Tales of the Unexpected
Aspects of contemporary Australian art

Introduction | Foreword | Essay | Works | Gallery

Rosemary Laing | Anne Wallace | Lyndell Brown and Charles Green | Kate Beynon | Sally Smart | Robert Boynes


To dream one’s life in order to live it . . .  Lao Tzu

image:Anne Wallace Sight unseen 1996 oil on canvas 193.0 x 123.0 cm Private collection Anne Wallace Sight unseen enlarge

Tales of the Unexpected: aspects of contemporary Australian art is about the power of the human imagination to dream new worlds into being. It is about engaging with experiences of the real world and transforming them to create poetic, ‘fictional documentaries’. It is about transcending linear time and acknowledging the simultaneity of multiple existences. It is about blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction to illuminate states of being.

Included in the exhibition are some of this country’s most thought-provoking and engaging artists: Kate Beynon, Robert Boynes, Lyndell Brown, Charles Green, Rosemary Laing, Sally Smart and Anne Wallace. Working in quite distinctive ways across a range of media – painting, photography, collage, wall installations and video animation – all the artists invoke performative, theatrical or filmic possibilities in their work, suggesting open-ended tales and dream spaces. Through the inventiveness of their ideas and the unexpected juxtapositions of images and locations, they invite the viewer on journeys of mind and imagination.

Within the flexible framework of ‘fictional documentaries’, the aim of the exhibition is to highlight several remarkable series or groupings of works – to reveal the development of particular ideas through the 1990s and crossing the bridge into a new century. Rather than attempting a wide-ranging survey, the number of artists is deliberately limited to allow for a depth of representation. In some instances the selection takes into account earlier contextual works, while in others the focus is on the intensity of investigation around a specific theme.

The exhibition also takes into account the fluid boundaries between various media in the artists’ works – particularly in relation to painting and photography or cinematic associations. For some of the artists this is revealed through visual and conceptual analogies, while for others it is about direct physical interventions in the process. It is possible, for example, to encounter the ways in which a painting can incorporate still photography and/or recall aspects of film; a photograph can encompass painting or performance, a digital print can be based on drawing for animation, and collage (usually associated with small scale work) can mutate into an evocative, dramatic wall installation.

Interestingly, in a world dominated by technologies, these artists often provide unexpected, distinctly ‘low-tech’ innovations. Many people have, for instance, been deeply surprised that Rosemary Laing’s photographs in her flight research series are not digitally manipulated but instead involved a stunt-performer to enact the dramatic images of the body liberated in space. Also surprising are the photographic Duraclears of Lyndell Brown and Charles Green – large luminous transparencies of their meticulous composite paintings incorporating streams or analogies and art historical references. Kate Beynon, on the other hand, uses video animation in her cross-cultural dialogues as an extension of her drawing, striving to keep a two-dimensional quality in the work (as if the drawings themselves have come to life).

The filmic look of Robert Boynes’s luminous paintings (which include screen-printed photographic images) is informed by intensive reworkings of the painterly surfaces to convey the movement of people through city spaces – as if they are walking or drifting ghost-like through the frame.  In contrast, Anne Wallace’s haunting, theatrical images appear to be forever held in time – the cinematic quality of her paintings relating more to a particular ‘look’, drawing upon a 1950s Hollywood aesthetic to engage with subconscious and psychological realms of human inquiry.

A sense of theatre recalling dream-like fairytale silhouettes and shadow worlds of Goya’s famous etching The sleep of reason produces monsters appear in Sally Smart’s fluid, filmic, unfolding imagery in her Family Tree House installation created specifically for Tales of the Unexpected at the National Gallery of Australia. Here, images of the body, furniture, architecture and natural phenomena, overlap and interweave to spin evocative and fantastic tales.

The diverse artists in Tales of the Unexpected: aspects of contemporary Australian art provide the viewer with much to contemplate. They do not convey narratives with neat beginnings or endings. Rather they suggest something altogether more expansive in the form of fragmentary open-ended tales and dream-like poetic spaces that are part of the endlessly perplexing, entrancing continuum of imaginative and unexpected possibilities that the world has to offer.

Deborah Hart
Senior Curator
Australian Painting and Sculpture