Reviews/Visual Art

Food for thought in tantalising exhibition

3 April 2023

Bread of Bone is a little gem of an exhibition that elevates the skill of drawing while chewing on the highly charged subject of food, writes Craig McKeough.

In a contemporary art world that often seems dominated by conceptual work, where the idea takes precedence over the skill required to actually produce something, it is a delight to see an exhibition that elevates the sometimes forgotten art of drawing.

Curated by Ellen McCarthy, Bread of Bone brings together five West Australian artists with highly developed drawing skills who clearly place a high value on the technical side of their practice.

Without exception, the works on show reflect this imperative. But they are not just clever copies of real things, each is the result of the artist’s eye and hand revealing something of the hidden nature of their subject.

Of course there are plenty of ideas at play here. While the exhibition honours drawing, its subject matter is an issue that concerns all of us – food. Each artist interrogates a different aspect – the ethics of food, scarcity or oversupply, fast food, home-grown food, foraged food and farmed food.

The aim is not to shock but to pose legitimate questions about how little we think about where our food comes from.

The title Bread of Bone borrows from the fairytale (Jack and the Beanstalk’s Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum Giant who was weirdly obsessed with eating intruders). And while none of the works explores anything as distasteful as cannibalism, the ideas are relevant and thought-provoking without being didactic.

Anna Louise Richardson, who often depicts animals in her large-scale works, offers a graphite drawing of an unfortunate little goat, prostrate, its throat cut. Although confronting at first blush, the aim is not to shock but to pose legitimate questions about how little we think about where our food comes from and what we should reveal to our children about the cute farm animals that end up on our dinner table.

Ric Spencer’s collection of small pencil drawings of tasty morsels he foraged in his neighbourhood are beautifully realised and offer hints of the food around us that we are not aware of or choose to ignore.

Andy Quilty goes back to his outer suburban childhood to recall a time when fast food was a rare treat and many families relied heavily on homegrown food. His mixed media works are a light-hearted take on these competing forces and reassure us that it is okay to appreciate the economic and nutritional value of produce from the backyard while enjoying the occasional junk food treat.

A work from Bread of Bone depicting a detailed drawing of what appears to be an animal skull and another bone that twists and turns.
Ross Potter’s stunning large-scale ram’s skull and whale bone. Photo: Bo Wong, courtesy and copyright of the artist and Moore Contemporary 

Ross Potter, who developed the initial concept for the exhibition, explores the idea of food choices in different cultures. His stunning large-scale ram’s skull and whale bone in graphite, dramatically and daringly altered with splashes of saffron ink, are spectacular in their own right, but also ask us to consider why we may think it’s perfectly fine to eat a sheep but recoil at the thought of whale meat.

Erin Coates takes an innovative path with small works that combine giclee prints in bold colours with delicate graphite drawing to create fantastical representations of digestive systems and possible future food scenarios. The images border on the macabre but the lightness of Coates’ touch helps balance horror and humour. Titles with a lovely play on words such as Brain Foods, Food Pyramid and Food Chain lift the mood and keep the focus on the message about human impacts on the natural world, in particular ocean life.

Coates takes the underwater exploration further with the graphite work Flooded Dinner, which offers a wonderfully detailed tableau of a dinner table populated with sea creatures which, far from being on the menu, have made homes for themselves among the tableware.

Bread of Bone is a well-balanced gem of a show where each artist brings something different to the table. The drawing skills served up are first rate and we are all left with something to chew on.

Bread of Bone continues at Holmes à Court Gallery @ No 10 until 6 May 2023 and then travels to Holmes à Court Gallery @ Vasse Felix 25 June – 17 September.

Pictured top: Erin Coates balances horror and humour in works such as ‘Heart Foods’. Photo: Bo Wong, courtesy and copyright of the artist and Moore Contemporary 

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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.

Past Articles

  • Isolation no obstacle for artists

    Over the last three years the Mycelium project has presented 12 exhibitions, one in every region of WA. The culmination of this project, Open Borders, celebrates the creative energy of our regional artists, says Craig McKeough.

  • Take a trip down memory lane

    You’ll find plenty to spark memories of your own in Placemarks, an exhibition that sees artists explore far flung places from childhood, former homes and old haunts in the suburbs.

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