Angela Valamanesh: A curious life in art

A survey exhibition of the four-decade long career of Angela Valamanesh celebrates a practice that has traversed many media, from sculpture and ceramics to video work.

For some 40 years Angela Valamanesh has been inspiring audiences with an art practice spanning many different media including, sculpture, ceramics, works on paper, and more recently video work. About being here is a survey exhibition that celebrates her successful career with works from as early as 1997 up to the present day.

The exhibition is the latest in the Jam Factory’s Icon series which highlights the achievements of South Australia’s most influential artists working in craft-based media and is shown during SALA (South Australian Living Artists) Festival each year. In this instance the focus is on Valamanesh, with a selection of work highlighting her curiosity about human, animal and organic forms through clay sculpture.

About being here not only includes Valamanesh’s biomorphic ceramic sculptural work for which she is renowned but also the artist’s evocative drawings, watercolours, and mixed media works from her developing style of the late 1990s until the present.

The exhibition is not only a chance for audiences to revisit Valamanesh’s work but it has also been an opportunity for the artist to reacquaint herself with earlier works, some of which have been packed away for 20 years. One of the earliest works, For a long while there were only plants is a large group of works on paper created during a residency at the Glasgow School of Art in 1997.

Angela Valamanesh, For a long while there were only plants, 1997
Angela Valamanesh, For a long while there were only plants, 1997

It consists of small waterolour and pen drawings on paper which have been dipped in wax and pinned on the wall creating a swarm or a big cluster of images. For a long while there were only plants and the subsequent drawings Valamanesh made at the time have formed the basis of many of the works that have followed, with the artist beginning to make connections between plant, animal and human anatomy.

The series Been Here and Gone (2006), also grew out of this period and some of these works are included in the exhibition. The suite of unglazed ceramic objects modelled from nature, demonstrate Valamanesh’s experiments in subtle modulations of form, surface and muted colour.

Also on display are more recent works from Valamanesh’s insect orchid series, the result of a residency undertaken in 2018 with the Barr Smith Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Adelaide. Valamanesh was drawn to the collection’s original paintings of South Australian orchids by local botanical illustrator Rosa Fiveash (1854–1938).

These works are a departure from the more textured clay she has been using for quite some time for unglazed ceramic objects. “These works have a shiny black glaze that comes from looking at the insect orchid illustrations and starting to realise that an insect is pollinating the orchid,” explain Valamanesh. “Often they are related, for example the spider orchid is pollinated by a spider, a bee orchid pollinated by a bee so I wanted to make the objects look a bit insect like so the shiny black glaze was useful.”

Angela Valamanesh, Earthly garden #7, 2011
Angela Valamanesh, Earthly garden #7, 2011

There are also a number of works featured that reflect her research into the vast colours of the pollen grains of a flower, in particular, the pollen charts by Dorothy Hodges. “We tend to think of pollen as being bright yellows and soft yellows but it can actually be browns and greens,” says Valamanesh.

Looking at the work selected in About being here it’s evident that Valamanesh has been preoccupied with the connections between all life forms throughout her career. She says: “It’s about the connections we have to other animals and to plants and all the life that’s around us and inside of us – there are quite a few objects based on the drawing of parasites.”

Following on from the premiere at the Jam Factory, About being here will tour nationally with the support of The Australia Council for the Arts, Contemporary Touring Initiative.

Angela Valamanesh: About being here
Jam Factory Adelaide
26 July – 22 September

Header image:
Angela Valamanesh, Collection no.2 detail, 2013

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