Since her first solo exhibition, Portraits, at Magazine Gallery a little over 12 months ago Ruby Chew’s star has been on the rise. The exhibition sold out and had collectors clamouring for more. Her success looks set to continue with her second solo exhibition, Spitting Image, at Hill Smith Gallery as she further explores what she describes as the “dialogue I have in my head about painting and about portraits”.
There is a sense of carnival to Chew’s portraits but all this fanfare is in stark contrast to the stillness of the sitter. “All the figures have these strong looks, juxtaposed with this bright colour scheme which was kind of inspired by the circus,” Chew explains. While there is a distinct style that has carried through from Portraits to Spitting Image, she says: “This exhibition is more a refinement of what I have been looking at over the last year-and-a-half. It’s a step further into what I have been thinking about.”
Echoing her idols, Florence Broadhurst and Jenny Kee, the portraits in Chew’s debut exhibition were unified by a self-designed-pattern seeping through each work. Spitting Image has moved on from this. According to Chew: “I loved painting the pattern but it was a little bit too prescribed for me. Now the colour scheme is what holds everything together. Golden yellow, cadmium red, mint green, a purple and a baby pink, all the works have these colours running through them.”
Chew only took up painting four-and-a-half years ago, before that it was all about drawing, so she still has a lot to explore. “The work is very much revolving around the discussion of painting and what painting is in terms of its ability to be a window into reality through the realistic nature of the figures. Then also as an object through the flatness of the bold colour and the stripes.”
Chew’s portraits are as much about the choice of subject as the execution of her work. The sitters have a certain X factor, something you can’t quite put your finger on. Take the work Jude for example, “In a crowd someone might glance over her but if you really do look harder she has a magical quality about her. She has an amazing energy and is so vibrant. It is strange to see her still in a painting because she has so much energy,” she says.
Spitting Image highlights her love of 50s rockabilly fashion with a focus on sitters with tattoos – synonymous with rockabilly style. “In this case I was looking for people, not in every case, who had tattoos. I was really interested in painting tattoos. I like the play of painting something that has already being painted.”
Chew has also been toying with the idea of a three-headed figure – the sitter from three different angles. “I have started to introduce these three headed figures. I haven’t brought it to the canvas yet but I feel like it’s the next step in my practice and it revolves around the idea of people being more complicated than just one view.”
Hill Smith Gallery
Thursday, November 8 to Saturday, November 24
Image: 1. Ruby Chew, Jude (detail), Oil and acrylic on canvas,91 x 81 cm, 2012
2. Max (detail), Oil, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 71 x 56 cm, 2012
3. Scott (detail), Oil, acrylic and glitter on canvas,122 x 91 cm, 2012