Saturday, April 19, 2008
Here are the two talented and lovely ladies that say it best!....
I’m sitting with Jessica Morrison in her sunny Melbourne studio and we’re having a conversation about her Beasts. She’s describing her work as referencing the everyday and earthiness and explaining that they are tools for living. I’m confused because these Beasts, who are witness to our conversation, appear to have been borne of an absinthe fuelled liaison between Faberge and Merric Boyd. The sculptural animal forms of the hand-built vessels do have an earthiness to them but the ornate embellishments, the gilt surfaces, the precious stones, the gold leaf and enamel have me looking for the Imperial Eggs from which they must have just hatched.
Just as Morrison successfully combines the rustic and the decorative, so too her creatures are at once wild animals and yet again the tamed members of a fantastical menagerie. The vessels simultaneously reference the sacred reliquary and the domestic caddy. And her rings and neckpieces are evocative of tribal ceremonial practices as well as the cheap thrills found in a gumball machine.
It would be easy to simply describe this work as whimsy, but these beast-vessels are serious in their roles as protectors of their contents. A bejewelled kangaroo king sits proudly astride his wombat steed, protecting his cargo from marauders. The King of the Jungle stares heavenward in contemplation of the secrets contained within his belly. And the Peacock, the symbol of pride and vanity hides his tail in respect of his responsibility as guardian.
I’m still slightly confused but equally enamoured of these Beasts. Although they would not be out of place in a vitrine of archaeological artefacts, I think I would prefer to see them on my kitchen bench guarding my precious store of Camellia sinensis.
We all love a monster. Pieced together, never quite ‘right’, brought to life by a sick and twisted mind, a little bit Dr Frankenstein, a little bit Dr Moreau, single minded, focused upon the creation of a unique creature.
So when a chimera is created, melding those lynchpins of Australiana, a kangaroo and a wombat, how do we react?
If you know Jess Morrison’s work you feel like laughing. Laughing with the sheer joy and humour of the macabre world she imagines. At first you see her kangaroo, decked in bling, scratching his tummy as he ‘rides’ his wombat bodyguard but you soon realise that all is not quite, well, normal. As if they had been in a freakish accident, say through the matter transporter in the movie ‘The Fly’, they have become a new species, the hybrid Kangambat, still recognisable in the sum of their parts but happily moving on as strange ‘conjoined twins’.
Decorative boxes, reliquaries, keepsake and trinket boxes, are a tradition of the gold and silversmithing arts. But rarely will you see three boxes that seem, so full of personality, to enjoy their role so much. The tiger may bite or roll kittenishly on his back to have his tummy rubbed. The peacock, by being both 2 and 3 dimensional, depicted in both a traditional and cartoonish puddle-duck-like way, will raise his head when you lift the lid.
Jess is one of those rare people whose work, even when pushing technical and artistic boundaries (and occasionally the boundaries of taste!) will always bring a smile to one’s face. Her work, though gestural and immediate, is backed by thoughtful planning and modelling. The subject matter is always close to her heart, or in the case of the teeth, grounded in dental genetics. (If you get her at a free moment ask her to recount “Adventures in South American Dentistry”- you will soon understand her obsession with teeth.) What could be grotesque is instead happy, joyous and endearing, without being saccharine and cloying. Her tigers still have claws, her teeth still have bite, her golden dog might just be about to squat for a pooh on the green enamel grass of a silver ring. Her work is always trembling with life, on the verge of laughing, blooming or running away, and is certainly never staid or dull. A bit like Jess really.
Thank you Anna and Pene for your thoughtful responses to 'beast'.