This week’s surprise second guest blog comes from a long-time supporter of The Art Life, the Melbourne-based bon viveur known only as Sublime-ation. Her blog, running for since 2005, carries the legend ‘blogging not jogging’ – sage advice since that shit can kill ya. Sub reports…
I am lying on an old golden velvet couch, dreaming. I am in a far away land, with swirls of bright light, where everything is light and airy. There are women who are not so much solid forms of flesh but curlicues of whites, pinks, pale greens and golds, they float around me as light as lace. A voice is making a melodious sound. It sounds like Coleridge’s Abyssinian maid, high and clear. I can’t decipher what it is saying; and I don’t want to, it is too nice to be on this couch, in a warehouse in the city of Melbourne, fast asleep with my white lights and pretty pink swirls. It’s like being in My Playtree. The voice grows more insistent, and comes closer, and I realise it isn’t saying ‘misty’, as I thought, which went nicely with my magical world, but ‘Christie’, the name of my friend upon whose couch I am sleeping.
It isn’t from within my dream, but outside, in the lane. It is the voice of Kegrol, the sister of the artist Arlene TextaQueen, whose felt-tip drawings have infiltrated my dreams. The swirls are the arabesque lines from her drawings, her palette supplies the colours. Her work has somehow seeped quickly into my sub-conscious. Keg, who is also an artist, is staying in the warehouse, and she has returned home after seeing The Slits play at The Corner and needs to be let in. And she has a damn nice voice that reflects her sister’s drawings, even whilst yelling up to a warehouse from a dirty laneway at 2 am on a school night.
Earlier that evening we had been at Seventh Gallery, one of Melbourne’s most popular artist run spaces. Situated on Gertrude St, Fitzroy, it is in the heart of Melbourne’s younger contemporary art world, across the road is Dianne Tanzer Gallery, down the street, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces. TextaQueen’s exhibition there was held in conjunction with her penpal, American artist Olivia Edith.
Arlene TextaQueen is an artist intent on keeping the genre of The Nude alive. If Tori Amos picked up an instrument relegated to dusty conservatories and used as a more attractive beer counter than the standard and kicked it down the street into the 21st century, [as has been written in music magazines], then TextaQueen has taken an art form previously relegated within Australian art, to Lindsay’s ‘galumphing nudes’ (McCulloch, McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art), still bought by businessmen for the purposes of private titillation in their offices, and dragged it kicking and screaming into The Now. TextaQueen has blithely and cleverly ignored the limitations of the academy and gone about courageously drawing life models in her own distinctive style. By doing so, she has intentionally recaptured the nude female form away from the male gaze, and broken with the traditions of the ‘chaste nude’, exemplified by artists such as Janet Cumbrae Stewart. She has brought the nude into a more inclusive, yet fantastical world.
TextaQueen has neatly side-stepped O’Keefe’s financial concerns by drawing her friends and contemporaries, which works in her favour, as the drawings all have an intimacy and personality which lets the viewer feel in on a secret. It’s like you’ve been invited into her lounge room, there’s a female MC, there’s a female performance artist, and they are friendly and offer you a cup of tea with organic honey. Or maybe vodka.
She brings this perfromative aspect to her exhibition openings as well. I (and my boyfriend especially) have fond memories of her opening at Gertrude CAS in 2003, where there were two naked young ladies covered in tinned spaghetti, with TextaQueen drawing them, oblivious to the crowd around her. I was pleased to see at Seventh that she had repeated this performance, complete with her TextaQueen outfit that makes her look like an Art Superhero, so that the viewers at her openings are invited into the lounge room with her, and the opening becomes a three-dimensional performance art created here, now, rather than just 2-dimensional drawings created in an unknown ‘studio’ space.
And the drawings themselves are distinct and appealing. They are colourful yet contain enough white space not to fall into garishness, they fuse a naive, almost child-like style of drawing and perspective (often TextaQueen’s figures have oversized heads, for example), with an understanding of the human form. They are social documentations of interesting, talented and strong women who are rarely documented. What I particularly enjoy about them is their inclusion of text; the artist, Kahlo-like, includes a line that gives the viewer some indication of the personality or life of the sitter. Often witty, or humourous, perhaps they cheat a little in opening up that person’s life to us through the direct access of words, whereas traditionally a portrait painter would have to rely purely on imagery to do the same, but I nonetheless applaud the idea. Mostly it’s because I love the lines themselves, which are always taken from the conversation between the artist and her model. And with the proliferation of text-based art around us, I see no reason why the artist cannot fuse images with words, even in a previously conservative genre such as portraiture. Or perhaps especially in a previously conservative genre such as portraiture.
TextaQueen’s fantastical world is a joy and delight to view, believe me, it’ll give you better dreams. You can catch up with Arlene TextaQueen’s work in Sydney at her exhibition Arlene Textaqueen Felt-Tips Forever: Some Things Never Change on at MORI GALLERY until the 28th of April.