John Hurrell – 29 August, 2018
This exhibition has him incorporating traditional painting skills with his decorative ‘abstractions', depicting snarling monkeys such as baboons or mandrills as symbols for alpha male aggression mixed with strident carnality. In the same show Wealleans also has small sea urchin-like forms with a central hole, teeth and synthetic doll's hair that reference his earlier much larger shark jaw pieces. They seem to be about vagina dentata; Freud's discussion of the male fear of castration.
Every Witch Way But Loose
8 August - 1 September 2018
Rohan Wealleans is well known for his distinctly innovative paintings, sculptures and photographs, particularly when he is using layers of dried rubbery paint as a carvable material to create wall reliefs, suspended necklaces, covered freestanding dolls, or intimate bodily props for provocative photographs. He is also brilliant with cut paper.
This exhibition has him now incorporating traditional painting skills with his decorative ‘abstractions’, depicting snarling monkeys such as baboons or mandrills as symbols for alpha male aggression mixed with strident carnality. Images of rearing cats seem to represent fightened women.
In the same show Wealleans also has small sea urchin-like forms with a central hole, teeth and synthetic doll’s hair that reference his earlier much larger shark jaw pieces. They are a bit like savage trolls, or menacing Halloween pumpkins, and seem to be about vagina dentata; Freud’s discussion of the male fear of castration.
It is pretty witty to have the two sorts of mouth/teeth image—ape painting versus urchin sculpture—juxtaposed, mentally stimulating to have these polar opposites comingled, especially with the silhouetted figures of naked women hidden in the painted backdrops that are covered by hundreds of tiny conical holes (representing penetration or bullets or darts perhaps?). The word ‘witch’ in the title can be seen as an essential component of this driving attraction/fearful repulsion tension.
Wealleans’ images usually oscillate between abstraction and symbolic realism-wavering between tropes linked to heterosexual desire that can decoded and abstract forms that can be enjoyed for the unusual material processes embodied in their construction. I prefer his work when it is more spontaneous or else when it involves geometry, rather than quoting art history or using representational motifs as tropes or for narrative.
Looking at his images of women it might be argued that Wealleans is really advocating a form of pre-Christian religion that worships the power of female sexuality, but I’m not persuaded. I don’t think the tensions elucidated above support that view, although the inclusion of the monkey images certainly can provide ironical distance or critical self-reflection. To me it appears to be visceral work that projects a kind of emotional immediacy involving mental investment, and possibly arguing a serious, wider, philosophical position about masculinity as well. Two contradictory threads—‘cat-witches’ and ‘artist-ape’—together intertwined.
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