Art of the Bush Gothic
STORY BY RICHARD CORNISH
The wattle is beginning to bloom outside Louiseann King’s studio window. We’re in the last days of winter and the Eganstown artist is putting the finishing touches to her spring blockbuster takeover of the Art Gallery of Ballarat. It is called Solis and it is a monumental makeover of two of the main galleries of one of the finest regional art galleries in the nation. In it Louiseann is curating the spectacular collection of Ballarat’s masterpieces combining them with her own work plus a collaboration with sound artist Philip Samartzis.
She walks us through her light filled studio, the foliage of the blackwoods bouncing about in the wind outside, scores of glass bell jars stand on carved wooden pedestals in the warm room. Inside one of the jars is what looks like a hand-crocheted doily depicting a kangaroo. It is not made of wool or cotton. It is bronze. Louiseann has taken the lacework, surrounded it in wax, then a sand mould, and heated it to such a high temperature to vaporise both the wax and the doily. She then filled the void with bronze. “Yes, it is destruction of the ephemeral to create something permanent. The doily is feminine, peripheral while bronze work is considered masculine, often heroic,” says the softly spoken artist and academic. In a former professional life, she was the curator of the RMIT art gallery. She has spent the best part of past 12 months working on this new show. Along with the bronze doilies are more macabre finds she has immortalised in metal. There is a kookaburra, curled up as if it has been asleep, transformed into its own bronze doppelgänger. She has done the same with a dead raven she has found, its form more sinister, evoking the darkness of late Victorian Gothic literature. (She points out she has a permit to handle dead native species). These too will be placed under glass and exhibited in the Kerry Gallery at Art Gallery of Ballarat.
This forest of sinister and serene bronzes under glass, all on wood pedestals, will be surrounded by paintings from the collection she has curated. On one side of the gallery are pieces depicting women in the Australian bush. “Women were often depicted as foreign objects in the Australian bush,” says Louiseann. “There was always this nervousness about how male painters saw women and the Australian landscape.”
On the other side of the gallery hangs paintings of women indoors. The works of Philip E Fox for example, the Australian impressionist who often painted crinoline-dressed women lounging indoors. In the Crouch Gallery is a large glass cabinet in the centre of the room in which is a recording of wind through the trees by Philip Samartzis. On top is a small forest of bronze eucalyptus twigs held aloft by scientific experimental equipment. Hanging on the walls around the gallery are landscapes from the collection depicting the change in the day from dawn to dusk.
Louiseann wants to show us something. We walk outside the gallery into the bush. She follows a wallaby track. Under her feet are erupting the fine leaves of different terrestrial orchids. She quietly points to a beautiful jelly-like fungus. A kookaburra flies in a broad arc through the trees. “This is where the art starts,” she says. “It is always informing everything I do in the studio. It changes year to year, season to season, day by day.” There is a crash in the bush as a startled wallaby makes its way elsewhere in the bush.