Grant Banbury – 2 September, 2020
As ringmaster, Braithwaite (out of sight in this series but that's not always the case), calls her performers to attention, marching them head-long in the same direction. Taking aboard the artist's ever-growing cache of the strange and curious—human, animal, birds, fish, or any hybrid combination—no previous exhibition feels as jubilant and celebratory as Hullabaloo. Colour is richer, brighter, stronger. The volume is turned up to fever pitch.
20 August - 13 September 2020
Confident, celebratory and noisy, with the familiar wry humour and outright mischievous behaviour, the ‘players’ performing in Joanna Braithwaite‘s Hullabaloo—the artist’s third show with Sydney dealer Martin Browne—are more riotous and rambunctious than ever. This exhibition is arguably her best orchestration yet.
Birds with plumage that suggest royal status, strut their stuff with heads held high. Beaks twist and turn and grow exponentially, happily morphing into musical horns of unmanageable proportions, and compositions are adorned with tufts and tassels, cacti and bonsai. Five works in the show are almost two metres in width. In each an army of hybrid ‘creatures’ jostle for survival, sorting-out hierarchy and status irrespective of size.
Four large works hanging close together on one expansive wall almost overwhelm, generating a mural-like presence. Although frenetic, each orchestration offers each character enough air to ‘breathe’.
As ringmaster, Braithwaite (out of sight in this series but that’s not always the case), calls her performers to attention, marching them head-long in the same direction. Taking aboard the artist’s ever-growing cache of the strange and curious—human, animal, birds, fish, or any hybrid combination—no previous exhibition feels as jubilant and celebratory as Hullabaloo. Colour is richer, brighter, stronger. The volume is turned up to fever pitch.
Braithwaite‘s unique vision is her strength. Operating within in the time-honoured realist tradition stretching back centuries—oil applied by brush directly to canvas—has remained constant.
Braithwaite’s imagery demands considerable research by the artist and obviously, if possible, first-hand observation. A foray to the Galápagos Islands in March last year, for example, offered exposure to rare reptiles such as marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), unique to the islands. These appear along for the ride in Hullabaloo. Neil Frazer’s photograph of the artist within arm’s reach of these ancient reptiles appears in the accompanying full colour catalogue; although this includes some bio information, the addition of an interpretive essay would give welcome insight to Braithwaite’s ideas and concepts.
While the much awaited ‘trans-Tasman bubble’ remains some-time off, I’ve had to write this review observing Hullabaloo on my laptop. Not ideal. And, sadly, denied the pleasure of experiencing first-hand the fluent mark-making that brings these paintings to life. Braithwaite’s currency lies in her arresting, witty, dream-like imaginations, at times unsettling and confounding, but equally joyous and celebratory too. Undeniably original, the works also permit a rare humanity.
Braithwaite’s imagery raises questions about transformation, manipulation and power, that reflect back on us the viewer to determine the best way forward. From across the Tasman sea, the following notion lingers: if the characters in Hullabaloo were performing in real life I suspect the sound would be deafening. Both deafening and exhilarating at the same time.