Current Issue #488

Fiona McMonagle explores pop culture and personhood

Fiona McMonagle, Malice In The Palace, 2020, Watercolour, gouache and ink on paper, 157 x 115 cm,

New work from Fiona McMonagle asks the question: how much does popular culture influence who we end up being?

The last time Adelaide audiences saw the work of Fiona McMonagle it was her first foray into working with oils in her 2017 exhibition A dog named Chop. Her current exhibition, Titled, sees McMonagle return to watercolour for which she is renowned. While the medium might differ, McMonagle continues her exploration into what affects you as a person.

While A dog named Chop focused on how your childhood and where you grow up can influence you as a person, reflecting the artist’s own Irish Catholic upbringing in Australia, Titled looks at popular culture and the eff ect it has, particularly on youth.

“I have always had a fascination with popular culture and what kind of influence it has,” says McMonagle. “When we are young, popular culture is what we mostly consume, and I am interested in how it affects us as people.”

This exhibition particularly explores the portrayal of women in popular culture, with McMonagle presenting strong, powerful women who are deemed Queens and Princesses by the people. McMonagle delves into notions of how we feel about these women and whether their status is strengthening or marginalising.

“I painted the Queen but I also painted Beyoncé. I have included actual queens and princesses but also popular culture queens and princesses such as Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue and Nina Simone,” explains McMonagle.

While the subjects are an integral part of McMonagle’s paintings, there is a point when it becomes about the process of making the work.

“I am interested in the application of paint. At some point the image becomes a vehicle for the paint and the way the subject is painted can really change the way you see it,” says McMonagle.

Fiona McMonagle, Punk, 2020, Watercolour, gouache and ink on paper, 157 x 115 cm
Fiona McMonagle, Respect, 2020, Watercolour, ink and gouache on paper, 157 x 115 cm

Whether she is working in oils or watercolours McMonagle has developed a unique style. Having worked in watercolour for so long she feels more familiar with it, but she often shifts between the two media which can be challenging.

“Watercolour is a very unpredictable medium and I enjoy that,” she explains. “With oils I find that you are responsible for every mark you make. There are no happy accidents.”

Fortunately for McMonagle, Hugo Michell Gallery reopened earlier this month, so her exhibition can be viewed in person. Ongoing travel restrictions mean she won’t be able to travel to Adelaide for the installation or opening night of the exhibition.

“It’s a bit strange to pack the work and send it and not see it again. While I have an idea of how the works will hang in the gallery it’s different to being in the space and seeing how works interact with each other,” says McMonagle. “I trust the gallery with this. There was so much uncertainty that a few months ago we didn’t even know if it would go ahead.”

In addition to questioning how women are portrayed in popular culture across the 20th and 21st centuries, and what impact this has had on the people living through them, Titled is also a celebration of women – their struggles, complexities and their strengths.

Fiona McMonagle: Titled
Hugo Michell Gallery
Until 25 July

Jane Llewellyn

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