Abbey McCulloch @ Helen Gory Galerie
I am always fascinated by the dichotomy between commercial success and lack of institutional recognition. Abbey McCulloch, whose exhibition is closing at Helen Gory this weekend, is among the artists that illustrates this trend in Australian art. Her exhibition, at $11,000 a pop, is sold out; she’s been named among the “50 Most Collectible” artists several years in a row; and her works have been profiled in numerous fashion, lifestyle, and interior design magazines. However, this is counterbalanced by the fact that to date her works have not been included in important curated exhibitions in major public galleries; she has not won major or prestigious prizes (despite being a finalist in a few); and her works have not been covered in serious art journals; or acquired by any public institutions.
I must confess that I went in determined not to like it. But when I gave myself benefit of the doubt, and examined her works up close and in detail, I was nothing short of astounded by what I had discovered. Each of McCulloch’s works is underpinned by excellent draughtsmanship which is visible beneath the thinly applied layers of pigment, and especially noticeable in her works on paper (these are not shown in the exhibition, but can be viewed on the artist’s website). Her line is assured and flowing, and her sophisticated knowledge of figure drawing allows the artist to delineate a pose, capture a stance, and convey demeanor in a few confident strokes. Even though the figures are highly abstracted, the body proportions are always correct; the foreshortenings are masterfully convincing; and the synergy between the bodies in her multi-figure compositions is palpable.
Eyes, teeth, and mouths are always drawn expertly and then defined in paint in greatest detail, thus becoming the focal point of an otherwise abstracted composition. The rest of the work is covered in large expanses of liberally applied slabs of pigment. Bright reds and turquoise greens, fleshy pinks and vibrant violets, and various shades of blues and purples coexist with each other, complement or contrast when necessary, and more importantly bring out each other without muddying the spectral qualities of the neighbouring pigments.
There is a fashionably affected darkness to her ‘horned’ figures, but I couldn’t help but think that they have more in common with Picasso’s women in Dutch bonnets. It has to be admitted that there is a certain sameness to the works stemming from a repeated visual vocabulary and the preference for bright pastel colours. However, the resulting joyousness, girlishness, and femininity of her works, confident drawing skills, and knowledgeable handling of the medium cannot be denied.
[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but full or partial use is welcome with proper acknowledgement. Where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]