Just Let My Love Adorn You: ‘Adorn’ exhibition review

John Neylon reviews Adelaide Central School of Art Gallery’s group exhibition Adorn and its exploration of the theme.

Adelaide does thematic shows with such ease that it’s easy to take them for granted. Adorn is a good example – professional finish, lively creative talents at work and a slightly take-it-or-leave-it approach the project theme. The value of such exhibitions is two-fold. They educate viewers to see connections between diverse kinds of work and they offer opportunities for artists to showcase work. Thematic group shows are often regarded by artists as break-out ventures when ideas and methods, which haven’t seen light outside of the studio, can get an airing. An example in Adorn is Luke Thurgate’s Turn on, a co-opted bedsidelamp. A set of portraits has been painted onto the base. The little faces swim upwards towards the light in a very endearing manner. Siting of works in this show matters. Glenn Kestell’s panel paintings on either side of Thurgate’s lamp echo aspects of light throwing shadows in a confined space. There is a struggle going on in these images between the ruggedly handled encaustic wax medium and an apparent intent to create sensations of compression, expansion and instability. In contrast, Irene Kontakos’ capture of light filtering through frosted glass and underneath widow curtains communicates a calmness of purpose edged with disquiet. It might be argued that the light trying to insinuate itself into this particular house is ‘adorning’ it in some way. But that’s a stretch. But as the exhibition reveals itself, stretching the imagination (and theme) helps. Anna Gore’s enigmatic pair of panels, for example, offers no more than paint applied to canvas. Interest lies in the manipulation of skins of thick, drying pigment, dragged by gravity and some manipulation. As in other works by this artist, the incidental forms and patterns thus created hover on the edge of meaning something. Bloom 23 by Cj Jilek, 2014, Porcelain, underglaze, flocking. Liz Butler’s finely calibrated collages of inked, printed and colour-washed papers work on a similar basis. Stretch this idea of pigment or other media on a flat surface, as a form of adornment and other works come into view. Kate Kurucz’s urban tribalist portraits communicate a slightly disturbing blend of dress-ups and tragic fantalism. Like Thurgate’s upturned faces, these altered portraits promise no redemption or instant fame. A melancholic beauty haunts Jenna Pippett’s restrained but compelling tribute to a grandmother from another place and time. The materiality of this body of work, particularly the printing of photo portrait onto fabric, sets up the visual jolt of the black beaded eye patch ‘adorning’ the face. The ambivalence of this image resonates. This idea of altered nature takes another twist in Kate Sutherland’s jewellery – designed of course to adorn the body – but inflected with the irony of flawed (irregular quartz stones) held in a sterling silver embrace. Sue Boettcher’s figurines, made from found porcelain fi gures and modelled clay, also play on expectations. In the spirit of Meissen’s well known ‘monkey musicians’ and the like, these incongruous mashups confabulate memories we may have of nice little porcelain dustables adorning mantelpieces. Cj Jilek’s emphatically tongue in cheek porcelain items, such as her risible Bloom 23, amplify a mood of stealthy subversion that adds weight to this exhibition. Helen Fuller’s contribution to the mantelpiece menagerie is a set of grog bottles that are a bit wobbly like their imagined previous owners. Horizontal and vertical lines performing rough service as surface decoration may act as indicators of levels remaining or degrees to starboard. Their necks will reward closer and more private contemplation. Order is somewhat restored by an alternative set of mantelpiece/table ornaments – Susan Frost’s nests of bowls, all prim and proper in the company of other more disrespectful spirits in this show. And, in a similar vein, Jessamy Pollock’s exquisite little anodized, folded triangular works probably can’t wait to fix onto the next available lapel or frock and get out of there. Like Taylor Swift’s Golden Globes Free People dress this exhibition is quite breezy, with the occasional draught and promise of gale force winds. Perhaps Adorn 2 will stretch to a wind machine. Adorn Adelaide Central School of Art Gallery Continues until Friday, February 13 acsa.sa.edu.au/the-gallery