Living in the past, presently
17 November - 19 December 2020
Like many contemporary artists, the consequences of the recent summer bushfires and COVID-19 have been in the forefront of TANYA CHAITOW’s mind. This year of reckoning with such life changing events has emphasised core themes in her work and influenced the evolution and execution of ideas within this latest body of work. For TANYA CHAITOW and her work, the past and present are always in dialogue. This body of work is a continuation of TANYA CHAITOW’s recent Family Matters series. Her themes and depictions of familial relationships continue to be explored through the reinterpretation of portraits and genre paintings by the old masters, including as Goya and Gainsborough. However, Living in the past, presently hones in on and responds to current events within the Australian context of isolation amidst a global pandemic. Striving to combat feelings of despondency regarding our collective circumstances and fear for the future, CHAITOW turns to hope in her engagements with these old master paintings through the vibrancy of renewal, resilience and regrowth of the Australian bush.
This new branch of exploration sees CHAITOW transforming the works of old masters through the use of silhouettes and collage referenced from native flora printed commercial wrapping paper against a charred black background. This suite of 12 works is an amalgam of collage, gouache and acrylic on paper. The old master figures exist void of their original domestic settings and the often-dark interiors. Instead, they stand in stark contrast to a bright, open space; free to flourish and branch out into burst of foliage in their native floral incarnations. TANYA CHAITOW’s process of collage harks back to her studio residency at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris where she first encountered the works of many of these masters that now inform her practice. She used collage as a means to sample and collate materials and cultural context and reinterpret them into a work. Drawn to works on paper at the beginning of lock down, here again, CHAITOW samples the compositions of the figures using silhouettes highlight and exaggerate the tension and cohesion of figures; whether they are in isolation and distanced or tightly huddled as one amorphous mass, bound tightly together like a lush bunch of native flora.
There is a sense of warmth, tenderness and longing in these silhouettes that reveal very little of the subjects beyond familial closeness; something almost taken for granted when viewed through our present lens after months of prolonged separation and isolation made necessary through this pandemic. Here these genre paintings and portraits of the past stand in for our own past, not so long ago, when such connections were possible. There is a haunting darkness to these figures, but one that is overwhelmed with the vibrancy of colour through the native floral motifs that embellish them. CHAITOW evokes the importance of natural beauty and colour on the human spirit, especially in such difficult times. Her poetic works are charged with a powerful psychological resonance as she explores between the cracks in the hope that through her work, she can share an altered and reassuring perspective on reality.