Review

Melissa Coote: Painting, Sculpture, Paper

Australian artist Melissa Coote, whose first New Zealand solo exhibition was held at Fox/Jensen Gallery in 2012, returns with Painting, Sculpture, Paper.  The flyers for this show gave little away, thus I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My curiosity was piqued and there is nothing more I like than a good mystery 😀

A couple images of the works in the exhibition can be found on the gallery’s website:

http://www.jensengallery.com/artist/?at=Melissa+Coote&wt=Heart+I&a=28&w=1373

As it happens, Coote’s exhibition comes up all hearts.  Every artwork across her heavily pigmented paintings, bronze sculptures, and photogravure prints, are of the heart.  Specifically they are of a bull’s heart, bar one sculpture which looks like a human’s (it was about the size of my fist).  Yet these are not your typical images that tend to take this ♥ symbolic shape; rather they are more realistic and functional, like beautiful illustrations you would find in an anatomy book.

Hence, she casts a new light on images of the heart through removing the powerful symbolism associated with it.  The heart is one of the most recognisable symbols with a multitude of meanings, usually of a romantic nature.  Coote’s works don’t elicit any amorous or sentimental notions, but instead asks us to reconsider images of the heart – to view it without considering the symbolism.

I was quite taken by Coote’s artworks.  Her photogravure prints remind me of natural history illustrations.  The hearts are rendered in such detail to highlight the intricacies of their shape.  The dramatic lighting and dense chiaroscuro would make Caravaggio proud 😛  I didn’t know much about the photogravure process, and I ended up Googling it (where would we be without Google?).

The link to an informative website can be found below:

http://www.photogravure.com/process/process.html

I found the opacity of the obsidian black backgrounds of her paintings really made the hearts pop.  The surface is tactile and intense, and you can see the pigment has dripped, gathered and dried along the bottom of the linen canvas.  Reminiscent of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings, Coote’s hearts are exceptionally modelled, much like her stunning sculptures.  Two of these add small splashes of colour to an otherwise black and white exhibition, and they are truly remarkable.  It was also fascinating to see how large a bull’s heart is!  This is the first time that she has exhibited sculptures, and I hope to see more sculptural works.

Coote’s artworks are compelling in their craftsmanship and generate a sense of wonderment at the power of the heart.  We are dependent on this organ to live, to exist, and these raw works show the heart as it is.  Melissa Coote: Painting, Sculpture, Paper is on until Saturday the 16th August at Fox/Jensen Gallery in Newmarket.  Make sure to check it out!  And if you need further incentives, it’s across the road from an amazing cake shop Heart of Flavour and super close to Little and Friday 😀

M.

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