At a recent exhibition launch in West Melbourne, there’s champagne, a cheese platter and rainbow cake.
The artist being celebrated, Aelita Andre, darts in and out of the crowd, dancing, twirling, getting into cupboards and climbing a ladder on the storeroom wall. She’s barefoot, wearing colourful tights and a white lacey dress. She’s 10 years old.
Melbourne-born Andre’s been making abstract expressionist paintings since she was a baby and exhibiting since she was two. Her work has shown in New York and London, and attracted significant media attention. There’s a camera crew at the launch, filming for an ABC documentary about child prodigies.
Both Andre’s parents are here, working the room, meeting potential buyers. Five-figure sums are thrown around. Her mother breaks for a moment to show her daughter which drinks are non-alcoholic.
The paintings themselves are the most straightforward part of the launch. They’re abstract spacescapes, splattered with rivers of paint, with titles like The end of the time of the dinosaurs and The rainbow peacock of the magic in the skies of the gazing stars. Andre aims big, and her work has depth and feeling. Some have objects embedded in the paint, such as little plastic dinosaurs and frogs, or a tiny music box. Full-sized violins are stuck to two large canvases.
In a particularly curious part of the evening, Andre puts on a show for the crowd, playing one of the violins on the painting. Facing away from us, she plucks and scrapes the strings, the atonal sound reverberating over a haunting backing track of birdsong and whinnying horses. She runs her other hand gently along the canvas. We all stand around in a semicircle and watch. She adds the occasional twirl.
After she finishes, Andre runs away and hides behind another painting, pulling it half off the wall. Then her mother claps her hands to break the silence and says “please everyone, enjoy yourselves!”
I get a moment with Andre when some of the attention has died down.
“I have nothing against classical art, but abstract is just freer. My style is like a free cosmos,” she says.
“Our cosmos has sound and it can sing. Violins are the only instrument that can get angry, happy, sad … Sometimes I feel like I’m in that world. When I was playing the violin, I felt like the ground wasn’t there under my feet.”
And why dinosaurs?
“I like dinosaurs … I love the concept of life everywhere. It’s like a friendly little neighbourhood.”
She then explains how multi-cellular life developed on Earth.
There’s a saying often made about abstract art: “A kid could paint that”. Here, it’s true. And perhaps any child could paint like this given the right circumstances; their creativity taken seriously, the necessary materials provided. Either way, these paintings are pretty special. It’s hard not to think about a child getting lost in the world of art dealing, champagne and media scrutiny.
But Andre doesn’t seem to mind. It’s her universe.
Aelita Andre’s Music of the Infinite is at Glow Studios, West Melbourne until December 10. Midweek visits are by appointment only.
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