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Reviews/Visual Art

Young artists challenge the cynics

4 May 2022

AGWA’s annual showcase of Year 12 art takes the pulse of a switched-on generation ready to make their mark on the world, writes Craig McKeough.

Lani Robinson's work for 'The West Australian Pulse: 2022' is a dress made of feathers and shells.
Lani Robinson (All Saints’ College) ‘Te Haerenga o Tetahi (The Journey of One)’ 2021, hessian, feathers, wool, whaea peara (mother of pearl shell), pāua (abalone shell) anga kau (cowrie shell) and MP4. two parts: (textile) 95 x 39 x 30 cm and (audio) 1 min 39 sec. Photo: Bo Wong

Those artists are 2021 visual arts graduates from secondary schools across the state. The exhibition reveals a cohort focused on issues on a global scale as much as those close to heart and home – from looming environmental disaster to family ties and personal identity.

And it also showcases a group of artists already equipped with impressive technical skills that belie their youth and relative inexperience.

Perhaps the strongest theme in the exhibition is around personal identity – not surprising at a time when the issue is at the centre of so much political debate and the practitioners are at an age where they are finding their own place in the world. The Pulse artists, with curation from AGWA associate curator Isobel Wise and curatorial assistant Bahar Sayed, have come at the topic from multiple directions, including sexual and gender identity, family and ethnic origins and connection to country and place.

Lani Robinson addresses her Maori heritage with a stunning two-part work, Te Haerenga o Tetahi (The Journey of One) which comprises a garment stitched from feathers and shells, and a short video highlighting her passion for contemporary dance.

Jenny Do’s bold three-panel acrylic on canvas work Home Away from Home references her experience as a child of Vietnamese migrants to portray her family’s sense of cultural dislocation.

In W.A.S. Kohlbardi – Sheep Farm (pictured top) Bridget Walter draws directly on her family and farming background and makes innovative use of a synthetic wool bale (actually filled with a shorn fleece) as a canvas for portraits in oil and acrylic of her father and brothers. And Gabby Smith’s Herbarium Heritage is a charming tribute in textiles to her grandmother and her garden, using natural dyes and a variety of perishable flora embedded in cotton thread.

A painting of a Vietnamese woman in vibrant colours. Angles and shadows are emphasised by the paint strokes.
One of three panels from Jenny Do (Perth College Anglican School for Girls), ‘Home Away from Home’ 2021, synthetic polymer paint and varnish on canvas, three parts: 76 x 61 cm each. Photo: Bo Wong

We see small slices of teenage life from Michael Marangelis’ clever perspective on a crew of rowers after a morning workout on the river (A Morning Row), Sophie Kirk’s From One Thing To Another, a self-portrait which depicts a thoughtful moment as her life pivots from school to the next chapter, and Mathew Cox’s sculpture Volare al’alba (Flying at Dawn), where the budding pilot shows us the view from the cockpit. 

Other highlights include Bailey Arundell’s Effeminate Flamboyance, which tackles issues around masculinity in a spectacularly rendered coloured pencil work, and Eva Perella’s The Cost of Success, which illustrates the multiple pressures on students in their final year through meticulous ballpoint pen line work.

Joseph Cook’s Blankie is a striking and ambitious mixed media assemblage, comprising oil on canvas, cyanotype prints and stitching and dyeing to produce a self portrait on a large stretch of fabric which entirely blankets a plaster cast figure, pointing to the multiple masks we wear and the memories we hold that might hide what is really going on.

Tanami Dundas-Steedman’s oil on canvas work Home delivers a visually arresting statement on family violence from multiple viewpoints – a child’s eye peeping through a slightly ajar door juxtaposed with a woman’s arm raised to protect herself.

The breadth of skills on show here is a hopeful sign of the health of the arts stream in our high schools, driven largely by the technical prowess of the teachers in classrooms across the state.

And the ideas portrayed signal a switched-on and engaged generation of people. They may or may not pursue a career in the arts but they have grasped the platform it provides to express mature and refreshing points of view in ways that might challenge even the most cynical of their audience.

“The West Australian Pulse 2022” continues until 24 July 2022.

Pictured top: A view of Bridget Walter (Iona Presentation College), ‘W.A.S. Kohlbardi – Sheep Farm’, oil and synthetic polymer paint, fleece and processed wool on a synthetic wool bale, 90 x 80 x 60 cm. Photo: Bo Wong

A blanket, made of patches stitched together, some of which are images of faces.
Joseph Cook, ‘School of Isolated and Distance Education’, ‘Blankie’ 2021, oil on canvas, dyed fabric and bleached cyanotype prints, 130 x 130 x 65 cm.\ Photo: Bo Wong

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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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