Patricia Piccinini is known for her bold, confronting sculptural works, including realistically fleshy, beast-like yet vulnerable creatures that invite us to think about everything from genetic engineering to motherhood. Her recent, hard-to-miss work, Skywhale, is a 100-foot 10-breasted hot air balloon sculpture of a whale which has dominated the cityscapes of various Australian cities since 2013. But this new show is a little more down-to-earth.

And Colour is Their Flesh, is made up of three series of drawings. The first is works done in sketch-like grey pencil lines. The second is works in strong blacks, flesh-tones and reds. And the third is made up of pieces in bright, gauche primary colours, drawing on Piccinini’s fascination with reproduction and unidentified, hair-covered products of some uncanny evolutionary process. At the centre of the room is a sculpture in the vein of her earlier work; a spindly tree sprouting what look like hooves and tufts of hair. “It begs us to suspend disbelief and to recognise that we are flesh flowers, and we are beautiful,” Piccinini says.

The title, And Colour is Their Flesh is drawn from a quote from 17th-century French painter Nicolas Poussin. “He likens drawing to the skeleton of what an artist does and colour to its flesh,” says Piccinini. “This idea rings true to me on many levels.”

“That’s one of the definitions of being a mammal,” says Piccinini. “Hair is a major sign of civilisation, order and disorder. We came from tree-dwelling simians, and now we’re walking, hairless intellectuals. Hair says so much without saying anything. It’s a signifier of identity, and it helps us belong to a certain group or culture. That, and it’s wonderful to draw.”

“This show is very personal. I wanted to go back to basics and show people some of the places where the work emanates from. It’s not literally ‘here’s a drawing, and here’s the sculpture of it’ – that’s not interesting. But the drawings flesh out the concept.”

Patricia Piccinini’s And Colour is Their Flesh runs until May 9 at Tolarno Galleries.