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Reviews/Visual Art

Take a walk on the dark side

1 June 2021

Bringing their dark sides into the light, artists provide viewers with a tantalising glimpse inside their creative minds in ‘The Dark Side’ exhibition, writes Craig McKeough.

‘The Dark Side’, curated by Ted Snell ·
Gallery 25, Edith Cowan University and There Is Gallery, Perth ·

One of the fundamental roles of the artist is to offer an explanation of how they see the world.

At its most literal, that can result in a realistic portrait or landscape. In other hands, it can provide a glimpse inside the artist’s mind – a snapshot of the chaos and banality, ugliness and beauty, tenderness and brutality that fight for supremacy as the artist tries to make sense of things.

It’s when the artist allows their darker self to surface that things get interesting. Each will do this in their own way and, as the artists in “The Dark Side” show, it’s not necessarily a matter of unleashing their demons on the canvas. It can be a controlled process of finding ways to exploit their darker moments in an enlightening way – for the maker and the viewer. The tension between dark and light can be productive. It’s when we deny or try to suppress the dark side that things can get ugly.

“The Dark Side” exhibition was born out of Sydney’s National Art School’s project “Frame of Mind: Mental Health and the arts”, aimed at raising awareness of the function of the arts and creativity in dealing with mental illness.

A photomontage college of surreal, often horror-infused images, such as  mummified figures, disembodied hands, clothed skeletons.
D’Arcy Coad’s ‘Morbid Curiosities pushes together beauty against horror, death up against life, love against hate.

Curator Ted Snell has drawn together a cross-section of WA artists, from established makers such as Stormie Mills and Carla Adams to young guns Tyrown Waigana and D’Arcy Coad. It’s always exciting to see emerging artists holding their own in mixed company. Waigana’s paired acrylic paintings and sculptures certainly do that, standing out for their bold colours and chaotic, surreal imagery. And Coad’s Morbid Curiosities offers an exciting use of hand-cut photomontage collage to create a genuine sense of visual tension on a large scale, pushing images of opposing ideas into proximity – beauty against horror, death up against life, love against hate.

Tarryn Gill’s Trickster series of stitched figures of animals and other familiar objects appeal for their bright shiny exteriors and superficial prettiness. But their LED-lit eyes seem to be steering us away from their real intent. Should we accept them for what they appear to be or are our minds playing tricks on us?

Two lines of sardine cans, each containing a "baby" wrapped in a colourful blanket.
Sharyn Egan’s compelling ‘Our Babies’ offers a shocking contrast to the treatment she was subjected to, as a member of the Stolen Generation.

Mary Moore’s etching and mixed media works are visually pleasing for their limited palettes and carefully considered compositions juxtaposing a variety of elements. But they are an expression of the artist’s grief as she finds her art to be the only language that makes sense in bridging the gulf between the exterior and interior states.

Sharyn Egan’s Our Babies, a mass of sardine cans filled with pieces of fabric to mimic sleeping infants safe in their cots, is a compelling work that recalls her childhood as a member of the Stolen Generation. This picture of innocence offers a shocking contrast with the treatment Egan and many others were subjected to after being taken from their families.

In his confronting paintings and video, Roderick Sprigg explores ideas of masculinity as they play out in rural communities, where young men might tackle their demons through a risk-taking combination of firearms and fast cars, often with disastrous results.

Snell has taken the unusual step of splitting the exhibition across two venues — Gallery 25 on Edith Cowan University’s Mt Lawley campus and There Is gallery on the fringe of the CBD. All of the artists are represented in each space in a coherent continuation of their narrative. Although it might be a little inconvenient to take in the total offering, especially as the galleries’ opening days and times don’t mesh neatly, it is worth the effort to get the full experience of the artists’ adventures in bringing their dark sides into the light.

“The Dark Side” is at Gallery 25 until 17 June, Tuesday to Friday, 10am to 4pm, and at There Is, 49 Stuart Street, Perth, until 18 June, Thursday to Saturday, 11am to 3pm.

Pictured top: Tyrown Waigara ‘A Nice Place to Hate Yourself’ (detail), 2021, 61 cm W x 51 cm H x 4 cm D.

Two cars smashing together. They are painted in subtle, gentle greys and whites with delicate touches of colour that belie the violence of the scene.
Exploring ideas of masculinity: Roderick Sprigg’s ‘Chicken’, 2019 Oil on Canvas 107cm x 178cm on loan from Melissa Cook

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Author —
Craig McKeough

Craig McKeough is a writer and visual artist, with a lifetime’s experience in journalism, covering everything from the arts to horse racing, politics and agriculture. Craig has always been drawn to the swing; an egalitarian, grounding piece of equipment where you can go as high and wild as you want, but you’ll always return to where you started.

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