Hello everyone. My name's Deborah Hart, and I'm talking to you from the National Gallery of Australia. I'd like to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of this beautiful land on which we meet and to acknowledge their elders past, present, and emerging. Today, I'm going to be talking to you about a really striking painting by Anne Wallace called She Is that she painted in 2001. I was struck when I saw this painting first, of this woman who is focused on her reflection in the mirror with this intense eye. She's drawing on the mirror the letter ‘I’, but it's still half formed. I remember Anne saying to me at the time that this slightly crazed look that she has, it's almost as if she's writing a message to herself. She said that just as at all times, we require mirrors to convince ourselves that we actually exist. This woman would seem to be suffering a crisis of identity, which has led her beyond her attempt to proving the fact of her existence via the mirror, to seek certainty through words. But here, as I said, the letter is still coming into being, it's still forming.
So when we look at this image, it's quite clear that Anne was very interested in cinematic images. Even though not all her work is about the relationship with film, at the time that she painted this, she was definitely looking at images, at film stills, for example, of Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8. It's really interesting because in that particular film, Liz Taylor is there writing “No Sale”. It's a woman taking control of her agency and saying, "I do exist and I'm not going to be bought."
But actually, Anne's work has a containment that's a bit different. Even though she does appear quite glamorous, she's wearing this black dress with thin straps, she's got this elegantly bobbed hair, there's also the sense of disquiet about the work. Looking at the setting and the bathroom and the strange neon light, it really brought to mind, for me, John Brack's Self Portrait. It's such a striking portrait. Again, there's these acidy colors and it's very focused, and I think that's something that Anne brings to her work as well. There's no messing around. There's not a mark to be spared. It is this intensity of looking and thinking about the strangeness of how we appear in the world in the sense that, we have this incredible inner life, we have so many different aspects to ourselves, but when you look in the mirror, it can be quite confronting.
So moving along, I'd like to take you back a little bit into Anne's earlier work. So she grew up in Brisbane, she went to Queensland University of Technology. It was a really interesting time. She was taught by the artist William Robinson. She was focusing on painting. It was something that she always felt that was her metier. Later on, she does a Master's in painting. She goes to the Slade in London. It's interesting, this particular image on the screen, which is called Pensive Girl, it was painted in 1992.
It really brings to mind the works of an artist, Paula Rego. You might want to look her up, R-E-G-O. I think the reason for that is the psychological intensity. In one sense, Anne's interested in focusing on the real world, but there is this feeling of a psychological undercurrent. I just love the way in this work that you have the interiority of this young girl, perhaps riffing off Anne herself, but in front of her, you have this pair of scissors and it's dancing on a point. There's a kind of edginess about the work, which is really common to most of the works in Anne's practice.
So if we have a look at the work, she is actually in the Know My Name exhibition, we get a sense of the scale of it and as we zoom out, we see the relationship with other works in the space. We wanted to bring together these unexpected conjunctions. It's really about a dream space. It's about things that are both deeply felt, but reach beyond the self in each of these artists' cases. So we have the wonderful High Bed by Rosslynd Piggoty and we have Heather B. Swann's Herd. Both of these are very dreamlike works, the white against the dark. We have Angelina Pwerle's fantastic Bush Plum Dreaming, which is very finely painted. It's about a story about forbidden love, but it's also incredibly evocative and it reminds you when you get close to it of the cosmos. So we have this close in focus and then moving out.
The work itself, She Is, is placed on a wall of other images which allude to aspects of dreams. So if we have a look, for example, at Robyn Stacey's work, they're very cinematic, so it really brings that in. I love these sassy images that Robyn brings to bear here. You can see this interesting combination on this wall. So we have Anne's work, which is a painting, but cinematic and also draws on photography. You have Robyn Stacey's work, which is almost painterly in the use of color, in the way that she plays with forms. But obviously that strong cinematic aspect that Anne O'Hehir has talked so beautifully about, and Shaune Lakin and Anne O'Hehir brought these works into the collection. Alongside that, we have works by Louise Hearman, which, again, are, in some cases, very much about the human form. We see the man's head there in that dark aura, but they're also images that take us beyond what we expect in the world, to this other worldly presence.
So as we move back to look at She Is a little bit more closely. I think that what we find. Well, just for a moment. Sorry. If we have a look at Robyn Stacey's work there, we see this woman holding onto this male leg. You see the bracelet, the adornment. She's very much got agency of her own images, and that was something that Anne was very, very interested in. So if we have a look more closely at her work now. I'm fascinated by the way that the arm of the woman facing the mirror sort of rises up to meet the arm and the reflection. It's almost as if that pearl bracelet becomes like a soft handcuff. It's quite unsettling. It's like we are tied to our own images. As we move into the work, we see how Anne has paid real attention to that writing on the wall, the way she's holding the lipstick and drawing the ‘I’, but the eye on the face is so potent and so powerful.
It was interesting talking to Anne about this work. She remembered that when she was growing up, it was as if women didn't have agency over their own images. So she wanted to grapple with this idea of questioning identity, "Who are we?" I'm just going to read you a little quote because I love the way she flips this idea of the image in the mirror almost becoming more real than the person looking into the mirror. So she said, "Who has not looked into a mirror and been disturbed at the lack of self recognition. The uncanny sense that despite all evidence to the contrary, we do not, in fact, exist. When the seamless normality of our lives is at times interrupted, for whatever reason, the mirror becomes proof that we are the imposter, while the reflection that stares back is somehow the real us, to whom we have no access." So it has this really unsettling quality.
But something that's very interesting is the fact that Anne has called this She Is. She's affirming her existence. So we're questioning existence, but it is the sense that the woman is there. I guess, thinking about the whole premise of Know My Name, we are wanting to draw attention to these women who are there, so that women like Anne Wallace, like Robyn Stacey, like Angelina Pwerle. We want their names to be remembered. We want them to be in the consciousness of Australians in the way that many other male artists are. I think that this painting by Anne is a very powerful and evocative expression by wonderful women artists.
Thanks very much for your time and for listening today.