Romy Ash

The formation of groups is a mysterious process. Imagine a school playground: the hot dust and cement, the smell of mandarins and lunches left too long in schoolbags, sticky juice, a hint of vomit and fluorescent balls flung through the air. Within the confines of this playground there are children swapping sandwiches, playing handball, skipping and forming groups. Children become friends without ever understanding why, or they don’t make friends and they’re flung to the edges of the playground, left to traverse the balding grass alone. Groups are created, they shift, merge and transform.

But what of a group of painters, drawn together by medium and process – by paint? What happens to painters’ work when it is grouped together, whether curated in a gallery; or outside the gallery, in the playground where they converse, swap techniques, hunkered down together over cups of tea?

Sigmund Freud in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1922) describes French physician and philosopher Gustave Le Bon’s thoughts on ‘the group’:

“Le Bon thinks that the particular acquirements of individuals become obliterated in a group, and that in this way their distinctiveness vanishes. The racial unconscious emerges; what is heterogeneous is submerged in what is homogeneous. We may say that the mental superstructure, the development of which in individuals shows such dissimilarities, is removed, and that the unconscious foundations, which are similar in everyone, stand exposed to view” (33).

A survey of The Painting Group reveals anything but the homogenous, but what is interesting to note are the strange and unusual connections, which occur between these diverse works, connections that would otherwise never have been made. Le Bon believes that individuals in groups “also display new characteristics which they have not previously possessed” (Freud 33). In the context of a group of painters there are two distinct types of connection: the connections, which occur when viewing the works together, and the connections, which happen in the creation of the works. As a result of shared thoughts, conversations and friendship, a slippage occurs.

Just as in Jake Walker’s ‘The Flood’ and ‘Taupo’ where a creative slippage occurs ‘between the genre of landscape painting, the familiarity of a history visualised, and something imagined’ (artist statement), a creative slippage occurs between the painters’ work in the group. Mark Rodda’s landscapes ‘Derwent River New Norfolk’ and ‘White Cave’: verdant, hillocky and strange are different to Walker’s landscapes, which are no less strange but seem more controlled, the influence perhaps of architecture. Yet the works when viewed together seem to talk to one another. The gaze is delighted by incursions into Rodda and Walker’s landscapes. I would argue there is creative slippage between these landscapes, between these painted worlds. As there is between all the works in the group, when viewed together.

In Natalya Hughes’ ‘Taco Corsage’ there is not an investigation of landscape, but of form. Palm Trees and leopard legs seems to wave out of a swirling center – the taco corsage. Hughes unsettles the gaze with an image that has a seductive aesthetic – the painting is beautiful – veiling aberrant figuration (as the title suggests). Will Mackinnon’s desert landscapes, invert the myth of an empty Australian interior, instead populating and complicating those iconic environs. “Through Mackinnon’s eyes the elusive natural beauty of the desert, too often worn like a mask, has slipped to reveal a disquiet perhaps now impossible to ignore” (anonymous). It is a very different disquiet to that evoked by the strange incursions in landscape in Rodda’s and Walker’s works, but they sit well together, that disquiet vibrating between the paintings. Katherine Hattam’s urban landscapes, “often depicted through a window or over a table” (Hattam) are complicated or distorted by a layered view. For Hattam, the disquiet is tripped over in the domestic sphere, like tripping over a dog sprawled on the kitchen floor, as they sometimes are in Hattam’s paintings.

Depicted in Kristina Tsoulis-Reay’s, ‘The Playground’ and ‘Semi Aquatic’ “the childhood scenes look lifted from a family album and are often cropped like amateur photos” her painting style seeming “to effortlessly shift within the picture plane from sharp focus to blur, from detail to abstraction” (Miller) just as a camera lens does. Jess Lucas “is interested in exploring make-up as a transformative layer that disrupts and distorts the sitter’s projection of self.” She reinterprets the photographic image through the painting process, evoking “the many discrepancies that exist between desired, projected and real images of self” (Lucas). Both Tsoulis-Reay and Lucas’ investigate through the technique of portraiture with very different approaches to Rodda and Walker’s but there is a sense of the uncanny that links them. A feeling of the strange inscrutable nature of the faces, that shift and blur in case of Tsoulis-Reay’s, or sharp with the awkward and uncomfortable in Lucas’, resonates with the inscrutable nature of the landscapes.

Robert McHaffie’s amusing titles belie unsettling subject matter. ‘Cosmic Cafe’ and ‘Backyard Blitz’ tease at revelation and enlightenment. The café in ‘Cosmic Café’ is emblazoned with bright blue stars. A child points accusatorily at a woman who her folds brightly clad body in on itself, as if for protection. Yet the blue star shines ironically between them. In ‘Backyard Blitz’ a figure slumps over the other, both their feet dragging, the house (not more than a tree house), looms above them imposing and yet out of reach. Madeleine Kidd incorporates still life, abstraction and landscape unsettling the idea of a gallery archetype. Cocktail glasses sit atop their inverted, reflected self, in ‘Cocktails with Reflection’, and in ‘Grapes and Pearls’ it is the grapes and grasping hands that look lifted from the sea bed, not the string of pearls that breaks the work in two like a gleaming seam.

Does this ‘group’ of painters display “new characteristics which they have not previously possessed” (Freud 33)? Their work, of course, stands alone, but connection is a miraculous and illusive beast. These painters, who have found each other across the balding grass of the playground, smell not of mandarins and off lunches but of the heady scent of turpentine. Sharing knowledge of the difficulties and particularities of the painting medium; splotches of paint on their jeans and pigment staining their fingertips, they traverse the wide expanse of grass together.



Anonymous, (2011) Highplains Mailman, Strange Tourist, for The Lucky Country, solo show, Utopian Slumps.

Freud, Sigmund (1922), Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Boni and Liveright, New York.

Hattam, Katherine (2011), Artist Statement.

Walker, Jake’s (2011) Artist Statement.

Lucas, Jess (2011), Artist Statement.

Miller, Carrie, April-June 2011, Australian Art Collector, Issue 56.

// >> BACK