The muses of Chris Mason are voluptuous to say the least. In the downstairs space at Darren Knight Gallery the artist has presented a number of ceramic sculptures depicting nude obese women. Mason bases his work on imagery from printed and online publications, and by the poses the women adopt, they appear complicit and relaxed. The scale of the works (most could just about fit in a shoebox) belies that of their subjects, and there is a sense of serenity about their arrangement in the gallery. This is in no small part due to their uncoloured surfaces. Mason has worked with white ceramic which is sometimes left unglazed. The pasty folds of these women’s bodies become almost abstract compositions, particularly when viewed against the white walls of the gallery and their supporting plinths and shelves.
The serenity is shattered upon rounding the corner, where a sizeable painting by Mason from 2002 is hung. This untitled work depicts yet another large model, however in this case the artist has employed full technicolour to explore her form. Her rear and thighs themselves become the subject, as their dimples and folds are placed centre stage on Mason’s canvas. He has left no flesh tone unturned in his examination of her skin and the way the ambient light and camera flash has captured it. Her shadow cast on the wall behind, and incidental details such as a printed bedspread, suggest that the source image was an amateur or personal photograph.
Amateur photographic practice is explored in an entirely different way in the upstairs gallery, in the work of Noel McKenna. Renegade US artist Richard Prince recently set tongues wagging when he exhibited a series of printed canvases depicting other people’s Instagram photographs. In McKenna’s exhibition The Psychiatrist’s Dog, the Sydney artist takes the intersection between social networking and painting in a different direction. In the painting Instagram (2014), McKenna has depicted a Samsung smartphone looming into frame. It displays a photograph from the Instagram account of curator Glenn Barkley, in which a hand emerges to touch the muzzle of a horse. ‘Horse mad @cavalia’ reads Barkley’s caption, the inert hyperlink painted in blue. Either the horse is enormous or the arm diminutive.
In the name of research I trawled back through the annals of Barkley’s photo-feed to locate McKenna’s source material. In the original snap the arm reaches out towards an image of a horse, perhaps on a banner or poster. While in Barkley’s image the horse doesn’t quite join the hand in the third dimension, McKenna’s work simultaneously flattens and brings to life the entire scenario. The black slickness of the phone and Instagram interface are re-imagined with visible brushstrokes of oil paint on plywood.
In McKenna’s paintings of interiors, several of which feature in The Psychiatrist’s Dog, lines of perspective draw the viewer into the scene where they can dwell on small details set amidst fields of muted colour. In the show’s namesake work, the eponymous hound gazes with large dark eyes from in front of a bookcase filled with a who’s who and what’s what of psychiatry. McKenna continues this investigation into the subconscious with the large Dream Painting. Two whales float in a stormy sky, raining droplets onto the landscape. The shadow cast by the large whale onto the skeletal trees below brings to mind the stretched, dozing face propped on sticks in the Salvador Dali painting Sleep.
Don’t leave the exhibition without visiting the Palm Springs Putting Green at Waterloo. Here visitors try their hand at McKenna’s bespoke putting course, peppered with cardboard palm tree hazards. On opening night punters donated to greyhound rescue and holes-in-one were rewarded with a ceramic tile work by the artist – a degree of interactivity that social media can only dream of.
Chris Mason – Solo & Noel McKenna – The Psychiatrist’s Dog, Tues to Fri, 10am-5pm until 25 October 2014, Darren Knight Gallery, 840 Elizabeth Street, Waterloo; (02) 9699 5353, darrenknightgallery.com