Reviews/Visual Art

A reward for attention to detail

17 August 2018

Review: Penny Coss, “From Someplace Else” & Susan Flavell, “Golden Flowers”·
Art Collective WA, Cathedral Square·
Review by Miranda Johnson·

Penny Coss’s “From Someplace Else” and Susan Flavell’s “Golden Flowers” exhibitions, both currently showing at Art Collective’s Cathedral Square space, are two quite different shows that, nonetheless, both speak to themes of materiality and environments.

Coss’s exhibition consists of a series of canvases, many unstretched, applied with acrylic paint. Some are pinned to the wall, hanging straight; others are looped or draped fabric, combined with wooden support structures. Coss, whose practice arises from an interest in responding to the natural environment and the memory of place, uses these fabrics to inspire a reflection upon landscapes, particularly those stained with troubled histories. This concept of staining resonates through the works, which are crumpled, traced and dipped in acrylic paint, resulting in an interestingly uneven and inconsistent tone across the canvas. They’re the kind of works that appear peaceful and simple from far away, but upon closer inspection are more complex, the shapes, colours and textures combining to create landscapes of their own with multifaceted materialities. Works such as Untitled Blue (2018) and Sediment Flat (2018) gently pull the viewer in close, allowing for an interaction and exploration of various textures, patterns and hues that is deeply engaging.

Susan Flavell’s works, occupying the other side of the gallery, are similarly engaging in their exploration of material and form. However, where Coss focuses her exploration of this concept to canvas for the most part, Flavell expands her reach to a multitude of objects, mostly found objects, combining the unexpected detritus of suburban life to create pendants, hanging sculptures, medallions and, in the case of Golden Flowers (Fire Goddess) (2018), a tall free-standing sculpture of a goddess adorned with materials both organic and artificial.

Susan Flavell, ‘Witches Ladder with Trumpet’, 2018, found toys, papier mache, fencing wire, from fake gold leaf, baroque pearls, found beads, glue, wire, 68x20x26cm. Courtesy Art Collective WA.

Flavell’s works hang beautifully against the lengthy window, the various objects suspended in a long row, allowing the viewer to examine the intricacies of the materials used in each individual one. Many of the work’s titles also refer to spellcraft and witchery, such as Witches Ladder with Golf Ball (2018). Upon further research, I discovered that a “witch’s ladder” is indeed a practice from folklore that refers to an object made from knotted cord or hair that contains within itself a spell. This is indeed exactly what these objects resemble, with many materials sourced from a site similarly imbued with folklore and spiritual power, Beeliar Wetlands. However, the addition of unexpected modern-day talismans – such as the golf ball, a plastic dinosaur, a found peace sign and a tiny Monopoly hotel – add a playful touch. These talismans are, in themselves, imbued with a particular power in our society, and Flavell combines folklore’s traditions with our modern-day symbols of peace, capital gain and social power, which may not be quite the same but nonetheless reinforce the weight we place upon the material good-luck charms we all keep and carry, in one way or another.

In this way, Coss and Flavell’s works are concerned with similar pursuits – that of the meditative, ritualistic way we engage with the material aspects of our lives, and the significance we can place upon the small details within a larger whole. Both artists’ works display a thoughtful reflection upon the way we look, touch and feel in response to materials, in an engaging exhibition that rewards close viewing and attention to detail.

Penny Coss, “From Someplace Else” & Susan Flavell, “Golden Flowers” show at Art Collective WA until September 8.

Pictured top: Penny Coss, “Purple Stain”, 2018, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 160 x 180cm. Courtesy Art Collective WA.

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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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