Serena Bentley – 22 July, 2010
Each painting is framed by neatly pinned back flaps of paint that reference Wealleans' earlier flayed 'vagina' paintings. But there's no controversy here. Wealleans' imagination is usually untamed but in these works it wavers. Earlier series like 'PEGD' (Planet Earth Geology Department) and 'Tatunka' were infused with extravagant back stories, but it seems that the artist didn't feel the inclination to invest in such fictions with these new cast-offs.
10 June - 10 July 2010
Sometimes Rohan Wealleans offends, and Concentration Farm, the title of his recent exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, is a case in point. But the artist attempts to deflect contentious allusions to the Holocaust by implying that the paintings in the show were ‘farmed’ for fragments of paint. The blue, orange, yellow, green, white and pink canvases (actually plywood boards) are built up in Wealleans’ signature style with layer upon layer of house paint which, once dry, has been harvested in a shower of incisions, producing small chips to be utilised in other art works. Instead of discarding the remains, Wealleans has chosen to exhibit them. Accordingly, the paintings are effectively by-products of the artist’s creative process, and it shows.
While the exhibition title is thematically loaded, the paintings are not. Their uniformity flirts with minimalism and seriality is suggested by their names - Concentration Farms 1-4. The works are highly decorative and their pitted surfaces are undeniably tactile, but they are also incredibly restrained. They lack the vigorous energy evinced in Wealleans’ moundy, orifice-ridden paintings of old. Given their practical function as ‘chip farms’, there is no dramatic divergence in composition or subject matter and despite their intricate millefiori-style patterns, they inevitably emanate a sameness. Whether this is intentional or merely a result of their primary function is unclear.
Each painting is framed by neatly pinned back flaps of paint that reference Wealleans’ earlier flayed ‘vagina’ paintings (the most notorious of which, To the Moon and Back, won the Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Award in 2003). But there’s no controversy here. Wealleans’ imagination is usually untamed but in these works it wavers. Earlier series like PEGD (Planet Earth Geology Department) and Tatunka were infused with extravagant back stories, but it seems that the artist didn’t feel the inclination to invest in such fictions with these new cast-offs.
It is Wealleans’ two Scare Transfer Storage Unit sculptures that dominate the exhibition. The unwieldy objects are a playful foil to the staidness of the paintings, and their odd, Sci-Fi presence commands attention. The ‘units’ (pot bellied stoves in previous incarnations) sit on bath mats decorated with crudely painted concentric circles. Contained within each belly fecund growths are crowned with chunky ceramics rammed through with sticks, also excised millefiori style, from which garlands of paint chips hang. These ornamental strands not only mirror the adornments that feature on some of Wealleans’ earlier paintings but also reflect his foray into jewellery, and the sculptures are fantastical, large scale conglomerations of these previous experiments.
The units are confusing, and therein lies their appeal. Their titles align the objects with freakish torture devices, maybe out of a nasty horror film, but their bumbling, D.I.Y clumsiness diffuses any implied threat and instead they totter in the space like psychedelic scarecrows. As always, Wealleans plays with his viewers by inhabiting multiple guises - the mad scientist, the craftsman, the painter - and the charm of his work lies in its unruly (often fantastical) fusion of painting and sculpture. This is why his ‘scary’ units steal the show.