist D’Arcy Coad: a series of hand-cut photomontages featuring fashion photography of yesteryear juxtaposed with crime scenes, anatomical lithographs, advertisements, post-mortem documentation and medieval beasts works to confront death as something comical and seductive. Coad’s works are at once grotesque and slick, repulsive and alluring.
The difficulty ‘The Dark Side’ presents is the multitude of aesthetic responses that occur as a result of a shared artistic process. Based on her childhood as a member of the Stolen Generation, Sharyn Egan’s Our Babies is an artwork different in tone to the rest of the exhibition, one that creates a visceral sense of loss. Not all dark sides are the same, and the myriad of emotional responses elicited by the works is demanding on the viewer. ‘The Dark Side’ asks a lot of its audiences; split across two gallery spaces, to apprehend the show in its entirety is a feat – although one well worth undertaking.
Artists: Tarryn Gill, Carla Adams, Nicola Kaye & Stephen Terry + Lyndall Adams + Marcella Polain, Paul Uhlmann, Roderick Sprigg, Mary Moore, Sharyn Egan, Anna Nazzari, Stormie Mills, D’Arcy Coad and Tyrown Waigana.