Gow Langsford Gallery is delighted to present the gallery’s first exhibition with Art Foundation Icon Jacqueline Fahey ONZM. Fahey’s paintings collide portraiture with urban and suburban landscapes to create riotously colourful compositions which revel in the chaos of the everyday. Defences Against the Void demonstrates that throughout her lengthy career, Fahey’s subject matter has varied considerably, but her pugnacious approach has not. They are intimate observations of social practices, constructs, and politics, grounded in close consideration of how these issues affect the daily lives of those around her.
Fahey is celebrated for her idiosyncratic painting style, recognisable for a raucous use of colour, and intimate detail assigned to the accoutrements of everyday life. Hers are playful compositions where the viewer is awarded with brief, often amusing moments of recognition: we see Shrewsbury biscuits and bottles of champagne, distinctive local buildings and personalities, and pets. The clamour of these paintings is underscored in their compositional ‘flat’ hierarchy. Each element Fahey chooses to include in her paintings is given the same level of care and the same saturation of colour, for according to Fahey, everything has its significance.
Foremost, Fahey’s paintings are about looking. As we look at the artist’s meticulous compositions, the glances and gazes of her subjects reveal a structure to help us find our way through the spaces she depicts. Often, toys adopt the role of the observer, as if imitating our act of viewing, while at the same time underscoring the dramatic irony of events playing out in the home: the toy acting the audience to family theatrics. The painting, Early Spring (c.1976) especially exemplifies this. Our eye is directed firstly from the partially obscured girl on the left, who glances at her seated sister, who in turn gazes down at the table, where a toppled jack-in-the-box peeks up out of the canvas, back at us. The watchful eyes of Augusta and Voss further evidence the importance of looking in Fahey’s work. The large pink teddy might show an alter-ego of Augusta, as the wide-eyed excitement of Voss is contrasted with the girl’s determined gaze.
“The eyes have their own intelligence, but it is in conflict with the brain”, Fahey says, “In painting, you must leave your brain alone and trust your eyes” It is the paint language that is responsible for telling the painting’s narrative, and adequate time and patience must be given to a painting for the next element to emerge, the artist claims. Instead of being landscapes, or backdrops for the dramatic action to unfold, Fahey treats the suburban environment as a character, and as such her painting technique for these is more akin to the tradition of portraiture than that of landscape painting.
Defences Against the Void is an exhibition that showcases a wide breadth of Fahey's career from the 1950's until today. Just as the interiors and exteriors of our domesticised lives are ever-evolving, so too are Fahey's reflections upon them. Her paintings have continued to subvert the status-quo, challenging societal norms and opening the viewers eyes, and minds, to new ways of looking.