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Venus In Hell exhibition at MARS, Melbourne, AU

Posted 13 March, 2006 in Exhibitions

MARS Art Rooms press release:

VENUS IN HELL at MARS Gallery, Melbourne, from 6th July, 2006

Melbourne Art Rooms is proud to announce VENUS IN HELL, an exhibition of new works on paper by the well-known young Australian painter, Hazel Dooney, along with photography and video by Hazel Dooney and Creed O’Hanlon. The exhibition will open on 6th July, this year, at MARS, 418 Bay Street, Melbourne.

VENUS IN HELL is Hazel Dooney’s first Australian exhibition for nearly two years. It is the culmination of a long, hermitic process of change for an artist best-known for her large, accessible, high gloss enamel paintings of modern women in contexts that both reflect upon and remorselessly parody the objectivisation of women in contemporary advertising and entertainment media.

The new work in VENUS IN HELL is radically different. Raw and intimate, it embraces the primal impulses of primitive art, and reconciles a commitment to the figurative with a freer, more expressionistic exploration of line and texture. Working with watercolour, pencil and ink on cold-pressed paper, Dooney explores chimerical layers of symbolism drawn from African and Carribean voodoo, merging them with diaristic texts, poems and ritual incantations.

There is also in these new paintings Dooney’s interpretation of the indolent, self-destructiveness of living in Los Angeles. She first found inspiration in the Seventies’ essays and fiction of the American writer, Joan Didion – notably her sparse recreation of Hollywood’s insidious corruption in the novel, Play It As It Lays – but later found in LA’s hedonism themes in common with voodoo spirtualism, not least disturbing sense of individual ‘possession’. “In voodoo culture, a zombie is called a ‘give man’, meaning you exert control over the curse victim and can, if you want, just give them away,” Dooney explains. “That pretty much describes what I saw of most people’s relationship with the entertainment business in LA: so many, especially the young and pretty, are just ‘give men’.”

“One part magical realism, one part punk rock,” is how one writer has described Dooney’s new work. It’s probably a good way to describe Dooney herself.

As in nearly all her paintings over the past decade, Dooney’s portrayals of aspects of herself are central to these new works. However, unlike the polished, glamourised Amazonians of her enamel paintings, her self-depiction is now forensic, contorted, and unsettling.

It is the woman beneath the recurring figure of the paintings that is explored in the photography that is also a part of the VENUS IN HELL show. Shot over a period of two years in collaboration with another Australian, Creed O’Hanlon, there is a conflicting sense of naturalism and artifice in the larger colour and black and white images, particularly in the solitary nudes, which are an attempt to strip bare, literally, the psycho-sexual tension that underpins Dooney’s best work. There are also traditional images, as well as video, that are documentary, offering insights into the artist’s everyday and the processes of her creativity.

Within the context of this exhibition, and the exciting, yet unsettling new works on paper that are its focus, Dooney’s photography is an attempt at a stark, unembarrassed honesty unprecedented by any other Australian artist since Brett Whitely.

The exhibition will be opened on the evening of 6th July by the Rt. Hon. Jeff Kennett, the former Premier of Victoria.

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