Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Re-evolution invitation

Click on the invitation above for full details of the exhibition. Do call in if you are in the area at the time of the launch on Sunday 4 September, or during the show's run.

Dr. Penny Peckham's accompanying essay is reproduced below, with her kind permission.


Deborah Klein’s art has long reflected an interest in narrative, in storytelling, particularly stories in which female characters are central. Early prints relate to stories of female saints; others portray scenes relating to film noir. From childhood she has been fascinated with fairy tales, folk tales and fables, particularly those dark and rich in symbolic motifs - the traditional and those given a contemporary twist by writers such as Angela Carter.

As early as 2000 Katherine McDonald drew a parallel between Klein’s female subjects and butterflies, observing that in ‘depicting women as anonymous specimen like creatures, Klein seems to be inviting us to view the decorated heads as a connoisseur/collector might study the outer wings of a pinned butterfly, with little regard for the inner being’.[1] To extend the metaphor, moths and butterflies are often seen as symbolic of the ephemeral nature of life – beautiful and fragile, fleeting – and so too female youth and beauty. 

The general title of this recent body of work, Myth-Entomology, refers to Klein’s dual interests in story-telling and insects.  Metamorphosis (from pupa to moth or butterfly, human to insect) and hybrid creatures often feature in the kind of tales that are of particular interest to Klein.  The earliest of the works were created for the 2008-9 exhibition, The enchanted forest- new gothic story tellers. Curator Jazmina Cininas selected the earlier multi-panel painting, Swarm (from 2000), in which sixteen species of butterfly are paired with rear view ‘portraits’ of sixteen elegantly coiffured women. Participating artists were invited to also make new work and, partially inspired by her reading of A.S. Byatt’s Angels and Insects, Klein painted the first of the Moth Mask series.

But are her Moth Masks and Winged Women hybrid creatures – part human, part insect – or do the women wear the insects as adornment or disguise?  Like many of Klein’s previous female subjects whose faces have been veiled by lace or tattooing, turned away or cropped from the picture frame, so the faces of the Moth Mask women are largely hidden by exquisitely-rendered moth species, mostly from the Indo-Australasian region.  As the moths vary in size, shape, colour and patterning, so now each of the women are portrayed as distinct individuals.  Klein has said that each moth was chosen to match each subject, not as fashion accessories, but as extensions of themselves. She sees the moth masks as ‘magical’. They are ‘real’ moths that in part perform the function of masks,[2] as well as being something like the daemons in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.[3]

There is also something magical about the eight Enchanted Hair Ornaments prints, which link back to earlier works in that the women wear elaborate hair combs - in the form of various insects and one spider - in their intricately knotted hair. In the Winged Women linocut prints the protagonists also face away from the viewer and the focus is again upon their hairstyles – braids, rolls and chignons – and the delicately hand-coloured butterfly set high on the back of each. 
The idea of artists as storytellers (as suggested by the full title of the Enchanted forest exhibition) was the catalyst for Klein to begin to write stories herself. The first of these - ‘The enchanted hair ornaments,’ ‘The Story of the Moth Masks’ and ‘Swarm’ were directly inspired by pre-existing works, while others are contemporary, feminist rewritings of traditional fairy tales. These stories, illustrated by works from her back catalogue, are collected in the book There was once…

Dr Penny Peckham

[1] This observation may well have been inspired by the painting Lace Butterfly 2000, in which the rear view of a woman’s elaborated coiffed head is teamed with a butterfly-shaped piece of lace. Katherine McDonald, ‘Woman’s Other Visage’, Private Collection, Australian Galleries exhibition catalogue, Melbourne, 2000.
[3] email to the author 27 July 2011. In Pullman’s series of books, a daemon is a manifestation of a person’s soul.