Thursday, October 16, 2014

Capturing the Self - Josie Birchall

Family Portrait
Review by Kylie Eastley

Josie Birchall is a Tasmanian artist who is standing out from the usual suspects. She began as a graphic designer, before attending TAFE to develop her skills in painting and drawing and then went onto the School of Art. Her layering of life experience and commitment to her craft has enabled this artist to fully realise her narratives.

It is what Birchall leaves out of her painting, and chooses to include that is so alluring. In Family Portrait (Pictured), the inclusion of the iconic Bambi, Donald Duck, the plastic pink flamingo and the cu pi doll, all represent various eras that each of us can relate to. Birchall cleverly paints herself as two figures; split with the use of random brushstrokes as reference to her pulled-apart self. She includes simple child-like doodling that clash with the beautifully executed and realistic painted figures. 

There is nothing random about these works. They are considered and intentional. And with this combination of the familiar, nostalgic and disturbing, she draws the viewer in and repels at the same time. While the works are full of visually rich images, she manages not to overcrowd the paintings; leaving room for us to ruminate on her choice of quirky, pop culture references and to wonder at our own reaction to them.

‘My aim is to create a sense of intrigue or questioning, or to evoke feelings of confusion or fun within the viewer; I enjoy pushing the boundaries with subject matter of my paintings and I am never content to leave a portrait as a simple presentation, rather I will take it further into the confusing and surreal world of imagination.   Gallery Salamanca website

Much of Birchall’s work is exploring identity; both her own and women in general. There are a series of wonderful photographs of women dressed in 1950’s dresses, or naked, posing in classic retro settings; by an old shack, on the beach, in the bath and at the kitchen sink. Nothing extraordinary so far, I hear you say, except that they are all wearing masks that cover the entire head. They have no identity; their faces and selves obscured completely by the latex chicken, pig or horse heads that encase them; claustrophobic, humorous and hideous.

There is something appealing and revolting about these photographs that are familiar domestic scenes, evoking an extreme sense of nostalgia and horror at the lack of the person. These are exceptionally staged photos with everything there for a reason and they work beautifully. She manages to capture us in this in-between space. 

I must admit to finding appeal with this mix of memory, cutesy and something a little edgier and there are plenty of examples of artists who have been working in this style, such as Mark Rydens' Rosie's Tea Party (2005) or Tara McPherson's The Love Space Gives is as Deep as the Oceans, 2010

Josie Birchall's paintings and photographs are currently on view at Gallery Salamanca, Hobart. I would encourage viewing and look forward to Birchalls’ new body of work.

Josie's work can also be seen on her Facebook page...Josie Allyson Birchall - Artist

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