The Highway is a Disco by Del Kathryn Barton
It’ll take you a few minutes to orient yourself in Del Kathryn Barton’s colourful, busy world.
“I am definitely what you would call a maximalist,” Barton laughs. Her work is also intensely personal. A new commission addresses the death of her mother, and the fairytale world she constructs is an extension of coping with her childhood anxieties through imaginative escape.
There’s a lot in it: sexuality; desire; five-breasted women; a room full of penises (including a sculpture of one in the grip of a redback spider); a self-portrait of the artist breastfeeding her daughter. A new five-panel painting is a reimagining of Puff, the Magic Dragon with female protagonists.
“At the foot of your love” is her most ambitious sculptural work to date. Just over two years ago her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is a sentimental tribute to her, in the form of the world’s biggest handkerchief (“to soak up the tears for departed mothers,” she tells me) and a huge Huon pine seashell.
“A shell is an empty home,” says Barton. “I’m not a religious person, but I’ve built her a boat to sail the ocean of our memories.”
Our Knowing and Not Knowing by Helen Maudsley
Helen Maudsley, a wiry, sharp nonagenarian describes her recent works as “visual essays”. So what is it they’re about? “They’re about whatever it is they’re about,” she says. “The titles are meant to tell you.”
They certainly speak to you in a language of their own. Painting in sharp, jagged angles, Maudsley repeats symbols – hands, scrolls, wine glasses, roman pillars – in largely lilac, Joan Miro-esque abstract plains.
I ask Maudsley about the pale, almost pastel-colour palette. She disputes the question.
“People think of colours as something on a spectrum,” she says. “But colour is only comparative to what’s next door to it. If you stare at some of the paler works, the colours jump out and become really quite bright.”
You’ll spend as much time decoding the poetic, tumbling titles as you will the paintings: “I’m not Stupid, but I don’t Get it. If I don’t Get it, I’m seen as stupid. What is to be Got, I Want. The Hands that Stay.”; “Our Souls Together; Released from Emnity; Single and Multiple.”
Take the time to let the tandem of verse and visual communicate something that regular text can’t adequately capture.
“Most people either like a piece or they don’t like it, and that’s the end of it,” she says. “I don’t work like that.”
Palace of the Republic by Louise Paramor
Architecture, appliances and public sculpture all have a part to play in sculptor Louise Paramor’s colourful work.
In one room, Paramor works with plastic bits of tat, constructing intriguing new forms, grouped into series with names such as “Jam Sessions’”, “Boom Town” and “Supermodels”. It’s all about immediacy and newness. Some look like kitsch kitchen appliances with inscrutable functions. Others look like bits of East German architecture. In fact, the show is named after Berlin’s Palast der Republik, a piece of communist architecture demolished in 2006. Paramor was intrigued by the grandiose name and the raw functionality of the building.
“When I started working with plastic I started to notice it in all kinds of places,” she says. “Op shops, dumped on railway lines, Bunnings, Officeworks … The objects I find direct how I put these pieces together.”
In another room you’ll find several giant, intricate paper sculptures. They’re more fiddly, time-consuming and stately than their plastic cousins.
The objects might look familiar – a few of them are based on smaller plastic figures from next door. “They’re far more monstrous to make,” says Paramor. “It was handy that I trusted these forms already.”
Ensemble by Mel O’Callaghan
In sharp contrast to the dense and often loud work of the other three, Mel O’Callaghan presents a single video installation with a simple idea. In the French countryside, three silver-clad firemen walk into shot with a firehose and open fire on a lone man. The man struggles valiantly against intense pressure.
“Resistance is biologically ingrained in us,” Mel O’Callaghan says. “I was looking for a universal symbol of resistance and strength. One image that I kept coming back to was protest groups resisting the force of a hose.”
The victim pushes forward against the pressure, holding his arms up and hiding his face. This is no contrived performance. The pressure, and the resistance, is real. The firemen were initially resistant to do this to a person. It’s the strongest hose they use – it can break windows. But when O’Callaghan explained the meaning of the project they understood it required authenticity.
“We didn’t know how long he’d last,” she says, “but he pushed through, which is really beautiful.”
The subject is her husband, and he was quite badly bruised at the end of the short shoot. That’s love.