Each scene in Anne Wallace’s paintings is charged, expectant, as though something was looming – but always just out of frame. What lies beyond the balcony, down the road, behind the ‘black spot’ caused by foliage and trees, or beneath the furniture? Wallace grants us no more than is essential: imprints on satin bed sheets, an ashtray full of cigarettes, a glimpse of the horizon or engaged stare of a lone figure. The rest, she leaves to us.
Bringing together more than 80 works from public and private collections, and spanning three decades, ‘Anne Wallace: Strange Ways’ is the most comprehensive survey of the artist’s practice to date. Wallace’s paintings draw upon the language of pop culture including literary novels, music and film; from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ to The Go-Betweens with nods to John Lennon, The Beatles, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, 1950s cinema, and 1980s London with many of her paintings paying homage to her time spent living in the city as well as Paris, while others reference locations in the United States. At the same time, she is quintessentially a ‘Queensland artist’; growing up in Brisbane in the 1970s and ‘80s has had an undeniable impact on her work which contains subtle references to the city – subtropical foliage, architectural features, recognisable buildings and street names.
Grant McLennan and Robert Forster: The Go-Betweens (2001) represents Wallace’s interests and influences perfectly. The work celebrates Brisbane band The Go-Betweens; however, not all is as it seems – there’s a tension between the real and the imagined. The interior is based on memories from Wallace’s grandparents’ home, and like a Baroque painting, the work is encrypted with layers of meaning. The bookshelf is riddled with references to literature and poetry: Virginia Woolf, Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, Anne Sexton, Bertolt Brecht, Jean Genet and James Joyce. We see examples of allegory in the wallpaper – references to poetry in the laurel wreaths, and to music in the lyres.
The works in this exhibition are encrypted with layers of meaning, encouraging audiences to look below the surface, beyond the seemingly mundane, to reveal the worlds beneath, the worlds within, and the worlds beyond.
In Retrospect and St Lucia Reach (both 1994), a lone figure has her back turned – a recurring subject in Wallace’s works of the 1990s – the figures, respectively, offer contrasting actions of resistance and resignation to their impending fates. Both paintings employ a dark palette to depict foreboding, shadowy landscapes or dark voids that deny us visibility to what lies beyond. Despite the presence of reflective surfaces – a handheld mirror and a glass-like river – we are also denied a complete view looking back. The strange, dreamlike qualities of these and many of Wallace’s works both disturb and attract the viewer. Our curiosity is piqued, and we are left wanting more to the narrative.
Wallace’s unusual use of perspectives, the superimposing of images, and the borrowing of disparate sources results in a Lynchian blend of the familiar with the unfamiliar. She captures a tension between the real and the imagined creating slightly awkward moments filled with sexual and social confusion, vulnerability and violence, alienation and loneliness, feelings of the abject, or fantasies of power and revenge. Boudoir (1997) depicts an opulent satin bed set against a black background implying an atmosphere of love, pleasure or contentment but equally of death, discomfort and absence. While a later work, Stain (2000) conveys an eerie sense of approaching danger – we see an arm raised in anger, a spray of blood from an unknown source, a hand clasped over a mouth in shock.
Delve deep into the silent yet lively scenarios of Wallace’s paintings in this QUT Art Museum touring exhibition. ‘Anne Wallace: Strange Ways’ is on show at Art Gallery of Ballarat in Victoria which, at the time of printing this issue, was temporarily closed in line with COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria. This exhibition may be available for viewing once again when the Gallery re-opens, please visit their website or social media platforms for updates. Adelaide’s Samstag Museum of Art will host the survey show from 16 October to 28 November 2020.