The Red House
27 February - 22 May 2016
Hayley Megan French is an artist of serious intent. To watch her in the studio is to see an artist thinking, waiting upon, and finally painting one big idea across multiple canvases. Her idea and project is to consider land or ‘country’ as it is painted, thought about and experienced. In doing so she examines the influence of an Aboriginal world view and aesthetic - art practices, symbols and iconography upon the art practice of non-Aboriginal artists. Perhaps not intentionally, but achieving it none-the-less, she has both borrowed and created a lexicon in paint with which to express place, and relationship to place.
The works in The Red House are ostensibly landscapes, meditations upon the earth and time spent in the east Kimberley community of Warmun. French sat down in the country of this continent’s great artists: Rover Thomas, Mabel Juli, Freddy Timms, Queenie McKenzie and Paddy Juminj. And having sat down for a time, she began to paint her felt experience. The scale of these paintings speaks to the bigness of that experience. Large works stand in concert to each other as if one story, one never-ending story. They are both inchoate and articulate, and they seek a language that might be shared.
In each work the immense earth and sky is reduced to elemental forms, all carved with colour - black, white and orange. Paint is layered upon paint, paint upon canvas. Surfaces are scratched and scarred producing shadow, and a tracery of what lies beneath. Palette and method is both a distillation and explosion of experience. Is black the hallowed earth, the night or the colour of skin? Is it experience, depth, desolation or damage? Is white the blinding sun or the blinding skin? Is it the unseeable or the enlightened self? And is orange, just maybe, a disruptive happiness of artist finding country?
Dr Lee-Anne Hall
Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest
The Red House
The paintings in The Red House are imagined and constructed spaces that operate between moments, places, memories of time spent in Warmun in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. The four rooms of Lewers House form a network of these spaces, created through one or a series of paintings. Each of these shapes, erasures, layers and repetitions are meaningful, but more in their evocation of a feeling or a place than in their direct relation to one.
Traveling to Warmun in 2012 had a transformative influence on my thinking, practice and research. With the support of the Marten Bequest Traveling Scholarship for Painting, I lived and worked within the Warmun artist community for 3 months in 2015 and will be returning this year to explore more of the East Kimberley region. This body of work has both emerged out of this experience, and forms a significant part of my research process.
The Red House forms part of a larger project: painting as a way of understanding the influence of Aboriginal art on my own practice, and more widely, on artists in Australia. Engaging with Warmun continues to open my mind to different understandings. Acknowledging these differences is an education imperative to being in this place. For me, art carries this transformative potential.
These works have been created with the support of the Marten Bequest Traveling Scholarship for Painting, Parramatta Artist Studios and the Penrith Regional Gallery Summer Studio Residency.
Hayley Megan French February 2016
Download the online catalogue here